If life puts Vipassana in your way and you are considering to take the course, it is best to read a little about the technique, read how to be prepared mentally and physically so that you can complete the 10-days course.
The purpose of this article is to tell you, from my experience, what should be known before hand, what mental attitude to adopt, and any other aspects that can help you.
The advises below do not follow any specific order, but all of them are essential points I discovered when I took the course.
- Waking up at 4am: It is daunting and discouraging just to think that you are going to wake up at 4am daily for 10 days.
The first two days you may feel terrible, but that’s okay because after the second day you will start to get used to it.
Anyway, what I did is sleep during breaks. Even an hour or half an hour nap helps me stay awake during meditations.
If you feel tired because of waking up early, sleep during breaks. Not during meditation times in your room.
- Physical preparation: I knew that we are to sit and meditate at least eight hours a day, and naturally physical preparation is needed.
But due to my lazy mind, I could not set time to prepare myself before joining the course.
Guess what? It turned that being unprepared physically is as good as being prepared, because the key is not physical comfortability.
The key is being aware, whether you are physically comfortable or uneasy, it does not matter.
So do not stress yourself about your physical agility, just join the course and live each moment by moment.
- Counting days: After the 3rd day, I stared to feel bad and wanting to quit. Actually I kept on saying: “Oh, I still have 7 days” or “Oh, I still have 5 days”, etc, etc…
Remember you did not come here because someone forced you.
You did not come here just like that: You had to take a break from work or perhaps from studies, even from your duties as a householder.
So you always remember every minute you are spending during the program should be justified by your hardwork, otherwise you are wasting 10 days of your life.
Remember that you are here to learn and to change.
Whenever you find yourself counting days and not being in the moment stop yourself and remind yourself of why you joined the course.
Be responsible for every minute because the time you are spending during the course is a special time.
- Feeling sleepy: Although I already spoken about waking at 4am and feeling sleepy, there is still one important thing to notice:
You may feel terribly sleepy during the meditations, even if you slept uninterrupted 8 hours and you took an hour or half hour naps during the day.The reason is because your mind wants to escape the meditation, it does not like that.
Be aware that this obstacle is just temporary. Do not get discouraged, just be patient and fight this sleepiness.
Anyway, in one of the nightly discourses, S.N Goenka will talk about this topic.
- Don’t be hard on yourself: You will be given instructions on how to meditate. Do not be hard on yourself by following them to the letter if your body and mind are not helping you.
That means, if you are trying to be perfect, then you will feel frustration if you did not meet your expectation.They will tell you for example to focus on the breath all the time. Later your mind will start wandering; do not be sad because of that, do not be hard on yourself and start generating negativity.
If your mind goes away, gently bring it back and be happy about it. It is natural.
There is a big difference between being hard on oneself and being responsible. So don’t take my words “Don’t be hard on yourself” as if I am asking you to be careless.
- Be playful: It is important to adopt a playful attitude when practicing. Do not be solid and rigid. Respect your mind and body limitations. Go easy and little by little you will reach.
I remember the 4th day when we were taught the Vipassana technique, we were asked to sit for an hour without changing the posture.
Of course this could cause lots of uneasiness, but if you are playful, you can allow yourself to change the posture once or twice, but you do that only to help yourself focus and stop generating negativity during the one hour sitting:Be easy, be playful and be responsible.
- Be responsible: I’ve been talking about being playful and not being so hard on yourself. These two aspects are important only if you are responsible.
Responsible means that you know your own best.
You know that no matter what you will do all you can to get the best benefits of this program without being too hard to the point of generating lots of negativity.
Do not be careless, skip meditations, or just sit physically in meditation but mentally somewhere else.Being responsible during the 10-days is of utmost importance.
The course is structured in such a way that you get to meditate 3 times in the hall and the rest of the time you can meditate in your own room.
You can easily be tempted to sleep anytime you go to your room, or perhaps not sleep but just lay there in the room and not meditate.
No one is there in the room to tell you to meditate or to practice but yourself. And that, my friend, is being responsible.
You have to tell yourself that no matter what, I respect this private time I am given and I want to meditate.
