10 days of silence, 10 days of meditation and what I learnt from it all
I wrote an article last month, which got appreciated and shared quite a bit. Some of my friends even personally thanked me for it saying it was a source of inspiration for them. I was thrilled. And while all these responses overwhelmed me, they also made me think about inspiration; how it can strike the right cord in your heart, and set your mind to overcoming anything that may come in the way.
I know a little something about inspiration. Two years ago a close friend returned from her first ever 10-day Vipassana meditation course, where, all I knew was that, you had to be silent for the entire duration. Silent for 10 days. I was so intrigued by the concept that I sat her down and asked her, in detail, about the program. It was when she started giving the details that I realized there was way more to the Vipassana course than just staying silent. I was inspired. I started reading more about it online and, at some point, made it a part of my bucket list.
But you know what happens to bucket lists most of the time. I got busy in the routine life, and bucket list goals took a back seat until this year in April I came across a friend’s blog on how he felt an immense change in his behavior after attending the Vipassana course. That’s it. I decided I’m not going to wait any longer.
I applied in July for the October 2015 course, at a centre near Bangalore. Since I had really wanted to do this for a long time, I was excitedly looking forward to the challenge. As the course dates came closer I realized I had to apply for an 11-day leave from work, which is always difficult, but to be honest, the bigger problem was telling people that I will be away for 11 days with absolutely no access to calls/messages/e-mails. That required some explanation! When I told people, I got comments such as, “at this age?”, “why are you going to a self-imposed prison?”, “take 10 days off for a holiday, Mansi.” and the likes. It was surprising, even to my own self, how determined I was to not get deterred. That is when I learnt the first of the many lessons that were to follow from this experience: Take out precious time for things that are precious to you.
The day finally arrived and luckily, I had a friend to go with so the anticipation and excitement doubled. We were handed the schedule for the next 10 days upon arrival at the centre. From 4am to 9pm, 10 hours of meditation daily. The timetable looked exhausting and, as expected, by the second day I had started contemplating quitting. It was frustrating to do so many hours of concentrated meditation when the concept “seemed” like a rather relaxing one. To add to it, the insights one gains through self-observation are not always those that we want to admit or project. It’s an image of self we don’t always want to see. It is layers and layers of uncensored truth; our demons and, somewhat, our saintliness, all come to surface. In doing 10 hours of meditation daily, I realized my second lesson: Meditation is hard work and not always pleasing.
Every evening, our day would end with an hour long teacher’s discourse, which would help us make sense of all that we had felt during the 10 hours of meditation that day. It somehow made carrying on easier, knowing everyone there was going through similar feelings. That, none of us were alone in this.
Even with the same number of hours, each successive day started to seem slower and longer. It gave me time to sort things out in my head, ask questions internally and answer them too, take leisure walks while looking at the beautiful flowers in the campus, notice the slightest of change in the surroundings, and just, basically, not be rushed. My third learning was in realizing to take time out to be cut-off from the world sometimes, to think, reflect, pursue hobbies, and be happy.
Vipassana means ‘insight’ in the ancient Pali language. The technique is a practical way of examining the reality of one’s own body and mind. You sit in a meditative pose, focus on the breath, and then slowly shift focus to the sensations in our body – an itch, a tingling, cold, heat, sweat, tremble etc – without reacting to them. This experience of consciously examining self at a physical level made me realise how we, as individuals, need to give importance to ourselves. We must feel worthy on our end first, and paying attention to self is the start of that. The technique of Vipassana taught me my fourth lesson: Everything starts from self, and to take care of self is not selfish.
Vipassana is based on two main pillars of awareness and equanimity. One needs to be aware of the body, mind and sensations, and simultaneously maintain self-control (equanimity) so as not to react to the sensations. One without the other is of no value. This non-reactive approach towards everything was the crux of those 10 days, and also of my fifth lesson, the most important lesson: This too shall pass, good or bad.
In the end, I hope you take a little inspiration from these lessons, and simply as a challenge to self, if nothing else, enroll in a 10-day Vipassana course once in your life.