So, I’m back.
I completed the course resisting the countless thoughts and attempts of quitting. It might have been the most quiet yet painful 11 nights and 12 days of my life. Like the teacher said, it’s like an operation. It cuts your stomach open and takes out all the bad stuff. It’s going to hurt so bad, but that’s the process of healing and you know that you need it to live a happy life for the rest of your life.
During those times, I was not allowed to:
- read or write
- have an eye contact or physical contact with anybody
- listen to any music
- use any electronic devices
- workout (walk, light stretching is allowed)
- intake of any intoxicants (no drinking, no drugs including pain killers, no smoking or any kind of other drugs)
- no meat (only vegetarian meals)
- no dinner (they serve you breakfast at 6:30 am, lunch at 11 am, then tea & some fruits at 5 pm)
- conduct any wrong moral behaviours (stealing, killing, etc.)
- take a shower only during the time allocated to you (mine was from 7:00 – 7:20 am)
But funny enough, all those rules were not the most painful part of the experience for me. I actually found the silence and having no eye contact easy & comforting in a way. I am generally not that friendly or social anyway. It took me a lot of efforts over the years to have small talks to fit in the marketing & client service world. So, it was in a way quite natural to me not to make any effort to get closer to strangers.
Then what was so difficult?
There were literally 11 hours of meditation every day plus 1.5 hour of lecture (they call it discourse). That’s over 12 hours of you sitting on the floor in a dark room. It’s not like any other meditations. It’s not guided and there’s no peaceful background music to comfort you. You are left alone in complete silence. For somebody like me, who is so new to meditation, it was so difficult and painful. The maximum meditation I’ve ever done was a 45 minute guided meditation class at a yoga studio once a week. I was not ready for this challenge.
Why was it so difficult?
The Countless Thoughts and Wandering Mind.
My mind simply didn’t leave me alone especially during the first 4-5 days. It was loud and crazy. My mind was going on a full speed switching so dramatically among random memories of the past, fear of present, imagination of the future, and some random projection of crazy and horrible images or thoughts that I don’t even know where it’s coming from. And I simply didn’t know how to meditate, what I was doing and why I was doing it.
What was the course about?
Art of living and dying.
After few days of not knowing what I was doing, eventually I found out that I was not there to relax or to find a way to comfort my mind. The purpose of Dhamma is not to teach you how to meditate, but to teach you how to live. It’s about the art of living and art of dying following Gautama Buddha’s teaching from 2,500 years ago.
Life can be miserable time to time. Even if we are very content and happy at the moment, at one point in our lives, we’ll all deal with some unexpected difficulties such as losing somebody you love, losing your parents or close family members, losing jobs, dealing with money issues, etc. In one of the discourses, S N Goenka mentions that two kinds of events in our lives make us miserable. One, when something unwanted happens, we react with aversion towards such events. Two, when something that we want is not happening, we react with craving for such events. Thus craving and aversion are at the root of our misery.
So it teaches us how we can continue to live happy, manage our emotional reactions to keep our compassion & love for others regardless of any challenges we may experience. 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. The purpose of them teaching us those meditation techniques are for us to understand our body sensations in order to stay equanimous and not to react to different types of negative emotions.
The part that I really liked about the course is that it’s very logical, practical and scientific. It goes down to very deep level of explanations on how our mind works, how our mind and body are linked, and how our body reacts to different types of sensations.
What did you learn?
Equanimity – the path to free my mind from suffering.
I’ve learned so much and I’m still digesting my learnings from this experience. It’ll probably take few months for me to write all about what I’ve learned in detail. I just want to write down high level summaries, so I can revisit in few months and write more about it.
- 4 steps of generating emotions: Cognition, Perception, Sensation, and Reaction
- How our sensations creates craving & aversion which leads to addiction and attachments
- Our obsession to I & My
- Three important fundaments of Dhamma: Sila (morality), samādhi (mastery of the mind), Paññā (wisdom, insights that purifies the mind)
- Four noble truths:
- The fact of suffering
- The origin of suffering
- The cessation of suffering
- The path leading the the cessation of suffering
- Nibbāna (Nirbana) – the unconditioned, the ultimate reality which is beyond mind and matter
- Four qualities of Pure Mind:
- Metta: loving kindness, selfless love
- Karuna: compassion
- Mudita: sympathetic joy
- Upekkha: equanimity
- Equanimity means observing sensations without craving for pleasant sensations and aversion for unpleasant sensations. In S N Goenka‘s words, awareness and equanimity are like two wings of a bird — both are equally important for flying.
- The definition of Saṅkhāra
- How our selfish nature creates our own misery and tries to spread the negative feelings to people around us
What was the most memorable part of the experience?
I remember writing this quote in my blog post, The day before the silence.
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
I heard this Buddha’s quote from somebody before I left without knowing that this is related to the learning of Vipassana. The most memorable part for me was when I actually experienced this during my meditation. From day 4, we were not allowed to move during 3 hours of group meditation sessions. My body was going through so much pain, but eventually the pain was gone and I managed myself stay equanimous, didn’t react to the pain but just observe it was there, which resulted me not suffering at all from this pain. It was simply enlightening.
Would you recommend it to others?
I do believe that the learning is so invaluable, it’s worth for everybody to try. However, it is really painful to go through this course and you will not able to complete this course unless you have a full dedication and devotion towards this course. Quite few people dropped out during the course, so it is really important that you really have a strong desire to change your life.
So I would recommend you to try this course if you have a very hard time to keep your mental happiness, are currently going through some tough changes in your life or have a strong desire to learn the meaning of life, the art of living & dying.
So…the journey continues.
I don’t think I finished learning. I’m still digesting all the things I learned and it’ll be a life time journey to integrate this learning into my day to day life. I’ll probably go back to do this again. It could be even my annual routine, just like how we do body detoxing once a while.
So…… this was a kinda quick summary of my experience. I am very happy to share more in detail if you are interested. Feel free to contact me for any questions! 🙂
Here’s my metta for you.
May I be happy.
May I be free from suffering, craving, aversion, and any other negative feelings.
May I share my compassion & love with everybody.
May all beings happy.
May all beings free from suffering, craving, aversion, and any other negative feelings.
May all beings share my compassion & love.
Bhavatu. Sabba. Mangalam
Sadhu. Sadhu. Sadhu.