Disclaimer- Below article is about my 10 days experience at Vipassana camp. They are neither exaggerated nor undermined. Purpose of writing this article was to just write it.
Something new, a little challenging-My experience at 10 day vipassana course
Vipassana was always on mind. My home being nearby to Lucknow centre, I could see hoarding and signs leading to the centre. This was my sensory introduction to it. Days and years passed, and place was as unknown to me as Bakshi ka Talab. I dont know where it is(the talab) or who is Bakshi, but i know that it exists. Somewhere around 14-15 kms from my place.
Fast forward many years, I got to know about it through videos on youtube. Random clicks and few interviews of people like Subhash chandra of Zee and Yuval Noah uplifted curiosity for vipassana. So till that time all I knew was it is a type of meditation, what sort of meditation, I still didn't know. I never tried to know about it further as well.
After 12th, I got associated with Ramkrishna Mission for awhile. Its weekly program conducted for youth was my first introduction to spirituality or lets say good things. The session had guest speakers, few lectures on good thoughts and refreshments at the end. Before the refreshments, there used to be 5- 10 min meditation where we were told to focus on our breath. That was my first introduction to what they say in west as Mindful meditation(I got to know this term later). Now you must know, that Ramkrishna temple, Lucknow is very peaceful. It has its vibrant positive energy and anybody there would certainly feel peaceful, hence meditative. Since I was regular to Maa sharda library, I would visit the temple daily. I liked its peaceful environment. The journey went on, I read about law of attraction(Rhonda Byrne and Hicks book). I learnt about visualisation meditation, mindfulness(focussing on breath), body scan, chakra meditation and what not. Still at that time I was not aware of Vipassana. My experience with meditation was very fragile, I used to focus on breath and get distracted within few seconds. There was nobody to discuss about it, or whosoever was there, I did not find their answers convincing enough to sustain this practice. Meditation for me was just a 15min task in the beginning or anytime in the day. Since there were no immediate fruitful results, I would hop into and out of it. After joining undergrad college, I never did it consistently.
All this while in college, I was getting acquainted with vipassana, but at a very slow rate. I saw few pictures of Arvind kejriwal meditating and then got to know from some news channels that he takes a break to take this vipassana course. Still, it was not that convincing.
After appearing for CAT, and colleges GD PI, and final selection, I got an idea to travel. This was initiated like any other Lets-go-to-Goa plan but soon the partner ditched. I did not change my plan and visited Haridwar and Rishikesh. Also for GDPI I visited Varanasi, Delhi, Chandigarh. But this haridwar-rishikesh was just for travelling. I stayed in a hostel, it was a new experience. The room had 8 bunk beds with people of both gender and different nationalities. It felt like a miniature foreign exchange program.
Since I travelled alone, I wanted to explore it, do whatever comes to my mind and was feasible. Thought about taking early morning dip(4.15am) at har ki paudi and Rishikesh, did it. Talking to foreigners and knowing about their countries, did it. River rafting and jumping from 20-25 ft into the water twice, did it. These all experience had one thing in common, they were something new and a little challenging, at least for me.
Continuing the same feeling, I thought what’s next. Now by this time, I knew that vipassana is a little bit on the tougher side, since one cannot talk, no phone or outside contact. This again was something new and a little challenging, so I enrolled for it. Fortunately slot was open, also there were no other commitments for this period of 10 days.
Inside the camp
My first vipassana camp started from 19th may 2019. It was day zero hence only registrations and briefing in evening. People came till 5pm, I was early and reached there by 11am. The instructions emailed had asked us to be present by 2pm. I went there with 4 short kurtas, 2 lower, boxer shorts, no phone, no watch, no mirror. I could not see my face for the next 10 days. There were none in my room or bathroom or anywhere else in the centre.
Briefing went fine, I was allotted a room with 77 year old person. He told me that he wakes up at 3.30 am and will continue the same, followed by his daily rituals. I had no option other than accepting it. The camp rules asks you to wake up at 4am to proceed for 4.30am meditation. Another half an hour of less sleep should not affect me much.
