Why this experience was 10 of the hardest days of my entire life, followed by some of the absolute best.
I wrote this blog back in 2017 after my first Vipassana course. I like to think that my writing style has changed since then, so bare with it. It’s taken everything within me to not go back & edit it prior to sharing again today. Reading over my raw words from 5 years ago, and particularly working in mental health for much of these last few years, I can see and read things in my words that I didn’t see or understand within myself at the time. And that’s why I want to keep it exactly as it was. Not polish it up to my understandings today. Because then it’s not real as it was. Apparently I’m here to walk my talk of healing perfectionist tendencies huh!
I completed a second course in 2018, and another again in 2019 with my partner. My sister and Mum attended courses that year too, at different times. My partner and I were due to do a course in 2020 in the Blue Mountains, but Covid happened and thus didn’t make that possible.
I realised recently it’s been 3 years since I sat a Vipassana course and am feeling the strong call to complete a 4th course before 2022 ends.
Vipassana is the best gift you can give yourself and those around you.
The course is also free – it is entirely donation based (donations can be money based or time/service based). You get accommodation for the 11 days you’re there along with deliciously beautiful meals, all prepared by generous volunteers.
You can look at the course schedule here & apply for a course if you feel called to do so. PS Vipassana course centres exist all over the world, this link just takes you to the QLD Australia Centre: http://www.dhamma.org/en/schedules/schrasmi
There’s no price to pay for enlightment.
Today – Liberation – 19th February, 2017
Earlier this morning, I returned home from my 10 day Vipassana meditation course at Pomona, Sunshine Coast. I’ve had numerous people ask me “How was it? Can’t wait to hear all about it”. When I got home, I had a huge discussion with my mum about it, and then my partner Jake, and then my brother and sister, and I quickly realised, this was getting exhausting. Not because it was exhausting to talk about, but mainly because it was so difficult to try and put into words what the experience was. At the end of the day, I believe that no matter how much I explain myself, no one can truly understand it unless they have been through it before. There were times when I was sitting in meditation and I would have essays flow through my head, I would envision myself writing a blog of my time there, because to sum my experience up in a short 10-minute conversation with Becky who works at the checkout at woollies was simply NOT enough time for me to give it justice. My conversations with these few people on my first day back home lasted a long time. How could you dissect such an experience or even begin to “sum it up” briefly? The truth is, you simply can’t. So, I decided to write a blog.
“Why do you look tired? Shouldn’t you be feeling relaxed after your “retreat”?
The first words from my sister upon my return. If you’re looking for a deeply relaxing time full of rest and rejuvenation, yoga and guided meditations, I would probably say, Vipassana is not what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a deep surgical operation of the mind, completely relieving itself of its impurities, then you’ve hit the nail on the head with Vipassana. Along with deep surgical operations of the mind, you can imagine that “relaxing” is probably not the first word that comes to mind. The truth is that I have probably never experienced 10 days that were so physically painful in my body, emotionally draining, and mentally challenging. It was the hardest 10 days of my life. And I mean that in a different context, as in, I have had dark days in my life, where I’ve felt some of the lowest emotions a human can possibly feel and pondered whether I wanted to or could exist in this world. But this was different in terms of “hard”. It was mentally challenging, it involved complete focus, it involved balancing your mind, and at times, your mind became both your worst enemy and your best friend. If I really had to sum it up very briefly, I would say something along the lines of “10 of the hardest days of my life, but followed by some of the absolute best”. You’ll soon understand why.
PREVIOUS MEDITATION EXPERIENCE VS VIPASSANA
I went into the course, with basically the only real experience in terms of meditation involving me laying down on my bed, either listening to a guided meditation by someone like Doreen Virtue, or listening to calm, soothing music in the background. Naturally, I would usually fall asleep. OR, guided meditations would be incredibly visual, I would see images, and symbols and faces. In fact, through any meditation I have experience with, the purpose has been to see visuals. I’ve also only ever spent at most, in one sitting, half an hour meditating. And at most, I have probably only done this twice a week, definitely not on a continual basis. It’s really kind of hilarious that I thought I meditated prior to this course.
