The nerves began to poke their little heads from the surface of my skin as we boarded a plane from Nelson, South Island, NZ to Auckland, NZ; no turning back now. In route to a beautiful rainforest sanctuary about an hours drive from Auckland, the excitement and anxiety was strong through my cool demeanor. You could feel the churning of emotions as we sat, in a transport van, with 12 strangers about to endure a challenging and demanding, both physical and mental endeavour absent from our experiential backgrounds. As the van turned up the long driveway, flanked by the thick New Zealand Rainforest, my senses began to sharpen sensing the positive energy in the air, while the realness, rawness, and richness of this place proclaimed unspoken stories of those that came before us. We were about to experience something far greater than ourselves and a technique to calm the mind discovered over 2500 years ago. An ancient, simple and an often overlooked way to live your life stewed in self-discipline, harmony, happiness, and selflessness. Halfway around the world, on the small country of New Zealand, we prepared to live an alternative life for 10 days and nights. Here we shall live like a Monk.
Noble silence commenced that evening as the last of the 30 men and 40 women completed the registration process, surrendered all their belongings (cell phones, car keys, books, journals), settled into their personal living quarters (an 8’ x 6’ room), and joined in the meditation hall for the first hour of what would be 104 hours of mediation over 10 days. For those of you not gifted in mathematics this would equate to a crap ton of hours silently being with yourself every day. Now do you understand why I was so nervous and downright concerned for my mental well being and sanity. A drastic shift from our slow travel, go where you want lack of schedule, to a polar opposite lifestyle in which every minute of the day is accounted for, no technology, no exercise (besides walking) and complete and utter silence. Not just silence of voice but a world absent of facial gestures, eye contact, and physical touch. We have began to live like a Monk.
It is difficult to not only abstain from communications with complete strangers in a new and exciting setting but to restrain oneself from physical contact and communication with your significant other elevates discipline to the next level. With strong determination and outright avoidance, neglect, and solitude, Rachelle and I maintained our distance in order to abide by The Code of Discipline.
Below are a few segments out of The Code of Discipline, description of Vipassana, and the daily schedule.. To see the entire description click here.
The Code of Discipline - The foundation of the practice is sīla — moral conduct. Sīla provides a basis for the development of samādhi — concentration of mind; and purification of the mind is achieved through paññā — the wisdom of insight.
The Precepts - All who attend a Vipassana course must conscientiously undertake the following five precepts for the duration of the course:
What is Vipassana Meditation?
“Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e., an Art Of Living. This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation.
Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.
The scientific laws that operate one's thoughts, feelings, judgements and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace.”
Now I know what many of you might be thinking at this moment…”Why would you want to do something like this? 10 days of silence and you’re not doing anything but sitting, seems like a waste of time if you ask me!”
Now be honest, how many of you were thinking this? If you were go ahead and skip to the bottom and put a little comment in the box below...I won’t judge you. The fact is I was thinking the exact same thoughts pre-course and even 15 hours into meditation. Like many things in life, you have to ignore the little voice inside your head telling you this is stupid. Just put your blinders on and accept the process when initially the outcome seems blique.
Did we meditate before this experience?
The short answer is not really… We did begin to sit in silence, observing our breath for maximum 15 minutes, maybe 20 in order to prepare for our undertaking of 11 hours per day of meditation. Honestly the sitting probably did help a little but when you go from meditating for 15 mins per day to 11 hours a day the physical and mental fortitude is ever challenging. It’s like we were dipping a fraction of our pinky toe into ice water and then decided to jump in head first, swim to the bottom, and just make it to shore before hypothermia set in...let’s just say it was a shock to the system. But like any physical and mentally challenging endeavour your feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction is paramount!
What was it like?
