- Ryan Kretch
Preparing for the unknown: How I prepared (or didn't) for Vipassana
The few hours leading up to Vipassana felt like the hours leading up to one’s execution. Weeks leading up to these hours, I kept getting excited envisioning what it would feel like to cleanse myself, learn to deeply meditate, finally eradicate my sporadic anxiety, and possibly gain some creative enlightenment for my “it” business idea. But then the final few hours wheeled around as I was sitting on the rooftop of my guesthouse, Baba Haveli’s, overlooking Jodhpur’s massive fort and I began calling people, seeking assurance, as though it was my final goodbye to this world. I ate the greasiest, most delicious thing I could find on the menu, as though it was my last meal. And I took one more stroll through the narrow alleys, especially intrigued by the cows, which I often overlooked before in India, as though it was my final walk.
The time slipped by until I could hold back no more, and I hailed down an auto rickshaw to take me to my death. We meandered out of the old city and through the chaotic boulevards of the new city. The boulevards diverged into small dusty paths and the buildings were replaced by vast open desert. My auto driver turned around and felt the need to tell me he had never been to this part of the ‘city’ before, just to add to the unease I was feeling. We bounced along until I spotted the notorious Vipassana symbol. I told him to wait there as I scoped out the grounds to make sure I wasn’t entering some kind of trap, but when I turned back around, he was half way down the dirt path. I entered the vipassana grounds. No turning back at this point, my time had come.
As soon as I arrived, I handed in any distractions such as cell phones, books, and even my probiotic pills which they probably had mistaken for recreational drugs. I then began my vow of silence, and was put into ‘meditation’ mode. All of us had our designated spot in the meditation hall, so that if we backed out of a session, the volunteers would come to your rooms to force you into the meditation hall.
Every day, we devoted 12 hours to the practice of meditation, beginning with focusing on just breathing, to then focusing on bodily sensations, and ultimately attempting to get a consistent flow of energy throughout the body. The difference between Vipassana meditation and other forms is that it is known for allowing you to identify, neutralize, and eradicate negative feelings and replace them with positive feelings whereas regular mediation doesn’t get to the deep roots of the negativity.
The highlights of Vipassana (as well as the lowlights)
Despite lack of technology, distractions, and speaking, a lot can happen in the span of ten days. I’ll list out the highlights, lowlights, and realizations I had during the process:
Sitting in a cross-legged position without back support is excruciating when doing it for an entire 12-hour day. The idea is to eventually train your mind to treat the pain as ‘impermanent’ and it will go away, but there is only so much pain one can take before starting to go mentally insane. I feel like the pain truly prevented me from getting the results that I expected to get.
Highlight: Simple things become extraordinary.
With little to do but, well, meditate, eat, and take breaks, the little things that we pass by without thought on an average day are enhanced during Vipassana. I spent one of my breaks staring at a tiny spider attempting to lure and attack an even tinier fly for about 20 minutes or so. I spent another break chasing frogs.
Lowlight: Do not attend Vipassana on your birthday, especially if it falls on Day 2 or 6
I don’t know why I thought, when my birthdays in the past were all filled with drunken tomfoolery, that this one would be as fulfilling spending it meditating. It definitely wasn’t and for the first time I couldn’t wait for my birthday to end. My birthday fell on Day 2, known to be one of the hardest days in Vipassana. It was.
Highlight: A brilliant detox
After all of the Indian food I had been eating, Vipassana’s eat twice daily, local organically prepared food regimen was the ultimate detox.
Highlight: Breaking the vow of silence and leaving the perimeter
I must admit that this happened late into Day 7, but it was exhilarating when it happened and I couldn’t believe that it was only on Day 7 that I was breaking this. I had forgotten that the two foreigners I had been meditating with, Josh and Emma, were even British until their accents came out. We were eventually scolded for this, but it felt rebellious, and it’s in my nature to be rebellious. The remaining days, we would go on long walks into the boulder-stacked mountains near the site and learn all the things about each other that we had never known verbally. Josh and Emma then became my travel buddy for the next several weeks after the course.
Highlight/lowlight: The leader of Vipassana
The well-known Burmese (and now dead) leader of Vipassana, Satya Narayan Goenka, would lead the chants (over a primitive cassette player) at the beginning and end of every meditation. Every night, we would also be forced to watch his video discourse, which was torturous, but I couldn’t help but find so much humor in his chants and occasional bouts of coughing that would totally ruin the vibe. You can listen to this amazing man’s chants here: Vipassana Chanting
Some realizations from Vipassana
Realization: I have intense separation anxiety
One downfall to breaking the silence was how much we influenced one another after that moment. Josh and Emma were going to leave on Day 8, and when they didn’t show up to one of the meditation sessions that day, I actually started uncontrollably balling my eyes out. That could be the result of days of pent-up emotions, but also was a probable realization that I have separation issues. In my years of travels, I am so used to meeting people and leaving them, highly unlikely to see them again, but I have never desensitized to this notion. This is something I have aimed to work on since the course.
Realization: Just chill the fuck out
The initial adjustment of being busy to doing nothing sucks, but then it soon becomes ‘normal’ and you start realizing how much you wish you could do nothing more in normal life. Also, we worry over the most petty, menial things. When you do Vipassana, you will learn to chill the fuck out and not care as much about those things.
Realization: Life’s problems are not solved by meditation
Sure meditation has helped me, especially since I have made a conscious effort to keep it up (no longer for 12 hours daily, but for 12 minutes and always to “Ocean” by John Butler Trio). It saps up anxiety and I can only feel more positive and healthy after doing a session, but it is not going to be the main solution to my restlessness and creativity block without putting the extra effort to alter these aspects externally. Regardless, meditation is something EVERYONE should do. We would be a hell of a lot happier and more thoughtful if more people meditated.
Ten days later, and five people; myself, the two brits, and two Indians emerged from the Vipassana center in a line as though we were the newest teen band sensation. We walked through the scorching desert towards freedom, only turning back to laugh at the small plot of land that confined us for so long knowing we’d never have to go back. We went back to Baba Haveli’s, talked as much as we could, indulged in greasy Indian curries, happily sipped beers, and danced on the rooftops as locals flew kites or joined us in this impromptu dance party. Life moved on and Vipassana became a little dot of time in my 24 years, but heavily-ladened with lessons that I will try to carry with me until my dying day.
I challenge you all to Vipassana. It is a mix of hell and bliss all in one, but you can only leave the boundaries slightly more positive than you were before (and bragging rights for having survived ten days - if you don't break the rules).