My first day of the course was a quick shock to the system when I realised that for roughly 9 hours a day, I would be sitting in an upright position, with my legs crossed (or I usually sat up on my legs so my legs were beneath my bottom- I found this helped with avoiding a complete dead right leg from pins and needles, and then not being allowed to move at times, alluding my mind to the fact that I could potentially get gangrene and have my leg cut off from the constant blocked flow of blood in that right leg for an extended period of time – catastrophising?). Bottom line, I was not laying down on a bed in the hall. I was sitting on a cushion. We were also taught our first technique on day 1, of which we were to focus on the triangle area starting at the top of our nose all the way down to the area above our top lip, kind of imagine a triangle outline in that area, and that’s the spot we’re looking at. Then, it was focusing your mind to feel the sensations in that area. This could be a tingle, a tickle, a breeze flowing over the top of your nose, it could be the contraction or expansion of your nostrils, or it could be the air from your nose hitting your top lip area, or the moisture across the area above your top lip. Sensations were to be felt, simply, in this area only. This was the focus. Don’t count your breathing, don’t think “inhale, exhale”, don’t imagine seeing your nose on your body, don’t see anything basically… Just feel…. Just feel… At first I was counting my breaths, then I was just envisioning air hitting my top lip, I quickly realised, I couldn’t feel it, I couldn’t feel anything. After 9 hours of focusing on absolutely nothing but this area and the sensations, the end of the day, I could feel the breeze across my nose, I could feel tingling sensations or instantly when an itch arose on my nose, I could feel the air from my nose hitting the area above my top lip. Day 2 was followed by focusing on the smaller triangle of this same area, e.g. just the outside rings of the nostrils and the area above the top lip. Day 3 was just the area above the top lip. Just sensations, just FEELING.
There was 8-9 hours a day where we focused on nothing but each of these 3 things on each separate day. Each day, the area of focus got smaller. A necessary pre-requisite to get your mind alert and aware in preparation for day 4. Day 4 was the teaching of Vipassana. It took 4 days to actually get to Vipassana. I’m sure you can feel where I’m coming from when I say that at the end of day 3, I walked into my room, laid on my bed and said aloud in solitude “what the fuck am I doing here?”. In 3 days, I had learnt to feel sensations in such a small area of my body and I had focused for such lengthy amount of times on such small areas. I didn’t understand why we were doing this, but this was simply the beginning and an incredibly important pre-requisite to be able to focus your concentration and make it sharp and aware before day 4, which was the teaching of Vipassana day.
DAY 4 – THE TEACHING OF VIPASSANA
I am so relieved that I didn’t actually know that we weren’t doing “Vipassana” in those first 3 days. We found out at the end of Day 3 when the discourse )i.e. an hour-long discussion from a videotape of Goenka (teacher) basically explaining the relevance of what we were doing, and tying it all in together, these discourses is where it was made sense of what we were doing and why – the theoretical tie in). Anyway, super relieved I wasn’t aware of this prior to day 4. Vipassana= Meditation involving concentration on the body of its sensation or the insight which this provides. Quite literally, it is its definition. We were to flow from the top of our heads, all the way down to the bottom of our feet, making sure we examined every single part of our body. And by examine, I mean, feel sensations in every part of our body. Again, this might come in the form of tingles in some areas, vibrations, heat or cold, pain, moisture, perspiration etc. One of the hardest things for me was to try and not visually move down my body, but actually, FEEL sensations down my body. Flow down and up my body through feeling, and not through visual scanning. I would experience areas that were blind i.e. hard to feel any sensation what so ever – there was simply nothing there sometimes. And other sensations that were DEEP physical pain. These were the hardest two to deal with which brings me to a point of our two main lessons through Vipassana, CRAVING and AVERSION, which I will get to eventually in another post. The moving of sensations throughout the body from top to bottom and bottom to top is Vipassana. No visuals, no imagination, no counting, just feeling. On day 4 we learnt this technique and we continued in the following days to practise this all the way to day 9.
The first days of this technique were difficult, again there were many times where I didn’t feel any sensations in any areas and this was frustrating. Then there were times where I felt deep intense physical pain in other areas and all I wanted was for it to go away. Through practise of this technique 8-9 hours a day, I reached points here and there where I could get a free flow of sensations moving through my body. For everybody, sensations are different, but for me, it was mainly a light tingle all the way down my body on these moments I could get a free flow, and it was mainly vibrating also. Which brings me to my next revelation.
Someone once told me that we are vibrational beings, constantly vibrating, that’s why the term energy exists, we vibrate towards people that are vibrating on the same level as us. When I first heard this, I thought “yeah cool, we are vibrating, energy exists”- it was kind of like a concept I just knew. But my mind was blown the day I felt my entire body vibrating. It’s still blown to be honest. I’m still not past the realisation of it just yet. There were times in the long mediation sittings, maybe the 3-hour or 4-hour sittings where I sat down for an extended period of time without interruptions, I would stand up at the end of the sitting and go to the bathroom, and I would literally still feel my body vibrating and pulsing on the toilet. My body was LITERALLY vibrating. Almost every night after day 5 I struggled to get to sleep because my body felt like it was still vibrating. I woke up from a dream one night where my body was shaking and vibrating profusely. Startled from my dream, I awoke, and instantly felt a light vibration throughout my body as I lay there. I couldn’t believe this. This concept of “vibration” had simply been something I had known at the intellectual level for quite some time, and I had most definitely known about the concept of energy and our vibrations interrelated, but I had never FELT it at the experiential level. Our bodies are LITERALLY vibrating. Our minds are just so busy and so UNAWARE of anything actually happening to OURSELVES, that we miss being able to feel this at the experiential level entirely. WE ARE LITERALLY VIBRATING.
