By Elaine Kelly
If someone told you, “You can spend 10 days in 140 acres of pristine woodlands with a private room, be fed delicious vegetarian meals, and learn an amazing meditation technique and it will cost you nothing”, would you go? Impossible right? Still intrigued, click to read more.
So yes, there is a catch. You are not allowed to talk, you must hand over your electronic devices when you check in. There is no reading, writing or exercise other than walking, and you can only take showers at assigned times. Last, but not least, you will be meditating for up to 10 hours a day and your last meal will be served at 11am. Still curious? Continue reading and I will tell you about my experience this summer at the Ontario Vipassana center.
What is Vipassana?
Vipassana, which means “to see things as they really are”, is an ancient Buddhist meditation technique taught as a way to live a joyful life. S.N. Goenke was the founder of the Vipassana course I attended.
Born of Indian descent into a wealthy family in Burma in early 1900s, he suffered from severe migraine headaches and traveled the world to find a cure to no avail. A good friend suggested learning Vipassana at a monastery in Yagoon. Desperate, he entered the course and within months his migraines had disappeared. He started sharing this non-sectarian technique with his family and friends in India and then set up the first not for profit Vipassana residential center in India in 1969. People told him he was crazy to make it free, that they would be overrun by beggars, but the center succeeded and today there are over 140 centers worldwide all run by volunteers funded 100% on donations from people who have been helped by the technique.
The Daily Schedule
The Chime that woke us every morning
Each center is run like a monastery. The day starts at 4am when you awake to the sound of a gong and either meditate in your room or in the meditation hall. They prefer you to sit on the floor but there are chairs. Women and men are segregated to reduce distraction.
At 6.30 am, breakfast is served in the cafeteria – porridge, toast and tea or coffee and fruit. From 8-11am meditation in the hall after which a hearty lunch is served. To assist you in maintaining noble silence as it’s called, tables in the cafeteria face the walls or there is the option to eat outside. You can relax, walk in the forest or return to your room for a rest and then return to the hall at 1.30pm to meditate till 5pm. Tea is then served with fresh fruit and at 6pm more meditation followed by a video discourse by Goenke about the technique and other valuable lessons about how to live a happy and content life. 9pm it’s time to retire and sleep.
The first 3 days we concentrated on the nostrils and the breath coming in and out of them. This is called Anapana and is a designed to sharpen the focus of the mind from the wide light of a flash light to a lazer beam if you like. Day 4 we learned the Vipassana technique which involves moving your attention slowly to each part of the body from the crown of the head to the toes and back up again noticing any sensation along your way. What I discovered is that the body is covered in sensations, some pleasant, some not. The next 5 days are spent fine tuning this awareness of sensation.
Adithanna – Sitting with Determination
On day 4 we were asked to sit without moving for at least one hour 3 times a day to develop “equanimity”, the ability to be calm and centered no matter what is going on around you. Imagine there is an itch on your face. By not reacting and scratching it, you notice that the itch eventually goes away or the sensations ends. The key is not to get attached to sensations of pleasure or try to move away from sensations of pain. Likewise, for sounds. Early in the course the lady behind me would cough every few minutes and it was driving me crazy. Through the evening discourse I learned to have compassion for her illness and this made it much easier to bare.
In life we cannot control what happens but we can choose how we react to life’s ups and downs and this will have a huge impact on our health and well-being.
Pursuing Equanimity = Contentment
I don’t think I really knew what this word meant before this course but it is engrained in my memory now. It means our ability to remain calm when things around us are in a state of upheaval. This is the true test of our meditation practice, how well it works off our mat in the office or with our family. I have tried many different meditation techniques but Vipassana technique for is the best – no props, no guides just me on my mat focused and still. If you need some help there is an ap as well. There is a center in the UAE and one in Oman. For more details and to find the closest center to where you are, go to https:// dhamma.org/.