Day 1-central ghanta bell rings at 4am but uncle woke up at 3.30am as promised. There was a slight headache at that time. I started day by drinking water from my copper bottle(another new experience I have been following from past 1-2 months), while sitting outside in garden. They have a lush green garden, and room usually gets hot at night and you will wake up with a sweaty skin. I have experienced this during my time at Kanpur where I used to sweat a lot at night due to humidity and heat. I had to drink water in the middle of the night to keep myself hydrated. Since this was a little milder, it did not affect me much.
Anyways the bell rang again and its time for 4.30 to 6.30 am meditation. On previous night,a voice recording of Mr SN Goenka told us focus on our breath during meditation on the following day, so we started with it. As per my previous experience, again I was not able to focus, and now this has to last for 2hrs and I have to meditate in hall with 60 others. So I cannot even lie down, or discontinue it. It was very annoying. But fortunately, I have been blessed with great thoughtful power, so I can imagine about random stuff, from past from future, few heartbreaks, few smiles, few memories or plan which enfuses energy. This I can continue for hours without talking or doing anything. So I started doing this, ohh maybe I should have taken this college, that college, what if i have not missed TISS by 1 mark, ohh i should have said this at that conversation, after 10 days I will do this, and many more things that followed from each of these thought. But again I could not just do this for all 10 days, so it was irritating me. Moreover, they were not pleasant thoughts. Some had repenting tone, sad vibes which further destroyed my mental peace. There were talks of self hatred inside,regrets. With each sad thought i was getting agitated. Anyways 6.30 am was finally here and we went for breakfast. Dalia, poha and chai, you can take as many helping as you need but don't waste, was the instruction written on the board. On the previous day we were allotted a seat no. for dining hall, and dhamma hall(meditation hall). One has to sit there, take his utensils, get food(like in a buffet system) but dharma-sevak will serve with their hands. There was no talking in the whole process, not even gestures as it was noble silence.
After half an hour breakfast there is break for 1 hour, so I slept in that time. Again the bell rings at 8am, time for mediation till 11am. I was in deep sleep and that bell gave another spell of headache and drowsy eyes. And now another 3 hrs of agitation. I just cannot focus on my breath and there were no other instructions too. Meditation is conducted in hall so again one is restricted. This time my new experience(of vipassana) did not give me that high. 11am is the time for lunch, there was roti, sabzi, dal, chawal as usual. I have spent many years in hostel and eating its food. Also in Bangalore I used to eat oats, in a form of porridge with half litre milk daily. So even same taste or bland food did not affect me either. There was an hour of break till 1pm, so I slept. I had that inch of night sleep still residing in me. Bell rings at 1pm and now a meditation spell of 4hrs. Till 5pm. This feels humongous, it actually is. 4hrs of meditation with only 5 min break after every hour, and all one has to do is focus on breath. My blessing of thinking random stuff, now surrendered. Now there were no pleasant memories, all the time I was finding faults in this routine, my life, the whole world. There was so much noise in head. I wanted to focus on my breath, but couldn’t sustain it. This further aggravated the situation. I don't know how this 4hrs passed, but they actually did, because time never stops, you are patient or agitated it will walk at its own pace,1 second a second. Time for evening snack at 5pm chai and laiya with moongfali. Since I am lean and always keen on eating more and more. So whenever I sense, I don't have access to food all the time, I get disturbed, my stomach make sounds, it feels like abdomen is collapsing in a black hole.
I also came to know that evening snack is the last food of the day.. It felt something new, a little challenging at that time, but now I was not ready for that challenge. I have trouble sleeping with empty or unfilled stomach. Anyways there was no other way but to accept it. I did not bring any snacks(from home) with me either. After snacks, half an hour break where usually people walk in the garden
6pm time for meditation again, another spell of disturbed mind and then bell rings for 7pm and the time is for evening discourse or pravachan. I never heard Goenka ji before. I saw a picture of him online, but never heard him speak.
