Vipassana: 10 Days of Silence Revisited
“I feel so much more love and compassion.” I sobbed through tears as Noble Silence completed on the 10th day. “I’m releasing something.” I said to Samia, the French Moroccan woman who had been sleeping in the room across from mine.
It’s funny how even though we never spoke before we feel like we knew each other. That is the power of presence. Just being in the same space with someone creates a bond.
“Breathe it out.” said Samia in her beautiful accent. “This is strong medicine.”
“She’s right.” I thought to myself.
I never considered Vipassana to be medicine, but it is just that.
Vipassana is a meditation technique taught over 10 days of silence. It is the meditation technique that Gautama Buddha used to reach enlightenment, intuitively discovering it at the young age of 5, resulting in his liberation of suffering (aka enlightenment) by age 35. From that day on he lived a life of service, teaching the technique to people far and wide until one full moon eve during his 80th year when he passed on.
Because the technique is so powerful it has withstood the test of time–over 2500 years. The most widespread centers around the globe are based in the teachings passed down through S.N. Goenka. Vipassana centers continue to expand and flourish, welcoming every type and age of person, and there are even courses for children. The power of the silence speaks for itself as all centers are supported by donations, volunteers, and word of mouth.
It was a crisp sunny morning at the Northern California Vipassana Center. As we sat on the porch I absorbed the beautiful colors of the autumn leaves as they floated down covering the earth. The echo of chatter filled the air–everyone connecting through speech now that the silence was over.
This was not the first time the seduction of silence called to me. My first go round was January 2014 at this same center. You can read about my first experience here. Last time I felt content at the end of 10 days, this time I wasn’t ready for the course to be over. To be honest, I would have liked to stay for longer, perhaps a month. Such courses exist, 30, 45 days as one goes deeper into the practice.
The craving for silence and stillness has been forgotten by our souls in this modern day life of endless to-do lists and overstimulation. Mine was long forgotten until I awakened to my true Self. And this is when I began my spiritual path, aka a life committed to Love. This is when I understood the importance of silence and solitude.
Many people don’t know who they are. They are who they were told to be, they are what they think they are supposed to be, they are what they believe another wants them to be, etc. Many people don’t know who they are because they have never chosen to spend time alone. Once we get an idea in our minds of who we are to be, we continue on with blinders. Co-dependency is common and people jump from relationship to relationship beginning before the ties from our parents sever when we enter into adulthood. For some, the cords with parents still remain co-dependent. But all of these spells can broken and the heart can take the lead.
One such way to learn thyself is through solitude.
The thought of solitude can be scary for many. Ten days of silence in a noisy, distracting world seems unfathomable. How could anyone find the time to disconnect from life to go within for so long? How is it possible to go this long without a cell phone, an electronic device, a conversation, human touch, and all the other seeming luxuries of life? Why would anyone want to?
The greatest sages, saints, artists, writers, and teachers all retreated to solitude, oftentimes in Nature, before their greatest works. Distancing from others allows for the birth of the true Self. The true Self emerges away from the opinions of others. In this space our light brightens, naturally, embodying the truest essence of our being.
The kingdom of heaven lies within.
Silence is golden.
These phrases have been written in many times in many ways since the beginning of Man.
There is a treasure waiting to be discovered within.
Though most people are challenged to find time to rest once a week, never mind taking time for silence or retreating, the soul longs for stillness. That aching feeling that something is missing in life, or that feeling of emptiness comes when the soul is starved.
It is in this void we come to know the Self and the longings of the heart. We learn the purpose of our lives. In this space we commune with the force that connects us all. It is in this silence we come to feel and know Oneness.
I never imagined that 10 days of silence could be the most wonderful gift to myself. I never dreamed that it could be the very experience to elevate more love, peace, and compassion from with and exuding out of my being more than anything before. And yes I’ve experienced a lot of wonderful things this lifetime around the globe. No person, place, thing or wonder of the world has evoked such drastic, instantly enhancing change in me.
The Medicine of Meditation
“Is that someone crying?” I thought to myself as the hour long meditation came to a close. This particular hour is one where we are advised to not move. At all. Indeed it can become painful in the legs, knees and back depending on position, strength, and flexibility.
I continued to hear the abnormal breathing coming from the back of the room. As a returning student, we are in the front row of the meditation hall. Though tempted to turn around I stayed fixed in my posture, listening to Goenka chanting blessings.
Suddenly Jules, another attendee was at the front of the room grabbing the attention of the female course manager named Colette, “Come, I don’t know what’s happening!”
They ran to the back of the room and I couldn’t help but turn around despite others keeping their poise. The doctor instinct had returned. Well really this instinct is was led me to medicine, I’m here to help people. I can’t not help a person in need.
After calling the young woman’s name, “Amy,” and shaking her, Colette pleaded, “Anyone medical in the room?”
I instantly jumped to my feet and ran to the back of the room along with two other females. This was the last place I thought I would be called upon for my medical experience.
“I’m a medical doctor.” I said to Colette. And in that moment felt happy and grateful medical training had been a part of my path, something I often forget about and take for granted because it feels like a past life.
