New Years Eve 2016, sitting by the beach on the south coast of Sri Lanka and thinking about the year ahead. That was when I first said it out loud: In 2017, I want to attend a 10 Day Vipassana Course. From what I read and heard, it sounded interesting, challenging, scary but also very much like something that I really wanted. So I did it. Just before the year is about to end, I went on a 10 Day Vipassana Course in Germany.
Looking back at these 10 days, I can honestly say that it was one of the most challenging times in my life. Yet, I have learned so much and grown so much in these days.
What is Vipassana?
In order to give full justice to the teachings of Vipassana I will simply copy paste the description and explanation of what Vipassana is given on the website dhamma.org:
“Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e., an Art Of Living. This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation.
Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.
The scientific laws that operate one’s thoughts, feelings, judgements and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace.”
About the Course
Having arrived at the center in Germany, I moved into my room which I shared with three other girls. Before the Noble Silence and the first Meditation Session started, a light dinner was served. This allowed us to get to know the other participants and roomies for the next days to come a little. We were then introduced to the daily schedule, the idea of Noble Silence and some rules for the days to follow. At this time, I did not really know what to expect but I was curious and excited.
We were served two meals a day: breakfast at 6:30am and lunch at 11am. At 5pm there was tea, chocolate milk (also vegan chocolate milk 😉 ) and fruit. All food was vegetarian with more than enough options for Vegans or other special dietary needs. Most importantly though, it was delicious and prepared with lots of love.
The Noble Silence began the night before the first day. You were asked to be silent at all times and avoid any kind of interaction, by touch, look, gesture, written notes,… anything.
Day 1-3,5 were designated to learn and practice what is called Anapana Meditation and sets the foundation for the Vipassana Meditation. Read a description on what Anapana is here.
From then on we were introduced to Vipassana Meditation – moving through your body with awareness and consciousness and feeling your body’s sensations with perfect equanimity. ‘Awareness’ and ‘Equanimity’ are probably among the most frequently used words throughout the course. Within the framework of the body, we were introduced to the underlying concept of impermanence (anicce). Any sensation you might or might not feel has the characteristic of arising and passing – thus, your attitude toward it, perfect equanimity, is essential – but must be practiced.
Even though the course setting is the same for every Vipassana Course across the world, the experience each and every student is unique. So please note that whatever I have experienced is solely my own personal experience and can and shall in no way be compared to anybody else’s experience or feelings toward a Vipassana Course.
Where to start….
The 10 days Vipassana Course were all in all very challenging and extremely tought but in hindsight, I cannot think of any other experience ever made that allowed me to learn and grow so intensively in such a short period of time.
Throughout the entire course I had difficulties sticking to two meals a day and skipping the dinner. The first couple of days I grabbed some extra food during breakfast and lucnh – just in case I got hungry in the evening. That did not do any good for me. I felt dizzy and lazy after meals and found it even more difficult to focus during meditation sessions. I tried to listen more carefully to my body and only eat what was needed to serve my hunger. That made the time after meals much easier and helped my meditation practice. Nevertheless, there was barely an evening when I didn’t go to bed hungry. From other students I have heard that they either didn’t miss the dinner at all or that they were just too hungry and requested some additional light food in accordance with the assistant teacher.
While I imagined being silent for 10 days to be among the toughest aspect of the course, it turned out to be okay. Sharing a room and especially a bathroom with three other girls and having to coordinate the bath times was surprisingly easy and did not require any kind of communication or interaction. What I really missed was the little things like saying goodnight to my roomies or asking if they enjoyed the food. In the end, I think that being silent is one of the most important aspects of the course. It forces you to really be with yourself and thus, allows you to connect with your body and mind on a level that I have never experienced before. But no need to worry, you still have plenty of things to think and worry about – even without any kind of external input!
Being offline and away from your phone and all social media for such a long time was so much easier than expected. Of course, you didn’t have a choice since you had to hand in your phone upon arrival – but I didn’t even miss my phone. I did miss talking to the people closest to my heart though. Especially those that I ususally talk to on a daily basis. Knowing that this will only last 10 days helped a lot. Besides that, I rather felt reluctant and a little scared about falling right back into my old habbits of clinging on to my phone, social media and any digital device. I now try to remind myself that I didn’t miss anything majorly important in these 10 days. So why worry about missing something for the next 2 or 3 hours?
For me, the course started really rough. I had a terrible migraine on Day 1 and even though I was told that pain in the legs, back and head have been experienced by many students, this did not really help me. Luckily, I felt much better already the next day. Working with the Anapana Meditation for the first 3,5 days was overall very tough. I had difficulties staying focussed and concentrated and working with such a small area of the body (area around your nostrils).
So to me it came with great relief when we started working with the Vipassana Meditation – even though I got to see why the Anapana Meditation is so important. With the Vipassana Meditation came the adhitthana sittings, sitting for one hour with strong determination not to change posture or open the eyes (read more here under Question 21). Given the pain and discomfort I experienced in my back, shoulders, legs and especially hips sitting still for one hour seemed impossible for me at first. But as anything else, adhitthana sitting comes with practice and was by far not as scary as it might sound at first. Overall, the group sittings (8-9am, 2:30-3:30pm and 6-7pm) were a great setting for the practice. At the same time I made great use of the opportunity to work in our room and sit on a chair ( 🙂 !!!).
Would I Recommend It?
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yeeees!. I think I cannot emphasize this enough. If you have never meditated before, practice a totally different kind of meditation or have been interested in meditation for long. It does not matter. I think that learning and truly connecting with yourself is beneficial to everyone! On a very personal note, I feel that with Vipassana I have been given a beautiful and powerful tool to practice equanimity. Once I got started with my Vipassana Meditation, I realized how important equanimity is. For this, I am extremely grateful!
Let me know if there is any questions you might have and I am more than happy to share a little more about my experiences.