India was tough. Traffic. Poverty. Stress. All blanketed by a record-breaking heat wave that drove men to madness. But you know what? Through all this I experienced the greatest moment of peace in my life.
It happened during a ten day Vipassana meditation course in Dharamsala, a small town in Northern India. It was here that I learned a simple technique for lowering stress and leading a more balanced life. And believe me, after several overnight bus rides in India you need all the help you can get.
What is Vipassana?
Vipassana ñ which means “to see things as they really are.” Vipassana is a method of mediation rediscovered by the Buddha to alleviate suffering. According to Buddha, suffering stems from two sources: craving and aversion.
Craving is when we want something (a BMW, fried chicken, free airline tickets). Aversion is when we want to avoid something. In either case, we are constantly responding to these desires, which leads to suffering.
You know the feeling, right? When you can’t stop thinking about something you want, or worrying about that tragedy that might happen? That is suffering. Vipassana teaches you to avoid craving and aversion through a very simple technique.
How does Vipassana work?
Vipassana is simple, but it ain’t easy. During this ten day course you donít speak, drink, or watch TV, listen to music or (gasp!) check email. What you will do is sit cross-legged. For ten and a half hours a day (Note: before attending the course I HIGHLY recommend you sit cross legged as much as possible, your knees will thank me).
The first few days are tough. You sit there, trying to focus on your upper lip, the part directly under your nostrils. You try to observe every small sensation – warmth, cold, tingling – without letting your mind wander. That’s the hardest part. After thirty seconds you find yourself – quite innocently – thinking about dinner, or where you’ll be next year, or one of a million other random thoughts you’re not supposed to be thinking. So you return to your observations. And sure enough, your mind wanders again.
Over time it gets easier. Your focus improves. The next step is to observe your entire body, piece by piece, part by part. After a few days your body gets sore. Your legs tighten up, your back aches, and your feet may begin to tingle. This is natural. It also provides an important lesson. Remember, Vipassana trains you to observe your bodyís sensations without giving into them. You learn to observe, but not react. Because reacting to craving or aversion is where suffering really comes from.
For example, you get a shot at the doctor’s office. Sure, the shot isn’t pleasant, but the real suffering comes from worrying how much it’s gonna hurt. Vipassana helps you remove that worry and get on with your life.
The breakthrough, and a new challenge
Around day six many people have a breakthrough. Instead of observing a ‘specific’ body part (e.g. upper lip) individually, they’re able to concentrate on their entire body, even the insides, all at once. It’s a pleasant, peaceful feeling. It’s a sign you’re progressing. It’s also where people get stuck. For the first five days, you’ve dealt with pain. Or more accurately, you’ve learned to accept pain and not give into aversion. Suddenly, meditating feels really good and you start to crave it. But this is short lived also. Similar to a ‘jogger’s high’ during a marathon, you get a shot of the good stuff, but it soon wears off.
What are the benefits?
By day ten, you’re a different person. My wife said she felt like Zen master. I felt like a Jedi. However you describe it, you feel, well, good.
It’s not just an afternoon, either. You carry that feeling with you for weeks, and, even now, years after that course, I can still relax and focus with an intensity I never had before. Because this course teaches you a new skill, one which can help you lead a longer, happier life.
I could rattle on about how great the experience is, but the only way to really understand Vipassana is to sign up for a ten day meditation course. Amazingly, they operate on donations only. They take you in, feed you, give you shelter and teach you this amazing technique without asking for anything.
How we found Vipassana or it found us…
Many people ask us how we came to discover Vipassana. The truth is, Vipassana found us.
Our good friend had visited India for a Vipassana retreat in prior years, only to return a different man. Before he was, well…a mad man to say the least. After he returned from his Vipassana vacation he was grounded, clear-headed and completely comfortable in his body and surroundings.
A couple years later, my wife and I found ourselves on our nine-month honeymoon through South East Asia, India and Nepal. While in India, we decided to try Vipassana. We visited the Vipassana website (www.dhamma.org), read the FAQs, found a center and signed up online. I was amazed to see they offered centers all over the world.
We ended up picking the same center our friend attended in northern India, Dharamsala to be exact. After we applied online, we received an email answering all our questions such as specific dates/times, meals, accommodations, what to bring, and directions to the site.
When we arrived to the center on the first day, there was a large group of skeptical individuals standing around chatting about the reality of not talking for 10-days. It was a little ironic, but nice to know other people were having the same hesitations. Shortly thereafter, a volunteer gathered us into a room, explained the Code of Discipline, and we continued with the course.
It was an amazing experience and we’re thinking about returning to a center in Argentina later this year.
Have you had experience with Vipassana, or other forms of meditation? If not, what’s stopping you from trying? Let me know in the comments below!
About the Author: Adam Costa is Editor in Chief of Trekity.com, an†“insanely” useful travel site. He also runs the Travel Blogger Academy, which shows how bloggers can grow their travel blogs traffic. Follow Adam on Twitter here.