We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.
– Anaïs Nin
In 2014 I attended two 10-day Vipassana meditation retreats, taught by S.N. Goenka, within a period of 4 months time. If you’d like to read the full in-depth story on my experiences, you can check out my post here. Since then I’ve participated in my third 10-day course, which I’ll be writing about here soon!
Vipassana is a technique that was discovered by Gautama the Buddha over 2.500 years ago. It is now spread across the world in the form of donation-based retreats and is said to be of universal benefit, regardless of age, background or religion. I will not go into the specifics of the course, but if you’re interested you can check out their international website.
Aside from it being the most challenging course I have ever followed, it also turned out to be the most rewarding one. Although the dedication and discipline you need to invest may sound like more than you’re willing or able to put in, I can assure you that you will reap the benefits tenfold. Taking the time and effort sit in silent meditation for this long on end to really turn within, has proved to be the ultimate token of love I could have given to myself.
Just take a moment to think about your best friends. What qualities of theirs make you consider them to be true friends? At what times do they make you feel most valued?
Chances are you appreciate that they are truly present when you spend time together. Not checking their phones during your conversations, paying attention to what you’re saying and trying to figure out the bottom line of your message. That sometimes they will look to help you in some way and other times they will just hold space for you. It shows that you are a priority to them. And you probably try to do all this for them as well.
Then why is it that we rarely put this kind of effort into nourishing the relationship with the most important and ever-present friend we have: ourselves? How often do we show ourselves that we care enough to quiet down all the outside noise and just listen to what our inner voice has to tell us?
I surely used to be a lousy friend to myself sometimes. I would easily break a promise I made to myself and I would always find some way of distraction while being on my own. Sitting in silence was a foreign concept to me. And even when my inner voice had a chance to catch my attention, it would usually get drowned it in negative thoughts and belittling beliefs about myself. At times I was pretty much my own worst enemy.
When I attended my first Vipassana course I gradually became aware of the fact that I had been severely neglecting this relationship with myself. And when I started paying attention to the voice within, I was astounded by the wisdom it had to offer. Thus I made a promise to myself to start nourishing and cherishing this newfound friendship. And although trust is something that has to be earned over time, this is a promise I don’t intend on breaking!
I will share with you some of the most meaningful insights I gained from attending the Vipassana courses that still continue to benefit me today. Some of these concepts I had read and heard about a hundred times before, but this is the kind of wisdom that cannot be learned from books or hearsay (and yet I insist on writing this post..). Only when I experienced it myself I gained an understanding on a deeper level, which influenced the way I think, feel and react. Every day.
1. Making a significant change starts with acceptance
Everything comes and eventually goes by itself, and in its own time. There is no need to resist anything that you cannot change because the only thing that will do is make you miserable. Similarly, there is no need to crave anything that you cannot attain (yet). In both instances, we are rejecting the reality of the moment. We either want something that is there to be gone or something that is not there to be there. But our aversion or craving does not change the situation. Now this does not mean we should be completely passive and just let everything happen without interfering in any way. What it means is that only when we accept what is, we can make a conscious choice to take action and work towards change, instead of letting our emotions play themselves out through our actions. It is conscious action that can effectively change an external situation, whereas merely rejecting or craving something is only negatively affecting our own inner peace.
2. Everything is constantly changing
Not all change is evident. Some things are changing at such a subtle level or slow pace that they appear to be invariable. But everything is in a constant flow of change. Arising and passing constantly. This means that every second is a new chance to create something different. Every second we can make a choice to start anew. So often we feel like we are stuck in this image we have created of ourselves that we need to uphold. And we judge others around us by the images they have portrayed, either good or bad. All these images, however, are merely a projection of the past. I found this to be an incredible relief. We all deserve a second chance and we should allow ourselves to have one. So give yourself and others a break. Just be who you are at this moment. Everything can be different tomorrow.
3. I am not my mind
You know the voice in your head that is constantly assessing situations, creating assumptions, digging up old memories and fantasizing about what was or will be or could have been? That is not you… It is your mind, yes. But it is not YOU. If you are able to observe something, that means that you are the observer and not the thing you are observing. Thus, being the observer of your thoughts clearly marks a separation between you and the constant chatter of your mind. As simple as it may sound, when I first realized this it was mind-boggling to me. If it is not me, then that means I actually have a choice in what I do with the input it is providing me with. I could choose not to let it boss me around. Now the mind is certainly not something we have to eradicate or ignore, but we do need to learn how to discipline and control it. Because most of the time it is running the show.
