I recently completed a ten day Vipassana meditation retreat at the beautiful centre in Pomona, Queensland – ten days of complete silence – no talking with anyone other than the teacher and the female manager, no gestures, no eye contact, no guitar, no pen or notebook … it is all about going within and observing the self. Vipassana is a guided meditation that is completely non-sectarian, scientific and straightforward. It has nothing to do with religion or dogma and everything to do with finding real and lasting inner peace, happiness and harmony.
Everyone’s experience of Vipassana is different. The timing for me was perfect. I have been a ‘spiritual seeker’ since discovering yoga at twenty, and since then have dabbled in paganism and anthroposophy, studied the work of Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie and many other spiritual teachers, and was recently guided online to see through the illusion of self as personality. I was well primed for Vipassana intellectually, but could never have guessed that this was the answer to what I had been seeking for all those years!
Each morning at 4am we were woken by a gong. We were expected to meditate for twelve hours a day, and sit for another hour each evening listening to our teacher Goenka give a video discourse on the technique. It was hard work, and I fell into bed exhausted at 9:30, feeling like I’d dug a trench in stony ground.
Initially we were taught ‘anapana,’ a method of stilling the mind by focusing on the natural breath at the nostrils. For the first couple of days I had a real ‘monkey mind.’ A very cheeky, erratic little monkey who swang through the branches with exhausting energy … bouncing from guilt, remorse, self-pity, shame and blame, to optimistic plans, inventions and dreams, and back again, around and around and around. In the past, in the future; rarely in the present. An old spinal injury was exacerbating the situation, making it almost impossible to sit still for longer than about twenty minutes at a time. I was grateful when the teacher offered me a little back support on the third day, and at last I was able to calm and tame that monkey!
For three and a half days we practised anapana, narrowing the focus more and more, to finely attune the mind. Then we were given ‘the jewel of Vipassana,’ and what a precious gift it was. A practical technique of self-observation, during which we were required to sit as still as possible. I had a very profound experience, where my head was suffused with golden light, a beautiful calm peace that expanded beyond the bounds of my physical body. I could smell divine incense, although none was burning. Then as awareness descended down through my body there was so much pain, and my body, still locked in sitting pose, started juddering and shuddering and bouncing up and down on the floor. An acrid scent filled my nostrils. Thick dark dense matter seemed to be draining down, out of my feet. Later the teacher told me this was quite common and that some mental impurities were draining away. I didn’t move like that again. As the time progressed I learnt not to react to the sensations I was experiencing … neither craving the ‘blissful’ subtle sensations nor wishing the grosser ‘painful’ sensations would depart! Knowing that everything is impermanent helps. This too shall pass, and every moment is new and fresh.
On the fifth day I experienced a massive ego trip, and ego trips based on wealth, status, beauty or talent have nothing on the spiritual ego trip! On the sixth day I lost my equanimity entirely, crashed and burned. Humbled somewhat, the seventh day was great, then the eighth day was a horror show, with all my greatest fears and demons making themselves known. The ninth day was also hard, and the tenth absolutely blissful.
Vipassana means ‘to see things as they really are.’ This practise gave me the wonderful gift of equanimity. I feel more peaceful than I have ever felt in my life before, and I will be forever grateful. At the next course I will give service. If you are also interested in real peace, real harmony and real happiness, I highly recommend doing the ten day Vipassana course.