I decided to do a Vipassana meditation course the moment I heard about it. A guy who I met in India during yoga teacher training highly recommended a center in Triebel, knowing that I lived in Germany at the time. It took me over a year to actually sign up, part of which was actually forcing myself to do it and part was that it was actually tricky to get into a course - it’s becoming a bit trendy in certain circles. So the moment the registration opens, you have to be waiting on the webpage, a similar feeling to registering for courses before a new semester begins. I tried in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Czech Republic to no avail for about six months, but eventually was quick enough to the draw that I made it into a course in the end of September in Germany - it was later pointed out to me that this was probably due to the fact that it coincided with Oktoberfest, which I was thrilled about. (In my previous apartment, I could see the U-bahn sign for the Oktoberfest station from my bed, and three weeks of a drunken lederhosen parade was enough for a lifetime).
The registration occurs a few months in advance, so I knew the course was coming for awhile. I thought about preparing in some way - i.e. meditating without guidance, sitting for longer - but never did, always convincing myself there wasn’t really a way to prepare for approximately 10 hours per day of sitting cross-legged. What I knew in advance was that the course lasted 10 days, phones and electronics are confiscated at the beginning of the course, there is be no talking, no eye contact, no reading, writing, singing, or listening to music, and men and women are separated. I realize now that I actually knew very little about what I was getting into as far as content. My “research” prior to the course consisted of reading forums or articles about the experiences of others, most of which reinforced my expectations: that the course itself is really challenging, most people want to run away, some find it both mentally and physically excruciating, but afterward you usually feel great. I think the extent to which I read these articles can be compared with extensively reading WebMD when you suspect a medical malady. At some point, you should just shut your laptop. But somehow, I went in without feeling too scared. I have a habit of, when a whim of courage takes me, signing up for big things, and then once they begin I think “what did I get myself into? Oh well, here we go!” And this experience was no different.
So how did it go? I could write a short novel about this, but I tried to sum up the most important take-aways here.
1. Balancing Consideration for Others with Self-Care
I was forced to take care of myself and trust that others do the same, and it felt GREAT. The vow of noble silence means you can’t communicate in any way with fellow meditators, which means no asking permission, no being overly considerate - something I struggle with.
2. Getting to Know Yourself Through Quieting the Mind
I came to know new things about myself. During Vipassana, deep hidden emotions can emerge. Hurts from the past surfaced, things I didn’t even know were still with me, which was actually beautiful in that it showed me the totality of my being and allowed me to stop defining myself by the most traumatic things I have experienced, but rather see all of the ups and downs of my journey, big and small.
3. Everything That Arises Also Passes
Pain really is an impermanent and passing sensation. Ohh it hurt some days! But by objectively observing pain as just a sensation, one can disattach from it; by the end, the pain was almost gone. And this method can be extended to include emotional pain.
4. Meditation Can Be Anywhere, Anytime
Once you stop throwing external stimulation at your mind, EVERYTHING becomes meditative. When walking, I felt sensations of nature for the first time I can remember. When falling asleep or simply sitting, there was nothing else to do but observe my own thoughts and bodily sensations. This was sometimes interesting, sometimes infuriating, bc there was no escape.
5. Serving Others Fosters Spiritual Growth
Giving back to others is a really important part of one’s own spiritual journey. On a base level, I am absolutely aware that this is true, but I honestly have not engaged in any service activity for years. There is no feeling like giving to others or helping others along with their own personal development.
6. Umm...Surprise Muscles
One extra plus: I thought my Ashtanga yoga practice would suffer from such a long break (no yoga allowed during Vipassana) but my first practice afterwards was better. Than. Ever. This was definitely due partly to my mental state, but I also had such strong and stable muscles in by back and core from sitting up straight for 10 hours per day. Even more incentive to keep up a regular meditation practice...
Overall. . .
I would recommend Vipassana to almost everyone, and I will definitely be taking another course. For those who have experienced trauma or are dealing with addiction, I would suggest working with a therapist before taking a course - Vipassana centers make it very clear that they are not equipped to provide support in such cases. I myself feel that I got much more out of this experience because I had been in therapy for a few years beforehand, and that I may not have been able to handle the emotions that came up otherwise.