isabelle thye

Vipassana and the surprising gift in stillness

A couple months ago, I attended a 10-days Vipassana meditation course that changed me from the core of my being. It was profound and personal in a way that was hard to translate into a list of lessons learned.

When I came across an article about ‘slowness’, it occurred to me that despite meditation technique, the Vipassana course was important because it provided a space to be completely still when I was stripped off all entertainment, distractions, and speech.

“Our educational institutions tend to tell us the point of life is to get somewhere, not to go nowhere.” — Farnam Street

The Vipassana course was indeed interesting — going nowhere, staying with my thoughts, running into fear, diving into boredom, letting the world spin without me while I meditated.

What is Vipassana meditation and how does it work?

Vipassana meditation is a technique developed by Buddha in the process of achieving enlightenment. The technique was lost in India but well-preserved by the disciples in Burma. By the end of 1960s, Goenka, a practitioner and an Indian businessman in Burma brought it to India and grew Vipassana into an international non-profit organisation.

The technique is essentially about breathing and feeling the sensations throughout every inch of the body. During the 10-days course, all students commit to noble silent and vegetarian diet, refrain from using mobile phone, writing, reading, and exercising.

Running into myself

“All the unhappiness of men arises from one simple fact: that they cannot sit quietly in their chamber.” Blaise Pascal

In the first 4 days, we spent at least 35 hours sitting still and just focusing on our breath.

While it sounds like ‘doing nothing’, it was hard. I was annoyed by the continuous thoughts in my mind. I felt uncomfortable to have literally nothing to do during the free time, my body started aching from the crossed-leg posture over an extended period.

There was a moment I looked up into the sky and asked myself: why? Why did I come?

I gradually developed the routine to walk around the compound and found a little luxury in sipping coffee while enjoying the tranquillity of nature.

By avoiding all social contact, it was liberating to be completely okay with being aloof and not having the mental process to act like ‘me’.

There was nowhere to run but to run into myself.

How should I live my life?

After a few days adapting to this new life, the noisy thoughts subsided and I was more at ease with solitude.

Knowing that the world goes on perfectly without me gave me mixed feelings — while I don’t have to take myself too seriously, what can I do to leave a mark when I am here? How to live a meaningful life? What is the meaning of life?

I would soon learn that the existential questions will keep coming back to me every time I experience a ‘shock’ in a different environment. Nevertheless, it is an important pause to my default life — what really matters? Am I spending my time on the right thing?

These questions created anxiety when they first came to me. When I get acquainted with the pattern, I couldn’t help but wonder, what happen to people who never ask these questions their whole life?

Anicca

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — Shakespeare in Hamlet

The underlying principle of Vipassana is Anicca, the law of impermanence. It is a simple and profound principle that frees me from many unnecessary worries.

From the 10-days course, I noticed that 70% of the thoughts in my ‘monkey mind’ came from work. Funnily enough, after leaving the course, none of my worries came true.

What happen is that I often attach myself to a thought and never let go of it, enslave my emotion to it, and let it guide my action. If I acknowledge that a thought or emotion is temporary, it wouldn’t have the power to control me for days, years, or a lifetime.

When I experienced fatigue in a long-distance run, endured extreme cold in the Himalaya Mountains, anxious about a client who didn’t respond to my email, I told myself, “nothing is permanent, let it go’.

‘Know thyself’ in the space of ‘nowhere’

After spending nearly five months alone in a shack in the Antarctic where temperatures sank to minus 70, Admiral Richard E. Byrd declared “Half the confusion in the world comes from not knowing how little we need.”

When attention becomes the currency in digital world and everything is designed to grab our attention, going nowhere and staying still is an interesting place to be.

I ran into myself and questioned my thoughts, behaviour, the way I think, the way I live. I learned that the world keeps spinning without me. I learned that I could live a peaceful life with little belongings.

What would you discover in the ‘nowhere’ land?


Hi, I am Isabelle, author of ‘The Art of Owning Your Story’, I write about conscious living and personal growth, building a podcast called ‘Own Your Story’. If you enjoy what you read, subscribe to get the latest content delivered to your mailbox! Thank you 🙂

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