We eased Amy to the ground from her chair. She was clammy and sweating but fortunately her breathing rate began to normalize and her eyes began to flutter open. Her pulse began to normalize and then she said, “I have a headache.”
Upon some questioning it was clear she was alert and oriented. She knew is was 2015 and that we were at the Vipassana Center.
“Has this ever happened to you before?” I asked.
“Yes.” She replied. Recounting three other times when she had been under stress.
“Have you ever had any heart work up? EKG or have worn a monitor? Any brain imaging or monitoring?” I asked
“No.” She replied, never having a work up for her unexplained fainting spells.
Fortunately she recovered quickly and we gave her two liters of water with electrolytes to drink. Meditating 10 hours a day with only two meals per day, it was likely she was a bit dehydrated and she admitted to not drinking very much water daily.
Understandably so, she was asked to return home where she discovered the next day at a doctor’s appointment that she has a heart murmur. And so she will be at risk of fainting for the rest of her life.
I also suspect that the meditation technique lowered her blood pressure and heart rate. Given some dehydration and a heart murmur, this created the perfect conditions to precipitate a fainting spell. I share this with you not to scare you, but because meditation affects us at a physiologic level–it is that powerful.
Not only affecting our body on a physiologic level, meditation is the perfect therapy for instant results. Meditation is THE most powerful way to transcend self-limiting beliefs and thought patterns of the mind. I’ve always said meditation is better than seeing a therapist. Therapy often causes people to suffer through past memories without any real technique to overcome them. With meditation, sometimes you remember the memory, and other times that anger or hurt can simply be released without having to go through the trauma again.
One of the best, most lasting ways to change the structure of the mind and fill it with even more love, peace, joy, happiness, and compassion is through meditation. And behold, Vipassana is one such meditation technique to help us rid our beings of the woes and karmas of the human condition.
Suffering is a choice, just as happiness is. Fortunately, meditation is a medicine that cures suffering, not just masks the symptoms the way prescription medication can.
The Mind Body Connection
Snap. Crackle. Pop. And so the body goes.
“My goodness.” I thought as I stretched and cracked my body after every meditation session was complete. I could hear the same in fellow meditators.
Ten hours a day doing our best to keep our spines straight and still. Not to mention all the thoughts and sensations witnessed–past, present, future, worry, anxiety, inspiration, bliss–creating an undercurrent of reactions in the body. Sometimes even causing tension in the muscles resulting in compression of the spaces in our bodies including our joints.
Stretching and cracking the joints realigns the body. I see an Alphabiotics chiropractor regularly because by aligning the body, I realign my mind back to my spirit. It is all connected–mind, body, spirit. For healing we can work any which part of our being to affect the others.
Vipassana is a smart technique that focuses on the body to indirectly rid the subconscious of wounds, traumas, angers, pains, and sufferings. Despite all of meditation techniques I’ve practiced and studied, I am partial to the Vipassana technique because the mind and the body are indeed connected and it incorporates both elements.
In my yoga classes I share with students the benefit of stretching and moving the body daily is to facilitate the release of “dis-ease” trapped in the body. Every thought, memory, wound, trauma, etc. imprints on the body. If “dis-ease” continues to accumulate in the body symptoms, aches and pains result, ultimately leading to illness and disease.
Any movement, activity or exercise infused with the intention to heal the body is medicine. Especially if the awareness of the mind is focused on observing the sensations of the body, true healing can occur. Healing can even happen when there is no intention for healing or awareness in the body. Simply by moving the body we can heal it. That is how much trauma is stored in the body. Yes, even the act of listening to violence or fear provoking information such as the news can wound the body.
And so imagine a meditation technique where the body doesn’t even have to move to rid the body of dis-ease. Incredible right?
A New Earth
“Why did they cut down so many trees?” I thought to myself as I frolicking on the walking path amongst the tall evergreens. “They must be expanding the center.” I answered myself. Funny how I make optimistic assumptions without even knowing if this is true.
“So many new baby trees!” I thought. They were so cute coming out of the ground looking like skinny little sticks. “The intelligence of Nature must feel there are less trees growing from the ground thus allowing these babies to sprout.” I thought. It’s so interesting to observe the mind. Mine makes meaning of things apparently.
Then for a moment I connected the dots. To me, the destruction of the trees and the clearing of the land at the Center was symbolic and representative of the destruction and clearing of the resources that is happening on the Earth. Yet, there is always opportunity for new life and new ways. The young trees represent hope to me. They represent new life, a new age–we can begin a new. Every moment is the opportunity for a new beginning.
It is an exciting time to be alive. We are at a critical point in the history of the Earth. Though we are but a blip of time in the grand scheme of time–a firefly lighting up in the night. It is still a significant time.
The age of capitalism and consumerism has wreaked havoc on the resources of the Earth. Our Mother Earth is suffering from the decisions we have made. Though we are Nature too, we have some how stepped outside of the cycle of life. There is no symbiotic relationship happening at large. No even exchange of giving and receiving, but rather taking–overtaking.
