10 things to know before Vipassana
I did it. I went through 9 days of meditation in complete silence and the 10th day of meditation and “noble chatting” with fellow sitters during a 10-day long Vipassana course. I chose a centre in Indonesia, close to the town of Bogor. I did not know much about Bogor, besides the fact that my friend from Jakarta Vegan Guide was born there. He told me that I could be sure to find some vegan bites around town and recommended the local salads made of fermented fruits and veggies.
Always a good start. #guthealth
I might write a few more posts where I “chew more” on the whole Vipassana experience, but I feel that a summary of the things that I wish I knew before going in, is a good point of departure. And it might give you an idea of what (not quite pure and ego-less) mindset I went into meditation with. The following points are a mix of practical tips, silly realizations and confessions regarding inner emotional and physical struggles. Ready?
1. It’s SO much harder than a 10-day digital detox.
I wish I had taken the time to sit down and mindfully confront myself with what I was about to apply for before sending my digital Vipassana application. The first couple of days were SO tough, the last days got easier, but it was still a struggle! I do admit that I went into the course for wrong reasons, Vipassana is not a “try-out”, it is a commitment. And had I viewed it this way from the very beginning, I would have avoided (for sure some) unpleasant moments.
2. The teachers and the staff will not hold your hand
Yes, there were daily opportunities to speak to the teachers, and yes, the staff was around most of the time, but you make your destiny at Vipassana. If you sleep instead of meditating in your room, that’s on you. If you come too late for a meal, that’s on you. If you don’t make sure you got your toilet paper before the common area got locked for the night, yup, that’s on you! The same with questions about meditation, the most answers I got were simply to listen to my breath and stay objective with my practice. And I was like “yeah, I could have told myself that”, and then I learned that THIS is the role of the teacher. They aren’t there to throw any spiritual bites at you.
They are there, true to the Vipassana guidelines, and so should you.
3. Vipassana dress code is STRICT!
I knew that leggings were not a part of a Vipassana-outfit, but before going in, I heard that if I have a loose, long blouse, I should be fine. That myth got busted quickly! Loose pants (or dresses), loose shirts - make sure you have the proper clothing with you!
4. Bring your own water bottle to Vipassana AND USE IT!
I did have my water bottle with me, however, I only really befriended it a few days into the meditation. The work you do requires so much energy and your body needs to fuel up. Since your body is over 2/3 water… do keep your body hydrated. Keep track of how much you drink, I did not get enough the first couple days, which also affected my bowel movements (or rather caused lack thereof, sorry for TMI), so WATER, WATER, WATER!
5. There will be time for self-care and kriyas.
Vipassana does not allow any ritual practice, but things like tongue-scrapping, oil-pulling, neti pots etc. are rather a part of the daily body cleansing/purifying routine than anything religious/spiritual. So do bring your remedies with you - Vipassana is a beautiful time to work on cleaning your body too!
7. Vipassana will strip you of your identity (and your ego's gonna hate it) is saying)
On the 9th day of the course, I fainted. I felt the heat waves, I got light-headed, I saw blinking colours and I collapsed (from a seated position) hitting my head on the ground. Nothing bad happened, yet it could have. And, being completely honest, I could feel it coming. And I should have spoken to the staff, asked for time off, perhaps asked for more food or a sugary drink. But I didn’t because I wanted to be tough and “fulfil it”. That just doesn’t work.
Take care of yourself; your body is sending you signals, and they must not be ignored. You just have to objectively judge which of the signals are acute and which come from the comfy-body that just really misses its known surroundings.
7. Vipassana will strip you off your identity (and your ego's gonna hate it)
Vipassana is hard for the ego. I went into the course for sure stimulated by the veil of mystery (but also this weight of a “rite of passage”) that this has in the spiritual/yogi community. I thought I’d be surrounded by tons of yogis and Reiki healers, but I wasn’t. I was surrounded by people. And I was just a person too. Another sitter. Vipassana sets on hold any other spiritual practice, and since I am very strongly rooted in my rituals and practices, my ego was put on a trial!
8. People back home will feel the energy shifts!
My family has been so worried. I did not make sure to have a proper phone call with my sister before going in, no one knew where I was, except for “being in meditation”. 10 days is a long time for your relatives not to hear anything from you, especially when they know you’re on the other side of the planet (which was my case). So do make sure you give the address of the centre to your family, make sure to jump on a call with them and tell them when you will be out. There is always a risk of something happening to you (eg. I had no idea I’d faint, what if I had hit my head harder and needed medical assistance? And then my mother, whom I had written as an emergency contact person, would be phoned up from a location she knew nothing about/from and she'd receive the news this way? Not cool.) Keep your relatives in the loop, all I’m sayin’!
9. Vipassana food was amazing and suitable for everybody.
And the reason why I wish I knew that before the course is the fact that I was… maybe not worries, but I did speculate a lot about what the food will be like in the centre. And I could have spared myself SO much thinking space. The cooked food that was served to us was all vegan (we did get non-vegan things like small yoghurts on the side, but you don’t have to potty about the main meals, at least in the Java centre). 97% of the dishes were gluten-free, the only time I had a problem was on the last day when we got an extra meal, a dinner (usually the last meal of the day was lunch, and then a light fruit snack in the afternoon), and the dinner was pasta. I told the staff that I could not eat it, and immediately they brought me some leftovers from lunch, rice, tofu and veggies.
Solutions, solutions, solutions.
10. The other sitters struggle too. Wait for it. BOYS struggle too.
Sometimes the days felt long, never-ending, sometimes I was miserable in the meditation for hours. And everyone else seemed to be handling it pretty well. OK, I did see a lot of serious faces, but I thought they were just so much “into it”. And my mind was spinning around thinking about everything from food, people I was missing, people I have feelings towards (good and bad) to… American sitcoms (at one point I realized I haven’t laughed for a week, the cheerful person I am, it was a weird feeling for me. Now it sounds weird that it mattered at all, but it does to me!).
My point here is, my mind was scattered, but everyone else seemed in their deep meditation element. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t. What I learned when talking to other sitters afterwards, is that I can NEVER know or never have guessed what was in their heads while meditating. MAYBE, yes, they were feeling blissful sensations all over the body. But the chance that they weren’t, and quite the contrary, were feeling only the numbness of their limbs, was equally high. If not higher! So relax, stay focused on your practice, see where it leads you. This is, after all, all you came for!
Vipassana is no walk in the park. And that of course, I knew before going in. I just wish I had known more about the place I’d be conducting this “walk” instead.
Yes, it is a journey. It’s a meander around your own emotions (“energies in motion” that go through both your physical and mental body). I am proud to have completed it, and I must say, I am intrigued. Intrigued to learn more. I have many questions, doubts, eyebrow-lifts regarding the practice itself as well at the etiquette of the centre, but I feel I have completed something that has given me a lot more clarity, has taught me a lot and, oh yes, challenged me in a way I have not tried before.
Stay tuned for future updates and never hesitate to reach out with questions.