Vipassana: We’re Not Dead

Without really telling that many people, Dan and I disappeared off the face off the earth about twenty days ago.

We came back to some worried correspondence, and, considering that we went to a decomissioned farm two-hours into the middle of nowhere that strips you of all communication devices, reading and writing material, prohibits all talking, intoxicants, and communication of any kind, prohibits eating past noon, and maintains a severe and specific code of dress and behavior, perhaps some worry was warranted.

To clarify, we went to a Vipassana retreat.The basics:

Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was taught in India more than 2500 years ago as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e., an Art of Living.

The technique of Vipassana Meditation is taught at ten-day residential courses during which participants learn the basics of the method, and practice sufficiently to experience its beneficial results.

There are no charges for the courses – not even to cover the cost of food and accommodation. All expenses are met by donations from people who, having completed a course and experienced the benefits of Vipassana, wish to give others the opportunity to also benefit.”

There’s two responses we generally encounter when we tell people that we were in a Vipassana retreat: skepticism and awe, but more than anything we’re asked “Why?”

Did you join a cult? 

To satisfy both responses, let me first acknowledge how insane this retreat actually seems. Below is the rigid daily schedule that all students must follow. Beside it, I’ve listed the schedule of the Lethargians, the fictional, do-nothing tiny creatures from the popular children’s book, The Phantom Tollbooth (once an elementary school teacher always an elementary school teacher.)

Vipassana Daily Schedule                            Lethargians  Daily Schedule

4:00 am

Morning wake-up bell

8:00am

Wake Up

4:30-6:30 am

Meditate in the hall or in your room

8-9:00am

Daydream

6:30-8am

Breakfast break

9-9:30am

Early Midmorning Nap

8-9am

Group meditation in the hall

9:30-10:30am

Dawdle and delay

9-11am

Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions

10:30-11am

Late Early Morning Nap

11-12pm

Lunch break

11-12pm

Bide our time and then eat lunch

12-1pm

Rest and interviews with the teacher

1pm-2pm

Linger and loiter

1-2:30 pm

Meditate in the hall or in your room

2-2:30pm

Early afternoon nap

2:30-3:30 pm

Group meditation in the hall

2:30-3:30pm

Put off for tomorrow what we could have done today

3:30-5pm

Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher’s instructions

3:30-4pm

Early late afternoon nap

5-6 pm

Tea break

4-5pm

Loaf and lounger until dinner

6-7pm

Group meditation in the hall

6-7pm

Dillydally

7-8:15 pm

Teacher’s Discourse in the hall

7-8pm

Early evening nap

8:15-9pm

Group meditation in the hall

8-9pm

Waste time

9-9:30 pm

Question time in the hall

9:00pm

Go to bed

9:30 pm

Retire to your own room–Lights out

For the first couple days, my schedule was probably closer to the Lethargians than anything because, when asked to “focus on your breath” for ten hours a day, I feel like that’s code for “inevitably take five naps a day.”

But by day 5, it gets harder and harder to nap (intentionally or unintentionally) and I started to think, almost desperately, about anything-answering such arcane questions as “As a matter of science, how would one figure out how many licks to the center of a tootsie pop only  using math? Let’s try..” “In excruciating detail, what would be  the aesthetic of my ideal nursing home?” “What’s every word that rhymes with ‘boredom’?”

Bear in mind that I’m also actively trying to clear my mind of all thoughts.

But Why?

By the seventh day, we were sitting for hours at length “strongly determined” not to move, and focusing on the sensation (read:pain) that comes from sitting without moving for hours at a time. The motivation being, aside from some masochistic impulses, to experience (not just regard intellectually) that pain is only as painful as one’s reaction to pain, that attachment leads to pain,and that everything is ultimately temporary (aka the basic tenets of Buddhism).

If I elaborate too much about what I learned (about buddhism or about myself), it would only sound like a sermon or evangelizing or worse, a  diary entry, but surmise it to say it was an enlightening experience that left me calmer, happier, and more equanimous.

I’m generally adverse to anything spiritual or religious, but this didn’t feel that way. It felt like a practical technique to rationally improve one’s well-being.

So if you’re willing to lock yourself up for ten days and drive yourself a little stir-crazy in the process, check it out:

http://www.dhamma.org

The pond at the Illinois Vipassana Center

The pond at the Illinois Vipassana Center

Written by Jevhon

Written by Jevhon

In other news, 12 days until we leave the country…

AH!            

                                                                                 

 I’ve attached some articles that go into detail about the actual experience, but if you’re genuinely considering doing it. I recommend you don’t read anything about it and  create expectations. Just do it.

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3 thoughts on “Vipassana: We’re Not Dead

  1. This sounds like a great experience. Whenever I mediate in yoga or on my own it’s never for more than 30 minutes – I can’t imagine what it must be like to do that for hours each day. And I love the parallel schedules 🙂

    Sending the best of thoughts to you and Dan as you prepare for your trip.

    • Thanks Liz (and for reading)! We’re really excited and can’t wait to share our experiences (especially food-related).

      Yes, more than a little while meditating is tough, but there must be something about the monk-like environment of the retreat that makes it easier, because even though we really benefitted from this experience, now that we’re back in the “real world” it’s tough to keep up! If you want to get deeper into meditation, I’d definitely recommend this retreat.

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