How to spend 10 days in silence, how are thoughts similar to candies, why do we need children, how to stop experiencing pain, how much time do we need for serenity, ho needs conceited gods and why turn into a lobster?
This story happened to me two years ago, and all this time I tried to sit down and write about this experience. But it turned out to be so hard to render and understand even for myself, that I put it off for tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and “next month – for sure!” But months went by, I had new adventures, which were much easier to put in writing, and so I got used to the idea that there would never be a narrative report.
But it was thanks to meditation and coincidence that the Universe had me by the short hairs and, in a tight squeeze, with a smile, it suggested me to tell about everything that happened to me in those 10 days.
It was on Svalbard, on Easter Sunday, when I realized that I was stuck there for a week because of the weather, waiting for a flight to the North Pole to run a marathon there. I had to live on the edge of the world for seven more days, far from family, friends and my warm, cozy marsh. At that time, my family baked cakes, welcomed the guests and had fun without me. Meanwhile I sat alone on the edge of the world, my legs dangling, yearning for home.
Life has taught me to see signs and to thank (or at least try very hard) the universe for everything that happens to me. And so I thought: – should I do this week something I could not do at home? The answer came immediately:
Sit down and write about Vipassana, you simpleton
All right, all right, I got it, already sitting down… Let’s go!
Freediving and Pranayama
Well, it happened back in 2013. I was deeply involved in freediving freediving and began to read, train, go to seminars and get to know people. So I learned about pranayama – the science of breathing. I can talk about it for hours, but to make it short, it means breathing exercises coupled with purifying your mind of useless thoughts. This helps freedivers, in the first place, to increase lung capacity, and secondly – to calm the mind, heart, metabolic processes and thus save oxygen.
Practicing pranayama, I noticed that my mind has become purer, my mood – more positive, and the people around – more friendly. I began to dig deeper and found out about meditation. More precisely, like everybody else, I heard about meditation many times before, but never thought of practicing it … In a word, I began to meditate in the morning. I have read many books and now I will try to formulate the goal of any sort of meditation (and there are dozens of them):
Getting your mind clear of thoughts, gaining inner harmony and happiness
The goals of meditation do not include success in life or in love, gain in health, finding everlasting tranquility. Meditation has nothing to do with achievements or things we usually measure success in our lives.
The goal of meditation is to achieve happiness and serenity. Actually, the technique allows you to consistently get rid of all negative emotions and become absolutely happy. I used a very simple way to meditate — just sat down and breathed (15 sec. in-breathing, 30 – cessation, 15 – out-breathing, 10 – cessation) trying not to think about anything.
And then I heard about Vipassana – meditation courses, where you are not allowed to talk for 10 days. And the kicker is, it came on me from different sources – one day a friend told me about a fellow, another day I came across a report on the Internet, then the freedivers recommended it. I realized that it was not an accident, so I decided to gain insight.
What is Vipassana?
This is a meditation technique suggested by Gautama Buddha more than 2,500 years ago for getting rid of suffering and gaining final liberation. Vipassana literally means “seeing things as they really are.” This technique aims at the complete eradication of pollutants and, as a result, consummate happiness – absolute liberation.
Vipassana is not a philosophical doctrine, neither a religious sect, nor a ritual practice. It’s rather a very simple and effective self-improvement technique. You won’t see any God, or Supreme Being or Creator here. You don’t need to worship anyone, sing hymns, praise, make offerings and pray. You won’t hear such words as “soul”, “chakra”, “aura”. Therefore, it can be used by people of any religion – Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim.
As you practice Vipassana, you just sit, breathe and learn the reality within your own body.
The course I’m talking about has a ten-day horizon. But sure, you’ll find 20, 40 and 60-day Vipassana courses, which are intended for the very advanced. There are also 1, 3 and 8-day courses for advanced learners. More than this, there are dark retreats — you go to a dark room where you sit for a month, and once a day they bring you food in. But this is the top of the top, which takes you quite a long while to go. Top of the top.
This method is a 10-day course, which includes daily 11-hour meditations and evening lectures, which reveal all the important points of Vipassana and answers to emerging questions. This is how you get to know Vipassana. It’s the same technique, but different teachers teach it a little differently. I completed Goenka’s course, which is taught in 290 meditation centers in almost every country.
Registration for the course starts a few months in advance. Registration (as well as participation) is absolutely free. All courses (all schools) in Goenka’s tradition function due to donations made by students who have completed the course. And judging by the fact that schools don’t cease functioning, people actually get a lot from Vipassana.
