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Updated: Jul 11, 2020

“Truly connected, I return to different behaviour, heightened sounds, busy streets and diversity. I've had a few similar experiences in my life but none so truly connecting and healthy for my mind, my body and my soul. If you are ever in the market for a life appreciation reset, then sit a Vipassana Meditation course by S.N Goenka” – (Chris Geisler, 2019)

Ch. 1 – Introduction – Where are YOU at?

Ch. 2 - 10 Days (Format + Setup in detail)

Ch. 3 – The Course - Self-purification by Self-observation

Ch. 4 – Concluding the experience

Ch.1 – Introduction – Where are YOU at?

I would like to invite you to read chapter one with as much self-awareness as possible, be curious but true to yourself because I am asking you first to understand if it’s actually right for you to read this blog!

What is Vipassana; it is an art of living, it is an insight into the true nature of reality and a way to live free from misery and unhappiness. It is a meditation technique that is practiced with discipline, patience and persistence which aims to free you from attachment, craving and aversion. According to it is an observation based, self-exploratory journey that focuses on deep interconnection between the mind and body, which is realised through disciplined attention to the physical sensations.

I learned about Vipassana from 3 individuals who had passed me by in life, they each spoke about it with exactly the same glint in their eye and in a matter of words, with equal clarity and balance, they all told me how much value it had added to their life. These were people that seemed more genuine than most, they didn’t hold any expectation of any reaction from me. Just as well because I never felt the urge to ask more questions and I always left with a keen impulse to sit a course like it. So, knowing when the time was right, with a little intention and when certain opportunities presented themselves I was going head first without much research or time spent finding out more, into a ten day intensive. This was my journey into it and that felt right for me. My advice here is simple; If you have a strong desire or pull to undertake a Vipassana course then make sure you know it’s right for you to carry on reading, because it might not be, and by knowing little might be how you are going to gain the most from it. It’s truly important to understand if reading more into this, gathering expectations and ideas about it, will negatively impact your experience. I have written this because if you decide it is going to help steer you toward taking on a course and perhaps answer some questions on certain things that without, would hinder you from doing one. Just to note; I don’t have any stance on how you should enter a course like this, by knowing little or knowing a lot, this is for you to decide.

I will say this… arriving with little to no expectation allowed me to take it on with fresh eyes and see the course in its purest form, however looking back I can acknowledge the situation all are placed in is a vulnerable one (I will go into this in detail later) and having to adhere to a noble silence, one could argue, could slightly suppress your rational mind without the ability to discuss and debate, which is interesting to think about. If you want to really get the most out of the ten days and give a proper try to what you learn, then you have to remove any doubt or questioning, which I understood, but this can be difficult for some so knowing more about the course before hand is, for some, the wisest decision.

I can say I jumped right in with as much trust and patience as possible, which for me was the only way. I arrived, I felt very ready to take on the new experience, be challenged and retreat from all other ways of life I know, as for the next 10 days I was to live the life of a Monk.

Ch.2 - 10 Days (Format + Setup in detail)

This isn’t going to be a step-by-step account of my personal experience, I would like to go to the roots of it pretty quickly and place more emphasis on what was taught and the things I learnt. Although first I want to set the scene, give overview to the format and set-up of the centre and define what exactly I experienced day-to-day!

It is important to mention that these courses are FREE for anyone to attend, they are run solely on donations, the kindness and love from people who have gained the benefits from centuries of teachings.

The first thing you have to do is to give some details about yourself. Everyone on the course (about 120) had to answer a couple of simply questions and sign the pamphlet that defines 5 precepts you must adhere to before you commence.

If you are not prepared to then you have come all this way to turn directly around and leave, it is very clear these aren’t taken lightly. Commitment is a must. Look back, getting into reflective mode was the perfect way to begin, after all, I was there to learn about myself. In Pali (native Indian) this is called ‘Sila’ – to abstain from; killing any being, stealing, sexual misconduct, wrong speech and all intoxicants. You find out soon enough how important these precepts are. They allow you to proceed, and are extremely relevant in quietening the mind, which is the foundation of the experience.

The course centre was large and symmetrical with two places of congregation for all; the eating / dining hall and the meditation / course hall. These rooms and the entire centre were divided in half, one side the Males reside and the other the Females, distance is at all times kept between them. You are to avoid any form of communication with fellow course sitters, that includes eye contact and hand gestures but it is possible at any point to raise questions with the course manager or any of the volunteers who are all sitting the course but helping out also. You are given a locker for your phone and told before the course to avoid bringing any reading or writing materials, just an alarm clock, bedding and a bottle for drinking water. You are made aware from the off that you are not allowed to practice anything other than what is scheduled for you in the course, no Yoga or any form of exercise. I learnt that there are two main reasons for this, (1) you are there to dedicate your time and energy to the practice ONLY, so if you are mixing this with anything else, including other techniques of meditation, you are not giving a fair shot / best chance to the practice. (2) As to not disturb anyone else’s experience, it is a very personal and individual 10 days, interfering with someone else’s course makes no sense and soon becomes of high importance to everyone.