While this experience differs from person to person, my personal journey morphed and changed constantly. Just when I felt like I was “in control” of my mind, my metaphorical consciousness threw a monkey wrench into my cogs causing a brief derailing of my perceived direction. It can be scary to be alone with one’s private thoughts and feelings. The voice inside most people’s heads will jump from one extreme thought or judgment, absent of transition, to another causing intense emotional turmoil and unrest. Take a moment today to just observe the many voices inside your head as you go to the market, commute home from work, visit with co-workers, walk down the street, and communicate with your partner or friends. Just observe what your mind in saying. Now notice how your thoughts jump around, in no reasonable order, and how crazy you would seem if you verbalized all these thoughts. You probably wouldn’t have to worry about offending a spouse, because you would no longer have one. You’d be jobless after your boss fires you for being a whack job. Family would create distance and holidays might pass by without an invitation to attend. What I am trying to point out is everyone has this uncontrollable voice inside their head, running their life’s, creating havoc and unrest, yet we listen to this voice. Now imagine this voice was your best friend who verbalized your own thoughts back to you...Imagine that hell. No longer would you have your best friend, as you ran from the authorities for suspected murder. We would loath the voice inside our head if we had to listen to the same content through an external voice, yet we spend 24/7/365 locked in matrimony with this neurotic creature.
THE COURSE TIMETABLE
4:00 am - Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am - Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am - Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am - Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am - Meditate in the hall or in your room
11:00-12:00 noon - Lunch break
12noon-1:00 pm - Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm - Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm - Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm - Meditate in the hall or in your own room
5:00-6:00 pm - Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm - Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm - Teacher's Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm - Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm - Question time in the hall
9:30 pm - Retire to your own room--Lights out
What did you learn?
The first three days were very challenging as this time was devoted to solely focusing the mind. It was not until the fourth day, the actual technique of Vipassana was taught. Each day built on the previous one with a task so simple the pure nature of it can feel so elementary and tiresome. Our task for the first day was concise, focus on the triangular region on your face encompassing the bridge of the nose, both nostrils, and upper lip. That’s it! Do that for 11 hours to find inner peace, easy enough right? Wrong! At the beginning it is shocking how quickly your mind wanders as you catch yourself no longer focusing where you should be. Go ahead, close your eye and try it...see how long you can focus your intention on this specific area. See if you can remain focused for 1 minute and tell me in the comments if you did it.
The instructions for days 2-3 were similar in simplicity to the first day. Day 2 we narrowed our focus from the triangular area to only the area right below the nostrils. Silently, continuously, and determined we simply observed the sensation of breath entering and exiting the nostril area as focus became easier and easier to obtain for longer periods of time. The third day we continued the trend but further narrowed the focus to the area below the nostrils and above the upper lip. Here is when it started to get interesting. By the middle of the third day I began to feel sensations in this focused area, I was becoming aware of the vibrations in my body as atoms violently bounced off one another. No longer was this a painstaking task stewing in patience as my fascination into understanding my physical body overtook the simplicity of the task.
Day 4-9 really began to blend together as the depth of mediation and focus ebbed and flowed like the tides in the ocean. Some sessions were better than others and just when you felt like you were in control of your mind it gave you a metaphorical slap in the face, breaking yourself down so it could be rebuilt. By practicing Vipassana your are observing the world as it actually is, not what you want it to be. So during mediation there will be periods of great pleasure as you feel vibrations through your entire body. As these feelings of ecstasy manifest in your body the initial response is to crave more of this pleasurable sensation. No longer does this amazing sensation satisfy your brain, it wants more, and as you mentally seek more pleasure, the feeling is lost...frustration and misery sets in. At the experiential level you feel how craving eroded an already great situation.
On the other end of the spectrum there are moments of pain and discomfort which arise throughout the body. These deep, gross sensation feel like a cramped muscle and can happen anywhere in the body. For me I would have these sensations mostly in my hips and back. Mentally you had to face the pain and discomfort by objectively observing it in your body and accepting the sensation of pain. The quicker this happened the faster the pain dissolved away. However if you focused on the pain and wished it to go away, the sensation only grew in intensity, until it was accepted as pain and objectively observed. Through dealing with both cravings and pain in your own body you learn to deal with these things in the outside world.
Who can benefit from Vipassana?
