I recently attended a 10-day Vipassana meditation course where I meditated for 100 hours in 10 days.
I know what you’re thinking. WHY?
Why would I do it?!
I have a few friends who did it and told me great things about it. But what really pushed me to do it was Yuval Noah Harari, whose books have been influential to my life.
I’ve been fascinated with his clarity of thinking, which he attributes mostly to practising Vipassana meditation. I was so impressed by it, that I decided to do it myself.
Vipassana is an ancient Indian meditation technique developed by the Buddha, and then taught over the centuries by many Masters, including S. N. Goenka who helped to popularize it globally.
The goal of the technique is to free yourself from all suffering. How? Everyday we receive a lot of sensory information from the outside world. This information generates sensations in our body, to which we react with either craving (if the sensations are pleasant), or aversion (if the sensations are unpleasant). According to the Buddha, the root of the suffering then is not the sensations themselves, but in our reaction to them.
The Vipassana meditation technique teaches you to be aware first, and then remain equanimous (non reactive) to your bodily sensations. If you’re able to do that, you’re free from suffering.
The schedule of the course is tight, you basically meditate ten hours every day, from 4am to 9pm. Yes, you read that right. The gong wakes you up at 4am every day for the first two hours of meditation. How lovely!
The first four days you actually just practise Anapana meditation in order to sharpen your focus. You just observe the breath coming in and out of your nose, focusing on the triangular area between your upper lip and your nostrils.
The practice is intense. Each day I thought: "This is madness.” and then "No, this is the way out of madness.” and then again “This is madness.” and so on and so forth.
On Day 4 they introduce the Vipassana technique, which is about scanning sensations throughout your entire body, from head to feet. They introduce the technique in the afternoon, during a two hour long sitting. Once we finished, I was very tired. I thought “Well maybe, since we worked so hard already, maybe there are no sittings in the evening.”
Not only was there a sitting in the evening, they also introduced the Sitting of Strong Determination, where you are asked not to move your meditative posture for the entire session (of one hour). "A stable body helps to keep a stable mind" - they told us.
Suffice to say, I dreamed of escaping that night.
From the day after I decided to take it “more chill”. I did some meditations in my room and skipped some to go for walks instead. Eventually, I (proudly) completed the course.
The most important lesson for me was to realize (again) that inner peace is always available in the present moment, if you can quiet your mind.
When you are in complete silence and isolation, it becomes clear that the only thing that is making noise is the monkey mind. That voice in the head that is constantly judging, narrating, and projecting things.
When you leave your monkey mind unwatched and undisciplined, you mistakenly identify with it. You believe the stories it tells yourself. Unfortunately, many of them lead to suffering.
💡 It’s key to make the effort every day to observe your stream of thoughts, to take distance from it, and experience the present moment as it is.
There was a moment I will never forget. It was Day 7, I was walking in the woods and I picked up a wooden stick. It wasn’t particularly beautiful, but I spent what felt like twenty minutes observing its shape, colors, smell. I felt completely at peace, filled with more than I needed.
In that moment I understood that peace can be only experienced, never understood. It cannot come from rational thoughts, or by trying to understand the nature of the Universe. There is no road to it. There are no things you must do before you can access it.
Peace is always available. The only thing that's “missing” is our ability to connect to it.
In general, I think that doing a Vipassana course can only do you good. But beware, it’s intense! I believe you must approach it with a strong intention and commitment.
Also, try not to have any expectation. The experience is very subjective and each person takes away different things from it.
Even if you don’t need prior experience with meditation, I would suggest practising a few longer meditation before you go (e.g. one hour sitting). I know it helped me believe I could sit all those hours, and to start to mentally prepare for it.
To conclude, if you truly want to learn more about yourself and how your mind works, this experience is for you. It's going to be challenging, but very profound. May you succeed!