Pravachan lasts 1.5 hrs. He talks about different things related to practice, FAQs, random stuff, few anecdotes and humour in between. That 1.5 hr was a bliss, it felt like something normal. An oasis after a day walk in the desert. He is entertaining, so I never felt bored in those 1.5 hrs.
In the discourse he would often mention that that your mind will get distracted but never punish yourself for that. But being the person that I am, I can be really harsh on myself at times. So his advice did not convince my mind. 8.30pm, discourse ends another half hour of meditation and back to rooms and one can sleep. Room was hot and humid. Fan only made it windy summer afternoon with no sun. There was a little struggle to sleep, but I slept somehow. And almost half an hour with closed eyes, and power off, fan off. Now there is not even hot wind. Only humidity and high temperature. Soon there was sweat all over. Other than this, tension of unfulfilled sleep was lingering on my mind. Even the sleep of first night was not peaceful. Finally power was back and fan started whirring.
Now whenever you sleep with a purpose, you will most probably wake up before that time. I woke up a lot of times, sometimes to drink to water, sometimes from a bad dream, and sometimes just to check if its morning or not. But my partner, who was sleeping on other side of the room was still lying on his bed, so it was not even 3.30. Finally he woke up and so did I but did not leave my bed. 4 am bell increased my heartbeat, I could visualise the pain scheduled for the day. After the 4am bell you have half an hour to perform daily rituals and be present in the meditation hall by 4.30pm. Ok so you don't want to wake up, even I started imagining what if I don't go. They can never drag me to the hall.
But they will come outside your room and ring the bell till the time you switch on your room lights. And if they find you lying on bed, this will continue. That metal bell, which is used in temples will not let you sleep. So you wake up, and what if i dont go to hall, well I can certainly meditate here. I convinced myself. But then everyone was going. What if they come later and shout at me. I am a person of high self esteem, and can never take loud words from anyone. Even my parents rarely scolded me in childhood. I also consider myself a righteous person, so if I have considered something right, it is right and other person cannot give me his uninvited advice or order. I have fought for my opinions or increased my heartbeat if, like, some teacher brashed me in the class.
I didn’t want to experience that feeling again so it was better to save myself from the imagined brashing and attend the session at hall. 4.30am I go there and the same thing continues. Hours felt longer and longer, there was a clock on the wall and time just stopped. It was so slowly passing. This clock further increased my tension. Had it been not there, things would have been a little better. Breakfast time and now I thought I will eat more, have multiple helpings because I cannot afford to devote one part of my mind to stomach. I did the same in lunch at 11am. Usually I don’t eat rice but on that day, I ate rice and 6 rotis and every sabji, raita, dal just to fill myself up.
Previously, whenever I have experienced this type of food shortage, I used to intentionally walk slowly, lie down after eating, just to conserve my energy and food. Slogging with pain I finally reached 7pm, the evening discourse time.
Goenka ji always had an answer to all of my questions in his discourse. He mentioned about over eating on the same day. He told us never do so, as it will hamper the meditation sitting but again it was not that convincing.
He is a great orator, I must say. His sense of humor, his knowledge about the practice, is quintessential. By the end of the 10th day, I felt a connection with him. I used to wait for him like someone waiting for his generous uncle. As days passed I felt bad, that he is no more. But his lectures are immortal and so is his personality. All his talkings felt like it was customised for me.
Day 2 passed and on 3rd day he told us to focus on any sensation between the upper lip and nostril rings. Again this was difficult, he told us not to punish ourselves but I did. Same thing continued and I ate more than I needed.
