Like many alternative adventurers of our time, after quitting my job I set out to travel the world to find enlightenment. Starting with Rishikish in India and continuing to other meditation retreats throughout the country, I later attended a three-day Vipassana retreat in Israel where I was introduced to the technique. But three days was not enough – I felt like I was just starting to break the barrier on my final day. It was then that I found out that a typical Vipassana meditation course is ten days long: To get the full “effect” you need to silently meditate for an entire 10 days. The full effect is achieved when your mind finally quiets down for a few moments. After doing some research I found a Vipasssna retreat center in Northern California, not far from my home. I signed up a few months in advance and was wait-listed. I was astonished to see how great the demand was to put oneself through misery, or so what I thought would be misery at the time.
I wasn’t certain what I was signing up for. I had gone to meditation retreats before but this was different. I’m here to tell you about my experience and how it differed from my expectations. First of all, I was unaware of the fact that I would have to sit and meditate for almost 11 hours a day, starting at 4:30. Not all hours are mandatory, and sometimes I could meditate in my own space. The first day I didn’t wake up at 4:30, and I didn’t meditate during all meditation periods. But then we had our first lecture or teacher’s discourse with S.K. Goenka, who is an influential teacher and has established meditation centers worldwide. His lecture included a recorded video from 25 years ago by the founder of these institutes, who was very clear in his message: If you want to get results you have to put in the work! I thought to myself, “well I didn’t come here to mess around, I want the results!” I didn’t know what the result would be at the end, but I was determined to meditate at all recommended times. So I did. I pulled myself out of bed by my hair each morning at 4:20 and went to the meditation hall instead of meditating in my space where sleep was a distracting temptation.
The days went by and we worked on the sensation of the air entering our nostrils. For 5 days we focused on the small area of the nose and upper lip. It was crucial to focus on the small area to be able to keep your thoughts from wondering. On the fifth day, I was ready to kill myself. I didn’t know what was going on in my brain. It was sometimes exploding, sometimes imploding. I just didn’t understand the meaning of life or anything at one point and the highway was near by and jumping in front of a car seemed really appealing. But then they served Mexican food for lunch and it brought some direction to the maze my mind was lost in– and I was like “YES! There is a reason to continue living! Mexican food!”
After the fifth day, we began observing the sensations in our bodies. Things became clearer. This is the reason for this meditation! To observe the breath and sensations in the body, to be able to detach from the thoughts that constantly fill up our brains by observing these sensations. As the days went by, there were times when my meditations were focused and thoughts were few. This is helpful in our daily lives because we are constantly busy thinking. We are often distracted with our thoughts and emotions and we cannot fully enjoy every moment. When we are able to quiet our thoughts, we can focus on the important task at-hand and become more productive overall. We can detach from the painful emotions that can consume us and realize that these are temporary and will eventually pass. We can start to appreciate every moment, thus leading to a more spiritually fulfilling life. Namaste!