I am sure the title of the post is self-explanatory. Here’s something you must know before you start reading this post.
I am Gayatri Aptekar, a mom to a 11 year old daughter, a wife, a storyteller, therapist, social media buff, avid reader, writer, dancer and foodie. I am someone who enjoys movement, loves to sleep and talk.
So when I announced to my family that I am enrolling for the 10 day Vipassana Silent Meditation where I’ve to observe 10 days of noble silence, no eye contact or gestures, no reading & writing material, no mobiles, no food after 5pm and sit cross legged for 11 hours and meditate, the instant reaction from them was –
“Are you crazy?”
“Gayatri and not talking for 10 days…impossible”
“The other participants will start talking” commented my dad.
“Mumma, you are going to be away from social media…I can’t believe it” said my daughter.
Just as my family some of my close friends too couldn’t believe that I was going to attend this meditation course. And to tell you the truth I was equally surprised that I had finally decided to give Vipassana a fair trial. I was introduced to this technique in December 2008 when I visited the Vipassana International Academy in Igatpuri, Nashik. I was fascinated by this concept, especially the 10 days of silence. I was used to talking so much that I wondered how I could remain silent. However household responsibilities and my personal struggle with clinical depression didn’t give me a chance to register for the course.
In January 2018 I finally registered for the course that began during Diwali 2018 (31st October to 11th November 2018).
Before I share my experiences, let me tell you that I am a personal development trainer, trained in Neuro Linguistic Programming, Storytelling, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Core Transformation. I also practice guided mediation regularly with apps like Headspace and Calm. So my experience of Vipassana was totally different from the experience of a beginner who has no training in mind rewiring techniques or meditation.
Also I was very clear about my purpose of doing this course. It was a choice that I made so there was no confusion or fear. All I could feel was excitement as I left home to live a life of a monk/nun for 10 days.
When you enrol for Vipassana you’ve to set aside 12 days of your life. You arrive a day prior and leave a day after the course ends. The Igatpuri centre ‘Dhamma Giri’ is situated amidst beautiful hills and is no less than a resort. As I entered the centre I felt instantly drawn by the vibes. The registration process took me around 3 hours, where I got the online form verified, got keys to my room, a pillow and the laundry services kit.
The rooms are available on single or sharing basis. You also get an option of choosing Indian or Western toilets. I was given a room which was facing the hills and the best part was I was alone in that room.
The lunch was simple vegetarian meal which consisted of rotis, two sabji, rice, dal, salad and buttermilk. The evening snacks were puffed rice or murmura with tea/coffee and a banana. The old students were allowed to have only lemon water during the evening snacks. There was nothing available after 5.30pm. The reason being when the stomach is full one is unable to concentrate and meditate. I found this challenging for the first 3 days. However after that and even today I don’t feel hungry post 6 pm.
On day 1, the gong rang exactly at 4am and the Dhamma Sevikas (volunteers) woke us up by ringing the bell. It was so dark outside. I reached the meditation hall where the first session of the day was about to begin at 4.30am. We were given cushions to sit and we had to use the same cushions for the next 10 days. My teachers were sitting in front of me and the tapes of the guided session by S.N Goenka ji were played. We were asked to sit with our eyes closed and focus on our breath.
“That’s so easy” I thought to myself.
However it wasn’t easy to sit at a stretch for two hours and observe my breath. The challenge here was that, I wasn’t supposed to alter my breathing pattern. I had to only observe it. The second challenge was the moment I closed my eyes, I could see my daughter’s image. Her thoughts kept coming again and again and I was unable to focus.
When you register for Vipassana you are not allowed to use any other form of meditation, yoga, trance inductions, hypnosis, auto suggestions or spiritual practices. So I couldn’t use any other modality to push these images of my daughter and the internal chatter. I struggled that morning.
The daily schedule was as follows:
The first 3 days it was tough for me to keep my eyes shut and sit cross-legged. My legs ached and so did my back. I was on my periods and I experienced severe cramps on the first two days. I’d highly recommend you to plan your trip according to your period dates. Also carry a hot water bag to give you relief from the pain if you experience it.
On the 3rd day night, I collapsed on my bed crying. I didn’t know the reason. I wanted to run away from the pain. I looked at myself in the mirror. I looked pale, I hadn’t slept since last three days. I was hungry and there was so much inner turmoil going on, especially the internal chatter.
This was not the mediation I was looking for. I wanted to feel relaxed, calm and centred, but this was totally making me aggressive. There were so many questions I was seeking answers for and all those answers came during the evening lectures by S. N Goneka ji. These were recorded lectures (mainly stories and his experiences) which were played in English, Hindi and Marathi. There were special translated versions available in foreign languages.
On the 4th day we were introduced to the Vipassana technique which was practised by Siddhartha Gautama or Buddha (the Enlightened One). Vipassana means the art of observing or seeing things as they are and not as you want it to be. This was a completely different way of meditation.
We were also introduced to the concept of ‘Adhisthana’ or ‘Determination’ wherein we were supposed to sit still for the 1 hour group meditation sessions. That meant no changing postures, eyes shut and no movement. There were three group sittings and we had to practice ‘Adhisthana’ during all the three sittings.
During the first group sitting my legs, shoulders and back started aching, however I continued to focus on the sensations and observed them equanimously, allowing it to rise and pass away. This was the ‘Law of Impermanence’ or ‘Annicha’
The 4th day passed and I was relieved. The 5th day I sat with the determination to sit still only to break it within 10 minutes or so. I changed positions frequently and was unable to feel any sensations in my body. I waited patiently for the evening discourse and my questions were answered again.
The 6th day brought in some hope as I changed my posture only twice. This was a significant achievement. As I started to focus on the sensations, I realised the pain in my legs, shoulders and lower back dissolved. Now there were thoughts that kept coming. Past memories, future plans, failed relationships and inappropriate decisions…all of them started playing in front of me. But instead of getting irritated, I just observed them with equanimity. It was as if I had become an observer of Gayatri’s life. I allowed each thought to pass….and kept coming back to my breath and focused on the inhalation and exhalation.
On the 7th day that was also the first day of Diwali, I got a chance to sit and meditate in the Pagoda (a scientifically built structure which has individual cells to meditate). I could experience so many sensations in my body, all arising and passing. I stood there as an observer focusing on the impermanence of these sensations and observing them with equanimity. Not getting attached to the pleasant sensations and not creating an aversion towards the unpleasant ones.
The next three days passed so quickly and smoothly. The evening discourses were fun and insightful. Those stories gifted me a new pair of lens through which I could now see a completely new life around me and within me. My sense of self or ‘I’ got dissolved and I could connect with everything in the universe at a deeper level. It was as if I reached the deepest part of my ‘self’ where I experienced nothing but peace, joy, compassion and a sense of oneness.
I will do a separate post on the insights I had during the course and the changes I observed in me after the course. I’d personally recommend you to give a fair trial to Vipassana and experience the changes in you. If Krishna’s Bhagavad Gita gives you intellectual wisdom, Buddha’s Vipassana gives you the experiential wisdom.
For more details on registration and the entire course schedule visit their website.
If you have done Vipassana, I’d love to hear your stories in the comment box below.
Love, Gratitude and Light,