AVERSION AND CRAVING
Aversion: a strong dislike or disinclination.
Craving: a powerful desire for something.
These are the two main concepts that Goenka discusses throughout the nightly video discourses. And it makes sense, we either avert (unpleasant sensations) unpleasant experiences, (i.e. want them to go away, we don’t like them!), or we crave (pleasant sensations) pleasant experiences. We want what we like or what is pleasant, and we don’t want what we don’t like, or what is unpleasant. You can nail down any experience into the basis of those two things, literally.
Now how does this relate at ALL to feeling sensations in your body like the technique of Vipassana?
Well, something like this:
In Vipassana, we move from head to feet and feet to head, feeling sensations, the first thing that we need is AWARENESS, you need your mind sharp and aware to feel sensations.
You start feeling sensations at the top of your head and it tingles down your face, soooo wonderful! You’ve got some nice pleasant sensations happening. Then you hit your neck area, and you cannot feel a thing, “where the f**k is the sensation, there’s no tingles, there’s no vibrations, there’s no heat, there’s no moisture, there’s nothing there to feel, this is so frustrating, this is such an unpleasant sensation, I’m so annoyed”. You move down your arms and yesss there is a feeling of perspiration on your arms, so pleasant, you feel something. Then you hit your back area and somebody get Dr Phil because you’re currently experiencing the most intense physical pain and heat surging through your neck and down your back, “please PLEASE make it go away, it’s so unpleasant!”
These are just some examples of sensations that are pleasant and unpleasant, and how I wanted some to stay or craved to feel that pleasant sensation in blind areas, and how I wanted some to go away because they were so painful and felt so unbearable.
You can relate this to real life in your own way and I’m sure that doesn’t really need explaining. Again – what we are experiencing in this is human nature – craving and aversion – at an experential level. We’re experiencing the craving, and we’re experiencing the aversion. I experienced these concepts at the level of experience, which I truly believe, far exceeds knowing any of these concepts at the intellectual level. More on this later.
LAW OF NATURE (IMPERMANENCE) AND EQUANIMITY
The Law of Nature that Goenka talks about is that absolutely nothing is permanent. The next moment is nothing like the last. That’s the law of nature. Equanimity = Calmness and composure, in a difficult or in a pleasurable situation.
These two concepts were incredibly important throughout our practise of the technique. Previously I spoke about craving and aversion and the certain sensations that were pleasant to experience, and the sensations that were very unpleasant and at times, unbearable. The concept of equanimity comes in here, in terms of that we were to remain composed, despite the sensations that we felt. ‘Don’t give in to the craving’, and ‘don’t give in to the feelings of aversion’. For example, if I felt a light tingle sensation which was very pleasant, it was about training my mind to not instantly think “YES! I’ve got it, this is nice”- this would then develop a craving for this sensation, and again and again, I would want it – if the next round I went through my body and didn’t get this same pleasuring sensation, I would then be frustrated about it, un-levelling the balance and equanimity of my mind. If I reached a blind spot area where I could feel nothing, it was about training my mind to think “ok, there is nothing there right now, but that is ok, because nothing is permanent and the next round I go through I might feel something, whether pleasant or unpleasant no worries”, and thirdly to what remained to be my biggest struggle yet was reaching a spot on the body that had such a deep unpleasant and physically painful sensation, and training my mind to NOT think “f**k, please stop, please stop pain, go away!”, instead attaining equanimity meant thinking “ok, this is simply a sensation of pain that I’m feeling, I don’t crave it, nor do I want it to go away, it just exists right here and right now in this moment, but the next round it might still be here, or the next round it might be gone, either way, it’s ok, it’s just an unpleasant sensation, that’s all it is”. On day 8 I sat for 3 HOURS STRAIGHT dealing with a deep physical pain surging through the back of my neck and down along my left spine. I can tell you right now, equanimity was NOT good on that day. I wanted the pain gone. I needed it gone. But as I worked on it for 3 hours and worked with my mind and keeping it balanced and viewing the sensation as just a sensation that I neither liked nor disliked, I eventually felt it sizzle into a light tingle and it floated away. This was another moment for me that was huge because I thought “holy f**k, it actually works, my pain is gone, I literally felt it sizzle into a tingle and disappear, this is amazing” This was also a huge error of mine. I didn’t remain equanimous with the situation because I was then celebrating the pain floating away