4. Only we are responsible for our own emotional state
We give away so much power to other people and outside circumstances by holding them responsible for our emotional state. Truth is that nothing or no one can make us feel any way. Yes, people and situations can upset us. But it is eventually up to us to decide whether we react to that. The power really lies in our hands. If for example, someone gets angry with you, this may ignite a sensation of fear within you. You then have a choice to either react to that impulse of fear and become overwhelmed and afraid or you can just observe the sensations of the fear arising in your body and wait for it to pass. Not accepting whatever negative energy is offered to you is an actual option, and allows you to be in control of your own state of being.
5. Wherever there’s resistance, there’s an opportunity to grow
When practically all possibilities for distraction are taken away for 10 days, you are confronted with how much you tend to mentally escape a staggering amount of situations and emotions. Throughout the course, I noticed that whenever I felt the need to run away or distract myself, this was a clear sign that I had arrived at the entranceway of a major obstacle. My natural reaction would always be to avoid the situation and somehow go around. But if you want to grow, the only way is to go straight through the middle of your misery. Just sit with it, observe, and fully feel whatever comes up. It may be uncomfortable and it may last for way longer than you’d like and bring up all sorts of hideous things you weren’t aware of. But I can assure you that all this old mental clutter will stay with you until it’s fully processed and that in the end, the rewards will greatly exceed the trouble you had sorting it all out.
6. It is all a matter of perception
This was maybe the most staggering discovery I made through practicing Vipassana. You won’t believe the amount of BS I discovered that I had been telling myself. Especially about how certain events in my life came to be through no fault of my own, and how this made me a victim. I was truly convinced that how I had perceived the situation was the way it actually went and that how I acted on it was the only right way. Well reality check: it wasn’t in the slightest. Vipassana showed me objectively the way these events really went down. I realized that I had been making up stories in order to protect myself from the pain I experienced during those times. Since this revelation, I have started taking myself a little less seriously and being more open to the possibility of me being wrong.
7. Mind matters most
When it comes to karma, that means receiving back what we put out, it is our mental action that defines the outcome. Not our vocal action or our physical action. These two are just an expression of our mental state. In other words: it doesn’t matter what it looks like on the outside. Creating an image of ourselves by doing or saying certain things is purposeless if our intention behind the action it is not pure. And alternatively, if our intention is pure it doesn’t matter how our words and actions are perceived by others. Wholsesome action is defined by the intention.
8. Helping others starts with helping yourself
If you want to spread light and love and contribute to the wellbeing of others, remember that age-old lesson that you must first be happy yourself. Wanting to make someone you care about happy usually stems from some desire to get that feeling returned. This can be anything from love or acceptance to a sense of security or self-worth. Usually, this desire won’t be obvious at first, but I was able to trace back several of my acts of kindness to some need I had within myself. As I progressed in the technique and achieved a calmer and more focused state of being, I found that happiness came naturally and that the desire to share this bliss is then much more selfless and universal, less limited to any specific person.
9. All wisdom is already inside
In my lifetime I have consulted all kinds of outside sources looking for the answers to questions about myself, the world around me and life in general. It used to bother me when I came to a therapist who wasn’t going to give me the answers, but merely posed more questions that I was expected to answer myself. I thought this was a worthless technique that definitely was not going to work for me. If I already knew the answer, I wouldn’t be asking, right? It turned out they were right, and that I did have all the answers already inside myself. I just didn’t have the proper technique to look for them. Now I actually feel there is no better way of therapy than to guide someone to the wisdom inside when it comes to the everyday issues most of us are dealing with. It is impossible to figure out something that is enclosed inside the unconscious mind of another person if they don’t look for it themselves, even for (most) professionals. We can only unlock this information ourselves, and when given the right technique, we can figure it out in the right time too. Although I’d like to stress that Vipassana is not a solution to more serious mental illnesses, which should preferably be treated under the supervision of medical professionals.
Since I completed my second course I have been eager to share my experience with anyone who’s interested (and everyone else), because I truly feel that this technique is so universal and so simple that it can a life-changing experience for anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort. It has not only shown me the way to my inner wisdom and given me a tool for living a more peaceful and compassionate life, it also continues to affect the way I react to the outside world every single day since those 10-day courses. I could not recommend this course enough to anyone who is the least bit curious. Go and share the love, you will be forever grateful that you gave yourself this opportunity. If you’re considering to join your first 10-day course, check out my personal tips and tricks in preparing for your stay!
Have you tried Vipassana meditation or other meditation techniques yet? Drop me a comment below, I’d love to hear about your experiences!
Love and light,