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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 2,500 years ago as a universal remedy for universal ills (i.e., An Art of Living).
I arrived home on September 16, 2018 from my very first Vipassana course, and now after a few days of digesting my experience I have decided of course to write about it, to help spread awareness of this wonderful meditation course I highly recommend everyone to attend. It was truly life-changing, and what's great about it is anyone can do it, it has no intention of trying to convert you from what you currently believe, you can be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or whatever your belief, yet still get a tremendous benefit from Vipassana.
I discovered Vipassana last February 2018 when I was looking for a meditation course to take in my area (Alberta Canada). I found it through a simple internet search and felt guided to take it, even though it looked very challenging...
Ten days of silence, no phone, no reading, no writing or taking notes. Plus the daily schedule seemed grueling as it included 10+ hours a day in meditation, and as someone who had struggled to get through ten minutes of meditation before, I felt a little concerned, how could I ever do something like this?
On the other side, it seemed the perfect thing for me to do at the time, as I noticed after looking into it more, that they are run completely on donations, and only will accept one once a student had already finished a course and experienced its benefits, only then are you allowed to donate. So for someone who had no $1,000 to fork up for most meditation retreats out there, I thought how perfect is this!
Knowing that I am strong, and I know I can do anything that I set my mind to, I signed up, got accepted right away and then started to countdown the days before it started. I was certainly nervous but I had every intention of going, until the day before as I was packing up my stuff, my ego was absolutely freaking out, I was full of fear. I told myself, alright if something happens, I will take it as a sign to not go.
Sure enough a couple hours later, one of my close friends had an issue and went to the hospital, and I couldn't just leave for ten days considering the circumstances, which I won't mention to protect the person. But I just couldn't see myself just leaving and cutting myself off from the outside world, that is a very challenging part about this course, no outside communication.
So I sent an email to them, canceling my plans and went on with my life as usual... It wasn't until August, after I had quit my job, that I started to receive the idea to go again, and since I had no job tying me down anymore, I applied again but this time was put on a waitlist and it wasn't until two days before the course started, that I was confirmed a spot to attend.
This time I was ready. Far more ready than I was in March when I was supposed to go, and I knew it. I feel like had I gone in March I wouldn't have made it, my mind wasn't strong enough yet, but this time I was much more prepared mentally for it. I read a decent amount of other blog posts on their experience with Vipassana, which really helped keep me going on days that were hard. One thing I thought of over and over throughout the course, was one person saying how they wanted to leave every single day, but they are so grateful that they stayed till the end. It kept me going, and so I hope what I share from my own experience will encourage you to stay the full ten days, and not give up after just a few.
The day I was leaving I tried to wake up earlier, to get my body used to waking up at 4 AM, but of course I couldn't, and slept till just after 8. I got ready, packed my bag which takes me about five minutes now as I really don't have too much stuff at all anymore, and I hit the road.
The drive was about three hours, but I had to stop and buy an alarm clock (which I never used) and slippers (which I used all the time.) It was a nice day, sunny with blue skies as I drove throughout the Alberta prairies to a little town I had never heard of before, Youngstown Alberta.
This is actually the furthest East I had ever driven. I had a layover in Toronto, but it was short and I didn't see much, so really its the furthest East I have ever been. Youngstown is right in the prairies, wheat fields that go as far as the eye can see, I do enjoy wide open spaces.
I arrive at the center at 3:30 on the day it began. I checked in, handed in my phone and wallet, and locked my beloved journals in the trunk of my car, I didn't know how it would be not being able to read or write for ten days, but I was excited to give it a go.
I gathered up my stuff and brought it inside and to my new room for the next while, the room was actually really nice, and the beds were comfier than I expected. Actually going in I was really not sure what to expect at all, so I kept them pretty low, but later found that my expectations were exceeded in many ways.