as a GOOD thing, “hell yes! It’s gone”. I would now crave that beautiful tingle sensation through my back instead of the pain every time I went through and low and behold, the pain came back. I was craving it to be gone. It was moments like this that I really learnt the most and started to begin to understand the technique and the power of keeping our mind equanimous. In the moments where I could remain really focused (because of course there were times where I was NOT focused and I would be thinking about anything and everything – honestly if you ever sit for 8-9 hours a day for 10 days in a row – you will understand that the most random sh*t will come into your mind and you’ll remember a story from year 6 in PE which has no relevance to your life today), anyway, where was I? Clearly that was a literal interpretation of my mind becoming unfocused. Anyway, yes, on the times I could remain really focused, and managed to keep my mind equanimous for periods of time, I could flow through my entire body and feel no unpleasant sensations what so ever. None. On the first 3 days of the course, I had deep physical pain throughout my hips and hip flexors, that stayed for 3 days and eventually it was gone completely. Days 7 and 8 involved my deep physical pain through my neck and back. Eventually that was gone as well and I had a free flow of pleasant sensations through my body. Sitting for 8-9 hours in one day in a cross legged position or up on your knees, and you have NO physical pain what so ever? That’s a damn miracle. No, simply, that’s the power of equanimity.
Keep your mind still through any pleasant or unpleasant experience you go through, just simply recognise it as that and don’t develop a feeling of craving or aversion for either of them, and you will rid your body and mind of its impurities and eventually feel deep peace. You can most definitely relate that to your real life.
The law of nature that Goenka mentions constantly also interrelates to equanimity because it is to do with the fact that no moment is like the last. One round of going through my body I might feel sensations everywhere, but the next round I might have 4 blind spots where I feel nothing. I could find this frustrating, but I could also think “alright- it’s just the law of nature, nothing is permanent, how could I expect every round through my body to be the same when change is constantly happening?”. Again, you can see how this relates to equanimity. Sensations arise, simply to pass away again. Arise, pass, arise, pass, arise, pass. That’s the law of nature.
INTELLECTUAL VS EXPERIENTIAL
In the discourses at nigh (where a video would play explaining the theory of what we were doing/story telling by Goenka), Goenka spoke a lot about something that has really stuck with me since. It’s about knowing something intellectually, and knowing something experientially.
For instance, anyone who knows me knows that I’m a little obsessed with personal growth, I’m constantly fascinated by the mind, why we interact the way we do with people, why we feel the way we do etc. I’ve read copious amounts of self-help books. Sometimes I’ll read an amazing book where some of the concepts will maybe stick with me for the rest of the week and I’ll try and put into play the advice they give you when for example, dealing with pain or negativity or a situation that arises that you don’t really want. But at the end of it all, the advice and the concepts are eventually forgotten. Or not forgotten, but simply, stop being put into practise. And it’s really true for so many of us, how many of you read a quote that inspires you or read a book that jogs a thought you never knew about and you go and message your friend on Facebook and say “You have GOT to read this book, it’s so insightful”, but tomorrow you’ll probably get road rage or get angry by something irrelevant/ Most of us read something or hear something for the first time and we get a little sensation of being deeply inspired, but probably won’t carry it through to our life once the moment is gone. This is knowing something at the INTELLECTUAL level. And I’m the first to admit, despite how many self-help books I’ve read, or despite how many psychologists have guided me through a lot of things, or despite how many inspiring quotes exist, sometimes, they have evaporated within a day and I’m back to where I was before. I feel this is knowing something at the intellectual level.
Vipassana is knowing truth at the EXPERIENTIAL level. Why? Because you literally sit in your physical pain and your pleasure and/or misery for 8-9 hours a day (that sounds so full on, don’t let that scare you off because day 10 is the most magical day of your entire existence and we will get to that afterwards), you sit in this pain, you feel it, you feel the POWER OF EQUANMITY as it gently floats away. You feel this flow into not craving for pleasant sensations or not craving for anything at all, and then you feel the results and you feel the power of everything that you are taught. You feel this through sensations. You EXPERIENCE it. You EXPERIENCE what you are taught, you aren’t just TOLD it. Your body and mind is your tool, your teacher.
At the intellectual level, you know that negativity has a ripple effect on yourself. It’s hard to come out from a bout of negativity, isn’t it? It’s so hard to change the course of the river of your mind in these states. This negative state is soooo unpleasant. When I sat in physical pain and felt the sensation of pain through my body, it was so unpleasant. I had two choices, let my mind simply want it to go the f**k away and dwell on that for 8-9 hours that day, or train my mind to become equanimous in those unpleasant situations and again recognise it as something that is unpleasant, but UNDERSTAND that the law of nature means impermanence, and very soon, the sensation (or emotion) would soon be gone? Don’t develop an attachment to it – was the teaching. And every single time my mind became equanimous throughout these meditation sittings, my pain would drift away. I now know what this means at an experiential level. It’s truly amazing! Your mind is incredibly powerful and I honestly believe, at this point in my life, that no book, and no inspiring quote, and to be honest, not even this blog, can teach you that to the capacity that EXPERIENCING Vipassana can teach you. Why? Because I have now experienced what it feels like at an entirely different level to anything that I have ever read intellectually or applied in my life before.
WHERE THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE IN ANY GIVEN MOMENT RESIDE
I’m not actually sure if you will ever find a bunch of humans smiling brighter and wider, hearts happier or more full of love, more so than a bunch of Vipassana students on their 10th day of the course.
The day that we can stop working seriously and ardently. The day we were to transition back into talking and come out of silence. The day that we learn a new form of meditation technique called the “loving-kindness” meditation technique. Incredibly similar to Vipassana with sensations throughout your body in the same flow from head to feet and feet to head, but vibrating as love and compassion.
Like a soothing balm for all of the wounds you have endured.
Pardoning those who have hurt you, and pardoning yourself for those you have hurt.
Literally feeling love and compassion for all beings. When we all performed this form of meditation for the first time, I felt the entire meditation hall swell with love. I felt love for every single person that I knew, whether I’d hurt them or they’d hurt me, I felt love for EVERYONE. I felt love for all of the other meditators in the room who have just endured this experience with me. When this meditation session ended, we would commence talking with each other for the first time in the 10 days of the course.
The session ended, I opened my eyes when I was ready, and I was the second last person sitting in the hall. I heard the chatter and laughter of groups of people throughout the grounds, an incredibly unfamiliar sound compared to the silence of the last 10 days. I walked out of the hall and cried my heart out. I cried my heart out for pride of working so hard, of working with such discipline for 8-9 hours every day, of just making it through the last 10 days, without leaving. I cried for the love I felt FROM everyone, and I cried for the love that I felt FOR everyone. It was one of the most overwhelming feelings I have ever experienced. Pure love. Compassionate love. I realised just how much love exists inside of my heart.
Walking down the pathway from the meditation to the dining area was one of the most nerve-racking experiences for me. This group of roughly 50-60 people I had just lived with in silence, were all talking, and now I was going to talk to them. What would I say? How do you even start a conversation after you have just done a 10-day Vipassana course? I walked over and with my nerves and overwhelming emotions welting up inside of me I started reading a poster over and over and over and over again. Then I looked beside me, and I saw a familiar face of a girl I had spoken to at registration the day we all arrived. It was her second course and she had done her first course two years ago. She told me at registration that her first course, she wanted to leave every single day, and she found it so incredibly overwhelming to finish. I almost felt comfort when I saw her, and as I walked over to her, she asked, “How did you go?” and I simply burst into tears in the dining area. Lucky everybody was so immersed in chatter but I also realised that if there was ever a more welcoming environment or time to cry, it was now. Everyone was overwhelmed at the transition, and at the loving-kindness meditation we had just done. Our meditation timetables were not as strict on the 10th day and instead of 8-9 hours, we only had 3 compulsory 1 hour sittings where we would practise the loving-kindness meditation, much more relaxed. Out of those remaining hours, we spent the time chatting to everybody in the course and enjoying simply talking to each other. When I was in silence, I realised just how much I loved silence. But when we were all talking, I realised just how much I love interacting with people and having meaningful conversations. It was an unbelievable and incredible feeling being amidst such a large group of people who are vibrating on the same level as you. One of the weirdest things was hearing someone’s voice after 10 days of watching their motions and seeing them around, and then they would talk, and they would have an accent! It was like whoa! Mind blowing! You have an accent! It was interesting to see how everybody each has a different experience of the course, but how so many of us have such similar experiences. Everybody had bad days, and everybody had times where they counted down the days and wished for it to be day 10 already. Everybody had intense physical pain that brought them to tears in the meditation sittings. Everyone lost focus in the meditation sittings, a lot. One girl told me she got bitten by a wasp in one of the determination sittings (where you try really hard not to move or open your eyes for one hour) and she literally composed herself and focused on the pain of the wasp bite simply as pain and used it as a tool to delve into her technique. Incredible.
DAY 11 – HOME TIME
The night I went to bed on day 10, I almost felt like jumping out of my own skin. The morning of day 11, we had a closing 2-hour video discourse, meditation with chants and loving kindness mediation, from 4:30am-6:30am. Then the course was officially over. We had officially made it. I’ll be the first to admit I could not concentrate what so ever in this final sitting of the course. My heart was racing. It felt like it was beating so hard it could come out of my chest. Soon I would be able to hear Jakes voice after 11 days, this was the longest we had gone in 5 years with absolutely NO contact what so ever (as you don’t have a phone or any communicative devices throughout the course). That in itself, was a huge thing for us both. I would go home and see my family and be able to hug my mum and tell her how much I love her. We received our phones and wallets back straight after this, but we had some cleaning to do and I intentionally didn’t turn my phone back on until I was walking with my belongings to the car park. I took a few deep breaths, turned it on (honestly, turning your phone back on after 11 days of complete disconnection from any form of normality that you know is so NERVE RACKING), dialled Jakes number, excitedly listening to the rings, again, heart beating out of the chest, I was so damn excited! And the first words that I heard from the outside world was Jake saying “Monique, I love you so much”. Overwhelming feelings of emotions yet again. Day 10 and day 11 of this course were two of the best days of my whole life. The unbelievably liberating feelings I got on these days were so worth every single day that I spent in deep pain and misery.
Vipassana forces you to sit in your own pain and misery, but then it shows you the light at the end of the tunnel. And honestly, I’m not sure if there is anything that shines brighter than that light at the end.
This experience was SO much for me. This experience was everything. But more importantly, this is our life and this is our minds. You really don’t understand JUST how powerful your mind is. You can rid yourself of pain. You can rid yourself of misery. But it’s not easy.
Your mind is the most powerful tool that you have. Use it.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTINUATION
At the final video discourse, Goenka talks about the unbelievable importance of continuing your practise in daily life. Upon leaving the course, we are to do one hour in the morning, one hour in the night, in our normal daily routines. And after doing 8-9 hours every single day, I thought “this is totally possible”. But for me, this will be the challenge. Today literally being the day that I got home, time will tell how it will go for me. On the first few days of the course, Goenka talks about the feeling of liberation. I was therefore looking forward to the liberation that I would feel at the end of the course. There were some days where I was scared I wouldn’t feel liberation at the end because I felt so defeated at some points throughout the course. But low and behold, liberation I felt. And I think, this is a feeling that will only last as long as I continue the practise of the technique. Continuity is the secret to success. The law of nature has taught me that the intensity of the liberation I feel right now may not ever be as pleasurable and intense as in this moment right now. And that’s ok. Because right now, I’m revelling in this feeling, and in this moment, with full understanding, tomorrow is a new day and even 1 minute from now is a new moment and I might not feel like this anymore. But if there is anything that can even partially sustain the feeling of even slight liberation, it is continual practise. And I didn’t anticipate this going in. I thought “ok, 10 days, that’s it, then I’m good, then I’m free from the prison of my own mind”. Then you realise that it’s a lifelong commitment. Why? Because life happens. And challenges come. And you have negative interactions. And you experience deep pain. And you lose people you love. And all of these experiences will bring up new and possibly unpleasant sensations in your body/mins for you to either go and work on daily through the technique of Vipassana (or however is helpful) so you can remain equanimous through life, or let the experiences/sensations build up and in a few years, end up in a prison of your mind again. On that note, it’s time for my first ever nightly one-hour Vipassana meditation at home.
“May all beings be happy” – S.N. Goenka
WHAT YOU MISS WHEN YOU’RE LOOKING DOWN
Throughout the 10 days that I was away, I had no phone, in fact, you couldn’t even bring a book to read, or a note book and pen to write down your thoughts (hence my word vomit upon instant return back home). You literally brought yourself, a doona, your clothes, and your toiletries. Most of the day we spent meditating but there was a big 2-hour break for lunch in the middle of the day, and 2 other 1 x hour breaks during the day. During these breaks we were free to do whatever we wanted. Do you know just HOW much time you have when you’re not staring down at a phone? Even though I sat in silence with people for breakfast, lunch and dinner, even observing people’s movements was fascinating. One evening I watched a girl pour salt on her fruit. Another morning I watched a woman spread vegemite on her toast, and THEN butter on top after that, & then she put another piece of bread on top of that where she then spread peanut butter on the outside of that piece, and then she flipped the whole sandwich like piece of toast over and put marmalade on the other side of that. Brilliant. One day I counted 23 seeds in my piece of watermelon. If I had a phone at that time, I probably would have been facebooking instead of counting my seeds. Honestly, what an important thing to miss. There was a day where I brought a chair onto the grass and positioned it in front of two kangaroos and I simply watched them for 45 minutes. Yes, 45 minutes of kangaroo watching. One was a mother with her joey in her pouch, and I watched the joey jump out of the pouch and hop around her mother like it was experiencing earth for the very first time. So happy, so lively. I can’t even explain how beautiful it was. A woman told me (at the end of the course) of a story she had where she watched a finch bird crack a grasshopper in half with its beak. I watched a pond and the fish inside swimming around daily. I walked through the bush tracks and stacked rocks on top of each other, trying to get them high but also trying to keep them balanced and not let them fall. Every single thing that usually defines a person is stripped away from them, and it’s so interesting to see what you observe, even inside of yourself, when you’re not bombarded by all of these things, especially technology.
