What 10 days of Vipassana taught me about life

I found it easier to retreat to a corner and be with myself.

 |  4-minute read |   29-04-2016
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Ever since I've come back from a ten-day Vipassana course earlier this month, I've been asked often about the experience. Most of the time, I've gotten away by using words like "enlightening", "enriching" et al. But it was much more than that, a world apart from the everyday life we know.

The general presumption associated with Vipassana is how tough it would be to remain incommunicado, where one is not allowed to converse with even one's roommates, not even in gestures. But I must say the hardest is not the non-speaking part, it is the part where one has to meditate for hours on end - ten and half to be precise - everyday without changing one's posture.

Yes, I've counted the hours hoping they might magically reduce. But sadly, it never worked. When the whole body aches, you are kind of glad that you don't have to follow the social courtesy of speaking to your roommate(s). So, I must say the vow made to not speak is a blessing in disguise.

500vipassana_042916123018.jpg A Vipassana meditation session with police personnel.

Of course, there were downsides to the no-speech vow. Every morning, the bells would toll non-stop, exactly at 4am, and then the servers would stand outside the room, chiming bells until we flicked the light on. We were given a couple of minutes to freshen up before the first two-hour (4.30-6.30am) sitting of the day began. During this period and other five-minute breaks between sittings, my roommate and I would struggle to take control of the restroom. The first few days were difficult as she had terrible bowel movements and I kept waiting, counting the minutes, without a clue about her ailment, instead of heading to the public toilets. On the other hand, in the nights, I would switch on the fan and she'd turn it off.

Now coming to the food. For a hardcore non-vegetarian like me who needs a piece of meat in every meal, I didn't know I was entering into the realm of the saatvik. If it weren't for Vipassana, I wouldn't for the life of me have realised there are so many types of vegetables I haven't tasted yet. Every morsel of food was cherished and valued, may be because of the fact that you have to make do without dinner every night as they serve only breakfast and lunch. Vipassana is all about observing each and every sensation felt by the body. Hunger was a sensation I felt strongly most of the time and my mind often wandered off to KFC chicken. I made many plans to this effect for the time when I would get back to the real world.

Let's talk about the "main experience" now.

Vipassana is serious business and I don't mean the commercial packages some godmen have made it out to be. It is about understanding the relationship between mind and matter. I learned the technique in its unadulterated form as was conceived by Buddha. The first three and a half days were meant for the practice of aana-paana meditation to sharpen concentration. That's literally 38 hours of observing respiration, how the touch of breath feels inside the nostrils and the sensation it generates outside.

That was a lot of focus on just one specific activity therefore the mind wandered initially, but ultimately, it was conquered. On the evening of the fourth day, an introduction to the real Vipassana meditation took place. It is an experience that differs from person to person, therefore putting it into words would be quite an injustice to the technique, and more importantly because even if I tried I would not be able to describe all that I felt into mere words. The surreality generated by subtle vibrations all over the body as the defilement of impurities from the subconscious takes place is an indescribable feeling. Suffice it to say, I've decided to do this every year.

On the tenth day, the vow to not speak was broken and we were encouraged to speak to one another. This day was meant to be a shock-absorber in preparation of the following day when all would be released to the outside world. Even for an extrovert like me, it was extremely awkward to strike up a conversation with the people I've been living with for so many days. I found it easier to retreat to a corner and be with myself. But as they say, the wheel of life does go on.

Therefore, whenever anyone asks me about the experience, I try to make do with single word answers as it is much simpler to do so than to explain to them how these ten days were the most remarkable days of my life.

Writer

Angellica Aribam Angellica Aribam @angellicaribam

Angellica Aribam is a political activist who frequently writes on issues of race, gender, student welfare, and politics. She is also a former National General Secretary of NSUI and a Forbes India 30 Under 30 honoree. She holds a master's degree in public policy from Peking University, China.

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