In Septemeber 2018, I left my first Vipassana meditation course with a glorious feeling of accomplishing 100 hours of cross-legged meditation, reaching a state where I felt my body dissolved into a mass of energy.
In the span of a year, from the ‘gungho-ness’ to wake up and meditate at 5 am daily, my dedication to the practice dwindled gradually, consuming more Netflix shows and spending more time on social media.
When a drastic shift in life awaits me at the brink of marriage, I felt the need to spend time away from the expectations and uncertainties, to reacquaint myself without all these noises.
About Vipassana meditation
Vipassana meditation is developed by Buddha in the process of attaining enlightenment. It thrived around the world in the past few decades when S.N. Goenka founded Dhamma organisation that provides the course to the public without charges.
In the 10-days course, we were reminded repeatedly that Vipassana meditation is a technique and not a religion. The essence is to observe one’s own natural breath and body sensation, noticing the nature of impermanence within the framework of our body and stay equanimous.
Everything we did in the course can be summarized in 3 broad aspects — abiding the law of morality, master the mind, and purify the mind.
Restart with a beginner mind
On the first day, first sitting at 4.30 am, whatever sweet glorious feeling I remembered from the first course completely dissipated.
Boredom kicked in big time.
I was daunted by how far and how long 10 days really were. For 10 hours every day, every minute, every second meant honest work of sitting still and observing the breath.
As a repeat student, the work never got easier and time didn’t become shorter. I learned to embrace the course with a beginner mind and surrender to the practice.
Observe the habitual pattern
When I told people about the absurdity of some dramas that played in my mind during meditation, they asked, ‘aren’t you supposed to empty your mind?’
No, I wasn’t. Vipassana meditation emphasizes the nature of thoughts and body sensation that is arising and passing every moment, to remain still and equanimous. We were told to ‘observe, observe observe, and do not react’.
I remembered one day, a negative thought about ‘blame’ suddenly struck my mind and caused me immense negativity. In normal circumstance, I would have reacted and transferred the blame to the person involved.
When I could only sit still and observe it, the thought became insignificant after a few hours.
I wonder — how much negativity have I generated because of the unconscious habitual pattern that had been ruling my life?
On the fourth night of the course, I had a silent thought about how good a meditator I was when I felt a pleasant tingling sensation all over my body.
The next day at 4.30 am sitting, when I couldn’t feel the sensation I was hoping for, the disappointment taught me a big lesson.
Throughout the course, teacher Goenka kept reminding us that the measure of Vipassana practice is not about how pleasant the body sensation is, but how balance our mind is.
The expectation for pleasant feeling itself is a form of attachment that is out of balance. Whether it is pleasant or gross or without any sensation, our job remain the same — to observe it without reacting to it.
It was through this experiential learning that I truly understand ‘equanimity’ and the nature of ‘ego’ that craves for feeling good.
The paradox of becoming nothing and everything
In Vipassana meditation, we strive towards the liberation from the illusion of ‘I’ and ‘mine’, the root cause of human suffering.
Think about it — how much of your misery comes from not having things going YOUR way? Not getting the object that YOU desire? People not behaving the way YOU expect them to be?
I had fallen into all these traps even after completing the first course.
When I refrained from reacting to thoughts and sensation, it became crystal clear that I alone am responsible for my misery, not anyone else.
When I am free from the attachment to ego, then only can I be filled with love and compassion that I can share with people around me.
I found the surprising parallel between Vipassana and the Indian philosopher, Nisargadatta Maharaj, who said this: “Wisdom is knowing that I am nothing, love is knowing that I am everything, and between these two, my life moves.”
Keep working diligently, ardently, persistently
This time, I left the Vipassana course humbled by the importance of consistent effort.
It is interesting that the course and the place didn’t change, but my experience changed as I progress in life.
Going through the process of mastering a skill, losing it, and regaining the ability, I learned that to stay on this path means daily effort to meditate, to be aware of the impermanence nature of every moment, and remain equanimous while blazing through a world full of wonder and madness.
The foundation of Vipassana is Dhamma — the law of nature, which is not to harm oneself and others in any way.
I have to work on myself, keep my mind balance, my being filled with compassion, so that I can engage the world in a way that brings peace, love and joy to people around me.
The journey keeps unfolding, every moment keeps changing, the work goes on.