I consider myself lucky.
Very lucky that I discovered Vipassana when I did. Vipassana was the pause and the push I needed to restart my life. A guy we met on gumtree (for my American readers, this is like Craigslist) told us about it; Ava says that’s the best part of the story, a guy we met on gumtree who answered our ad “3 California Girls Need Ride from Sydney to Melbourne and Back THIS WEEKEND” ended up living down the street from us on Bondi Road and he introduced us to Vipassana.
What is Vipassana?
“Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was taught in India more than 2500 years ago as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e., an Art of Living. This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation. Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion. The scientific laws that operate one’s thoughts, feelings, judgements and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace. The technique of Vipassana Meditation is taught at ten-day residential courses during which participants learn the basics of the method, and practice sufficiently to experience its beneficial results. There are no charges for the courses – not even to cover the cost of food and accommodation. All expenses are met by donations from people who, having completed a course and experienced the benefits of Vipassana, wish to give others the opportunity to also benefit.”
(This is an excerpt from the Vipassana website https://www.dhamma.org/en/about/vipassana).
I somehow missed this page before I undertook my first Vipassana course, a ten day silence meditation retreat. I had never meditated before and thought hey, that sounds pretty nice. I imagined myself Ommmmm. I didn’t do any research, and the only thing I could remember this guy from gumtree telling me about it was “the vegetarian food there is awesome”. Sold, where do I sign up already?
I sat my fist ten day Vipassana silence retreat and stayed to help the center for a month in Blackheath, Australia in the Blue Mountains.
When I arrived here it was summer, now it’s autumn. I’m sitting at the same train station, the green leaves are now burnt orange, maroon leaves cover the ground. Three huge white cockatoos playfully nestle amongst the leaves of the trees. Which train will I take? Where do I want to go today? It’s my first time on my own in the world again after putting myself through this type of rehabilitation.
I scribble in my miniature notebook and decide to take the train to Sydney.
The first three days, my body threw a sort of tantrum; I experienced severe agitation with wild thoughts coming continuously and this manifested at a physical level, according to the lectures at night “for mind is matter”, with severe back and leg pain and bodily discomfort. Again, this agitation as well as overwhelming anxiety, where at times it became hard to breathe, occurred on the 5th day and again on the 9th. Back and leg pain remained but I became more tolerant of it.
I massed countless “to-do” lists in my head, of all the things I would do when I left the course, making all these game plans, living in the future. I always thought I was someone who lived in the moment, and Vipassana showed how confused I had been living, always and really always living in the past and future, and actually quite miserably.
Through the course, I began to experience my memories of my past of a young age – memories, which I came to realize, I had only known as fuzzy stories. I truly recollected them- which doesn’t make much of a difference to anything- but it did provide an inkling to how powerful the brain is.
I did not crave a coffee or a cigarette and I had sufficiently more energy throughout the days, awake, really awake, from 4am-10pm. On my walk to the train, I walked past a liquor store. My senses are very acute now since going into this silence and clearing up some of the mess in my head. I could smell from outside of the shop, just walking by, all the alcohol mixed together with the tobacco and at the same time I could recognize certain alcohol smells individually. This amazed me. These smells signaled to my body huge warning signs. Instinctively, I knew it was poison.
I started to realize in this silence, at this experiential level, the truth of sensual pleasures. My satisfaction for the day would be in what I saw; for instance, animal sightings created great joy in me. I began to take great pleasure in what I ate and this experience of eating. Anything to tickle or play with my senses became a great joy. In this silence, my senses became amazingly acute. I heard a bird, and my eyes would shoot directly to the source. A mouse shuffling in the bushes-there! A lizard crossing the path and it’s in my hands.
I started waking from slumber and remembering my very vivid, surreal dreams.
I hop on the train.
What did I gain?
Buddha was asked, “What have you gained from meditation?”
“Nothing! However, Let me tell you what I have lost:
Fear of old age and Death.”
I wasn’t on any type of spiritual path in the first place, the most spiritual I got was yoga once every other week. I had never meditated before.
It changed my life.
It was the wake up call I needed. I was falling into “a life with no dreams” as Ava called it. I was happy, or I thought I was happy, but if happiness is going out to drink and working a miserable 9-5 to pay for a crappy apartment and lattes with no savings or dreams, then I don’t know what being miserable is. Did I get that the right way? Basically, some point along the road, I started to fall asleep. I was half-asleep, or maybe completely zombie like how unfortunately, a lot of us are, and it took this ten days in silent meditation to realize this and then
What about a nun and a nescafe?
At this Vipassana center, there was a nun sitting the ten day course.
The nun had a dietary need, as she called it, she needed her nescafe “just once a day and I have brought the instruments and the nescafe to prepare it”.
After my stay at the Vipassana center, I was so focused on this life of purity that I found myself personally coming to an extreme. Beating myself up if I didn’t meditate two hours a day. I wouldn’t touch an alcoholic beverage, no fish, no coffees…nothing.
Then I remembered the Nun and the Nescafe. I won’t forget her.
Because it is so important to keep everything in moderation. If you enjoy something, like coffee, or going out to the clubs on the weekend, then there is no need to restrict yourself. Eat some chocolate! Have a wine or a beer!
Just don’t be a slave to your senses.
and most most most importantly
Everthing Arises, Everthing Falls Away, Ajahn Chah
The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation, S.N. Goenka
Vipassana Journal, S. N. Goenka
The Monk who Sold his Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams and Reaching Your Destiny, Robin Sharma
Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle