10 Lessons from 10 days of Vipassana
In January, 2017 I took a ten day course on Vipassana Meditation, mainly for two reasons, one was to be able to disconnect from everybody in my life for ten days because things were not really working out for me so well and second was to become a saint like person who feels no sorrow or sadness, actually I wanted to be best buddies with god!
Let’s backtrack to what was happening in my life when I decided to do the Vipassana course. I was seven months into being a jobless lawyer. I had just turned twenty-four and I was more unsettled in life then I was at eighteen, and I was in excruciating pain from having to look at countless wedding and engagement photos.
That’s when I decided enough is enough, my life may not be perfect but I got god to help me, I am going to try and get closer to him (or her), so I can win some favours (maybe even a marriage proposal).
It was confirmed then, I was to put Surabhi version 0.5 into Vipassana and bring out Surabhi version 2.0. It was time to level up!
Did I level up? Not exactly, what happened was completely different that is, instead of levelling up, I went deeper, within myself and discovered a completely new version of me. It was pretty much like Columbus discovering America by mistake. And the example makes poetic sense because much like Columbus I was looking essentially looking for east, which is spirituality, my centre and my buddy God, but what I discovered was west; my own perversity.
Here are ten lessons that I have learned from the Vipassana Course.
Disclaimer: The post might not be as spiritual as you expect.
1. The Yolos
The first resistance I faced on my journey towards god was from the members of the yolo cult.
Where I come from (the high rises of South Bombay) the followers of the yolo cult do not permit anybody to do anything, if it doesn’t require a liquor permit. These people meet every weekend at the altar of Jack Daniels to worship him and all non-followers of Jack are condemned to be crucified to a plank that reads the king of bores for life, if you ever come to where I live, remember don’t ever talk about stuff like god and mental peace, the yolos are scarier than the romans. So as soon as the yolos heard I was going for Vipassana, I was put under inquisition to ascertain how much of a heretic I have become.
They asked me if I was going to at least smuggle a bottle of JD to the course for weekly prayer, I said no we are not allowed to follow any other religious traditions during the course. That’s when they all shook their heads in worry and decided to do one round of shots to pray for my wellbeing.
The next point of concern was my phone. No phone! For 10 days! This is Jihad, they bellowed. Yes, I said hanging my head down in shame, hoping I don’t get trolled to death. No Instagram, no Facebook, not even Snapchat? How will everybody know you’re meditating? They asked looking really worried. Maybe I’ll send out some positive vibes, I joked. The joke dint go well with them, this time they were serious, they deleted me from all WhatsApp groups and declared me banished from the vicinity of any club for the next one year. I was relieved, this was better than what happened to the guy who said he liked classical music, he was made to dance to EDM for ten days in a row till his feet dint start bleeding. Thank god, I have some friends on the inside. Phew!
2. I cried in public and called myself useless in front of absolute strangers, which was my first step towards self acceptance
The course was taking place at an Ashram, which is basically a building, with a verandah and several rooms and attached bathroom (thank god), all in all there’s a cheap motel feel to the Ashram. The same building has a big meditation hall to obviously meditate. There is a walking area outside connected to the Verandah.
On the very first night of the course, I was gripped by extreme fear. I have a recurrent fear of the night, I cannot sleep alone in a room and I wake up often with nightmares. I really hoped that I would be cured of this fear of the night through relentless meditation.
I came to the Ashram thinking this is a place where I am to be best buddies with god and god is supposed to be hovering above me so I won’t get any nightmares here, but (un)surprisingly I couldn’t sleep in the room alone and I really missed by mommy. Which made me feel like a failure for not being able to sleep without my mommy. I am twenty-four for god’s sake.
The next day while meditating I broke down, I started crying to the kind old ladies who are appointed during the course to listen to and be kind to anybody who goes a little cuckoo during the course. I told them, I am a failure, I have done nothing good in my life ever, maybe I should quit, this course is not something that I am meant to do. I am not meant to be best buddies with god. He doesn’t like me, that’s why I get scared. Maybe I should just apologise to the yolos and ask them to let me back in, that’s where I belong, not here.
So, the kind old ladies directed me to a kind old guru, who overlooks the entire meditation course, he gave me the most valuable advice, that I have ever received till date. He asked me to suck it up! He said, there have been a lot of people in the course who had issues with sleeping alone in the night, even grown men sometimes feel scared of being alone in the room, and 70 percent of the course happens in the day, right now it is day, then why am I thinking of the night and fucking it up when it’s not even night.
That’s when I learned my first lesson to not give too much importance to a fear before it happens, because otherwise I live the same fear twice, once in anticipation of it happening and second when it happens. What is the point in living the same fear twice over? If the fear feels too difficult to overcome, I should just let it be and feel it once, when it happens, I shouldn’t waste the part of the day or time where I don’t feel the fear.
At this time, I felt like god and me are now getting to know each other a lot better. I realised God is not partial to fearless people, He (or She) only needs people to realise that there are some things more important than fear. Gotcha, God.
3. Can god’s people be troublemakers?
When I came for the course, I thought I would be chilling with advanced souls who see or do no wrong, that’s why I am here right? If I wanted to chill with the kind of rotten people who I usually hang with in the outside world, I wouldn’t come in here (Using harsh words only for effect, you all are beautiful), but I realised everybody is work in progress, nobody is quite there.
The most important rule of Vipassana Meditation is noble silence, that is you don’t talk to anybody on the outside or even the people who are doing the meditation with you. Not even through gestures, this is so that you can really go within.
Now it happened that there were certain bad asses who would have secret conversations (from now on they will be called the talkers) sometimes in my room or around me, and many times they pulled me into a conversation when I dint want to and that annoyed the fuck out of me, because I was doing this meditation to be best buddies with god and become Surabhi version 2.0 if they kept talking and making me talk, god could get angry on all of us as a group and decide to block our progress.
Also, I am a recovering perfectionist, I hate inefficiency of any sort. I hate breaking rules.
So, I did what any moral student would do (In my defence Santa and god are always watching), I complained to the authority about the people who were talking in close proximity to me, after which I got a major panic attack, where I felt scared that what if those people found out I complained, I started feeling really guilty and I had to go talk to the guru again.
The kind old guru by now had become my personal therapist, he was a total Zen master and he asked me chill the fuck out again. He said that I am angry, because they were affecting my ability to focus on the course by talking and making me talk, and I really wanted to focus.
I agreed with that part, but then why was I feeling bad for complaining?
He said, that’s because I feel afraid to honour my own wants. And ding ding ding a light bulb went off in my head.
I have always liked doing things that most people the same age as me never liked, I love listening to spiritual talks, I love listening to hymns in my regional language, I love talking about god and afterlife, I prefer reading to partying, and I like studying, yes, I said it, I actually like reading a text book even if there is no exam to give.
As I grew up with the help of other label makers, I learned to label myself as uncool, weird and geeky, which is why I decided to become an honorary member of the yolos and never disclose this perfect student side of me.
I have a slight problem, it’s called being NOF — Naively Over Familiar, when I meet a person I talk to them like I know…medium.com
So, that day when I complained about the talkers, I felt free, I felt like the part of me that was dying under the burden of the pretended me, just bounced right out. After this grand realization, I walked around the ashram with a face that someone makes when they tell somebody (in a condescending British accent) it’s not levoirsar, it’s levoisa; (If you don’t understand this reference please choose the most painful method to kill yourself, I mean it).
That day, the day I became the official snitch at Vipassana, I decided that I dint care to look cool anymore. For the first time in my life I had actually honoured my wants and did what is right for me, instead of following the popular vote.
4. No, I said, No
One of the talkers, happened to be my age and since the first day of the course, she identified me as her friend. Now she would frequently take me to the other talkers during resting hours, where I wouldn’t talk but I stood there and listened to them mindlessly gossiping about the people who were doing the course. They would specifically target the really silent meditators who were minding their business, and pass really unfunny comments on them.
This whole activity made my blood boil, mainly because I had come here to escape of all this, escape group-ism and bitchy people and here I am surrounded by similar people. It made me think is there something in me that draws me to such people (even in such a spiritual environment), why am I constantly surrounded by people who choose to be negative instead of making the most of this experience?
I focused on this question while meditating and another light bulb went off in my head. I am constantly surrounded by the wrong people because of my inability to say no. I choose them. I don’t want to displease anybody so even when I don’t want to talk, I always reply. I am afraid to say no to those who don’t make me happy. I decided not anymore.
So, then during the next one hour break, when the talker, who I am sort of friends with, tried to talk to me, I averted my gaze, kept walking while gesturing to her that I won’t be talking to her for the rest of the days. I felt really powerful. And I got a very clear message from god (FYI, by now god and me are on first name basis), he(or she) said that, I don’t need you to be nice to love you, I need you to be you to love you. And if you are being nice to others and not yourself, you’re still a big bitch to one person, that is you. Well, right on, big G.
5. Khus, Phus, Khus Phus, Khus Phus Khus
As I started adopting my I will do only what I want attitude, another one of my major fears cropped up.
I had heard the talkers talk about other meditators right, so I knew they talk about everybody. Now that I wasn’t a part of the talkers, I felt this sense of dread that they are talking about me too.
And I realised how this course is slowly becoming a dramatisation of my real life. Up until that day, in my life outside of the Ashram, I wasn’t able to separate myself from the kind of people who put everybody down (even though I hated them) thinking I will be their next target if I don’t stand with them, which made me a silent contributor to all of the put downs.
Anyway, as I was walking around the walking track and the talkers were talking about something or somebody, I noticed them looking at me once or twice, I was trying hard not to look at them and I was ignoring the distant, khus phus (mindless chatter) among the talkers but the more I put the chatter out, louder it grew in my ear, until all I could hear was the chatter, I felt really anxious.
I felt like they are all looking at me, talking about me, laughing at me and they hate me, I felt unsteady and I sat on the parapet of the verandah exhausted; and then involuntarily, I started to meditate; I was feeling watched and judged, I felt like all the talkers were thinking why is she taking this course so seriously, but within five minutes, all shame, all fear disappeared, and I felt calm, even though I knew at the back of my mind everybody was watching.
I sat closed eyes, observing my discomfort and fear for around twenty minutes, after which I opened my eyes and walked into the building with a big smile on my face.
6. Swamy and friends makes a lot of sense to me now
If you studied Swamy and friends in school you would remember the scene where Swaminathan, hurls stones at his school windows without really understanding the imperialist movement, and he feels so good when he’s throwing stones. I understood that feeling of pure unadulterated childish joy at Vipassana,
It had been about eight days of silence and no technology, my mind was struggling to keep itself entertained, so I started inventing games to keep myself from getting bored. I would take a stone and hurl it at a coconut tree with all my force to see how high it can go. I would play hop scotch with myself; or watch the sun set and rise through a microscope that I created by, curling my fingers together and leaving a slight opening, I would adjust my finger to increase and decrease the size of the sun.
Out of all things that I have learned during this course, the most important is the importance of play. I firmly believe a child (without a phone or a video game) is the most creative person on this planet. I connected with the inner child in me and invented games and characters in my mind. I would pretend to be part of a movie, sing songs in my head, perform to those songs when I was alone in the room, I even pretended to receive an Oscar.
All and any shame related to my creativity (I felt a lot of it, but on that another time), all embarrassment that I felt towards my active imagination and impossible dreams was withering away and what was coming out was the confidence of a child.
Have you noticed that a child is happily unaffected by reality or pragmatism, he or she will proudly proclaim, that I want to be an astronaut, or bus driver or pilot without feeling any embarrassment towards the largesse of his or her dream. A child only knows possibility, it’s only us disbelieving adults who dabble in impossibility.
When I became one with the child within me, I learnt how to believe that anything is possible, even if it is for five minutes, in a make-believe game. I have retained this childlike excitement that I discovered within me during the course and I continue to play with my imagination, even when I have myriad sources of entertainment now.
7. Anxiety is just another sensation
I had serious anxiety, we are talking about bouts of breathlessness and debilitating phantom pain in the chest. I felt really ashamed of my anxiety because I felt like it is abnormal. There are these specific triggers to my anxiety and I started avoiding all or any situation that had even a remote possibility of triggering an anxiety attack, which led to me living a very limited life.
Vipassana meditation is all about observing the sensations on the body, they say that anything that we feel is a reaction to a sensation on the body, the body has its own memory.
Say for example, if you have kachra (dust) in your carbonator, which is by the way the most common way of car break downs in India (source - every Bollywood/TV serial car mechanic ever). What will you do, will you curse the dust or the car or just ask a mechanic to remove the dust and start driving again?
Vipassana Meditation or observing your sensations is like the mechanic that sweeps your subconscious mind to remove the dust that has accumulated in it by feeling the sensations on your body and not reacting to them.
What are sensations you ask? So, basically, if you eat an ice cream and you are a gluttonous (like me), you will feel happy sensations (feelings) on your body, like satisfaction and ecstasy this is only because your subconscious mind has information stored in it that says, ice cream means extreme happiness. On the other hand, if you see your ex-boyfriend and you feel like kicking his ass, it’s because you have information stored in your subconscious saying this asshole means world war, so you feel anger, and irritation and probably a burning sensation in your body!
I realised that just like the sensations of satisfaction or anger, that I have described above, anxiety is also a sensation that I feel on my body, which is triggered by some external stimulus and there is nothing embarrassing about it.