You go to one of the Vipassana centers, where they take away from you everything that can distract you from communicating with yourself: phones, computers, dictaphones, cameras, clocks, books, paper and pens. Now, for ten days, you are forbidden to talk and communicate by looks or gestures. You’ll be very modestly fed, mainly with grass, and sleeping will be your only entertainment.
About 100 students are accepted for the course. It depends on the location. About 20 people take care of everything (cooking, cleaning up, answering questions, translating for foreign students). By the way, here’s the schedule:
- 4:00 Wakeup
4:30–6:30 Meditation in the hall or in your room
6:30–8:00 Breakfast and rest
8:00–9:00 General meditation in the hall
9:00–11:00 Meditation in the hall or in your room
12:00–13:00 Rest and personal meetings with the teacher
13:00–14:30 Meditation in the hall or in your room
14:30–15:30 General meditation in the hall
15:30–17:00 Meditation in the hall or in your room
18:00–19:00 General meditation in the hall
20:15–21:00 General meditation in the hall
21:00–21:30 Time to ask the teacher questions in the hall
22:00 Turn-in in your room. Lights turn off on the territory of the center
- 4:00 Wakeup
And ten days later, if you have not gone mad or run away from hunger, cold, lack of sleep and aches in your joints, you leave the camp enlightened (or just happy). At the same time, you may not pay a penny, if your conscience allows you, of course.
Ready, steady, go!
So, all this looks tempting. I wanna go! Who’s coming with me? In response, friends assailed me with a lot of hard arguments about work, poverty, family and mental underdevelopment. Vadim Zheleaskov was the least to resist. As I sensed the taste of blood, I got my claws into his throat and he surrendered. We’re going together! By the way, afterwards I concluded that you should not bring your friends or spouse with you, as they will keep distracting you.
Good thing we haven’t read about Vipassana, and so we were like two nestlings who didn’t expect anything and didn’t count on anything, and our greatest fear was keeping silent for 10 days. If only we knew then what was in store for us…
We chose Yekaterinburg, as it was the closest in time, and not very distant. By the end of October it’s still warm in Moldova, while in Yeburg it’s already snow and cold. Frozen as we were, we went to the town of Sysert, where we settled in the pioneer camp “Burevestnik”. It is located in a beautiful pine forest, amidst snow-covered giant pines, past which we then went to meditation day and night.
They read us out the rules about things we were allowed to do and things forbidden. The first list was 20 times shorter than the second one. So, you will be run out in case you:
- try to communicate in any way: not only by words but also by exchanging glances;
- read, write, listen to music, take photos, navigate on the Internet;
- do physical exercise;
- kill any living creatures, even ants or mosquitoes;
- smoke, drink, dope yourself;
- leave the territory where the course is conducted
We handed over all the devices and settled in different rooms, so that we could not communicate. And rightly so. As a matter of fact, I could not take pictures without a camera. But still I am acquainted with artists who will help me restore pictures from memory… here we are!
So, we embraced, said goodbye, wished each other strength and courage, and went to the “cells”. In fact, the territory is arranged the following way — a large hall for meditations in the middle, sided by two fenced areas with barracks and dining rooms – M and W. Hard sexual segregation. You’re not allowed to cross the borders. We lived there in spartan conditions— rooms with beds for three people, soldier beds with prickly blanket and bedside table. Shared toilets and broken windows. But Russia is a bountiful country and the heating steamed so heavily that even windows with no glasses would have kept warm!
The date with oneself
The complexity of Vipassana is not about keeping silent for 10 days. The most terrible thing is being alone with yourself. After all, we constantly avoid it, every second we have to be busy doing something for fear of getting bored – that is, starting to communicate with the inner self, suddenly engaging in the general cleaning – throwing and unfolding the shelves of the megatonner of info crap that we overstock our brains with, in the hope of escaping from the date with oneself.
Once you come to do Vipassana, you won’t be able to stay away from your inner self, because you will go on a 240-hour date with yourself. And believe it, at first you’ll feel like your inner self is not the best company. You will remember all grievances, fears and discontent with yourself, and obsessive thoughts will not let you fall asleep. There is no place to hide from your brain.
But soon silence will come, and you will begin to realize in what informational noise you used to live. The thoughts of work and the anxiety about your family will disappear, you will feel that your mind has stopped chewing the various shit you used to feed it, and it will become quiet in your head.
On the first day, you will already know what eternity is.
The retreat was going to last an eternity, more exactly —the meditation seemed endless.
And it takes off from there. You will start to come up with ideas. For example, I came up with an interesting solution for three startups. In all haste, I was looking for a piece of paper and a pen to write them down, but, alas, I had to keep them in mind. When your mind is cleaned of debris, it takes time to answer the questions: am I doing the right thing, do I behave correctly, do I do the right thing in life, what is my vocation? Of course, you will not get an answer to all the questions, but suddenly the scales fell from my eyes.
Your meditation territory is 1 sq. m. You can do anything there without crossing the boundaries. The major furniture in your new apartment or nest, as it is called, is the meditation bench, which is vital for your joints since the first day. Without a bench, instead of thinking about how the air goes through the trachea, you’ll keep waiting for the end of this torture . However, with a bench you will also think about it. On the floor, lay a roll mat, then the bench and a rug.
You are suggested to sit in various positions:
The main thing is keeping the back straight, otherwise any skewing will result into half an hour of pain. The weak and the elderly ones are allowed to sit on chairs near the wall. It’s brass monkey weather outside, and since we have been sitting for hours without moving, they let us take plaids with us and hide behind them. From the outside it looks as if a hundred men-bags came to listen to a motivational course “How to get rid of your bag?”
It matters a lot who your neighbour is – mine was a snotnose. I called him that because he, despite his size and age, snotted the whole last week, giving me reason to work with my anger. Admit it: when you realize that your body has become completely controllable, you feel every cell filled with the energy of light and love, and suddenly, someone beside noisily sniffs a long snot into himself, you want to get up, take the katana from your teacher and gut this fine Sir, so that he never sniffs his nose again. Instead, you are mentally grateful to him for giving you the opportunity to realize this anger and work on it. In the end, I already managed it and I even began to love him. Nearly.
Briefly, Vipassana meditation means sitting fixed in one posture for several hours and watching your inner sensations. 11 hours a day, with short breaks for food and sleep. Ten days you keep just like that.
We go into the hall, sit down in our places, wrapped in rugs and sighing, close our eyes. The Teacher (Jurgen Stowasser) enters the room and silently sits down in front of everybody, then turns on the tape recorder. Go. The gong sounds, and Goenka begins to howl in his squeaky, terrible voice:
Work very gently, very gently. Work carefully, from head to feet, from feet to head
Usually, nothing good awaits us. On the first meditations, I realized why they take the watch away before you start – time is incredibly stretched, minutes become hours, as if you keep running the last kilometer in the marathon. One hour and a half seem eternity.
You start to explore yourself from head to toes. After 15 minutes, your legs grow numb, and you quietly change your posture, then again and again. At the same time you can’t distract your thoughts from the process. Your back is numb, but you must not think about it – Anichcha. “Everything passes, this too shall pass,” Vipassana teaches us.
If you change position, trying to adapt your body to the circumstances, then the pain has defeated you. When your nose itches – ignore it. When your neighbor hiccups – don’t pay attention. After all, it’s not about discomfort, it’s rather about attitude. In life it’s just the same – when insults, envy or passions overpower you, you become evil and rude. But if you are on top of it, negative emotions go away on their own.
It’s hard to believe but have a lot of sensations in the body: now one knee feels warm, as the other – a tingling sensation, and the brain cuts it all off, otherwise you would go mad. In fact, the human body is alive, with many physiological processes that you can’t control. And here, for 10 days you are being taught to feel your body, sharpen our mind, so as to feel every bit of it.
Meditation sharpens your mind and it gets as sharp as a katana, so that you can cut a hair not only across, but also along. But you should not think about anything, except sensations. Meanwhile in your head there will be so many bright thoughts – creative, philosophical, correct. You may want to take the opportunity to think and savor each of them. Instead, you drive them away and again you wander along your body – from nose to top of your head, then down to your shoulders and feet. Up and dooown, up and dooown. And it shows result. On the fifth day, I could feel any point of my body, the size of a coin. For example, try to feel the third vertebra or the tip of your left ear.
Your mind very quickly looks for loopholes to distract, just like a child; clings to any word that got passed around into his head, like wild ivy grows into a garden of thoughts. Sometimes you don’t mention it, and then suddenly you realize that for a quarter of an hour you have been fancying New Year celebration with your family in Tahiti. Have you been to Tahiti? I’ve never been there.
Or music. Aram-zam-zam… You know it, right? If such cootchy-cootchy gets into your head, it’s for a long time. This Turkish animator hymn tormented me for two days.
In general it’s hard to to force yourself not to think about anything. And you need not think about anything. Even about thinking about nothing right now. At first it seems impossible: what will I have in my head? Nothing.
For example, I imagine my mind as a large dark hall with many doors around the perimeter. And when I meditate, I have a ball there – lots of people (my thoughts) discussing, dancing, coming in and out, in a word – a party. Then I mentally open the door and say in a calm voice to the whole audience:
EVERYBODY GET OUT OF HERE!
Thoughts get scattered in horror and the hall becomes empty. Satisfied with my power, I sit down comfortably and begin to contemplate the darkness. Periodically, some door opens, then a thought peeps out and slavishly asks: “May I come in?” After my severe look it gets lost. But it also happens in another way. Some thoughts are so beautiful and entertaining that they do not pass through the doors, but simply materialize in the center of the hall. And while you admire their beauty, mentally slapping yourself on your forehead – how could you not think about it before, it’s so obvious and so great, they fill the whole space of the hall. And when you realize that you’re again busy with thoughts, you can not force yourself to give up savoring this idea or postpone it for later. You get pleasure from the originality and obviousness of this thought, you can not pull yourself together and drive it out. Just remember the way it was in your childhood: mommy has bought you a candy on a stick. Wow! The sun rays are breaking passed through it, promising half an hour of gastronomic ecstasy, and you pull it into your mouth. But then mamma says:
— You can’t eat it for half an hour. Just walk with it.
— Walk with a candy and not lick it? Mom, what have I done? You’d better take it from me…
That’s exactly the same with interesting thoughts — it’s really hard to keep from licking them…
Lots of things
What can you do between meditations? Oh, there’s a lot of things to do! For example, walk along the path in a circle and count the stumps. Or, for example, go to your kennel, lie down in bed and, looking at the cracks in the ceiling, imagine that these are your life paths.
Though I think I mislead you — we had a duty: to wash the dishes. Pleasant trifle, but it makes you feel you’re not a hanger-on or an idler, and your contribution to society is significant, and in general – your life has a sense!
Some washed their clothes and washed themselves. What for? Maybe in order to get rid of bad thoughts or wash away the sins of the past. Nobody knows … But certainly not for the sake of sitting in clean clothes.
I was having fun another way.
Feeling that Vipassana was really difficult for me, I realized that Vadim reached the breaking point. I’m old, I can already endure much, but he’s so young, blood pumping in his veins. Those who come to the course under pressure usually quit before it’s over. So I decided to help my friend, to let him know that I’m there beside!
How to support a comrade whom you’re not allowed to talk to or even look into his face? Necessity is the mother of invention. One evening I did not eat a piece of banana and, while Vadim was out for meditation, I rushed to his room and put the banana on his table.
Let’s listen to his story:
“The first 5 days I was planning to escape. But as I had no money with me, I thought how to get from the forest to Yekaterinburg for free. Each time the door cracked open, I hoped that Dima would drop in and say:
I’m so f***ed up with everything, let’s go home!
And when I wanted to pack my suitcase and go to the teacher, I find on my nightstand … a banana. First, I thought it was Dima, but chances were 50/50, what if it was my neighbour. To help you see the whole picture, a banana is of greatest value there, and they give you half of this fruit a day. Along with the level of glucose, my mood rose to the state of “well, I’ll put up with it until tomorrow”.
In the evening after the lecture, from the corner of my eye I saw that Dima left the hall earlier than the rest, and a couple of minutes later he found a bun in my jacket pocket! Things started to click – Dimon, that’s cunning! All right, stay strong…”
That was happiness. Giving is happiness. Admit it, that’s much more pleasant to give a bun and make someone’s day than eat it, fixing eyes on the wall. In such an uplifted mood, I came to my room. Tadam! On the nightstand I saw an apple … How cute!
As late as today they told us that we need to give more, and wait in return for less. The universe will return everything to you in tenfold size, the main thing is not waiting for it and giving it away sincerely. And now there came an apple. Cool!
What about talking?
What am I talking about? There can be no communication. Only with yourself. Well, you can address the manager, in case you need to ask for a towel or, maybe, where you can find the jacuzzi. And in case of a more serious need, you can talk to the teacher, but for this you need to make an appointment, as if you’re going to the doctor.
So you come to him, kneel before him and ask a Question. No such trifle like “What are we having for dinner today?” A question that makes you tremble, as probably nobody before you never dared to ask the Teacher such question. And the Teacher looks at you, smiles and says:
— Listen to the sensations in your body, calm down your mind, and then immediately you will understand everything …
He keeps telling the same to everyone, I’m sure. But this is the wisdom of the teaching, because we have answers to all questions. We just don’t hear them, because we have no time to sit down and listen to ourselves, our body, our pure mind. We are bored to sit and wait for an answer. It is better to go to the teacher and ask him. Up yours! At Vipassana I got an important thing: you can not get the experience of another person, you must experience it yourself. Repeatedly.
I got distracted. Back to communication. Nonverbal communication is also prohibited – you can’t look into the eyes, use decent gestures and indecent gazes. And this was not necessary. I looked down on the floor, as if I went sour on everybody and did not talk to them. I walked like that, looking under my nose, my lip pouting. I haven’t seen Vjik once in 10 days, although I passed by, I was sitting nearby, we met in the canteen.
And I have to say it: I just loved this social vacuum, as well as many did. No need to smile, say hello, apologize — great!
The neighbor with whom I shared the cell turned out to be a pleasant guy. Not in the sense of chatting, as I never talked to him, I mean he was commonly nice – would scatter things everywhere, just like I did, never made a point of keeping things in order, rarely was in and kept silent. In short, the perfect neighbor. We only talked with him once. And that’s how it was.
I came back from the course a little earlier and immediately climbed under the blanket, he came a little later, turned round in the dark for a while and also lay down. I was already falling asleep when I suddenly heard a long, compressed by all the muscles, FART!
And it was not just a fart, but a long twang, a real cabbage fart.
Or a dinosaur’s, I would say. In short, it is clear that he controlled himself as long as he could, but the call of nature did him in… And here I lie under the blanket with a ear-to-ear grin and imagine his eyes rolling from impotence to change something: after all, you’re not allowed to apologize, but still you can’t lie as if nothing happened. Pretty crappy. Here I understand that I have to rescue my neighbor, why should he be hammering his head with self-flagellation and shame? I strain, frowning, and here I deliver a fine lingering suite of guts resembling a ball blowing off.
There was a silent break. I looked out from under the blanket and suddenly saw the neighboring bed shaking with silent laughter. Me too, I hardly kept from laughing. If someone came into the room at that moment, he would be very surprised by the two silently quivering blankets in complete darkness. In this original way we wished each other good night that day.
The main entertainment
The main entertainment is food, of course. Because there’s no other kind of entertainment. But you won’t find habitual food either. If you are used to borsch with meat, mashed potatoes and pies for dessert, you will be unpleasantly surprised to see a basin of chopped carrot with the inscription “side dish”. Main course is watery soup, and for dessert, if you’re lucky, an apple. In general, the food is very simple and tasty. Vegan, fresh, and there’s a lot of it – you can eat until dump. At least at lunch.
Even more, we were lucky to taste some amazing bread. In our shift, there was a girl on duty in the kitchen, who was really good at baking bread. And we regaled each day with a new masterpiece – rye, seeds, dried apricots, bran, herbs bread. By the way, all the functions for attending students are performed by people who have already passed Vipassana (former students), and they do it absolutely free of charge.
For dinner (ha-ha, dinner) you get a glass of milk and a half-banana. Strange combination … It was only the third day when I realized the meaning of it – after having a banana with milk, various special effects in the body were produced. And an hour later there should be the meditation, general and compulsory. And by that time, the body, trying to figure out which enzymes are needed for this strange mixture, started to grumble, groan, gurgle and release gases of different volumes. After all, a wise man was Goenka, as he knew how to teach us to maintain inner balance among this milk-banana fermenting “factory”, without killing your neighbor. Although sometimes I really wanted to.
Back to entertainment. I carefully studied the rules and did not find an item there – you can not take bread with you from the canteen, dry it on the battery and then silently crack it. That’s what I actually did.
Later, I realized I could take the dried fruits out of compote on a napkin, dry them and get raisins, dried apricots and prunes. Meditation can bring such wonderful ideas.
In fact, food at Vipassana course is feeding stuff. It’s done for not getting pleasure and not being distracted by it. It’s a very cool explanation of the rule – we eat to live, and not vice versa. But in the beginning there was a panic, and I, remembering the Turkish “all-inclusive”, piled myself a huge plate of porridge, bread with butter and jam, nuts, dried apricots. The next day I realized that it was hard for me, and I refused butter, then excluded jam, then bread, and then vegetables. It ended with the fact that I ate only fruit. On the last day I ate three bananas and three nuts all day and did not feel hunger. The feeling of lightness was all over me. Until I had a pile of curd fritters in Yeburg.
It’s good that Vipassana lasted only for ten days, otherwise I would stop eating altogether. Although there is something in it – now I believe in comrades meditating for months without a crumb in their mouth.
Man → Lobster
Every single day I was passing by a poster that hung in the corridor. And each time I was asking in my mind, what dopes did the artist smoke as he painted, in a children’s camp, a human turning into a lobster?
And only the day before the end of the course I got it: the message of the Universe was to stop thinking of yourself as the top of the food chain, the supreme race and the smartest creature. This painting is about lobsters being much happier than humans, precisely because they do not think too much about their place in this world. They just crawl up the mountain and whistle to themselves in pleasure, enjoying the fact that they just live.
I didn’t sleep much. Not because they wouldn’t let me but because I didn’t want to. At the beginning, I took the gong at 4 A.M. as a crime against humankind, and every time I saw the manager rattling with a piece of iron to wake us up, I wanted to smother him with a pillow. But after a few days I was not sleeping as he came. Instead I would smile sweetly at him from the darkness of the room.
The last day I slept for only 3 hours and woke up absolutely rested. Probably my metabolism has slowed down so much that my body did not really need sleep.
And the process of falling asleep was like a fairy tale. You go to bed at 21:30 and start listening to your body. And .. wow – after a couple of minutes of concentration you feel every cell, every atom of your body. Super reality. Unusual. But honestly speaking, I began to get this condition only after 7 days.
I can’t remember my dreams from that period, although many later told me about unusually bright dreams. Perhaps, because they slept during meditations. There were also such models who began to snore during courses, and then the managers had to hit them with a stick. Just kidding – sure they used a whip.
I hope you feel the pain…
In the second half of the course they pleased us with a new challenge: a meditation of firm determination. They warned that it would hurt, but we should hold on.
The meaning is the following: you take a posture and keep it for 60 minutes motionless, no matter how hard your knees or back ache. The goal is learning to accept pain as something inseparable from life, as inevitability. Accepting it means you stop suffering.
It sounds tempting, but on the first such meditations I gnashed my teeth, trying to distance myself from pain, not to think about suffering. No way! My legs hurt so much that, it seems you will never stand on your own.
And you turn into a ball of nerves, waiting to pull out your limbs when the gong rings.
But. One fine day. I. Did it! I sat and felt pity for myself, trying to forget about pain in one way and another. Suddenly, I felt that the pain remained, but there was no suffering. It is very difficult to describe it by words, but the meaning is just like that. Suffering and pain are not the same thing. I suddenly felt that my body was gone. And with it, all the discomfort went away – I felt light and quiet, breathing filled my shell with light, and I glowed like a firefly. For the first time in dozens of meditations, I was not happy about the gong. I was so inspired by this experience that I sat with an idiotic smile until the manager kicked me out.
I found this technique useful when I crossed the Gibraltar Strait. My shoulders burned, and I spent a lot of psycho-emotional energy on fighting pain. And then I began to separate suffering from pain, and voila – I feel pain without suffering. Of course, I don’t completely cease to suffer, just the level of discomfort falls several times.
As in normal life people go to the movies in the evening, at eight o’clock in the evening we went for the lectures. We sat down in “comfortable” postures, and they would play the records of Buddha’s teaching about how to live, think and act in order to become happy and stop suffering. A guide to happiness, which is called Dhamma. As an example, here is a lecture from the sixth day.
With age, every person forms his own beliefs that make up his personality. Before Vipassana, my principles and values reminded me of puzzles scattered all over the house. And what a miracle! Vipassana surprisingly assembled them into one big picture and hung on the wall. Sure, there are still a few pieces missing, but the main thing is that I found confirmation to some of my guesses about how the world works. It means I’m not the only one who thinks so, and it’s like a revelation.
Here are some of my considerations that received either a direct or indirect confirmation. I will not discuss here the trivial truths about the need to give more than you take, and do good so that it returns to you. Or about negative thoughts harming you more than bad deeds committed accidentally and without intent. These things had been clear to me for a long time.
Still something was not so obvious …
1. Conceited gods
I’m not going to impose you someone else’s teachings, as I respect the right of a person to believe in any god. But personally I like to perceive god not as a creature, but as laws of nature, which work as clearly and unambiguously as gravity, for instance. It’s just that humankind can’t prove or confirm them yet.
I always thought it odd to me that the path to God lies through an architectural structure, hung with crosses, crescents and other “symbols” of faith. I did not understand why God asked to pray to him and to praise him? Is God conceited? Does he like to watch the thousands of bent backs humbly bowing low?
Why do people think that, if they pray a lot to God, then they have more chances to get to Heaven?
— All right, there you go… John, you praised me for 2435 hours, we’ll send you to Heaven. And the fact that you have burned down your neighbor’s house when you were drunk, that’s okay, nothing to mention. By the way, I’ll send him to Hell, because he praised me rarely. No matter that he helped orphans, opened a school in his house.
I’m sure that God doesn’t care whether you praise him or not, and you should be paid for your deeds, not for your words. But you will object that in Buddhism there are also temples. It’s true. People erected huge temples and statues of Buddha, they worshiped him, but after it’s human – the need for an idol. The only difference is that the Buddha himself said that there is no God and nobody needs to be worshiped. There is the law of nature that must be understood and followed to become happy.
Just sometimes it seems that not God created people in his image, but people made the gods in their own likeness.
2. Anichcha and the same mistake
Everything passes, as Dhamma says, both sadness and joy. Anything is changing — there is nothing permanent in this world. A very simple formula, but it gives you so much strength when it’s hard for you… I often apply it not to get upset, and not to start to pride myself. After all, the moment when you feel good, will also pass. Enjoy the moment, do not live in the past, don’t dream about the future, cherish every moment. I heard and read it a hundred times already, but only now I realized its meaning.
In general, I believe that someone else’s experience is absolutely useless.
That’s why I don’t attend seminars, lectures, motivational trainings and other events, where some people tell others how to get better. It’s impossible to change by simply reading a book that tells you how you can not behave yourself. You must keep making the same mistake, then again and again, until you realize it’s no good thing to do.
Maybe you know someone who never burnt his fingers because they had told him it would hurt? All children fall down, burn their fingers, get hard knocks, despite the admonitions of adults. So why do we believe that some guy from the stage will be able to talk sense into our heads, and we will change our lives without making the same mistake, as the speaker did?
Make the same mistake, draw conclusions, change. And so on until the end of your life. The more mistakes, the better.
3. Happiness is in dopes
I have long suspected that all of us, in the end, need the same thing. And we are not chasing after money or fame, not for recognition or power. As cliche as it may sound, we need pleasant sensations in the body, and don’t need unpleasant ones. For example, I ran a marathon at the North Pole a marathon at the North Pole and took second place. Cool? Yes. I am glad with myself – I am strong, successful, cool. They congratulate me, like me, admire me. I am pleased, pleasure hormone spills into my blood, and I have magnificent sensations.
But they are gone in a week, and I want to return them, coming up with a new adventure. Other people buy expensive cars, someone makes plastic repairs, someone works for 12 hours to become a boss. And everything is done for an injection of hormones and pleasant sensations in the body.
Why most of over-successful people are so unhappy? Because happiness injections need to be made constantly, otherwise —no matter how many achievements you have, they no longer bring you pleasure. Meanwhile, you can’t get other stronger achievements. It’s very similar to dopes —most drug addicts die from an overdose, trying to get the same level of buzz as before.
It applies to things as well as to relationships. In a relationship, we also pursue the same “dose”. Pleasant people give it to us, and we turn to them. That’s how we choose spouses, in order to enjoy ourselves. And this may sound profane, but we need children so that we feel necessary, receive their love, recognition, tenderness and along with it, a dose of serotonin and dopamine. Mommies, keep calm, this is just one of the viewpoints. Your vision may differ.
We are free to believe in what we like.
Let everybody be happy
On the last day they told us about Metta meditation. I still practice it after the main pranayama. The essence is very simple: for 5 minutes, radiating love and compassion for all beings in the world. Starting from close people and ending with enemies, and after them – in my mind I embrace politicians, corrupt officials, oligarchs and people who are destroying our state. I love you. Live long, in love, in happiness, everything’s gonna be okay with you. Then my pulse rises and I open my eyes. Yes, it’s hard to do the last part, but now I get the news much calmer. Very useful technique, as it really makes you feel love for people. Unless you start working with them :)
I had been expecting this day as much as children expect their birthday — counting the days, hours and minutes. It can really be called a birthday, because you got a new understanding of reality. And here this day has come, and you can talk, write, read, call, correspond, take pictures, that is, do everything you usually do. But Vipassana’s inertia is so strong that you don’t really need it anymore. Spoiler: it won’t last long.
People around you talk, get acquainted:
— Man, you strang me so much with your champing!
— You’re a good one too —always sniffed at lectures that I wanted to kill you.
And everyone embraces. On the whole, overall hugging on the last day of Vipassana is inevitable, like the dance of the bride with her father at the wedding. And here they go those who are hungry for talking – they talk to strangers, attendants, managers, dogs and trees. After all, communication is inherent in people.
The general condition resembles a slight intoxication — you love everyone and you think that everyone loves you back. You keep smiling and nearly cry with happiness. You feel languor in your body, love in your heart. Love for everything – people, animals, plants, God.
You are a source of love, a love cascade, spewing the streams of love all around.
But, as you know, you have to pay for all good things. Except Vipassana. I would say “can” instead of “have to”, because you pay for it as much as you want. In order to make it easier for us, the guys posted the total expenses and the number of people. You divide one by another, see how much you spared, and decide how much to pay. I paid for two – it turned out to be not very expensive, about 100-150 euros. You can not pay at all, if you think Vipassana hasn’t given you anything. You can cover all the costs of the course if you have enough money and you started a new life thanks to Vipassana.
And while everyone was hugging, Vjik and I noticed former students here and there, carrying boxes and dishes. They were cleaning after us. We exchanged glances and went to ask for some work to do. They gladly found us something to do. And here we are dragging fences and ropes, loading the teacher’s stand into the bus. The brooms between our teeth, we clean up our rooms, then help at storing the products in the kitchen, and so on.
Some other students joined. About three hours later, the organizers thanked us and all together we went out to eat. There we got to know each other and learned about the nuances of organizing such an event. Then I came with the idea to make a Vipassana course here, in Chisinau. It was interesting to listen to attendants in the kitchen:
— As you attend the food service counter, you see all human characters in full view, not even words are needed. It’s clear from the way they help themselves to the dishes, the way they stand or not in a queue, someone comes for the second helping, someone else starves. Even at the energy level, people living in such environment are much easier to read.
The first day after Vipassana, Vadim and I decided to go jogging. We are marathoners, we are runners! And here we had a surprise — the metabolism has slowed so much that it has become a challenge to accelerate to the speed of a lame mare and make the pulse raise. The body just didn’t want to move. It used to work in an economical mode – eating a little, spending a little. We could barely move our legs, dreaming to quickly fall on the couch and stare at the favorite pattern of cracks on the ceiling.
By the way, Vipassana can be really helpful for freedivers before the competition – it very well calms the mind, slows down the heartbeat and metabolic processes, and it allows you to not breathe for a minute longer underwater.
The feeling of absolute love for the world and the creatures inhabiting it lasted several days. But it was enough to shock the Yeburg waitress, who brought us curd fritters and was tightly grasped in my arms. Also, it was enough to surprise the shop assistant, whose hand I kissed when she helped me choose products. You feel like eager to state your love for all around – you are so humble and understanding, your energy gushing over the edge, and it’s like someone has wiped the dust off the glass through which you look at the world. And everything became so clearly visible, everything is clear, bright, and most importantly – you begin to “see” the cause-effect relationship. This is very cool, and I suspect that there are people who are in this state all the time. Vipassana was worth trying.
Life after Vipassana
The smell of enlightenment evaporated in a couple of days, we returned to the dull world of people with worries, problems, aggression and negativity. And the cause-and-effect relations were no longer so clearly visible, I didn’t want to kiss the hands of the passers-by, and the green light did not turn on at every intersection. Why?
The answer is simple — I gave up on meditation, hoping that the enlightened ones didn’t need it. But I was wrong. Of course they need it. Even Olympic champions, after neglecting the workouts, very soon are unable to run ten kilometers. And we are far from being Olympic champions. So I took the habit of meditating in the morning for at least 20 minutes. And this habit changes me and the world around.
While I was doing the Vipassana, I had a feeling of absolute freedom. I still feel its light fragrance in the morning, when I quietly get up so as not to wake anyone around, and on tiptoe I go to another room where my meditation bench awaits me.
So what to expect from a retreat?
Nothing. I mean it, you shouldn’t expect that after attending the courses you’ll immediately get enlightened and will glow like a radioactive apple. Nothing will happen. Moreover, the less you wait, the better for you, because you can spend the whole course on waiting for some insights (as many do), and in the end you will be disappointed.
The Buddha wrote that at the best of circumstances you can achieve enlightenment in 7 days … or did he mean 7 years? The text was blurry :)
So when you get back home, continue meditating. And if everything is fine (and it will be so), then after a while you will grow happier, crawl up the mountain and start to whistle.
Just like a lobster.