The first day we had a light dinner at 5, a nice soup and carrots/celery with hummus, I chatted with a few people who included my roommate, who had traveled from all parts of the world to attend this course. I was surprised since we were in such a little town in Alberta called Youngstown, but I guess other centers fill up very quickly with long wait lists, so I am quite lucky to have one that was close to home and had a spot for me to attend.
After a short break where I spent outside to get some fresh air, we had our introduction and then had our first meditation which is when Noble silence commenced, for me, that was the easy part, I quite enjoy being in my own little bubble and not having to make small talk with people. I know some struggled much more with that, those who are extroverted and very friendly, really had a difficult time not talking, but for me, it was honestly heaven.
The first hour of meditation was hard, I moved a lot, had a hard time focusing, my mind wandered. But it passed, and before I knew it, it was lights out. Day 1 began in 6 short hours, and I struggled greatly to sleep that first night as I always do when I go somewhere new and am not sure what to expect.
The morning bell rang at 4 AM, and then again at 4:20. I slept in a little waking up at 5am and staggering down to the meditation hall, every morning I would walk down this long hallway, and at the end of the hallway was the board stating what day it was and the daily schedule which really never changed except on day four and then again on day ten, but I stopped each day and read it as it was really the ONLY thing we had to read. Sometimes they would have printed sheets of what we had learned in the discourse the night before, so I enjoyed to read those.
Each day I counted down the days, I'm not going to lie, I think everyone did, not that it was overly grueling or a terrible place to be by any means, it's just the days passed by so very slow while we were going through it. Some hour meditations felt like 10 hours, and others passed relatively quickly.
It's not until the fourth day that you really start to practice the technique of Vipassana, as the first three days you spend on observing the breath to help quiet and relax the wild mind. The first three days I found a little boring, but important and necessary. If you jump right into Vipassana I am sure it would not have very good results.
On the second day, I was experiencing this pain in my ear when every time I tilted my head to the left, it felt like a knife jabbing my brain. This caused me to start worrying about it, what if it ruptures and the pain I would experience would be unbearable? I started to overthink and worry about this ear problem and I was creating all these crazy scenarios in my mind of what could happen. I didn't want to leave yet, but I didn't know if I would be able to sit in meditation if I was suffering from extreme ear pain.
I started to bargain with my self, "Okay, just one more day, just get me through one more day," I would plead. Eventually, the problem subsided and nothing ever did become of it, and I realized that I had basically spent so much time worrying about something that never happened.
On the breaks, I enjoyed going outside and walking around the designated area, it was a good time of year to go in Canada as fall was in progress and winter hadn't really come yet, although we did experience a few days of cold weather, and on one day it even snowed!
Now normally this would have upset me, snow in September is too soon, but something we learn a great deal about is impermanence, everything is always changing, and so I just thought "this too shall pass."
That is how I got through every moment of pain and misery in meditation, I just kept telling myself that this too will pass, and it always did eventually, although going through it can feel like it's going to last for eternity, but of course it didn't, and I made it to the end.
Actually, only two people left during the whole course. They make it pretty clear what you are signing up for when you apply, and then they explain the rules very clearly when you first arrive. For me, I read quite a few blog posts of others and even watched some youtube videos on it before going, which actually helped prepare me a lot.
By around day seven, I started to get really bored, there was really nothing to do that I hadn't already done. I spent the first few days getting used to the center, exploring outside, and just being in a completely new environment altogether. The next few days, day four, five, and six were spent just really going deeper into the technique of Vipassana, but then by day seven my focused switched away from meditation and started to count down the days left, eager to go home.
I would think about leaving, but my thoughts to leave didn't last for very long though, maybe an hour at most, and then I would be okay again, content with the moment. The ever eternal moment of now. Which became my constant awareness, there was no other moment but it, so why bother thinking about the past, or worrying about or planning the future. Just being here now, was good enough.
I never realized how much joy an orange or apple could bring someone, but I found myself enjoying and savoring every last bite of a simple apple during the 5 PM tea break. Knowing it would be the very last thing I ate for over 12 hours was a very scary thought at first, because they don't serve dinner so I found myself going crazy during lunch.
