Vipassana means to see things as they really are. Vipassana meditation is considered to be one of India’s oldest techniques for meditation and is said to be the method that brought the Buddha to enlightenment.
It is taught at Dhamma centers around the world. These centers all present the same teachings by audio and video recordings taught by S. N. Goenka, and the centers do not charge for the course, room, or board. Everything students receive is based from the donations of previous students who have benefitted from the technique and wish to share the gift with others.
Courses are a minimum of 10 days to allow students to receive an adequate foundation in the meditation techniques. The daily schedule of each course includes roughly ten hours of meditation time and during the course students are asked to observe “noble silence” - no talking, gesturing, or communicating in any way with other meditators.
In this article, I reflect on my own recent 10-day Vipassana course to present the benefits of detoxing from stimulation, how the technique can help to declutter the mind, and how the overall experience can help you to learn patience and trust through an intense process of inner reflection.
Declutter and Purify
Vipassana is said to purify the mind through observing yourself. The structure of the course supports decluttering the mind to achieve this goal.
During a course, you are committing to noble silence, not only agreeing to refrain from talking, but also agreeing to not bring any writing materials, music or books. During the course, you are not permitted to have your cellphone or contact with the outside world. You agree to put aside other techniques, such as yoga, prayer, or other meditations in order to have a pure trial of Vipassana and eliminate distractions.
These commitments create an atmosphere supporting deep self-reflection and self-observation. Students are advised to stay the full course, as 10 days is the minimum time required to allow the mind to settle down and engage with the technique. The technique is slowly taught over 10 days, learning a meditation that consists of observing the natural breath in the first few days. As students experience less distractions, the mind becomes quieter and become more concentrated, preparing students to be taught Vipassana.
In a world with a lot of stimulus, where we regularly use devices and connect to the internet, quieting the mind is a concept foreign to many, even those with regular meditation or yoga practices. (Learn more in Befriend Your Chattering, Manic Mind & Meditate Through the Running Commentary.)
Meditating for ten hours a day, you have the opportunity to observe the mind and identify the mental impurities that keep you returning to a state of unhappiness and tension.
Through Vipassana, you learn a technique to remain equanimous and calm despite the ups and downs of the human mental and physical experience, learning to observe with equanimity. You can change the mental patterns of the mind that keep you stuck or cycling through the same unhelpful ways of thinking and reacting.
Patience and Persistence
The teachings of S. N. Goenka are presented in a way that becomes almost hypnotic. “Patience and persistence,” he says repeatedly in lessons to remind you how to work with yourself. These two tools are applied to your developing meditation practice, and naturally will flow out into all aspects of your life from there.
You learn to patiently observe the breath, mind, and body sensations with an awareness of their impermanence. By appreciating the universal cosmic truth of constant change, you can choose to engage with life with an attitude of calmness and love without extreme positive or negative reactions.
This starts in the mind.
The process takes a great deal of patience because most people are living with longstanding mental patterns of reactions, unknowingly keeping themselves susceptible to misery. (Learn more in Escaping the Maya: 5 Tools to Reconnect With Your Inner Self.)
As you observe the mind, you learn to be patient with its process too. As you observe your natural breath in the first few days of the course, you are faced with all the clutter of the mind - all the regrets, hopes, to-do lists, memories, ideas, projections, and so on. You observe that impatience, clinging, and resistance only inevitably bring you more suffering.
Through persistence you learn to have a balanced and calm perspective on the constantly changing state of the mind and body. You also learn patience through sitting in meditation for so many hours, learning to have patience with the sensations of pain in your body, as well as the instructions given each day because you will not always understand at times what their purpose is.
Each night, students are shown an hour lecture by S. N. Goenka that helps you to understand the purpose of the technique. You learn that following the path is lifelong, and working patiently and persistently throughout a lifetime is the path to true happiness. To impatiently expect enlightenment after your 10 day course, or even within this lifetime, would only cause more suffering.
Trusting the Process
By agreeing to the regulations and guidelines of the Vipassana course, you are choosing to surrender to its process. While there is nothing secret about this course, S. N. Goenka makes a point to share certain information during his evening lectures, saving specific details and his own story for the end.
Vipassana is about seeing things how they really are, and learning to use this skill helps you to trust your own observations.
In the first few days, it is common for students to want to leave. As the mind is settling, the ego is often screaming out for the stimulation it has become so addicted to. During my stay at the Vipassana center, I came to consider myself at a “meditation bootcamp” because of its level of intensity.
Many students, including myself and the teacher during my recent 10-day course, will try to convince themselves to leave the course because it is not for them for one reason or some other attachment to the outside world. Through trusting yourself, and that you have arrived at Vipassana for a good reason, you don’t leave and, instead, learn to trust a newly discovered, higher version of yourself.
Instead of believing your feelings, reactions, perceptions, and sensations, you learn how to trust the silent witness or the neutral observer that is within each and every person’s consciousness. The universal law of impermanence and universal truth of change is experienced first hand by the neutral observer. S. N. Goenka teaches that this truth can only be fully realized through experiential learning, which can come through a Vipassana course.
Keep Calm and Dhamma On
The path of Dhamma (or Dharma) is revealed through the meditation technique of Vipassana. The experiential learning that comes through this technique gives you real understanding at the deepest level of comprehension rather than just through the intellectual level. With a decluttered, patient, and trusting attitude, you can learn to support these qualities through your life.
Following a Vipassana course, students are encouraged to maintain their practice of meditating at least two hours a day - one in the morning and one at night - to preserve these qualities and continue to deepen their ability to release old mental habits. Students are also encouraged to return for a course once a year for this same purpose.
Through regular practice, a decluttered mind that has witnessed its tendencies can learn how to stop reacting to life and start acting, creating a more patient and trusting relationship with the most important person in your life - yourself.