Below is an account of my Vipassana experience in May 2015.
I've just finished my first 10 days Vipassana in Singapore's St. John's island. It was physically challenging for a princess like me. St. John's island is definitely not for everyone. It's gruelling as the place is quite bare and basically a campsite. The ones in Malaysia have much better facilities as they are owned by Vipassana centres. I do not personally think that we must suffer like that in order to truly understand meditation or specifically Vipassana, so for those who can't warrior it out, just stick to Malaysia.
The experience is good and changed me for sure. I'm now able to look deep inside me to know what's really going on and to avoid spreading my own misery to people around me. A chaotic mind was calmed and I'm truly grateful for that.
People are constantly asking, "What can this or that do for me?". But really, what we should be asking ourselves is, "What good have I done for the world lately?"
My days during Vipassana were messy and my mind was terribly confused and full of emotions. That's what Vipassana do. Bring out all the deep rooted unresolved issues in you. To resolve. To reflect. Not being able to talk for 10 days is a blessing, really.
So what did I get out of this? Calmness, clarity and awareness. We often make up stories in our head to serve our self-deception.
I also learned to love the girls whom I shared the bunkers with even though we didn't talk. In my mind, they are my friends but I don't even know their names! Or how their voices sound like. We were looking out for each other even though we were strangers. Below is my detailed, erratic account of what happened in Vipassana as it was played in my mind.
Detailed Daily Account of My Mind and Vipassana
My dear friend from Auckland has been telling me about Vipassana for at least 3 years. But I've never thought much about it. All sorts of excuses. Too busy. Too much. It's not for me...Fast forward now, here I am. Dragging my luggage in the MRT to get to Marina South Pier. I didn't try to find out too much about Vipassana in Singapore because I didn't want to have too much expectations.
We arrived at the ferry terminal and a volunteer is there getting our attendance to get us on the ferry. Everyone got onto the ferry, about 12 people to one. All strangers going into this journey together. Looking at each other - smiling, apprehensive, aloof. We got a little lost once we reached St John's island and some walked as far as the Marine Museum. One angry old timer started to lash out and walked angrily towards the right direction. We all followed happily, taking pictures of the island as we go. A thought came, if this is not her first Vipassana and she's still so angry, then what is this 10 days all about?
Finally, we came to the camp. Male and female are segregated. We are checked-in and asked a few times if we agree and will adhere to the rules. Then we deposit our phones, cameras, wallets and writing material.
Nothing. Not outside stimulant.
We were given our bed assignment and I went searching for mine. As I walked through the prison like surroundings; with the barbwire fence, high guard post, barracks and finally my own hospital-like bunk bed, I finally understood the feeling of Jews being heralded into the camps for the first time.
What is going to happen to me now?
Turns out, today is Day 0. We're just getting an orientation. We are shown our meditation mats. Each of us are assigned a number and our own meditation mat and cushion. Lights out at 9:30pm. I lie there in the heat. The fans don't reach me, I can't sleep. My whole body is covered in heat rash. The sound of nature. Night insects. Ships. Waves. Snoring. Burping. Farting. Geckos going tzk tzk tzk.
What am I doing here?
I'm going to concoct the best medical excuses to get out of this place, pronto.
Day 1: The gong goes off continuously at 4am. I'm a light sleeper. I got up. For 4:30am to 6:30am meditation, I rocked myself to sleep on my meditation mat. Breakfast was strange. Very Chinese food. I stuffed my face. Meditation again. We had an hour in between. Some people showered. Some started doing their laundry. I napped. Too tired. Lunch!! It was strangely Chinese again. I overeat when I realised that's all the meals I'm getting for the day. Afternoon meditation was hard. I burped and farted mostly. Too full. It felt gross. I slept during meditation.
How can I survive 9 more days?
Day 2: I still couldn't sleep. I have my earplugs with me but I wonder if it's my karma to be tortured by all the sounds at night. I got acclimated. I've surrendered to my fate. This is my life for the next 10 days. I saw the sign for saying "Day 8". I told myself when I reach day 8, I will celebrate. Rained. I'm also calmer. Still sleep during morning meditation. I'm able to meditate too. Oh I can do it!
