Vipassana: One breath at a time
Recently I completed an introductory course to meditation by learning the Vipassana technique and this is a short review of my experience.
Vipassana is a meditation technique that can only be learned by following a 10 days course in one of the various Vipassana mediation centers around the world. Probably like you, I was quite skeptical toward spirituality as a whole and I’ve never meditated prior to following the course. What happened during these days is one of the most powerful experience I’ve ever had. The course is a journey into the abyss of our mind and therefore is highly personal. The experience is different from person to person and this summary reflects mine.
In order to meditate seriously we concede to respect the following rules: no communications, no lies, sexual abstinence and no intoxicants. Every day we rise at 4h, meditate for 10 hours, rest for 3 hours, eat 2 meals and go to sleep at 21h30.
For the first 4 days we start practicing Anapana to sharpen the mind. The technique consist in observing our breath and sensations on a triangle formed by the upper lip and the nose. At the beginning it is very hard not to be distracted by incoming thoughts but it gets easier each day. After just a few days you reach a point where almost nothing comes up wrecking your thoughts. It feels like your mind is left alone in the desert, calm and focused on one single thing.
On the fourth day we start practicing the Vipassana technique, which consist in scanning our body and observing our sensations. The whole process must be done with as much as possible objectivity (without judgment), something we call equanimity. Sitting for hours straight leads to some pain, sometimes almost unbearable. In these cases, it is a great opportunity to remain equanimous toward the pain and avoid to develop abortion. After a few days most students can feel pleasant subtle sensations on the whole body, sometimes described as an electric current or vibrations. Again, this is a great opportunity to remain equanimous and avoid to develop craving.
How it works
By developing our equanimity we slowly train ourselves not to react automatically in real life situations. As an example, say someone injure you for no apparent reason. Your first reaction would be to develop anger and to retort. Someone with a strong equanimity would remain objective about the insult and would defuse his anger by simply observing that he’s about to get angry. By doing so, that person would not allow suffering to be created in herself and would at the same time strengthen it’s equanimity. That’s how simple it is.
This skill is like a muscle, it slowly withers without practice. A daily meditation is therefore the only way to maintain and improve the sharpness of your mind and equanimity.
Everybody gets something different out of the experience. For me the benefits are tangible and concrete. At various levels, I improved in these areas:
- Dissolution of the ego
- Understanding of the separation of conscience (mind) and body
- Better concentration
- Development of compassion towards every living things
- Self-control in real-life situations using equanimity
The 10 days course is a life changing experience you just can’t regret. Even staying 2-3 days would yield tremendous benefits. I would definitely encourage anybody with a slight interest to try it.
I believe there are only a handful of experiences in one’s life defining who you are; this is one of them.
May all experience peace, harmony and complete happiness.
Is it for me? It is for absolutely everyone with enough motivation and rigor.
Could I really stop talking for 10 days? I often hear this comment and I must say I’ve found it far easier to do than it may seem.
Would I really stop being angry, worried and stressed? Yes, with a lot of work Vipassana can get you there and way beyond.
- Don’t go with a person you know: it will be too tempting to communicate with her and ask about her experience
- Don’t bring a watch: it will be too tempting to start calculating how much time there is left to the meditation and get distracted
- Make sure you can breath easily by the nose, try not to go if you have a cold
I went to Quebec’s Montebello center which is an old private college surrounded by forest. The installations are gorgeous and very convenient. Everything is clean and well organized. Rooms are simple yet very comfortable and food is absolutely delicious.
I recommend watching this short film documenting the application of Vipassana in Indian prisons: Doing time, doing Vipassana