A year ago, I was halfway through my 4 month stay in Nepal, and I had just completed a 10 day Buddhism course at the esteemed Kopan monastery in Kathmandu. I really enjoyed our peaceful group meditations that finally brought me the clarity I was seeking so desperately.
Some travellers mentioned Vipassana meditation, and just how gruelling it was. Those returning early from Vipassana spoke of 4am rises, days of silence spend only with your thoughts that get more and more erratic, … the more they talked, the more I wanted to go.
Especially after getting a spot at Panditarama in Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha!
Getting to and arriving in Lumbini was its own adventure, but the 10 days I spent meditating continuously in the UNESCO World Heritage site stand out so vividly in my mind it could have been weeks. Some were indeed staying there for over 6 months! Commonly the Goenka school of Vipassana meditation is practiced, but due to my short timetable I reached out to Panditarama which teaches the Burmese method. The essence of the learning is the same, the method is slightly different (we labelled thoughts before dismissing them and focused on our diaphragm breath instead of upper lip).
So this was the deal: ignore everyone but for your teacher who spends 10min interviewing all most days to make sure people are not completely losing it. Every evening, we would chant some Burmese prayers with the group. Apart from that, it’s just you.
Meditating while sitting. Meditating while walking. Do not linger around during other interviews just to hear some social interaction. Do not hum a song to yourself, even in your head. Do not stop to admire the monkeys who might join you on your walk. Do not start walking faster when alone. Always savour the moment, actively choosing to dispel all distractions that take you away from the now.
I had a look over my diary that I kept during that time. I was supposed to only dot down observations on my breath, but it reads like the writings of a lunatic. You wouldn’t believe how much there is to observe about your breath and your steps if you really put your mind to it.
After a while, I noticed a pattern of what thoughts were most likely to distract me and take me away from the practice, like worries about the upcoming travels, or daydreaming of people praising me for this experience. I noticed what a large role other people played in my mind.
I have tried recording my vlog about these 2 weeks four times now. I feel like I’m skipping past all I learned, but this is actually encouraged by teachers.
The nature of the mind-body link, the impact of our emotions and thoughts as well as attachments to memories and positive stimuli are all subjective. In Buddhism, they say that not hearing the lesson at all is better than hearing it with closed off ears (which will inevitably happen with my explanation over the internet).
So what’s the takeaway? If you ever feel bad for staying in all day, turn off your electronics and make it a Vipassana day without travelling to the other side of the world to find yourself. Find yourself right here right now.