Day 3: It rained! I am able to meditate. I get the method now! I really do enjoy the Dharma debrief every night. I look forward to it. The sound of nature is so acute now. I hear all these noises that I don't normally hear. Had I been so busy that I was so detached with the environment around me? Who was I? This night, we were taught the first of the full Vipassana meditation method. It's intense.
After a while, I've started reading writings on everyone's t-shirt. I really like this girl in front of me. The back of her t-shirt is full of writings. A marathon sponsored by The Wall Street Journal. Organised in Sydney, Singapore, Syracuse, Boston... I read the locations in ascending and descending. It's my only stimulant.
Day 4: Today is the hardest to wake up. For everyone. The introvert in me truly enjoy not talking to anyone. The meditation is intense. All sorts of emotions emerged. Anger, jealousy, hurt, passion... And all these are generated by the stories I've made up in my head. My sankhara. I calmed down eventually. Metta. Selfless love.
Started practicing mindfulness. Mindfully washing of my clothes. I'm falling in love with my religion again. Love my life.
Be Kind. Be Loving. Karma will take care of the rest. Sow seed of kindness. I've clarity now.
Day 5: I can't sleep. Just stayed awake listening to waves on the shore. Ships. Snorings. Insects at night. I feel like fainting. Is this my karma? Where's my panna?
I must deploy ear plugs tonight. I'm tired and can't concentrate.
During meditation, I'm calm and full of love. Metta.
Everyone's take away is different. I was lying in bed watching a mosquito. The Chinese girl beside me was following it with hands ready to kill. I wished for her to kill it so I don't have to. Does that make me any better than her? What does that say about my karma?
During tea, the British girl on my table wipes the ants dead. Oh... the 5 precepts...
Tonight's Dhamma talk: We should see misery as it is. Nothing more. How appropriate. Who are you, Goenka?
Day 6: Deployed ear plugs. Finally slept. Most girls are not able to wake up today. A pattern is starting to emerge. Some girls just sleep through the morning 4:30am meditation.
Deep sleep, finally! Also, great bowel movements... Is it the Indian food or the meditation? Oh the food has oddly changed to Indian. I guess kitchen volunteers have changed.
I really like Goenka's debrief. I am a practicing Buddhist who was lost. I have the same believe as Goenka with regards to Buddhism. So much going on in my head. All my deep rooted sankhara emerging. I think about people who should do Vipassana. Such miserable people, it'll be good if they do this. Internal emotions again. Hurt, passion, envy, anger. That's what real meditation do.
All feelings are impermanent.
Anicca. Anicca. Anicca.
Some people are starting to wear down. Happy/crazy girl talking to herself, exaggerated gestures. She fidgets a lot.
Tonight's debrief is interesting. We are made up of 4 inputs. 2 matter, 2 mind.
Matter is both food (what we eat) and environment (the external factor like winter and summer). Mind refers to our current thoughts and our past memories.
Day 7: Miracles! In their own way, everyone is kinder and nicer. The British girl has created twigs barrier on the pathway to keep people from stepping onto the soldiers of ants. Happy/crazy girl is smiling and playing in the rain. Somebody made a home out of leaves and twigs for a caterpillar. "Wall St Journal" marathon t-shirt broke her noble silence for 3 seconds to offer baby oil to me (as I was scratching a lot). Angry girl... well she is still angry.
Oh wait a minute. The most mindful girl that I was modeling is missing! She has not been to breakfast or lunch. Yesterday was the first day she couldn't meditate. Normally she's one of the few newbies who can do 9 hours of straight meditation. I searched for her in her dorm. I checked for her t-shirts because that's all I know of her. I thought of the worse. She has been bitten by snakes! Fell into the sea. There's snakes because someone has put sulphur on the ground near the showers. I went to a volunteer, almost in tears and choked out the words coarsely, "One girl is missing. She's missing!" It was hard to speak after not talking for a week. I was told she left. "Why did you leave?" I cried.
I've finally understood impermanence. That's why Tibetan monks created those beautiful sand art and then sweep them away immediately after completion. That's true impermanence. I get it now.
Tonight's Dhamma talk was hard for me. Tears rolled.
Whatever we do has a compounding karmic effect. Cause and effect.
The old effect becomes our new cause.
Day 8: My special day. I promised myself this day. I cried again thinking about the mindful girl who'd left. She would not experience these few days. Which is amazing. Persevere. It's tough for me. Always going back and forth with my deep rooted emotions. Somebody has made a smiley face on the ground with "saga" seeds. So cute. Then another person has added leaves on top of the the smiley face.