On day 4 they teach vipassana meditation. Till that time I was not aware about this technique. And the time came, it was a body scan, start from head, feel any sensation on your body parts top to bottom one part at a time and repeat. So this is what I have come for, a simple body scan meditation. This I have done previously and it is as boring as focusing on breath. And now this I have to continue for another 6 days. There are no more surprises, this was it. I thought that my 10 days will be wasted now, neither I will experience high of something new, a little challenging, nor will I learn or change myself. This body scan I knew previously, what's new. But then on the 4th day at 6pm meditation slot, he told us to practice Adhiṭṭhāna (or self determination) wherein you will not change legs, wont open your eyes, least bodily movement and sustain this for 1 hour. Now let me tell you, till now I have sat in every position in the hall. After a while my back used to hurt, so i used to sit straight and slouch every few minutes. In the morning, I used to feel sleepy so I folded my legs and rest my head on it. Sometimes support my head and neck on my hand and sleep. This was my learning of 3 days, i found ways to relax and sleep while sitting. And now in Adhiṭṭhāna, just one cross legged position with eyes closed. After few minutes knee started to hurt, followed by lower and side back and neck and now all of them simultaneously.
He told us to just observe the sensations in different body part but don’t react i.e don’t move your body. Whole attention was on pain but I had observe it as impermanent. At times it became unbearable and I wanted to open my eyes, change legs but I resisted as instructed.
Finally I did it, there was a 7pm bell, i opened my eyes, and it was refreshing. I finally achieved something, there was a high. I could sense my smile curve widening both inside and outside. Then there was the evening discourse and I felt like a student who has done the given task and now wants his teacher to enquire about it. But since it was only one way communication, I had to keep my enthusiasm within.
Then he told us about anitya(impermanence), and how everything in the universe follows the rule of Dhamma (universal law which binds all).Then there was some more talking about dhamma and how if anyone craves for something, and if he dont get it, he will get disturbed is part of this law. Raag and Dvesha. Craving and aversion. So consider everything as impermanent and maintain equanimity, be an observer but don't react to, either a pleasant sensation or tough one. Even if someone gets what he craves for, craving will never stop and he is destined to become unhappy. So always maintain stability of mind, be an observer and never react as everything is impermanent. Then he told us about the connection of sanskara with craving and aversion (raag and dvesh).
That night there was a lot of turmoil in my head, as I have found new questions, I wanted to know if these things really make sense. He told us to never take any lecture for granted, ask it from yourself, realise it and then only believe.
So now from 5th day there were three hours group meditation, 1 hour each in morning, afternoon and evening where one has to follow Adhiṭṭhāna. Schedule was same as before and in the meditation hall but in other meditating hours, one can take a 5 min break, but not in group meditation.
Day 5 and i continued with Adhiṭṭhāna. Pain was usual. But I had to only observe it, terming it as impermanent. I am conscious about my body, and I was experiencing knee-ache before. My joints crack, be it knucles or knees, so I was a little afraid about my health. I did not want to cause any damage to them. But somehow I convinced myself to have patience, the hour passed and I did not change leg which led to another sense of achievement as the bell rang.
After two or three Adhiṭṭhāna sitting, I experienced feeble sensations,like a pulse in body parts. He told us about it in his discourse. Also told us not to get elated as this again is impermanent. Then everything continued, the pain, feeble sensation, but I had to be just an observer without reacting. Soon after few sittings I felt that really it was anitya, my knee was not hurting like before and feeble sensations were arising and diminishing. Sensations were performing their duties but gross sensation/pain was shouting out loud while feeble was just humming its melody. So the whole attention was mostly on knee, back and neck.
All this while in his discourse he discussed about dharma, and how it is being confused nowadays with religion. Since dharma governs all, so whatever you experience inside your body, you can see it outside as well. All the epics or the eternal truth can be justified or falsified based on your inner experience, the realisation of truth. He repeatedly motivated us to realise our own answers and never blindly believe anything, not even him.
So it means that one can ask anything from himself, and he may realise its answer. That truth if realised would hold true for entire universe. He was not that specific but I inferenced it from his lectures.
