The five myths I'm about to bust on my first Vipassana
Updated: Sep 4, 2018
When I was in primary school I was always in trouble for talking too much in class. Then, when I got to high school I was, again, always in trouble for talking too much in class. I remember in my undergraduate degree my friend and I got in trouble for passing notes to each other because we didn't want to get in trouble for talking too much in class.
There's a pattern here, right?
Vipassana is a ten day silent meditation retreat where talking, eye contact, reading, writing, electronic devices, exercise (even yoga!) - basically all the trappings of a modern civilisation - is strictly verboten. The term Vipassana is Buddhist shorthand for seeing things as they really are and becoming more self aware and less affected. In theory, once you've got the hang of it you get the ability to cut through a lot of bullshit that would otherwise lead to suffering. When you free your mind of judgement and hostility, you unlock compassion and kindness. When you approach situations with compassion and kindness, you reduce stress, increase self regulation and become peaceful. It's like channelling your inner Jesus / Ghandi / Yoda.
My Vipassana starts tomorrow. Ten days of ten hour daily meditation. I will have no contact with the outside world. The government could collapse, re-form and we could get a new front bench and Prime Minister without me even noticing. Oh wait...that was last weekend...
The most common reaction I've had when I tell people I'm doing this is: "I WOULD DIE!"
Even though I am yet to complete my Vipassana, I can already detect this is one of those situations where someone is not seeing things as they really are. It is one of the myths I'm hoping to not necessarily bust, but definitely test, over the next ten days. Some others are below.
Myth 1 - You go crazy
I don't think there has been a single Vipassana where someone hasn't dropped out. It's really hard. Tim Ferris talked to Rich Roll recently about how he went into a type of psychosis at the half way mark. Humans are hard wired to connect so it's natural that being immersed in a community of people who don't acknowledge each other for ten days is enough to send you mad. I'm sure it's even harder now with the added variable of our instant gratification addiction from the social media world. Imagine if you posted something on instagram and even after a whole day you got zero likes. Now times that by ten. No wonder people think they would die.
Myth 2 - The pain is excruciating
I've actually heard this one a lot and I can understand it. I've practiced yoga with a lot of people who have very limited range of motion. Most people in the western world have very little mobility because we depend less and less on our bodies to stay mobile. We sit at a desk all day, we shop through a machine, our food comes to us, we drive everywhere, even our chairs have wheels on them so we can roll around the office. Mobility is soooo last century. That is, until you hit your forties and fifties (even thirties!) and your joints start packing up on you.
In all my research on Vipassana, nowhere have I ever read it's a competition where only those with loose hamstrings and open hip flexors have a shot at winning. I'm pretty flexible but I can't sit on the floor without my leg going to sleep in 10 minutes. The centres provide all sorts of props like cushions and blankets so build yourself a throne ffs.
Myth 3 - You'll starve
Vipassana centres provide full board but it's not like going to an all inclusive resort in Cancun. I've heard mixed reviews about the food but on the whole, it has been positive - maybe because it is the only respite from the ten hours of sitting still and concentrating on the flow of your breath.
There are two meals a day: breakfast which is served at 6.30am following two hours of meditation; and lunch which is served at 11am. There is a short tea break in the early evening where you can have tea and some fruit. I figure it's just like intermittent fasting which has great benefits to the body and has been proven here, here, here and here to increase longevity.
One of my friends did a Vipassana many years ago and when I asked him what it was like his first comment was, "I was hungry!" He's Italian. That may explain his reaction.
Myth 4 - It's a cult
Hmmmm....this is a tricky one only because the word "cult" has so much meaning loaded into it thanks to legacies like Jonestown and David Koresh. I'd say it's a secular community of people who gather for the purpose of disengaging from the world for a short amount of time. That sounds kinda culty to me. From what I know, there is no kool-aid nor is there any forced participation or payment plan to study Dianetics with your fellow Thetans.
It's not based on anything evil but I can see how no talking or engaging with others could seem quite oppressive.
Myth 5 - You will become at one with the universe and all your problems will dissolve
Anyone who tells you that is full of shit. No single action will make you at one with the universe. What I'm expecting is that having a still mind will help me deal with the universe. A lot of suffering comes from not owning your part in an event or situation that didn't go your way. It would be very difficult to not grow new neural pathways and increase the density of your grey matter, even a little, after a full ten day Vipassana. With the new brain wiring, you'd think you'd be able to get a bit of perspective. Maybe the problems don't dissolve but you learn to see them differently. Maybe if Jay-Z did a Vipassana he would have 99 opportunities to self reflect and detach himself from the root of his suffering.
This is me signing off, checking out, going underground. See ya in ten days.