I got excited when I am able to meditate correctly. And then a sound. What??? Opened my eyes and looked around. Someone was chanting and raised her hands really high. Everyone has gotten out of their meditation and looking at this person. She is in a trance. No one can get her out of it. She finally calmed down when Goenka's chanting begins. She has become "enlightened auntie".
Day 9: I slept through the morning 4:30am meditation. Just too tired. Woke up with a start at 6:30am. I saw pineapple t-shirt girl waking another girl up for breakfast. How kind.
I sat at my table. Anorexic is late again. She is always late and when she's finally here, there's no more food left. I gave her my apple. In fact, I've been putting fruits on her table for days now. I'm just glad she's eating them so far. I'm slowly able to meditate without burping. Happy/crazy girl is again arranging new flowers pattern on the ground. My mind is everywhere today. I can't meditate much. Again, deep rooted emotions: anger, hurt, envy, despair, craving...
Be kind. Be compassionate. Be calm regardless of outcome.
Day 10: Started waking up my neighbours at 4:00am. I wake up easily not because I want to but because I'm a light sleeper. I felt that I must wake my friends up so they don't miss the final morning meditation. Friends... Ha! I don't even know their names or their voices. Language is such a barrier, really. I felt I know more of who these people are by their actions and the t-shirts they wear than what they can actually tell me.
We could finally talk after lunch. Oh did we talk. We talked and laughed and couldn't stop talking.
There's "Wall Street Journal" t-shirt girl who's my rival in: who can put the most prickly heat powder all over herself. There's happy/crazy girl who gestures, talks to herself and laugh all the time. There's the pretty indian girl who switches off the lights every night at 9:30pm and dries her long, long hair under the fan. There's that girl with the "Buddhist and Pali College Singapore" who couldn't wake up every morning. And then the other girl who slept through all her morning meditation sessions, who showers 3 times a day and always rolls her sleeves up to her shoulders. The Chinese girl beside my bed who puts this yellow tumeric-like thing on her face every night. The pineapple t-shirt girl who laughs uncontrollably. Enlightened auntie (see day 8). Burping auntie (see below). British girl who was very angry in the beginning but was so soft and happy on the last day. Tall Dutch girl, who seems quietly upset with being stuck in this prison barrack. Older indian grandma who's so impressive in her meditation. Pious lady who's always at least 15 minutes early to the meditation hall.
Day 11: We packed to leave. I feel different. Lighter. Happier. Wiser... Panna. Went on the ferry with the same lovely girls. We go onto the MRT. "Wall Street Journal" t-shirt girl exclaimed, "Do you feel that? Aircon!". It's true. Our senses are so heightened, everything just jumps at us. I stopped one station before my house and walked home. Along the way, the colours looked so vibrant and brilliant. The flowers and trees on the sidewalk looked gorgeous. The sound. The morning sun and breeze. I wanted to just be among nature...
When Goenka says observe. I wonder if I overdid it. I observe myself. But I also observe my surroundings. One was burping the whole time. Full 10 days. Finally we found out that burping auntie was made to come to Vipassana by her son. She is not willing. Because her mind is unwilling, even her body is reacting to it. She was constipated for 10 days. She never wants to participate in the meditation. She'll hold onto the wire fence like a prisoner, longingly looking at the male's camp. Where her husband is.
I've started to recognise everyone's t-shirts and slippers. Their water bottles and umbrellas. Their utensils. Their mannerism. But I also observed myself.
As for myself, there's so much internal emotions; some new, some deep rooted that I've created in my mind. They are not even true but I let myself stew in them. The stories I've made in my mind to justify things the way I see the world. As I'd like to believe in.
Everybody has their own misery. Only with a calm and equanimous mind, can we truly meditate. And this is also not permanent. There are days when I'm just counting till I finish this. 1,2,3,4,5,184.108.40.206.10 and then day 0 and day 11.
It is not an easy journey. To analyse oneself in this manner requires a different type of strength. And others going through the journey might have different energy. This might sometimes affect us if we're not strong enough. But if a person can complete this journey, there's no doubt he will come out the other side a changed person.
Other opinions on Vipassana
Non-Buddhist: One Shrink's Perspective
Huffington Post on Goenka: An article by Jay Michaelson