This was something new, I have been doing this for years, asking myself questions about nature, things happening around me. Now I have a measure to testify it as well. Earlier I used reasoning for answering those questions but now I have inner realisations, my inner workings which are based on dhamma.
Again that night was tough, there was turmoil in my head, I was experiencing a high. It felt I have gained something new. Next morning, same schedule. But this time I was not whining about situation but asking myself questions, about god, about nature, people behaviour anything which catches my attention. Like one question I asked why there is so much pain in life and so less happiness. I got an answer from my inner workings of sensations. Just like the gross/pain sensation, there is also a feeble happy sensation but the difference is pain shouts at the top of its voice but feeble happy sensation only hums its melody. You need concentrate, take your mind away from gross sensation to notice those feeble ones. Sometimes even a breath can be a hindrance. To notice feeble sensation, I had to breathe lightly or sometimes stop it for few seconds. Same goes with happiness, one needs to take his mind away from bad situations in life to experience those subtle happy sensations. This answer was approved both by my sensations and reasoning.
Goenka ji also suggested us not to prefer one sensation over other or search one over other.
Hours passed and now my mind was not as disturbed as on the first 3 days. I asked myself many questions, found the answers in my sensation, felt good, and continued it.
Meanwhile I could focus better on breath and sensations. I was getting distracted but now I was not punishing myself.
Early mornings have their own energy, and I like to see sun rising whenever I could wake up. And here I had to wake up before the sun, so taking a break from meditation in hall, i used to escape and experience cold breeze and rising sun. With questions in my mind, focus on breath and sensations, I used to stroll in garden.
One morning while I was walking in the garden during meditation hours, a dharm-sevak asked me to go back to hall, there were few more sentences which were enough to increase my heartbeat. Now I was sitting inside the hall, posing to meditate but I could not. I was replaying that scene in my mind. What he said to me, what I could have said, so on and so forth. I was justifying myself, how I was not wrong and he just miscalculated me. I analysed my situation from different angles, and the conclusion was same. I am not wrong, you miscalculated. The reasons were, I was out for less than 5 minutes and this break was permitted to us. Also I am not thinking about something vague and unrelated to meditation, but I was focusing on breath and answering my questions. I thought even to confront him after the morning session. Then again the debate of whether I should or I should not kept coming up. Anyways I continued churning those thoughts and situation, repeating again and again justifying myself every time but I did not confront.
Later in the same evening, discourse was given on the same scenario, over-analysis and justifying yourself to the world. He pointed this out with an anecdote where a person goes from civil court to high court to supreme court wasting 20 years of his life just to prove he is right. You may have acquitted yourself from the guilt but it took you 20 years to do that, maybe after validation from someone. If a person is not guilty, then he is not, there is no need to justify it to the world. Well this only holds true in the case of universal law, in indian judiciary you have to plead not guilty because unlike dharma, indian judiciary is not omnipresent. Dharma not only punishes a wrong-doer but also rewards who follow it.
In group meditation , I was doing fine, not changing legs, closing eyes and feeling the high after the hour was passed. Was I really craving for that feeling, maybe not, I was just determined. I had to do what I told myself and after few sittings, it was not that difficult. Moreover goenka ji told that Siddharth gautam, adhiṭṭhāna of not opening his eyes or leaving meditative posture till he attained enlightenment further motivated me.
At few instances, even I thought either I will meditate for 1 hour or nothing, no matter how painful it gets. I started embracing pain. Now this may seem courageous task to reader but the practice infuses it into you.
