October 2017: 10-day Vipassana Meditation
So I am back from the 10-day Vipassana meditation, survived it in one solid piece inside out… and taking the week to reintegrate back to life.
I must say I neither love it or hate it. Perhaps just what is needed. It is both painful and blissful at the same time.
The experience is unique in its own way.
The centre in Dhamma Malaya Kuantan is nestled right in the middle of plantation grounds. A fairly fast 15 min ride away from Kuantan Airport.
The rooms, and halls gives out a nostalgic late 80’s /90s feel amidst the greenery.
This is how the typical schedule is :
4:00am Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30am Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00am Breakfast break
8:00-9:00am Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
11:00-12:00pm Lunch break
12pm-1:00pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30pm Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher’s instructions
5:00-6:00pm Tea break
6:00-7:00pm Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15pm Teacher’s Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00pm Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30pm Question time in the hall
9:30pm Retire to your own room–Lights out
The course is being facilitated through audio and video discourses of S.N Goenka himself. Assistant volunteer teachers are there on site to guide and assist the sittings and available for questions anytime.
Day 1 - 3
Between day 1-3, the practice only consists of observing your breathing inside/outside of your nostrils. It is called Anapana meditation. By day 3, you focus solely on the spot above your lip , below your nostrils and start focusing on feeling the sensations that are always there .
This trains the mind to be sharp, and its purpose is to progressively move towards the main vipassana technique from Day 4 onwards.
For someone who has fairly some experience in meditation for at least 20mins.. the first half hour was alright. However, needing to sit down 10-11 hours a day with closed eyes.. is a whole new game.
I struggled a lot particularly during the 1pm sitting as it is probably the hottest and most restless part of the day for me, bearing in mind there are only fans in the halls and rooms. I'm glad the weather became cooler next couple of days when it got rainy.
The intensed shut eye breathing meditation brought out bad headaches, migraines and body pains, especially where there has been some neck issues right before I left. The throbbing pains and focused meditation made me realised that the left side migraine and pain from upper back were radiating from that one spot on the left cervical spine… which strangely disappeared by the 10th day.
I got little thrown off with the teacher’s chanting beginning and end of each sitting. The chanting isn’t anything religious but just positive affirmations and good tidings to create a safe and peaceful atmosphere for meditation. I wasn’t used to his vocal way of chanting as it sounded really weird ( I shall not describe out of respect!)lol
The headaches got most intensed on the 3rd day as we are needing to focus above the lips. It felt I needed to turn my eyeballs in and down to “look” down towards the upper lip area for focus.
Of course, amidst all that , random thoughts drift in and out, and whenever that happens, I’m supposed to bring it back to focal point. However, my morning meditations seem more successful than afternoon and evenings as I get frustrated and actually start allowing myself to drift away in thoughts deliberately just to “kill time”. Because there was simply too much time on hand.
The lady who sat to my right in the hall left the retreat after the 3rd day morning meditation. I felt so bad as I wished she could haved stayed for 1-2 more days and the body and mind would have somehow gotten used to it alittle better.
Day 4 - 9
From the 4th day onwards, the actual Vipassana techniques were taught. Also, it was the start of "Sittings of Strong Determination" aka Addithana meditation for all 3 group meditations at the hall . This meant no moving of body and posture at all throughout the hour. That was why the first 3 days was critical. The purpose of not moving wasn’t to torture ourselves but to discipline the body and mind in cultivating determination. Of course where there is real deep pain, movement is ok.
In summary, the meditation progressed from observing breath below nostril to the body scanning of observing sensations from head to toe and vice versa. This starts to open up your awareness to the minute sensations of your blood pulsing through the veins, the breath, the vibrations , the coolness or warmth from the environment or from within out etc…
They say the root of the mind equates to bodily sensations. Mind and Matter goes hand in hand. The mind is such an intangible and complex thing so one way to find out the depth of the mind is through the manifested physical sensations. Sharp pains and dull aches might suddenly radiate and start throbbing at various places of the body. If there are areas of old injuries or chronic pains, it comes out even more for extended periods.
