The Breakdown on Vipassana Meditation

The Breakdown on Vipassana Meditation

By Scott Binder 11/03/15

After meditating for 10 years, I decided to do a Vipassana retreat. Was it the hardest thing I’d ever done? No. But it was a life-altering experience.

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When I got sober back in 2000, shortly after the fog cleared, I decided to start a meditation practice. It took a while for the habit to grab hold, but once it did, I meditated nearly every day for 10 years. During the last five, though, my meditation practice has been off and on. At the height of my practice, I would sit for nearly 20 minutes at a time. Most of the time, I meditated for about 10 minutes each session. I was of the mindset that even a few minutes per day was useful, and I still believe that.

The benefits of meditation, although subtle, started showing up in my life almost immediately once I began the practice. The longer I did my practice, the more I noticed the positive effects. My thoughts were slowing down, I felt more moments of peace, and I wasn’t reacting to situations as hastily as I had. The combination of applying the principles of AA with meditation was a powerful combo. 

Although I was dedicated to my daily practice, I never really dived into meditation very deeply. Ten minutes of meditation is helpful, but like most things, the more attention we give something, the more it grows. 

About seven years ago, a friend of mine had just gotten back from doing a 10-day Vipassana retreat. He raved about it and said that he knew I would get a lot out of it, too. He went on to say that it had been the most challenging thing he’d ever done, and that it would be for me as well. As he talked about his experience, I decided that I would at some point do a Vipassana retreat. 

Fast forward eight years, and I finally did my first Vipassana course. Was it the hardest thing I’d ever done? No. But it was a life-altering experience, and compared to my early sobriety, it was definitely the hardest thing I’d done so far. Below is a breakdown of the course to give you a taste of the day-to-day activities.

Day in the life of a Vipassana student

Each student was to abide by Five Precepts while attending the course.

1. To abstain from killing any being.

2. To abstain from stealing. 

3. To abstain from sexual activities. 

4. To abstain from telling lies.

5. To abstain from all intoxicants.

Along with these precepts, we were not allowed to talk or look at one another. If you had a question about the meditation practice, you could talk to the teacher. If you had an issue to discuss that was not related to meditation, you could talk to the manager of the course.

Meals

We ate two vegetarian meals per day. For breakfast we were served oatmeal, and lunch was a variety of vegetarian dishes. And no, that was not a typo—there were only two meals per day. At “dinner time,” we were served lemon water and fruit. At first I was a little worried that I wouldn’t get enough food, but it was pretty much a nonissue. Our physical activity was minimal, so we didn’t burn much energy. Besides, we can go days without food, so that was good for me to keep in mind when I felt hungry.

Day to Day

Each morning we woke at 4 a.m. At 4:30, we met in the main hall to meditate for two hours. After accounting for the breaks between the meditation sessions during the course, we meditated for about nine hours each day. Quite a lot…especially for someone that thought 20 minutes was a long time! After doing the 10-day course, there were some insights that became abundantly clear. I’ve listed them below.

Insights

1. Meditate – I finally truly understand why I meditate. Sure, I had a strong sense of why before. But now I deeply feel the effects of a deep meditation practice. And I understand why I had the desire to meditate in the first place. Meditating truly is transformative, especially when we sit for longer periods of time. Since finishing the course, I’ve been meditating for at least one hour per day, and the effects are amazing.

2. Integration of principles – I recently wrote an article called "Cancer is a Gift," that illustrates my belief that having cancer is a blessing. The course showed me that the way I am handling my diagnosis is the most healing for me, and that a strong meditation practice will help me continue to integrate my empowered perspective about my situation. 

3. Being in the moment – The concept we’ve been inundated with about being in the moment since we got sober is 100% true. There really isn’t any other moment to focus on than this one. We’re conditioned to focus on anything but the present moment, when in reality, the best and only moment is this one right here, right now.

4. The truth – The truth sets us free. There never needs to be a worry about others’ perception of us, because we are who we are, and what we are is amazing. If someone else does not accept something about us (no matter how bad we think it is), we don’t need them in our lives.

5. No need to worry – Worry is a complete waste of time because whatever happens in life is going to happen. We know from being in recovery that sometimes seemingly negative events can be the best gifts. 

6. Fourth Step – It has been years since I’ve done a fourth and fifth step, and it’s time to do another one. 

It’s not that the insights I gained were about reinventing the wheel. Aside from the revelation about my meditation, these were all concepts I had known before. But it was the deepening of the understanding of the principles I’ve been living with over the past 15 years that was powerful. The course was very intense and showed me that if I have a strong meditation practice, it can help integrate the principles that I am practicing in my life even more. 

The Vipassana technique is such that it helps us get in touch with our bodies’ sensations. A Vipassana meditator scans through all the body parts, paying attention to each sensation, without reacting to it. This attention to detail sharpens the mind, and helps us transform the way we deal with pain and positive feelings. Instead of becoming attached to the feeling, we simply observe it. It doesn’t mean that we don’t feel pain, joy, or any other feeling. It means that we experience the feeling and let it go without dwelling on it. By doing so, we can experience this beautiful journey of life in the way that we were meant to. Without suffering and without attachment, fully alive and aware of the truth in each moment.  

The Vipassana course was very difficult, and it’s not something one would do for fun. But it was an extraordinary experience. Meditation is a powerful tool that can help us integrate what we are striving to create for our lives. I plan on doing another 10-day course next year. If you are interested in meditation, I highly recommend doing a Vipassana retreat. It’s a perfect way to recharge your batteries and gain deep clarity for your life.

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