There were few mosquitoes in the hall and at times I felt they were biting me, there was a pinch and a fear of them biting me. I started imagining things, what if this is a dengue mosquito and he bites me. I may die. The practice was to observe but not react, so even an itching was not allowed. But most of the times I had this doubt of mosquito biting and me dying of it. There were two different sensations at one point of time, one of fear and other of itching. I convinced myself that I will continue no matter what. This may sound funny but such was the passion and the fear. Lot of times there was swelling on the leg, because of mosquito bite but many a times it was just fear of unknown. Had I punished myself, if there was a situation of changing legs or opening eyes. So in one of the group sitting, i felt this urge of a mosquito biting again, i convinced myself and itched that part gently. Sometimes I did not, most times it was just a fear of mosquito and none of them in existence. So I came to terms with myself, that adhiṭṭhāna is good but if sometimes it is broken there is nothing to feel broken. One time, somehow my eyes got opened in a reflex, further I convinced myself that even adhiṭṭhāna is anitya and I am at a learning stage. The whole idea is to face every sensation heads up, right in their eyes(if any). Idea itself is so empowering, so liberating.
Days passed and now I could feel feeble sensation in most part of my body. Goenka ji instructed us to focus our attention in a way that sensation pierces your body. Like if there is a feeble sensation on your face, focus to make it travel through the face. Or whatever part of the body you focus on. Again this was surprising a bit but again anitya.
When pleasant sensation occurs, it does not mean that one should not enjoy it. He should, but should not crave for it otherwise it may hamper his mental peace. Then there was a moment where I could concentrate all of my feeble sensation on a finger tip with focus of the mind. Many others must have done it in the course as well. With each passing day, he took us to a new level of concentration and learning. Initially it was all surprising but gradually it vanished, hence impermanent
By this time discourses were making greater meaning. Why this noble silence was not a punishment but an aid to know the truth. There were many things told by Goenka ji but many more which were realised by me, the inner realisation. Just observing my sensations, gross or feeble.
There were many who broke this noble silence. Initially when I would find anybody doing that, the feeling was not good. I did not like their face, even when they were not talking. I had that ill feeling for them. But gradually my grudges vanished and it transformed into love and pity. Metta meditation on 10th day taught us to make this a part of our practice.
On the very first day, they termed this 10 day camp as a big operation, when you treat an abscess, it has pus, blood and other impurities. Once they are out, with proper care one can be healed. Same is with mind, when this operation is taking place there will be anger, self hatred, hate for others, lust etc. Everything will come out in the process and you may sense it, only if you could. I was experiencing all of this on first three days at its peak, gradually those sensations decreased.
Days passed and on the ninth day, I decided to meditate in padma-asan. This posture was much more difficult than the previous ones. Knee was hurting, the whole leg felt like twisted. There was lesser pain in back and waist but leg was very painful. I could also sense my lower leg going numb. After an hour, it was actually numb, very little sensation I could feel while touching it. Was I determined to hurt myself? Never. I knew that my body can take this, an hour of cross legged or padma-asan. I will never try anything, for which my body may not be ready.
On the 10th day, the noble silence was officially broken, people can talk to each other now. At 10am when we were allowed to speak, I had to nothing to tell. I went straight into my room, others started chatting in garden area, about their experiences. I never felt that I'm missing something, something like talking. Later when someone asked about my experience, I spoke, there were sensations in my brain, voice was a little different and feeble. I could only speak ‘achha tha’. Later when the time passed and many more interactions happened, this sensation in the brain stopped.
Later we were shown a documentary, few more hours of meditation, library visit and some more interactions.
On the 11th day after the breakfast we were allowed to go. Before that there was a discourse from Goenka ji, few things to follow outside of this camp. Daily 2 hours practice of meditation, some random stuff and then he blessed us and left. Got up from his chair and slowly was out of the frame. That moment was emotional. In these 10 days, it felt like I had some relation with him, he knew me well and I knew him well. When he walked away slowly, it felt different, some mixed emotional feeling.
After the breakfast everyone went to their next destination which for me was my home.
What I have learnt in these 10 days is immense. As Goenka ji said, that this is a very miniature step but still the important first step. There is a lot more to experience to realise to practice to learn.
I recommend it to everyone, to experience Vipassana 10 day course. Don’t go their with a purpose but just for experience. You never know how it may change you.