The majority of the world doesn’t compost food back into the earth from where it came as a way to replenish the nutrients in the soil for our future food. Oil is extracted from the center of the Earth polluted our seas and the air with spillage and combustion. Trees are cut down mindlessly to make more money and paper. Think of all those penny saver ads and newspapers printed to be immediately thrown in the trash–hopefully the recycling one.
Children think food comes from the supermarket so it is wastefully thrown away thinking there is an endless supply. And to think of all the starving malnourished people around the world as food is hoarded in supermarkets many times spoiling and thrown away. Do we really need 10 supermarkets in a 10 miles radius?
We think clean water will just keep coming out of the faucet and yet the aquifers and springs from where it comes are drying up. I have witnessed streams go dry before my very eyes. Lakes become shallower. Is there an endless supply of water? All things are finite.
And yet despite us getting ourselves into this mess. We can be our own hero. It begins with the awareness that such things are happening.
The age of community is upon us. Many people have begun to make the change from an “ego” centered life to an “eco” centered one. Recycling and composting campaigns are happening more and more to give back to the Earth. Land preserves are being created to protect the Earth.
Innovative solutions are creating alternatives to plastic and waste in order to preserve our resources and minimize waste. Solar powered solutions are underway so that we can utilize the free energy that already is the main source of energy on the planet. Perhaps we consciously begin to drive less and walk more, for our health will even benefit from this too.
We are creating teams and joint efforts. Though it was our innovation and ego that got us into this mess. It will be our innovation but our hearts that will get us out. The key is to continue creating the experiences that awaken the heart and to facilitate people in experiencing a sense of Oneness–we are a part of the Earth, each other, and all beings and things.
We Can Change the World
“Did you ever hear that story about the monkey in Japan who started washing sweet potatoes and eating them. And then the other monkeys followed. But the interesting thing was that the monkeys on the other shore across the water also began doing it at the same time.” shared Niky.
“Ah yes. The perfect illustration that we are all connected.” I said. “It is true. Same for humans, as each one of us awakens and elevates in love and consciousness, others awaken too.” I continued, “Even if someone is living isolated in the woods somewhere embodying a loving, peaceful existence, this is influencing the planet.”
“Yes I already feel better coming here and meeting people like you.” She said.
I placed my hands on my heart and thanked her.
It was evening. The sun was setting. We continued to walk along the cleared path.
“You know I used to hate Nature.” she shared. “I used to think it was dirty. Why would anyone want to go to Nature? That was the reality growing up in Tokyo. People are going crazy in Tokyo and getting sick because they don’t even see soil, everything is concrete and buildings.”
“Yes that makes sense. Nature is healing. There is a healing frequency in Nature called Schumann’s resonance named after the first person who calculated it. In cities, because of all the electromagnetic radiation and concrete, this frequency is no longer present and people get sick. They did a study where they put people underground where there is no Schumann’s resonance and people began complaining of various symptoms, aches, pains, depression, etc. For some of the study participants they used a machine to emit Schumann’s resonance into the underground space and those people suddenly felt better.” I shared.
“It changed for me over this past year, beginning when I went on a permaculture tour on Orca Island. I met my boyfriend there, he was an intern. We kept meeting up all over the world and now I’ve been living there. He is a gardener. I never thought I would date one.” She laughed.
“What did your parents say when they met him?” I asked because she shared how capitalistic her family is and how much her dad would benefit and soften if he tried Vipassana.
“He said he is a pure, kind soul, but I will have to work for the rest of my life!” She laughed and didn’t seem to mind. “Living at the permaculture project has been so great! Everyone shares!”
We continued to talk about life and how much and how quickly we have evolved since awakening to Oneness. She couldn’t believe I was a born and bred New Yorker once very much living the lavish city life.
The next morning in the dining hall she watched me as I blessed and gave thanks for the food.
She shared, “This year was the first time I really understood and felt the phrase ‘Itadakimasu,’ which means ‘I receive’ and all Japanese people say this before they eat. Before I would just say it but now after growing my own food and harvesting it and eating it–I really do receive.”
Then she handed me a beautiful sticker of interlacing hand, which she illustrated, which really represented Oneness to me. On the back was a hand written message, “Nikki, Let’s change the world with love, compassion & art <3”
And I began to cry tears of Love. For this is why I do the work that I do. This is why I am alive.
Indeed we can change the world. It begins with the Self. Finding the space to get out of the comfort zone to experience something that feeds the soul and awakens the heart is how to begin to elevate in Love. Make conscious choices. Be Kind. Spread Love. Vote with your dollars. One small deed can have a huge impact. And nurture the relationship with the Self, for this is the foundation of all relationships. When you feel love, compassion and goodness, it’s contagious! Do something for you today, find a way to feed the soul. I recommend meditating.
Thank you for being here.
In closing, one of the most powerful parts of the Vipassana meditation is the Metta meditation at the end which is the act of spreading love by feeling love and wishing love, compassion, peace, happiness, joy and goodness for all beings and things.
May all beings be happy and liberated.
If you’re interested in sitting for a Vipassana Meditation visit dhamma.org. It will enhance your life.