Vipassana meditation – Or how I managed to sit still for 10 days continuously
First of all like in all my post, but especially in this one I write about my personal experience – and no one else will have exactly the same experience. So don’t expect any of this happening to you.
While travelling many people told me about Vipassana meditation and how it changed their lives. When I came back to Vienna I knew I had to continue travelling and since I haven’t been to Scandinavia I planned on going there and found a Vipassana meditation course in Sweden. There they have an official centre. In other countries like in Austria they also offer courses, but since they have no official centre it would be in a hotel. And I think the conditions for meditating are better in an official centre. And the best thing about Vipassana is that it’s for free. All their expenses are covered by donations. So I said why not give it a try.
So I went to Sweden more or less without any expectation. The only thing I knew about it was that you meditate for ten days from 4am to 9pm. So I was a little concerned if I would be able to sit still for ten days meditating continuously. Usually I’m not even able to sit still for ten minutes. Okay, challenge accepted! 🙂
I arrived at the centre, filled out the registration form and had to give them my mobile, my valuables and all my electronic devices and then moved into my room. Actually it is a dormitory with white curtains surrounding your bed giving you some privacy while meditating.
In the evening after a short introduction to the course the ‘noble silence’, as they called it started. We were not allowed to communicate, by talking, with gestures or not even by eye-contact with other course participants. Puhhhh! I want to talk with everyone and I’m not allowed to talk with anyone!? Okay, I will try my best.
And then the next morning at 4:00am they hit the wake up gong and at 4:30am everyone gathered in the meditation hall and took a blanket and meditation cushion(s) out of the shelf. One, two or how many you thought you needed. Some people build themselves a throne with cushions. And some elder people got a chair. I was fine with one thin foam cushion. I thought so at least. 😉
The first three days you start with Anapana meditation, which means observing your breath as it is. You close your eyes and watch your breath in the area between your upper lip and your nose, how the air touches the front of the nose when you breath in, how the fresh air goes through your nose and how it leaves your nose again slightly warmer than it was before and how it touches your skin again when leaving your body. And then you focus on a smaller area between your upper lip and the nose, trying to focus your concentration. I tried, and I failed. At first at least. I breath in and breath out, I breath in and breath out, I breath and breath out, and I’m gone. Gone for ten minutes, 15 minutes, my mind was completely gone. And then. Oh! Meditation! Back again, breathing in and out. Three times. And again. Gone. 15 minutes somewhere completely else. But then as they told us when drifting away I started breathing harder and suddenly I managed to stay with my breathing for a minute or so. And managed to focus more on my breathing and on the sensations that come up in this small area while breathing.
But the hardest for me was to sit still for one hour without changing posture. On the fourth day the group sittings we had three times a day for an hour in the meditation hall turned to strong determination sittings. So we should sit with strong determination without opening our eyes, our arms or our legs. The other meditation sittings you could choose to do them on your room or in the hall and if you can’t focus or need a break, you go for a walk in the forest. So sitting for one hour without changing posture I started feeling so much pain in my back, my bottom and my legs. But it is a good training to focus your concentration on an area of the body although another part is screaming “Here! I want attention!”.
Another hard thing during the course is to not have dinner. You get breakfast at 6:30 and lunch at 11:00 and it’s good and it’s a buffet where you can take as much as you want. But it was hard to not fill my belly with too much food and eat two or three plates when usually I would only eat one plate. And the other lesson the buffet taught me is to be happy what you have. Since you don’t pay for the course, you don’t attach your ego to it and say things like “I paid for this course, it should have comfortable beds and good food”. For me it was especially the unripe bananas which seem to be normal for the people over here, but I don’t like to eat bananas when they are still green and like a brick in the stomach. But since there was no dinner and only tea and two fruits per person and only bananas or apples (which I’m allergic to). I was happy with my tea and a green banana. 🙂
The fields we saw around the centre, but were not allowed to go for a walk to
On the fourth day we started with Vipassana itself. You start with observing not only the sensation between your lips and your nose but all over the body. You start at the head and inspect your body part by part, piece by piece. At the beginning I thought like “Hmmm, what is this all about? I don’t feel anything.”. But then I realised, I can feel my shirt on my skin, I can feel the pain in my legs, and then I started feeling subtle sensations on all parts of my body that I never felt before, because I’ve never been aware of them. I felt fine tickling, prickling and sometimes itching. And sometimes I felt sensations which I wouldn’t be able to put into words. But as Vipassana teaches there is no need to put them into words, because as every sensation they arise and pass away and you learn to not react on pleasant sensations with craving and also not to react on unpleasant sensations with aversion.
This was already a very interesting experience going so deep into my sensations and feeling sensations I never felt before. And then after meditating for six days I had a WOW! experience. I started not observing my body part by part, but sweeping a ball of awareness around my body from the top of my head to the tip of my toes, from the tip of my toes to the top of my head. And everywhere I moved this ball of awareness I felt so many fine and subtle sensations coming up all over my skin and then immediately disappearing. It was like a flow of sensations, like if someone had poured a bucket of sensations over my body. I was so overwhelmed by this experience that immediately after this group sitting of meditating for one hour, I went to my room and said I have to do this again. And again I rolled the ball of awareness around on my body. But this time it was even better with such intense sensations that after meditating for another hour I was sweating all over my body although I was sitting completely still all the time. I was worried about getting overexcited about it, but then I managed to calm down again.
On the last day I wasn’t able any more to sit for an hour without changing my posture. But I guess that’s on the one hand because I only felt pain everywhere after meditating for ten days and also because I think the strong determination was gone because I knew it was over. And then finally after ten days of silence we were allowed to talk to each other. Which was also quite an interesting experience because I had an image of every person sitting with in the meditation hall for ten days and then when talking with them I realised that my image was completely different from how the people really are.
So looking back on the course it was hard but definitely worth the experience and I’m proud that I made it to the end and didn’t give up like others did. Anyway, I think the real benefits you get from integrating Vipassana into your daily life and keeping the habit of meditating. So I want to keep practising and see if it really changes my unconscious habits, as it’s said.
What I learned from this ten days is that everything in life arises and passes away. Whether it’s something pleasant or unpleasant.
Everything is impermanent!