Like S.N Goenka mentions, Vipassana meditation is a form of deep “mental surgery”. It is not easy and can be a painful process to get to the root of our problems, understand our thought patterns and become clear how they create misery through cravings and aversions and the addictive quality of each. This is tied to the notion that as we dwell into this mental surgery in observance with equanimity, the shit from our unconscious mind starts surfacing up for us to observe with patience and to understand the impermanence of reality. Each moment arises and passes and keeps changing. The only way to be at peace is to be in the present, observing state without judgements, attachments.
Vipassana Meditation isn’t about knowledge or philosophy or the intellectual understanding of the technique. It is all about practice of it, therefore the 10hours+ of actual practice. We do get times that we are allowed to speak only to the assistant teacher if we have questions understanding the technique and our problems with it.
Among these few days… I think I had only 2 successful sittings of not moving posture at all. It’s all a process and journey just like the practice of yoga. It’s better not to expect anything much. No doubt there were times that it made me felt really grounded and present within and while I was understanding the inner thought patterns, I was also feeling a sense of gratitude towards myself for making this happen for myself and making it through no matter what.
On the 1st and 2nd day , I teared a lot as the start of “mental surgery” became so real to me I was peeling a layer off to reveal the inner self.
By the 4th day..for the 3rd sitting of strong determination , I actually broke down cause my knees were in so much pain and so much inner frustration and impatience were surfacing out. I have hyper mobile joints + a bad left knee so sitting cross legged for long hours and days certainly left it very sore and vulnerable. My back and neck started hurting so bad too. The point of the practice is to show compassion to oneself too i.e. if it really hurts, it is ok to change position and not compromise on oneself.
By the 8-9th day, I started sessions with tearing and then sneezing and burping so bad I had to go out clear it out. In the process of the Vipassana meditation, as one gets down to the root of their mind and confronts their own “demons” and inner things, they surface up to the gross level as physical sensations and purges out through coughing, sneezing, crying, pains etc.. You bet the whole hall had been filled with lots of coughing and sneezing for the 10 days.
It was crunch time for me ; I was cursing and swearing in my mind while getting used to the practice of being equanimous and not get attached to the aversions to the frustration or craving for painless and more quiet mind.
I was relieved when we were notified the sitting of strong determination will end on the 10th day morning 10am and also we were allowed to start talking again.
When Day 10 came, the intensed part ended and was introduced to Metta Meditation. A meditation of compassion and love to all beings as a soothing balm. By then, in the 8/9th day, I remember being overwhelmed by feelings of gratitude, the workings of forgiveness and of love. I understood then, when people keep hurting each other, they are spreading their own misery to the other party unknowingly. The root of any behaviour or negative outburst or situation arises from the misery of anything attributed to deep rooted unmet needs, cravings or aversions of an individual. When stuff happens, we just react and behave from that place. So therefore I understood how this can be a really helpful technique to go right down to our core and dig out the root of our thinking to eradicate our suffering and misery and start putting healthy seeds in rather than rotten ones.
I found out the lady who stayed right beside me is a fellow Singaporean and we were both glad to be able to say Hello to someone you were constantly seeing for 10 days in and out. It is an interesting way to meet new people. We instantly connected like kindred spirits and started chatting all the way back in flight back home.
Some personal funny observations during the nobile silence days;
- A bell is rung through the speakers 10 mins before each activity starts, because no one is allowed to have eye contact, meditators looked down or straight ahead walking towards the building . This reminds me of The Walking Dead where zombies start moving towards a sound source. I could almost see this whole scene from a birdseye view camera position.
- When there is absolutely no stimulant around like books, tv, phones etc.. People or at least women ( not sure about the men), we all get obsessive about cleaning and laundry each day and hour. Probably because that helps to kill time! Everyone starts checking on their laundry every few mins or hour or so, change the positioning according to sun position etc.. It’s like the most important errand of the day that you do with pride. Lol
- Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” kept creeping up and is the main cue music in my head when my thought starts drifting and daydreaming.. and then it zaps me back to observing my breath and body. And then when I start feeling all these sensations… another song comes up ..
