Meditation Boot Camp
People often ask me what was the one life changing experience I’ve had, my answer is always the introduction to Vipassana. I’ve travelled the globe, stayed in remote villages in Asia and Africa, jumped out of planes, have seen sacred religious sites, visited with witch doctors, etc BUT it’s meditation that has provided the ‘a-ha’ moment in life.
I first discovered Vipassana meditation in 2004 through a friend who bet me I couldn’t shut up for 10 days, I’m not one to turn down a challenge! At this point in my life I had no idea what meditation was. I always associated meditation with hippies, so I figured I could spend 10 silent days with a bunch of hippies. I registered online for a 10-day silent meditation course. You can find more information on Vipassana meditation at www.dhamma.org. The International Vipassana Institute has meditation centers around the world.
Vipassana is not a meditation retreat; this is meditation boot camp! You are woken at 4am daily, given 2 vegetarian meals a day, required to meditate for 12 hours a day sitting crossed-legged, no verbal/non-verbal communication and no reading or writing. No distractions! You are required to live the life of a nun/monk for these 10 days therefore you pay no fee, you are only allowed to donate to the Vipassana Institute after you have successfully finished a 10-day course and if you found the course to be helpful. The concept of no fee is because liberation, peace of mind, nirvana should not be tied to how much money you are willing to spend. Usually money is tied to one’s ego, if you pay for the meditation you might make demands for a cushier bed or different food. It’s also important to remember the centers are fully operated by volunteers: the instructors, the cooks, the cleaners, the landscapers, and most often even the construction crew that built the centers.
Fast forward to April 2016, over 12 years I have now completed 7 - 10-day courses, 2 – 8-day Satipatthana courses and numerous shorter courses and volunteered to help run courses. That’s quite a bit of meditation time for someone who just wanted to prove that she could shut up for 10 days. I also maintain a daily meditation practice. Satipatthana course dives more into the theory of Buddha’s meditation technique, you are required to successfully complete 3 – 10-day courses before you can take the Satipattana course.
I have taken courses in my home state of Washington (the center is 2 hours south of Seattle), in British Columbia Canada, England, India and Nepal. The centers all operate the same way. I recommend doing your first course close to home, so you have your comforts – for example, toilets you are used to, the instructor and you speak the same language, and foods that are familiar.
One of the questions on the registration is your current mental and emotional health. Vipassana is difficult, if you’re going thru a major drama in your life Vipassana will be excruciating. This is not a type of meditation to escape your daily life, it’s a meditation that will bring more clarity to the problems in your life and improve your problem solving skills. For example, I was homesick when I was living in London and I decided to go for a 10-day course. It was an agonizing 10 days for me, I lacked focus, I couldn’t see the good in anything, I hated the food, I hated the instructor, one afternoon I even thought of burning the meditation center down – hatred consumed me during that course. There was so much hatred in me that I threw up every day after eating lunch. Not only was it mentally difficult, my emotion was now manifesting itself physically.
My recent course outside of Kathmandu was fruitful. I’ve been traveling for over three months now, I feel relaxed, I’ve put some thought into what I want out of life, I don’t have any life crisis I’m dealing with. Before my course started, I spent four days with a Brazilian man who just added to all the positive energy I’ve had surrounding me the last several months. He saw the good and positive in all the little things, he’s the type of person who literally stopped to smell the roses! English isn’t his first language but he did a great job of describing our lives, more than once he said “Life back home is luxurious”. I’m not sure if he lives in a mansion with multiple servants but the way I translated that to my life is that I have a lot to be appreciative for in my life back home.
My life IS luxurious and I have a lot to be grateful for! I have a career that has provided me the financial capacity to support causes that are close to my heart, to travel extensively over the last decade, to assist friends when needed. I have friends in Seattle and abroad who spoil me rotten even when I don’t deserve it, there is so much love sheltering me. I have a family who has always given me 100% support and encouragement in whatever path I’ve taken. Even my dog’s life is luxurious, he has a mid-day dog walker who takes him on a daily adventure, he gets a massage every other month and when he’s lucky my mom makes him special doggy lamb meatballs with organic fresh meat. It’s hard watching stray dogs in South Asia who are struggling for food on a daily basis when my Shaggy is on an organic natural diet.
The meditation center in Nepal I’m at is on a hill outside of Kathmandu valley, every morning I watch the sunrise over the city. The center has done an immaculate job of maintaining a garden around the pagoda and on a daily basis I watch monkeys play tag. Kathmandu is a beautiful, sprawling city – it’s also a city that is recovering slowly from a catastrophic earthquake from a year ago. There are still families displaced due to the earthquake, power outages are a daily occurrence usually electricity is only available a few hours a day, sanitation is nonexistent in certain parts of the city and a 5-month fuel blockade by India was lifted two weeks ago. Nepali of all socio-economic classes worry if fuel or clean water will be available tomorrow. My concern back in Seattle is often do I want to have lobster or salmon for dinner and what kind of wine should I pair with it!
After all this rambling, let me tell you why I meditate daily and I return to Vipassana courses. Vipassana puts my life into perspective, even in the U.S. my life good. I live in a cosmopolitan city with a highly educated population with liberal views, I’m surrounded by mountains, lakes, rivers and natural beauty most of the world will never see. Vipassana is the practice of seeing things as they are, not the illusion your mind has created. When you see life as it truly is, you learn to live in the present moment and appreciate it. The past is done and over and the future is yet to come.
I use Vipassana as a tool to monitor my emotions and feelings, thanks to meditation I often can tell I’m going to get angry before I get angry therefore my anger has less of a negative impact on others and myself. It’s usually the same for other negative emotions that arise within me. I’m not perfect, I’m still known to be moody and emotional - I’m a work in progress. For the positive emotions, I use Vipassana to fully enjoy the emotion knowing that nothing is permanent – as the negatives come and go, so do the positives. I’m a strong advocate of the Buddhist believe of everything in moderation.
There is no right or wrong meditation technique, you need to find a path that works for you, a path that bring positive changes in your life. As humans our ultimate goal is to be kind, caring and compassionate beings. There are many paths, you need to find yours!
If you have questions about my experience with Vipassana, do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.