Beatrice recently came back from her 2nd VIPASSANA retreat; spending 10 days in Montebello, Quebec. SHE EXPLAINS THE TECHNIQUE and shares her OWN personal experiences - hopefully inspirING a few of you to try it out TOO
WHAT IS VIPASSANA MEDITATION?
'Vipassana' can be translated as ‘’to see things as they really are’’. It is an ancient technique of meditation first taught in India by Gautama the Buddha more than 2500 years ago. Unfortunately, its practice became somewhat forgotten in India but was luckily kept alive by a lineage of teachers in nearby Burma. The modern-day teacher S N Goenka (right) brought its popularity back to India in 1969 and consequently spread the technique across the globe. You can now find centres in every continent; a total of 171 worldwide.
Although coming from a Buddhist background, Vipassana is non-sectarian; the Buddha never intended to form a religion, he only preached the universal values of love and compassion. The technique of Vipassana is designed to be accessible for all. It is a journey towards liberation, intended to eradicate human suffering.
"The technique of Vipassana is designed to be accessible for all"
To get initiated to the technique, you first need to sign up for a 10-day course, available worldwide. Due to its popularity, there are often long waiting lists so be sure to book early. The courses are donation based; all the staff members and assistant-teachers are volunteers. The intention is clear: to make Vipassana available for people of any religion, race, and socio-economical background. Donation is only permissible once you have completed the course. This ensures that every donation comes from people who have fully participated in and truly believe in the technique.
HOW DOES THE TECHNIQUE WORK?
To establish a good foundation for the technique, there are 5 (or 8 for returning students) precepts to obey. It's pretty strict. Noble Silence is observed throughout the 10 days which means you are not allowed to communicate with anybody else on the course whether verbally, physically or even through eye contact (with the exception of the Assistant-Teacher or Managers in case of emergency or guidance). You are not allowed to bring materials to read or write on; phones and other electronics are stored away too. This is meant to keep you free from distractions and help you achieve a more stable and focused state of mind.
The first 3 days are dedicated to Anapana meditation, a preparatory technique that focuses entirely on the breath, meant to sharpen the mind so it can be fit to perform the ‘’deep operation’’ that is Vipassana on the remaining days.
"It's pretty strict. Noble Silence is observed throughout the 10 days...you are not allowed to communicate with anybody else on the course whether verbally, physically or even through eye contact"
Vipassana is unlike other meditation techniques that involve visualisation or verbalisation. The practice works by observing each little part of your body and closely noticing any sensations that arise. These various sensations are examined and observed as they come and and as they go. The goal is to remain ‘’equanimous’’ (mentally stable, unaffected) to these sensations. Whether they are pleasant or unpleasant, the aim is not to cultivate any craving or aversion towards them. By doing so we accept the law of impermanence, enabling us to liberate and purify our minds.
Throughout the process, it is important to observe the difference between reality and perceived reality. Seeing each moment for what it is and not how we would like it to be, therefore removing the veil of illusion.
On the 10th day, the Noble Silence is no more and you can finally talk to the people you shared space with. This day, called Metta (goodwill, kindness) day is meant to absorb the shock of going back to civilisation. It is a truly special day where you can share your experience.
WHAT DOES A 10-DAY COURSE FEEL LIKE?
I’m not gonna lie- it is pretty hard. You have to remind yourself to take it as it comes and stay in the present moment. On the first day (after waking up from my third nap) I recall thinking ‘‘Really? It’s still only Day 1? ’’. They are pretty long days indeed: the wake-up gong is at 4 am and the last meditation ends at 9pm. You are meditating for roughly ten hours each day.
The biggest challenge for me was to quiet my monkey mind and focus purely on the technique. Of course, I had to accept that it is very difficult to achieve complete mastery over the mind in only 10 days. But those moments, as few as they may be, where you shut your mind completely and become one with your breath and body are truly blissful moments. Just be careful not to get attached to them- equanimity is key.
Going away to a Vipassana centre has been one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Being in a place where people are gathered for the same purpose and has the sole purpose of making better humans is truly amazing. But it is only when you leave and go back home to your daily life that you will realise the true change within yourself. To keep cultivating this change, it is essential to pursue the practice at home- no matter how challenging it gets. Metta. BA.