At the registration: I hand off my laptop, my camera, my smartphone, my books, my valuables, pens and my notebook. For the next 10 days I will wake up at 4 am, keep the noble silence, will not talk, touch or look at any of the other 60 participants. I will not harm any being, will not kill, will not steal, not take any intoxications and abstain from any sexual misconduct. Since I am an old student, I also have to abstain from using luxurious beddings, sensual entertainment or eating after midday. Only hot water with lemon in the afternoon. All this to provide the optimal conditions for meditating more than 10 hours a day. Welcome to Vipassana.
I considered this article very carefully. It is already my third retreat. The last one was five years ago. Five years which I needed to feel fully prepared to sit a course again. I don’t like to talk about all this meditation thing. Probably, because many people don’t understand much about it and I wanted to keep this part of my life for myself, without exposing it to the ignorance of my fellows. Also I never wanted to missionize with this. And still I don’t want to. But I feel that i should write a text about it.
To my first retreat I came by accident. I worked part-time in Berlin and managed a project at this time. Commuting every weeks, while I did seminars in schools and wrote my bachelor thesis at the same time. I was pretty exhausted. A friend told me about 10 days of silence and I thought: Why not? Sounds good! This is exactly what I need. I applied for a course through Christmas and New Year. I wanted to get out completely I was not aware, that it was not at all about the silence, but about the meditation.
From my family and childhood I had no connection with any kind of spirituality and still I don’t consider myself as a spiritual person. I am very happy about this, cause it made me attend the course without having and expectations or prejudices. Another reason why I did not talk much about this so far, cause I also want others to make this experience. A Dhamma-Friend hitchhiked in Australia and got picked up by an assistant teacher who was on his way to a 10 day course. He asked him, if he wants to join. My friend had no clue about it and just said „Okay.“ He attended the course and carried through it. I still have to laugh, when I think about this story.
Vipassana is in first instance a technique, which can be practised independently from any religious believe. The aim is to develop awareness and equanimity. To experience the reality how it is within oneself. The technique does not work with any visualisations, mantas or other ways to influence body and mind. Only the breath and the body sensations are in the focus. Basically the technique teaches to observe without reacting to yourself. A silent witness in a choiceless observation.
But the technique is something else as well: Hard and honest work with yourself. There is no magic behind it. You are responsible for the results get out of it. You gotta go the way by yourself and not just listen to the description. And you get effects immediately. At the end of the course you look around you and you see people who seem to be really really happy. People who shine from inside. It is a different kind of happiness than this ecstatic moment of euphory and happiness that I experienced during my trip so far. No doubt about those moments. But it is just a different world to how I feel, when I get out of a 10 day retreat. I really think that this kind of happiness is what makes life worthwhile.
And you lose all the benefits, if you don’t keep up with the practise. Meditation is for your mind what sport is for your body. If you don’t exercise you won’t stay fit. Simple as that. I am not a model student at all. In the last six years I was far away from a regular meditation practise. My life did not went ideal and I know what I am talking about. But still I can say that I observe a great change in my life and myself. There are many reasons. Assuredly. But this technique is the most important resource I have in this process. I will need some time till I integrate Vipassana completely into my life. But that this will happen one day…I never doubted it. And still don’t. Since then I try my best, fail, fall back into old behaviour and start again.
The courses are for free. There are about 180 different centres around the world who offer regularly 10, 20, 30 or 45 day courses. Everyone who is involved in the courses is volunteering. Teachers, kitchen crew, course managers, centre managers. It is completely funded completely by donations of old students. And if you did not finish a 10 day course you are not allowed to donate. I think this is a big quality. And the real value of this technique is not comparable with money.
Back in the days there was a contribution for accommodation and food but they decided to make the courses completely for free to keep the purity of the technique. You should have the possibility to live like a monk for 10 days and try to learn the technique under optimal conditions. This also means to live from the charity of others. It deflates the ego. If people pay for room and food they also start to have expectations and demand things, if they are not satisfied. Because I payed for this I want this and this now.
There was a lot scepticism especially in India, if this would be a good idea. Food and sleeping place for free, when there are so many homeless people around? “They can all come and participate!”, said Goenka, who was one of the main teachers to spread out the technique at this time, “But if they come they have to get up at 4 in the morning, work hard, keep the rules…..” And in the end it worked out great and the doubts not reasonable.
I can not do more than recommend it. Invest 10 days of your life, give it a fair try, work hard and decide in the end, if it fits you. Or not. Also okay. For myself I can say: It is so good! It feels so good! It gives me so much. I know now, that I am 100% self responsible for my own feelings and my own suffering. This is a great attitude and makes you become very independent. And this technique supports me, to live this independent life. They also call Vipassana: The Art of Living. The way is long laborious, but with every little step it gets easier. And with every little step on this way your life gets a bit brighter.
All infos on: https://www.dhamma.org