- Wet Wet Wet's- "Love is all around" - "I feel it in my fingers feel it in my toes, The love that's all around me. And so the feeling grows” comes up… but only the mind switched it to “ I feel it in my nostrils, I feel it below my nose, I feel it all around me, and so the feelings grows…. “ - I guess it’s a natural musician thing ; there will always be songs to match the exact moments.:P Also. I’m quite the 80’s/90’s generation thus all these classics that is deep in the memory. I realised the fact the mind replays these songs was an opportunity to work on being neutral and equanimous as I gave in to liking it or wanting it , I would start craving for more and thus repeating the vicious cycle . So i just moved on anyway.
For me, food was one of the factors why I decided on Dhamma Malaya as it was just an hour’s plane ride away and malaysian food is just the same as home.
I was very impressed with the efficiency of the staff which consists of old student volunteers. Everything has a system in a very organised way so everyone can be in silence with ease . Notices are posted up at the board each day, food and drinks are labelled. They serve up delicious home cooked vegetarian style food each day.
Breakfast consists of a variety of porridge, chee chong fun, fruits, toasts, yoghurt, liang teh etc..
Lunch is a feast of fried veggies, tofu, tempeh, curry veggie, noodles,rice, soups,dessert soups and salads each day.
A drink corner has an abundance of coffee, tea, milo, ,milk and oats!
I was so worried there wasn’t gonna be coffee at the venue I actually cut down on caffeine.. but was relieved to have my nescafe each morning especially the first 3 days. As counter-intuitive it might sound, the coffee actually helped the migraines and headaches to go away.
There was only tea break that served fruits and tea/coffee at 5pm and no dinner. thus.. I whacked the milo each day at 5pm with fruits to keep me filled.
It took me about 4 days to adjust my eating habits because.. I do not move around like I normally do each day for teaching or practice thus I needed less calories. I noticed I was feeling too bloated and heavy each meal so .. I had to spread out my carb intake between breakfast and lunch. :P
Vipassana Meditation and Yoga
Vipassana meditation complements the practice of yoga so well as a lot of the concepts stem from the similar teachings.
In the Yoga Sutra 1.2 "Yoga is the cessation of the modifications, or fluctuations, of the mind. “ - The ever present awareness needed to be cultivated within a physical yoga practice of the body, breath and mind is the first and easiest way to cultivate self awareness. And slowly helping to calm the ever crazy monkey mind.
Vipassana meditation to me seems to be the advanced technique of the How-to have “cessations of fluctuations of the mind” - through the practice of being aware of the present as it is. Self -observation and self-transformation through direct experience of the body and mind and how its infinitely interconnected at each moment of our lives. I kinda wish this is a prerequisite or a compulsory module for yoga teacher trainings because it directly trains and develop the aspect of Dharana (Concentration) and Dhyana (Meditation) within the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Asanas and Pranayama’s are only the initial beginning of a yoga practice. Of course there are a million other techniques of meditation but this seems to me the most practical and accessible one without being spiritual.
It is really pragmatic, and can be practiced by anyone of age ,race, religion, creed etc..
Although this is a teaching passed down from Buddha himself, it was never meant to be a sectarian or religious thing. But something that any human being can benefit. It doesn’t “go against “ any faith as it merely helps you gain better Life Skills to manage your inner emotional turmoils.
I am very grateful I took some time off to learn and practice this technique. I have had valuable time learning and being with myself to understand some parts of myself better so I can ascend and move on as a better being. Like I said, I don’t like or dislike the course, ( practice of Equanimity! ) haha. It will probably take some time for the process and things that came up to settle down and to also keep up with the practice back in the hectic city.
It was advised to have an annual retreat to keep it going and also to serve as an old student. Would I do it again? Perhaps not for some time… Got to find the groove into this first … And then if ever, I would head to the branch in Kyoto Japan:)
I do encourage to go for this at least once in your life if you are curious and ready! It would be the best thing you can do for yourself. The struggles are part of the process but it just leads you towards all the benefits . You will feel so enriched, enlightened and peaceful. It might take some time for the consciousness to readjust but I am already experiencing some benefits from the tip of the iceberg in the way that I start to understand the process my thinking and perspectives.
Here are some links if you would like to read more into it:
Thanks for reading such a long post!