Coming home, I honestly felt like so much of it is so irrelevant to me now. Like why did I feel such an incessant need that if I was eating a beautifully crafted Acai bowl, I MUST post that to instagram so everyone can know I’m eating an acai bowl? It’s so weird, but we all do it. Who knows, maybe in a month, I’ll re-download Instagram and post a photo of my food, but I guess right now, at this point in my life, all of it seems very irrelevant to me. Even checking facebook seemed irrelevant to me. If there was anything really important happening, someone would give me a ring or I would go and catch up with them for real in person to chat. There are so many amazing things to see when you’re not looking down at a phone, & so many amazing thoughts to think about, so don’t forget to look up and look inside of yourself.
THE MOMENT I BROKE DOWN FROM PHYSICAL PAIN
I remember this moment so clearly. It was day 5, we were sitting down for around our 4th/5th hour of meditation for the day. I was thinking of all the hours we had left in that day, and all the days we still had left to get through. I was experiencing deep physical pain throughout my body on that day, knowing I still had to sit in it for another 4 hours, and knowing I would have to fight with my mind to remain equanimous through it. I was struggling to feel the light sensations elsewhere, feeling as though I was failing and not doing the technique right. I was battling with my mind, and inside my head, I said, “This is so f**king hard”, I put my head into both my hands, and I cried. Aware that the room was full of meditators, and it was dead quiet, I cried silently. I feel as though this may have been a blessing in disguise because of 2 reasons.
This moment ended up turning into an overwhelming feeling of forgiveness for somebody very close to me for a lot of things in the past. It was a beautiful feeling as I put my hand on my heart, and felt nothing but forgiveness and love for this person, and my painful tears ended up turning into overwhelming tears of forgiveness that then kept on flowing for at least 5 minutes. Also, strangely enough, my deep physical pain was eradicated after this, my body was free from the physical pain I had been sitting in for 4 hours shortly after this. Alluding me to a concept I will write about soon, of how interrelated our physical pain is with our mental pain. I truly believe what happened was I was pulling out a deep root of emotional pain from many, many years ago, a root so deep that I was feeling a physical sensation of pain as a result of it. The tears streaming down my face ended up travelling down my neck and chest, this then lead to something for me to be able to concentrate on. I used the tears and the way they were travelling down my body as a tool to re-focus and feel the sensations of the tears travelling down my body. After this happened, I was completely focused for the next 4 hours of meditation that we still had in that day.
But this was a difficult moment for me. I literally cried from the physical pain my body was in. And I cried for the mental challenge of this whole journey. On day 10 when we were able to finally talk to each other, I discovered that every single person I had a conversation with, reflecting on their experience, could note that each one of them had broken down and cried numerous times from the physical pain they were sitting in. I remember thinking “Oh god Monique, get your sh*t together, you don’t need to cry about this” (me simply thinking it was just me and nobody else was feeling the same way I was). Anyway, turns out we all were. Again, this is a journey that everyone experiences differently, but it is comforting to know that so many people share similar experiences. Even though you’re living in silence and amidst only your own energy for 10 days, you’re really never alone on this journey.