So, how do you overcome feeling like shit when you see your ex or feeling anxious? It is by observing all the sensations on your body and do nothing, it’s like if a mosquito bites you and you don’t scratch the itch for some time, the itch will go, because the sensation of itching is temporary, just like that observe all sensations on the body and they will go away.
Essentially, what you do it that you rewrite the information stored in your subconscious mind. So, if you see your ex ten times and you observe the anger and don’t react it gets lesser and lesser till you see him and feel nothing. That’s Vipassana, easy-peesy!
I have successfully used Vipassana Meditation to overcome my anxiety. I let my anxiety come and go and every time I let it come and go without resistance and just observe it, its hold over me reduces.
8. Thinking and understanding are two completely different things
During Vipassana we had discourses in the night, where a very witty and learned guru by the name of S.N. Goenka would give life lessons which everybody would be too tired to focus on (okay I would be too tired to focus don’t know about others).
As I was listening to him, in a completely exhausted, non-thinking way, I realised I could understand his words much better on a feeling level, rather than an intellectual level.
One thing you don’t know about me is that, I am a pseudo shrink, I have read so much self-help that now I can preach spirituality, but yet I suffer a lot, that is because often times I understand things only at an intellectual level and not at the level of feelings.
Vipassana taught me the vast difference between reading life is beautiful in a book, and walking with a hop in my step because I really felt like life’s beautiful. I have evolved from the pseudo shrink to an in-recovery patient. And I like the second position much better.
9. I can live a real life
I should have mentioned this much earlier but I felt it right at the end of the course, so it’s only fitting that I mention it towards the end.
I have always had somebody to text about my day to and there was Facebook and Snapchat. I would constantly be sharing every small happening of my life with another person or the world. It was a disease, sharo-mania, I felt like if people did not see a pretty picture of me, I wasn’t looking pretty.
Even at the meditation centre, I was scared that If the world dint know I was making progress in mental peace and god and me dint put up a selfie on Facebook, nobody would believe the progress I made at Vipassana.
For the first five or six days of the course, even if I was just walking the grounds I would think oh I am so going to tell this or that person about the walk, it was like WhatsApp was open in my head and I was mentally texting people about my day. I constantly wished that I could take the picture of the flowers and nature so that people would know I am enjoying being alone with nature so much.
On the sixth day, I had this moment of clarity where I finally realised I was actually living through my own eyes. I realised that, I was a living breathing person not just an extension of WhatsApp, Snapchat or Facebook. That’s the funny thing, social media had gone from being an extension of my life to being my life. I had forgotten how to live as a single entity, before Vipassana happened.
Living life without sharing its moments to validate that they happened, had such a profound impact on me that I deleted my Facebook account, go on, go find me, there will be no person by my name on Facebook. Along with Facebook, gone are snapchat and Instagram.
Trust me it helps when it’s only you judging you. I could be the next miss universe you know, I am that good looking and you have to trust me, it’s not like you can go and see a photo of me on Facebook to cross check.
10. We have higher being within us
After three days of gradual warming to the technique of Vipassana Meditation, on the fourth day we are asked to try out the practice of Adhitthana, where you sit in one position for an hour, without as much as moving a muscle.
I managed to sit without moving for all of the seven days, three times in a day for an hour each. That’s when I realised that my body and mind are separate from each other and we have a higher being within us.
While sitting for one hour my mind would explode with thoughts, my body would shiver with anxiety, anger and other unexplained feelings, yet, I would just sit there observing all the thoughts and pain. It felt like, I wasn’t a part of the same body, it felt like there are two people involved in this meditation, one who is observing the pain, anger and restlessness and calmly waiting for the one hour to be done, and the other who is feeling the anger, restlessness and pain.
Who was it that was observing and holding me together and making me sit still, even when I was exploding with pain?
I call that person my higher being, I believe that we have a higher being within us, call it god, the inner being, source or Jackie Chan but that higher being within us has access to incredible power and energy and if we learn to tap into that power we can make incredible things happen.
Finally, I have learned that will power is a muscle, we need to flex it enough, for it develop.
After coming back from Vipassana, I can now;
Sit at one place and finish a whole book without feeling restless or feeling like I am missing out on something.
I do only one task at a time now, I focus completely on the task, even if it’s recreational, say watching television (earlier I needed to be scrolling through my phone even while watching television).
If I have free time in between doing two activities I am able to just relax and do nothing instead of feeling uneasy without having social media to devour.
I give my feelings a lot more importance now, I do the things I love without feeling guilty because I have learned to observe my guilt until it disappears.
I don’t know if I have become god’s best friend after doing the course but I definitely have become my own best friend!
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