At 5 PM they have tea time and for the new students they can have fruit and tea with milk, or almond milk (this center had.) As a new student I got fruit, so apples, oranges, and bananas were served daily. That never changed.
By 3 or 4 PM my mind started to think about this fruit I would soon get to have, and I would wonder which one to eat today, maybe all three? No, I should stick to a little, it's better to meditate on an empty stomach anyway... I realize my mind was wandering, focus, focus, okay feeling for sensation in my arms, my forearms, my hands...
My mind trails off again, so what should we do when we get out of here? Again, a million thoughts start racing my mind. I am bored of meditating, I want to do things.
Its day eight and I am having more trouble focusing on my breath and sensations than the first two days, it does make sense to me, the technique, I understand what we are doing, but maybe I am doing something wrong...
Now I start overthinking that I'm screwing up the technique, ugh. Why am I here? I ponder.
People are here to experience oneness, love, peace, and harmony, and I am thinking about which fruit I will have at the tea break. My best meditations were the ones at night, probably because there are no more meals after that because I always found myself thinking at times about what I would eat next. I find we do that a lot...
Three questions that I realized run through my mind very often, What time is it? What am I going to eat next? And, what if I run out of money?
Luckily at the Vipassana center, money was not on my mind at all, the course is run off donations, and you can give whatever you can afford at the end, whether that is $10 or $1000, or you can donate anytime afterward. Although occasionally I would think about what I would do about money after the course, as I am currently unemployed, I was bombarded with some great ideas for what I can do, so I quit worrying altogether about that.
Time was on my mind too, not too much though, I didn't even end up keeping the alarm clock in my room, I left it in my car because they supplied clocks when I arrived, so I figured I would just use their clock and return the clock I purchased along the way and get my $15 back.
But after a few days, the ticking of this clock I borrowed drove me wild! So I took the battery out and decided I didn't really need to know the time anyways, a loud bell always sounded every time I needed to be somewhere, so it wasn't really necessary to keep tabs on the time.
And of course I thought of food, lunch became my absolute favorite time of day that I looked forward to, mouth-watering in the 9 AM to 11 AM meditation, thinking about what I would eat for lunch, even though I didn't quite know what each day would serve, we seemed to have similar parts each day, so I started to think about the salad I would make, or how I could dress up my brown rice today... You become much more creative with your simple ingredients given.
For 5 o'clock tea time, I dunno how many different ways I saw people eating apples, oranges, and bananas, some would put it all into a big fruit salad, others would eat them whole, some would slice them all nicely. I tried to change the way I ate it each day, so I had that to look forward to.
You really start to enjoy the simple things in life, and you realize happiness can be found anywhere, as long as you are happy inside, no matter what scenario you may be in, you can handle it.
on the final full day, day ten, silence is broken by about 10 PM, and we were finally allowed to chat amongst each other. I actually found it really strange at first to talk again, like I had forgotten how to do it, but I started chatting with the girl who sat in front of me and probably heard me incessantly swallowing due to my mouth watering for food.
So the first thing I say is, "I'm really sorry for swallowing so much." She probably was like huh what?! But anyways, her and I went in the female dining hall together, which sounded like a circus of chatter already and only ten minutes had passed, and we started chatting finding out we lived in the same city and quickly became friends.
I didn't come to meet people, honestly, I had no intention of meeting anyone there whatsoever, I went with the full mindset of me, myself and I on the mind, but I ended up meeting the most beautiful and loving souls I have ever met, and making lifelong connections with people I am sure.
We chatted all day, except for the regular group meditations, but all the other meditation times were completely optional, and those who wanted to chat could continue. I spent most of that day in the dining hall with the people I had just spent the past ten days with, not even able to look at them, and now finally we could all converse.
Before we knew it, 6 PM meditation had already rolled around and complete segregation of men and women would continue again until breakfast the next day. The day flew by, much quicker then the other days had, and before we knew it we were watching the nightly discourse.
I stayed up till midnight that night talking with my roommate and one other girl we had connected to in the course. It was such an incredible conversation the three of us share, and just that alone at the very end of the course was worth sticking around for.
You never know what's coming, or what could happen. Life is always changing. It never stays the same, not for long anyways.
On day 11, the final day we had an early morning, 5 AM chanting and final discourse before you could eat breakfast, and start packing and getting ready to leave. I stayed for a while after to help clean up and what not, which I enjoyed getting that final sliver of time with the fellow meditators.
I left feeling quite sad that it was over, I even cried in the final meditation knowing that it was the last time we were all together like this. I felt so bonded with these people, I didn't really want to say goodbye, I even considered staying longer and helping at the center, but I knew I had some stuff in real life to take care of.
However after being back home now for a few days, all I want to do is go again, it was so calm and peaceful there, and I was surrounded by such wonderful people, all there to improve themselves. I greatly miss it. So I am looking into going to New Zealand and serving at the center out there for some time. Maybe that will be how I will travel the world, just going from center to center and make my way through.
If I could spend one year of my life doing that, I can't even imagine the benefits that would ensue. They would be immeasurable. But I always felt like I would do something like this before, I had joked about it to some, saying "who knows, maybe I will just disappear and meditate for 10 years!" Its mostly been a joke, but now I am not so sure, its the path I am on and want to stay on, as I really see no higher truth.
After the experience, naturally, I wanted to write my own blog post to help spread awareness about Vipassana, and maybe help someone prepare for their own course. I won't give away too much about what I realized during the 100+ hours we spend meditating because of course everyone is going to have a completely different experience. As well, it's only a couple days after I returned so I am still trying to digest it and everything I gained from it, but what I can say is this will help me for the rest of my life, the benefits were enormous.
Some things that I realized/understood or experienced:
Everything is always changing, all the time. Nothing stays the same forever, as if it did how boring would life be? Telling oneself in moments of hardship that this too will pass and seeing it with a balanced mind will get you through some of the most challenging of situations that life is bound to throw at you.
Doing harm to others or yourself will always come back to you and will create impurities deep within the mind. It is best to lead a good life and show love and compassion to others.
Time is such an interesting thing, ten days was very long as you go through it, it felt like each day just dragged on, but looking back it felt like just a blink, and one day months, or years from now it will be such a short period of time for one to go through, but will have caused such an enormous benefit towards your life.
Worry is completely unnecessary as most things that we do worry about end up never happening, and all that time one spends worrying could be used towards much more productive tasks in life.
The only moment one should be concerned about is the eternal moment of now. Its the only moment in time that we can be aware of, but most people find themselves living in the past or present, and not focusing on the only moment we have, which is now.
We are almost always in a state of wanting or not wanting something to happen, craving or aversion. This technique trains the mind to be free from that constant desire for something to happen, or not happen, and one should just be content and happy in each moment. Through this, I don't eat as much anymore, which I've always struggled with overeating since I was a child. I also feel like addictions could more easily be broken with Vipassana, as you gain mastery over the mind which then gives you mastery over your life.
Finally, one feels much more calm, peaceful and happy. You leave with a clear state of mind knowing that nothing is permanent, and you just feel like you can handle whatever circumstance life wants to throw at you, whether it's good or bad, it doesn't matter. You remain balanced with a peaceful mind through continuous practice, but even if you don't continue Vipassana when you leave, you still feel much stronger and calmer than if you had never taken a course in the first place.
So that's my experience. I might do more posts about it, again to help spread awareness, and might help others prepare for their courses.
It was a gift, truly a blessing to discover this and while it is a long journey, I think everyone must at least give it a try, you owe it to your self to take time out of your busy schedule, and look into applying for a course yourself! There is bound to be a center close by! Go visit Worldwide Vipassana Centers online.
With Love and Light