My experience of #Vipassana

I was fortunate to experience a 10-day Vipassana workshop recently. Sharing my learnings & experience since many folks asked me how it went. So here goes (1/n)

2/n Vipassana is a deep meditation immersion: 12+ hrs of observing one’s breath each day starting at 4.30am till 9pm w/ breaks only for meals. Vipassana covers Gautam Buddha’s teachings & quite literately means “observing things as they really are” v/s what you want them to be

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3/n The core philosophy of Vipassana is that all of life’s miseries are due to (i) aversion & (ii) craving. And by observing one’s breath and body sensations you can develop equanimity to deal with life’s vicissitudes without attachment and with complete control over your mind

4/n to eventually achieve liberation. I really like the fact that Vipassana connects mind to body and makes actionable a lot of spiritual teachings that “sound” great but are too theoretical to put into practice

5/n Btw there is a fascinating back-story of how the late SN Goenka brought the lost technique back to India. Fortunately, they were preserved & handed down generation to generation among a small group of people in Burma. They preserved not just the the exact technique

6/n of Vipassana but also the original words / learnings from the Buddha. SN Goenka accidentally went through a workshop in Burma and brought it back to India 2500 years after we had lost this jewel. More here https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/who-was-vipassana-guru-s-n-goenka/

7/n. Back to the course. The rules are simple - no phones or digital device, no reading (books, newspapers, etc), no writing, no contact with the outside world, no speaking or any other form of communication including with fellow students (not even eye contact!)

8/n Quite simply the only agenda for the duration of your course is “Focus on your breath” and “Do Nothing Else”

9/n Surprisingly giving up the phone was much easier than I thought. I didn’t miss it at all! At some level I think I even welcomed it. I don’t know if the digital over-exposure over the past 18 months had anything to do with it. But this was shockingly effortless

10/n Waking up at 4am also wasn’t as hard as I imagined. They make it easy by ringing a loud gong every 10 seconds from 4 am to 4.10 am :) and follow it up with a knock at your door if you aren’t out by 4.25. I believe the daily meditation also means you just need lesser sleep

11/n The first thing that hits you when you enter the course is the size of your room. While the facilities are excellent & v clean, they are modest. Your room is no more than 45-50 sqft. You groan and tell yourself this feels like a prison cell

12/n but surprisingly you get over it pretty quickly and figure that much space is more than sufficient. This is one of the many examples where you learn how your mind forms aversions / cravings at every moment without you realising and how that forms ur perception of “reality”

13/n The next thing that hits you is how time just stands STILL from the moment you enter. Most of us are on this never ending treadmill of life - back to back zoom calls, whatsapp, messages, emails, social obligations, family, fitness, kids, personal finance, health,

14/n home errands and a gazillion other things. Suddenly being cut-off from everything feels like someone abruptly pulled the emergency switch on your treadmill and I felt dazed the entire 1st day

15/n Vacations also give us a break. But we tend to pack our holidays with different but arguably more of the same - games, activities, social outings, more idle browsing, some work calls / email squeezed in, etc. Basically we’re always still “busy”.

16/n So Vipassana definitely felt like the only time I actually had NOTHING to do but observe my breath with my eyes closed sitting cross-legged on the floor - 12+ hours every day for 10 days

17/n During the first couple of days, I’d open my eyes thinking more than an hour, maybe more, had passed. Only to realise that it was *only* twenty minutes since I had last checked the time.

18/n Every minute can feel like an eternity and it’s only after a few days that I was calibrated to the *real* passage of time and by the end of the course was able to estimate it with much better accuracy. That’s how accustomed we are of “busy being busy”

19/n A good description of Vipassana is it is “Defragmenting of the mind”. Remember that windows utility some of us spent hours staring at when our hard disk would slow down? That’s exactly it.

20/n Random, isolated memories some which I hadn’t had in decades came to me. New connections were formed, some memories kept repeating on loop while others were discarded to an isolated corner of the brain to never came back

21/n The first day or two for me were mostly memories that were top of mind. Or largely of an unpleasant nature (situations, conversations, relationships, people, etc) that I hadn’t completely processed. It was a bit depressing as that’s all I could think of and I struggled

22/n to keep the mind “thoughtless”. But this got better day two onwards. But even then, the mind would keep oscillating between the “past” and “future”, with fleeting moments of being in the “present”.

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23/n The first couple of days is also where I experienced the most body pain. My legs, my back, my neck - literally every part of the body was in pain - one can’t imagine that sitting doing nothing can cause so much discomfort :)

24/n I had heard most people who leave the course do so on day 2 - and I understood why. I’ve never been one to sit cross-legged on the floor. So every few minutes I needed to stretch, my feet would fall asleep, so I would move positions, etc.

25/n And then something shifted on day 3. I decided I would endure an entire hour without moving - come what may (Adhiṭṭhāna). And shockingly once I endured through it, for the rest of the 10 days, I was easily able to do 1 hour plus sessions with almost no movement.

26/n It almost like the mind sends the body a signal that the pain is intolerable - and once you decide you won’t succumb to that, the neural pathways are reset

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27/n Day 3 & 4 were also the days of most clarity for me. Something changed after focusing on the breath for 3-4 days. I felt an intense sense of clarity - high levels of positivity and a general mood uplift

28/n So many ideas just seemed to “flow” easily - this was probably the best phase of the course for me. After that it was about observing body sensations - which was OK but I think I need to practice it more to truly understand it / benefit from it

29/n Another striking thing about the course - I went in expecting most folks to be my age or older. I was pleasantly surprised that 80% of our batch (~50 of us) was in the age group of 24-35. On the final day before parting, I spoke with many 24/25/26 year olds

30/n I wondered how they even thought of doing something like this at such a young age. Their answers were both scary & inspiring - they said tech fatigue & facing increasingly complex lives at earlier ages is leading many to seek help & direction

31/n Overall it was a transformational experience. I'd read about #Vipassana experiences of @jack @harari_yuval & @amitsomani closer home. So doing it was always on the list. I’m grateful I did it finally - & I returned feeling I gave myself the best gift I could this year <fin>