THE TOP 3 THINGS THAT GOT ME THROUGH
- MY OMA. There was this incredible moment when I really knew she was there. Wel there was two. The area I was staying in was beautiful, full of kangaroos and a bush walking track you could use in break times. I was walking through the bush area, and I saw a huge clearing. Instantly, I remembered a guided meditation that I had done a few years ago. In this guided meditation, you were guided to be walking through a rainforest, and you reached a big clearing, you were going to meet someone in this clearing, and they would be sitting somewhere in the clearing waiting for you. When I did this guided meditation two years ago, I met my Oma in the clearing (visually). When I saw this bushland and this big clearing out in front of me for real at the Vipassana meditation centre on this day, I felt an intense sensation of Deja Vu. Like I had done this before. And I realised that I had, but in a guided meditation. So, similar to the guided meditation I did years ago, I went through it. I walked through the bush land, walking slowly, noticing everything around me, the colours, the animals, the greenery, and then I asked, “Who is waiting for me in the clearing”, I took my gaze out towards the clearing, and I felt an overwhelming sensation of my Oma’s presence. I can’t explain it, but I knew she was there, waiting for me. I went to walk closer to the clearing so I could stand in the middle of the field, and I came to a gate that read, “Boundary lines, please do not cross”, and then I felt goosebumps. Goosebumps because these were boundary lines. I couldn’t cross them. Similarly, we exist on differing dimensions, my Oma was there, but I physically couldn’t get to her because the boundaries of our current dimension don’t permit us to be able to do this. The second moment that I knew she was with me was on one of the last few days we were there, and I was sitting on a chair on the deck overlooking the bush land area, I felt a sensation gently breeze over my right shoulder and then I was instantly thinking of her. I felt her tell me that she has so much love inside of her heart for me, and she was so proud of me. We were then throwing back and forth how much we loved each other, and as I was sitting out on this deck, I was crying again for the unbelievably overwhelming feelings of love that I was getting from this interaction.
- JAKE. Oh god. Jake got me through. Without even being there, without even being physically contactable. There were so many moments where it was hard and where I wanted it to be over. Where physical pain became so unbearable and where my mind was simply drained and wanting to fight against me. In these moments, I would close my eyes, take a few deep breaths, I would say Jakes name softly, envision him in my mind, and a wave of calmness would envelope me. It was literally as though a wave would flow over me and completely calm my soul. My heart would feel softer, my breathing would feel less rapid, my whole body would relax whenever I thought of him. But Jake has always had this effect on me. He is the most gentle, warm-hearted, kind, giving, selfless, and CALMING human being that I know. He got me through it without even knowing it.
- ME. I got me through it. I knew going into this course that it would be hard, and I definitely had days where I wanted it to be day 10 already and I counted down the days. But I never once was going to leave. Not once. I came here for a reason, and I was not going to leave before it was finished. When I make a decision to dedicate myself to a goal, I will do everything to get to that goal. If I believe in it, and if it’s what I want and know it’s what I need to do, I will not give up on it, and I will go at it, full speed, with my whole heart. My mind is strong. And I am strong. I got myself through it. I got myself to the end.
IMPERMANENCE IN REALITY
I remember throughout the course there were so many moments where I imagined things that I would do once I got out. It sounds really weird, doesn’t it? “Things I will do once I get out”- it sounds like prison. Haha. But realistically, you’re incredibly secluded throughout the process. You obviously go through the journey with 50 or so other people, but you never really talk to them or look at them. There were times where I felt very, very far away from the feeling of ‘alone’, but then there were definitely other times, where alone is all I felt. I couldn’t wait to dive into the ocean. I couldn’t wait to lay down in my own bed. I couldn’t wait until I could fall asleep next to Jake again. In the moments where I couldn’t wait to do all of these things once I “got out”, I tried to remember what we were taught about impermanence. This moment right now is impermanent and in one second from now, the moment will be different. I knew that my 10 days would be over in the blink of an eye. I really tried not to spend time thinking of places I couldn’t wait to go to or people I couldn’t wait to see, because I knew that in a month, my life would be incredibly busy again, days from 4:30am-8pm, and I would WISH to be back at Pomona doing a Vipassana meditation course and meditating 8-9 hours a day, where things were a bit slower, where life was just, slower, where no obligations existed, and where, looking inside of MYSELF, and not anything externally, was what we did, day in, day out.
Right now, I am looking at Jake who is beside me, fast asleep. This time last week, I would have dreamt of this moment. I would have thought “I can’t wait to be sleeping next to Jake”. And here I am, 6 days after the course ended, and that is exactly where I am. Because our moments are so impermanent. Our moments are over in the blink of an eye. My time at Pomona was impermanent. Every hard time in my life, has been impermanent. If only we spent more of our energy invested in the fact that our moments, our feelings, our thoughts, our opinions, at any given time, are SO impermanent, so why dwell on them?
Accept whatever we feel, or whatever circumstance we find ourselves in, as IMPERMANENT.
Just like each flame that flows up in a candle is different from the last, every single moment is different from the last.
WRITTEN BY MONIQUE JEPHCOTE
Accredited Practising Dietitian + Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor
WRITTEN BY MONIQUE JEPHCOTE
Accredited Practising Dietitian + Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor