What: Vipassana Meditation Retreat
When: twice a month, all-year round
Who: S.N Goenke based on Buddha’s teachings
Where: All over the world, there are 177 centers
Why: to transform your life in a very positive way
Meditating, eating and sleeping. This times ten. Ten days where the order of priorities is this. Meditating, eating and sleeping.
At four am in the morning, the gong wakes us from a very deep sleep and the first thought comes labelled by a very strong determination. It’s only at nine thirty in the evening, more than seventeen hours later, that the lights are switched off and the bodies can lie down over the beds of the cells at this Vipassana Centre of Kathmandu.
Vipassana, meaning «to see things as they are», is a meditation technique that comes from the ancient teachings of Gautama Siddharta, the so-known and venerated Lord Buddha, with more than 2500 years of existence, and that has been being spread around the world and acceded by several people, regardless ethnical, national or religious background. Vipassana was lastly adapted by the Burmese master S.N. Goenke, that has founded the first center in 1976, in Igatpuri (Central India). Nowadays, people can find these Vipassana centers all around the world, meaning one doesn’t need to travel long distances to take this precious opportunity for self-transformation.
The first meditation of the morning goes until six thirty, time when the students can finally satisfy the desire that mostly pops up in their minds: eating breakfast and drinking tea. Two hours in which the morning glare gradually invites to a revival from the sleepy mood that still detains everyone. The four teachers that, during the ten hours of the day, accompany us seating in front of us, in higher chairs than the cushions we are sunk into, only speak to close the meditation sessions. The rest of the time, silence reigns. And meditation is predominant.
The meditation hall supports around one hundred and eighty people, being a very tall building, with tiny windows that doesn’t let us absorb the light coming from outside. A prison, where only the ones who accept to live ten days under the rules of a fair though tough game, can stay. The objective? Self-transformation through self-observation.
After a simple breakfast where tea warms up the bodies and boosts the motivation to keep going, we gather again on the hall to another meditation session, this time introduced by the master of the technique, who begins to reveal the processes and dynamics of this non-sectarian practice of spiritual development.
This is the course number 842 taking place in the Vipassana center of the natural park of Kathmandu, from which 40% are men and the remaining 60% are women. The delimitation of the space assures that men and women have no physical or visual contact at all, being the whole structure prepared to lodge the genres separately.
The sound of the spoons rasping against the bowls where the Nepalese Dal is served shout loud in the wild minds. And the intense rain that falls over the structure of the dining hall reflects nature in an indiscreet way.
Conversation, physical contact or even the encounter of the eyes are totally banned during these ten days in which the course takes place, and not even from the team of volunteers serving the students is coming any sign of distraction.
The playlist continuously playing on our minds, the mental commentary that is being produced and the arising of desires related to meal times and other vulgarities are the greatest sign that we are holders of a monkey-mind, as the greatest masters of spirituality started to call it. Through the transformative process that is initiated at the subconscious level, the students experiment the opportunity of taking the control and assuming the mastery of their own minds and it’s in that strong determination that lies the power to keep going.
Along the days, days that easily become perceived as months, a video with Goenke’s speeches is shown to us, at night time, where the master, with his characteristic sense of humor and charisma, exhaustively repeats the notions of impermanence, equanimity and awareness. «Awareness and equanimity are the two wings of the same bird and the two wheels of the same bicycle. Keep working patiently and persistently, because you are bound to be successful» is continuously reinforced during the ten night movie sessions, in which we are presented with the blessing of his teachings, whose impact is being revolutionary to a society eager for self-knowledge and harmony.
When, at the end of the third day, we are invited to abandon the focus on the breath and we can observe plaques at the hall entrance suggesting the fourth day as the one where the actual practice of Vipassana takes place, that’s when we feel a mix of anxiety and determination. From Chila to Anapana and from Pana to Vipassana, the great self-observation journey is about to begin. From the fourth day on, all the focus starts to be on experiencing the maximum body sensations arising all over the body, from the crown of the head to the tips of the toes, being the great aim to embrace the notion that everything appears to then disappear, that nothing is permanent.
There are moments when, also impermanent, the question of “what the hell am I even doing here?” pops up, which is nothing but an important part of the inner transformation process, that occurs at the subconscious level in a very subtle way.
Being the first and fifth days considered to be the most challenging ones, the journey can be evolving and gradual or irregular and inconstant, with the habitual ups and downs marking the experience.
Subjective, personal and strong, this is a spiritual journey that lives entirely from donations, without any minimum required, and where only ex-students are allowed to serve. In this way, and just as it is pointed out by Goenke, «money is welcome but the willingness to serve is the most crucial aspect».
To put behind the anxiety for shortcuts and the rush to end the suffering is half the way to be open to try a true self-transformation journey. The name is Vipassana (insight), the location is a little bit all over the world, the teacher is Goenke and the results are clearly there… for those who chose to see the truth.
The third toll of the last gong, on the tenth day, seems to penetrate the body, where a pure sensation of peace and bliss start scrolling over from up to down. The prison is over. The game is over. The rules are over. Welcome, freedom.
By Margarida Pimenta