Your food provided is as follow; Breakfast at 08:00 which is home cooked Porridge or Muesli/Cereal with a wide range of fruits, seeds and nuts. Millet, Wheat and Rye breads, local jam, peanut butter plus many more condiments and a wide selection of Teas. Lunch is served at 11:00 which is often a stew, chilli, curry, bolognas or roasted veg dish with large salad plus dressing and selections of breads with condiments. All the food is made fresh on site, vegetarian, and very light to complement the subtle practice. I’ve gone into detail here because diet is important to me and I want to give some deserved credit to the centre because the food was incredible. In the evening, new students are given fruit and past students who have sat a course before are given Lemon water but nothing more.

The running order of the day was as follows:

04:00 – 04:30 Morning Gong – Wash

04:30 – 06:30 Meditation in Room or Hall

06:30 – 08:00 Breakfast

08:00 – 09:00 Meditation in Hall

09:00 – 11:00 Meditation in Room or Hall

11:00 - 12:00 Lunch

12:00 – 13:00 Rest

13:00 – 14:30 Meditation in Room or Hall

14:30 – 15:30 Meditation in Hall

15:30 – 17:00 Meditation in Room or Hall

17:00 – 18:00 Tea

18:00 – 19:00 Mediation in Hall

19:00 – 20:15 Teachers Discourse

20:15 – 21:00 Meditation in Hall

(Over 10 hours of meditation)

It is very clear from the off that Meditation is the main part of your day, with over 10 hours of practice, 3 of those are compulsory in the Hall with all other students.

I think this gives a good but brief overview of the course and really sets the scene. Yes it is intense and needs to be, for awareness and concentration.

Ch. 3 - Self-purification by Self-observation – being ignorant of our inner reality.

Meditation in the hall begins with around 5 minutes of chanting and commentary / guidance by S.N Goenka, (who I will introduce shortly) everyone on the course seemed to have a general foundation of Meditation (closed eyes, concentration, sit still) and if they didn’t, it was obvious to mimic the position of those around whilst past students (more experienced Mediators) are in front of the mass, similar to a Yoga class but without the movement. Our first mission was to concentrate on the breath, the consistent un-conscious rhythm of the breath, from the nose, as it goes in, as it comes out, ‘patiently and persistently’, become aware of the flow of the breath, as if you were observing the ever-changing natural flow of a river whilst distantly sat on the side of a riverbank. After the first hour of meditation in the evening we were all presented with a ‘discourse’ in the hall. A big projection lit up the room with a Day 1 video from a previous 10 Day course back in 1991 which Goenka facilitated, clearly as relevant today as it was back then. He gave context to the day and the course, plus an overview to the current focus. These discourses repeated at the same time everyday throughout the course. Goenka, a very peaceful and humorous character who has a great understanding of the practice, articulating with the right level of discipline and hilarity, it was very engaging as he drew upon many examples and stories from India to give framework to the Technique and overall environment which you are in. He also gave context to the “Sila” that is asked of you.

As you begin to learn more about the overall philosophy of the teachings, this is where it really starts to get interesting and gain some momentum. A strong emphasis is given to the teachings zero tolerance for blind faith, sectarianism, religious doctrines, rights, scriptures and rituals… in a nut-shell, all religious ways of doing things! Goenka explains he is only interested in the science and everything at the experiential level. Matter interacting with matter at the present state, which he believed should rid any essence of scepticism, as this is simple experience and based on nothing but moment to moment reality. I mentioned earlier the ‘Vulnerable state’ in which you are in and I wanted to spend a little time talking about it, because it played on my mind.

Without the ability to debate, discuss and pass ideas around you find yourself in a bit of a situation. This coupled with being told by the teaching to rid yourself of any doubt about what is being taught, depending on your stance might begin to draw out an inner sceptic with has raised eyebrows and fleeting queries. You are allowed to talk to Volunteers and the Course Manager at any point but no answers will be given to your questions on the philosophy side of things. So yes, indeed you are in a position where you cannot debate or challenge what is being taught, so if you do have different opinions it might play on your mind, however if you let go and accept, the beauty of it all unravels. Amazing things can happen when you do let go, fall in and accept the reality of which is happening. Once I did, good things began to happen.

The first 3 days are very interesting as you gradually fall deeper and deeper into the subtle lifestyle you are beginning to live. I began to find the right position / posture to meditate in and connected more and more to the practice. For the first 3 days you are simply raising your awareness of your respiration, which allows you to acknowledge the fleeting mind you have (constant thought), as you pay attention to your breath your mind wanders and so you keep with the process and draw your concentration back to the breath “patiently and persistently.” You begin to become more and more aware and this brings you more present with how you are feeling.

On Day 3 I was hit with the surprising announcement from Goenka that on the following day ‘Vipassana Meditation’ would begin. A slight surprise for me as I wasn’t aware what that the previous practice wasn’t the technique we were there to learn and I am sure this was how it is meant to happen, to keep you present.

Day 4. The Vipassana technique was slowly, meditation-by-meditation, day-by-day, brought into our very easy-going but intense reality. The technique which was taught, was for me, a game-changer in many respects; intellectually it began to plant a seed that changed my perspective to many things, BUT at the physical level which I believe is most important I noticed how different my body started to interact with the world. I will explain how it works… The meditation technique began with simple observation of body sensations, starting from the head and finishing at the feet. A sensation; anything that is felt, anything that you can physical feel on the body, nice or painful, pleasant or un-pleasant, anything from temperature, itching, pressure, aching, to light touches of the air, coldness or heat. You observe this, attaching nothing to it, no positive or negative emotions to what you are experiencing and you slowly move from one area of the body to the others, starting with large places eg: shoulder, upper arm and lower arm. This starts a practice of and a relationship of 3 things; impermanence, acceptance and control over ones reactions. “You are using deep interconnection between the mind and the body by drawing attention to the physical sensations.”1. This is Vipassana. Let’s ponder for a moment… What is the root cause of all our misery? I believe nobody can argue with this answer; We want things that happen to us to be different, right? If someone does something emotionally or physically harmful to us, we are upset, emotional because we want this to be different. We more often than not produce a reaction to how it has made us feel, largely a negative one that does not serve us. We approach the situation with an unbalanced mind, producing a reaction which is connected to the sensations which we feel. So back to the Technique we are learning here… By distancing ourselves, tuning in and being more equanimous, we start to gradually understand that the cause of all our problems lie within our reactions to our body’s sensations. So by practising and working on our ‘blind’ reaction to things, we can understand that everything is impermanent, things happen and we cannot change them once they have happened. First through acceptance of the reality and second through our responses we can begin to change our mindset around the circumstances, reactions can come from a balanced and equanimous mind. When we react negatively to something that we don’t want, we start to multiply the problem, the problem plus the emotion you are choosing to attach to it. -

"if we cease to react blindly, then we are capable of real reaction – action proceeding from a balanced mind, a mind which sees and understands the truth. Such action can only be positive, creative, helpful to ourselves and others.”

The concept can be understood at the intellectual level, but to feel the benefits, it is not enough to just know it (which is true for so many things). I believe first we must understand it intellectually so we can then practice physically. Knowing, doing, being… as the saying goes. If someone, maybe me, explained this technique to you and you understood it it might help a little, in fact it might help a lot and from this moment on, you might start to react differently to many things that are out of your control and come your way. But what about all the times where you reacted to something in the past and generated a reaction? Well these are stored. Call them conditions, habits, behaviours or whatever… these previous reactions have caused us all to develop a pattern behaviour that is no doubt going to influence our future reactions. So, to work on this we need to travel to the roots of our behaviour and dig it out. To do this we need to practice, and ‘work hard’, as Goenka says. We must meditate; observe the body’s sensations, practice awareness and equanimity to manifest this balance and calmness in which we find harmony. You are curing the defilements of the mind which has been conditioned to crave and cling. Purifying the mind, creating balance so when you come into contact with any negativity, misery, and hatred you don't react with anything but balance and equanimity.

"Gradually the mind becomes free of defilements, becomes pure. A pure mind is always full of love, selfless love for all others, full of compassion for the failings and suffering of others, full of joy at their success and happiness, full of equanimity in the face of any situation”

Within the Vipassana technique lie two sides of a very important coin, ‘awareness’ and ‘equanimity’ as I have mentioned, these are the first elements to understand. The teaching summarised most clear and short by Goenka, the man himself,

“… the technique of self-observation shows us the reality in its two aspects, inner and outer. Previously we only looked outward, missing the inner-truth. We always looked outside for the cause of our unhappiness; we always blamed and tried to change the reality outside. Being ignorant of our inner reality, we never understood that the cause of our suffering lies within, in our own blind reactions toward pleasant and un-pleasant sensations.”… “We stop reacting and multiplying our misery. Instead, we allow the defilements to manifest and pass away."

I have always connected with the phrase, “…life is happening for us, not to us.” This to me is a mindset, a perspective, a way to rotate something that might seem, at the time, negative.

Goenka chooses to call this practice ‘purifying the mind’, do this and you free yourself from craving, clinging and aversion… the three biggy’s if you want live more present and harmonious, free from misery.

- Craving; wanting something you don’t have or wanting something you do have to be different.

- Clinging; trying to hold on to a feeling that is always going to change and transform.

- Aversion; pertaining a strong dislike to something.

These three are the foundations / roots from which all of our attachments and therefore our suffering grows. I don’t think it is even debatable; the present is where you want to be, you simply cannot live anywhere else. Ask yourself when you have been happiest and I guarantee you it will be somewhere you were deep and most present with whatever it is you were doing. Ask yourself where your mind spends most of it’s time? Is it in the present? Or is it imagining or trying to predict the future? Or is it dwelling or making sense of the past?

For further information on courses see the website;

“We are ignorant of the impermanent, impersonal nature of our existence and ignorant that attachment to it brings nothing but suffering”- S. N. Goenka
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