This realization did not come easily to me. I was still suffering from feeling sleepy all the time, and some time around the 3rd and 4th day I was still allowing myself to skip some meditations and sleep instead. Only after the 5th day that a sense of inner knowledge and inspiration about being responsible came to my understanding.
After that realization, I did not say to myself: “No more skipping meditations, no more counting days, no more negativity”
No! It became clear (a truth for me) that it is important to be aware of what is happening in the mind.
If my mind is so sleepy for example, I respect that sign. I go wash my face, go for a walk, and perhaps sleep a little (though the need for sleep will not be a problem after the 5th day). That does not mean that if you feel sleepy go to sleep, but know that whenever you get a chance to sleep more, sleep more, perhaps eat less so you are more energetic. Be smart and know how to have your mind and body work best for you.
Actually, when you act responsibly and respect yourself and your being, then your mind and body will start working for you.
Remember, even if the mind is like a monkey, jumping from a thought to another, it still is not an enemy. The mind is not something to hate even if it appears to be uncontrollable. Just be patient.
Remember, you are the only person that made your mind like a monkey and no one else. If you could make it turn into a monkey, you can turn it back into a sharp and useful tool.
- The nightly discourses: Each night I was eagerly waiting the discourses. They explain the technique, they answer your questions and most of all they encourage you to continue.
S.N Goenka will be talking about Dhamma, the technique and other things. You may disagree on many points and start a debate in your mind, or perhaps you may start to say:
“Oh Goenka thinks he knows everything”, or “Goenka is wrong in that or that aspect”, etc, etc…
Do not start a mental debate because of the things you heard that contradict your believes. It does not matter.
What matters is to always remain aware of what is happening within yourself.In the discourse, take what you like and throw what you don’t like. But do not judge the teaching, it is not the time.
Anyway, the very essence of this course is to have you experience truth and not have you intellectualize about it. So whether you agree with what you hear or not, it does not matter, just take what you like and do your best to experience the truth for yourself.
- Eating during the course: You will be served breakfast, lunch, and a small snack (not a dinner).
It may seem not enough if you are used to eating 3 or more times a day.
Remember that, essentially, you are not doing any rigorous physical activity so you do not need to eat that much.Also remember that any overeating will do you disservice. Why? overeating will make you feel tired rather than energized.
So again, be wise and responsible.
- Internal fights: You will have a lot of internal fights. Some thoughts will push you to run away, other thoughts will push you to be negative.
Other thoughts (even more dangerous) will disguise themselves as positive thoughts but yet again their sole purpose is to take you from the moment, from the present, from the actual reality.
Do not be fooled to think that thinking negative is bad and thinking positive is good. Remember, if it is not the time to think and imagine then don’t.
You are asked to focus on your breath (for instance) or on the bodily sensations, then any thought (negative or positive) is not doing you any service.If you want to think positive thoughts, imagine things or find solutions to problem that’s fine, but only do that when it is time to do that and not during your meditation.
- Secret of success: As you will later learn, the secret of success is the continuity of practice, or said differently: “Continuity of awareness” and in simple English, the secret of success is the realization that you have to seek the truth moment by moment and be aware.
Do not drift into imagination, identification, negativity, etc, etc…
Even when you are walking, be aware you are walking.
When you are eating, be with the eating. Do not chew your thoughts and ideas, instead chew and feel the taste of food in your mouth.With experience you will learn that there is no such thing as time for meditation and time for daily activity. You will learn to do all your daily activities meditatively, consciously and fully aware.
So to conclude:
- Be wise: don’t be hard on yourself, don’t be careless, be playfully responsible.
- Respect the time: every minute counts. You are not here to count the days as to when the program is over. This is not a prison, but a chance for you to grow. Remember to make use of each minute
- Be aware: being aware is something that you are learning during the program, but it is also important to be one step ahead and know that being aware is of benefit to you.
That means be aware of what is happening inside your mind and body without being reactive. Just be aware, observe.
That is all I can think of, and hopefully these are the most important points that can help you make best use of this 10-days Vipassana course.
Good luck to you.