I strongly believe this practice and experience will be beneficial in anyone’s life, no matter your background, social structure or ethnic origin. Every human deals with life stresses, expectations, societal demands, family and relationship issues, and those quiet voices inside the mind. No one is insulated from the pressures and expectations of this modern, fast paced, ever-changing world. Interesting things happen when you learn to observe and objectively look at your life, habits, relationship, business, and decisions. You begin to understand why you do the things you do. For me the experience has not been all peaches and cream however. Throughout the many months following the the course so many questions and emotions starting bubbling up out of me. I cried more times in the last few months than the last 10 years of my life...tears would form and emotional energy would drain out of me, sometimes not even aware of the reasons for my sorrows. It has been extremely difficult re-learning myself and my emotions but I am confident there is a purpose for this process. In hindsight everything becomes clear.
Want more information?
If you would like more information on Vipassana you can visit their website at https://www.dhamma.org to view course schedule and where they are offered in your area. The worldwide courses are ran solely on donations as there is no fee to attend a 10 day meditation course which includes instruction, lodging, and delicious food. Based on your experience you can choose to make a donation on the final day. Therefore there is no financial barrier to learning this technique and is accessible to anyone. Here is a Newsweek article on the course as well. THE NEUROSCIENCE OF MEDITATION, AND THE VIRTUES OF SHUTTING UP.
Please drop us a line if you have questions and would like further information about Vipassana. Everyone will have their own experience which can different greatly from person to person. Remember your mind controls everything yet it is so often glossed over society.
Have you ever been in the middle of a voluntary decision to pursue a challenging endeavor only to ask yourself “Why did I make this decision and why am I putting myself through this?” I am sure a vast majority of the population can cite with this example at least once in their life. Really the determining factor to one’s self growth lies not in the initial discomfort of new and challenging experiences but the continuation and appreciation of these testing times. Not giving up or letting your mind tell you to quit, because “this isn’t for me” or “I can’t do this.” While society proclaims praise and adornment for those of select physical, skin deep beauty, too much importance and obsession lies in this physical arena. People are losing themselves and their identity as mass media, social media and print media depict and determine what is important in society; physical beauty. We have a society obsessed with appearance, focusing on a trait and attribute well beyond their control and subjectively judged differently by each and every one of the 7.5 billion people on earth...let that settle in and resonate with you for a moment.
Imagine you see 100 people in a day and how subconsciously and automatically judgment, jealousy, praise, lust, disgust, curiosity, and comparison (the most damaging) creeps into your mind. This act is self defeating and only further deteriorates mental strength and self confidence. Not only is this obsession with physical beauty self defeating but those dealing with an addiction, death of a loved one, stress, illness, broken relationship and general life challenges can pursue a concrete and fulfilling natural remedy. A remedy absent of FDA testing and synthetic chemical compounds. A simple solution to a vast host of humanized problems and stresses. We spend far too much energy and time viewing ourselves through the reflection in the mirror and the reflection of others praise, disgust, or lack of response. Remember of those 100 people you see today each and everyone if going to think and judge you differently. Instead of working to praise these strangers, who will be absent in your life much longer than present, expel this energy into someone who day in and day out matter most in your life. No not your spouse, parents, children, closest friends, family or coworkers. A being closest and so near and dear to your heart, always with you and codependent to your life on this physical world.
Work, without rest and above all on yourself. That beautiful and complex organism sitting between your ears. A weak mind, tormented day in and day by the pressures of our synthetic society, will fail, as physical beauty itself is both subjective and self decaying. A strong mind however will triumph in the face of adversity, with mental fortitude and strength the precursor to a health, happy, and fulfilling life. You might be wondering the simplest way to build and strengthen our mind? Be with yourself in silence each and everyday, absent of distractions or obligations. Learn to meditate to calm your overactive and impressionable mind.
There are many forms of meditation ranging from 10 minutes a day to a longer more disciplined practice in which you spend multiple hours, every day, exercising your brain. In the next segment I will describe an experience Rachelle and I underwent in Auckland, New Zealand, which we spent 10 days in complete silence, absent of physical distractions, to more deeply understand and build the organism between our ears.