Vipassana. A 10 day Meditation.

April 7, 2010
By canuckingabroad
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I arrived at the Dhamma Malaysian Meditation centre on March 26 to take part in a 10 day monk guided meditation. The course is non-sectarian and universal to introduce anyone and everyone to Dhamma meditation through 10 days of intense mind ‘training’ requiring serious focus, determination and will. You must take part in a noble silence for the duration and live exactly as the monks do. Just as the monks, your stay and meals are all provided from the generosity of previous students who have felt such positive results that they want others to experience the benefits of the Dhamma meditation technique. There is a lot to mention so I will break this up.


I passed through the gates of the centre and drove up a long and winding driveway through well landscaped and immature jungle, probably a result of a major clear cut during development. The centre sits atop a hill overlooking deep Malaysian jungle with panoramic views of the 20 acre estate. The centre itself is unexpectingly resort-like with a group of residence buildings circling around a main meditation hall, smaller meditation hall, dining hall and offices all joined by interlocking brick paths. These white buildings with Spanish style red barrel tile roofs all perfectly aligned to showcase the cathedral looking main hall which sits higher giving the whole grounds a religious connotation, which made me a bit hesitant. The entire compound is split right down the middle and divided into male and female halves, going as far as separate entrances and walkways like a segregated public school of yesteryear. I walked in wearing cargo pants and a tshirt to register passing monks and other students wearing robes, yogi pants, Kurtas and Dhotis. It was large mix of cultures and backgrounds, predominantly Indian with a lot of Malay, Chinese and about 4 westerners. I read the agreement -carefully- and signed on to stay 10 days. There is no leaving the grounds. What the hell did I just sign up for? was the initial thought. I was unsure and confused. It felt rather sectarian. And how can this be free with such a nice centre sitting on 20 acres of beautiful land? I collected my bed sheets, blankets and proceeded to my small but comfortable corridor with an ensuite bathroom, easily the nicest place I’ve stayed in 6 months. It was like a first day of summer camp, meets boot camp, meets rehab, with a twist of prison, a hint of a polygimist compound one might find in Utah, with a side of a Charles Manson slumberparty. Was I about to get brainwashed and force fed Kool-aid? Regardless, this was my home for the next 10 days. So after a brief introduction, a nice vegetarian meal (no meat either) and 8 loud hits of the gong, noble silence for the next 240 hours commenced.

The Course

The official start was the following morning, so it was an early night to say the least. Not much to do when you can’t read, write, or have any form of entertainment. The morning comes quick and hard when a loud gong literally rumbles through your half-asleep body at 4:00 am. 4 am? this is absolutely ass backwards from my normal routine of going to work at 10pm and crawling into bed at 4 am. So here is the schedule. By 4:30, enthusiastically, I’ll sarcastically add, I head for the main hall for the first 2 hour meditation. Then a healthy Indian vegetarian breakfast followed by an hour break where I usually crawl back to bed for whatever sleep I can grab before the next hour session which starts at 8:00am. At 9:00am a 5 minute break gives me just enough time to rush back to my room and unwrench my back from sitting on the floor unsupported. This is followed by another 2 hours of meditation. Next is lunch and the last meal of the day at 11 am. The 2 hours between lunch and afternoon sittings are free to do whatever you want…basically the options are to go back to bed, hand wash your laundry, stare at the wall, or walk around the brick paths taking in the junlge views at a leisurely pace since there is to be no pysical exercise. After lunch is the hardest part of the day. 4 hours of meditation with 2 5-minute breaks between. By 5pm the body is aching for a stretch and food but dinner consists of 2 pieces of fruit and decaf coffee or tea. 6-7pm is another one hour session. At 7:00pm is the daily discourse, which I looked forward to the most since we get to watch a video of S.N Goenka himself (founder of the site with over 100 world wide) talking about the trials and tribulations, benefits and reasoning of the day we just went through. This was so thrilling because I actually got to sit up against a wall and give my aching back a break for an hour. After the always enlightening video, it’s back to the hall for one more 30 min. meditation and then off to bed at 9pm. If you lost count, that would be 10.5 hours of meditation each day. Of the 240 hours spent here, 110 were spent sitting on the floor folded like a pretzel in meditation.


Now, I was aware of the grueling schedule beforehand, but was completely lost when it came to technique and how to actually meditate. This was intentional so there would be no preconceived ideas. My own ignorance assumed that I would sit, think hard and deep, and contemplate and reflect on life. Not even close!
The technique of Dhamma meditation means ‘the art of living’. And teaches that life can only be lived in the present. So the first step is to live in the present and focus the mind on present reality. Present reality is breath. The idea is to not think but focus on your breathing. “The mind is ignorant, flighty, restless and constantly trying to escape present reality into a past or future that is unattainable, so therefore, it remains agitated and miserable.” (S.N Goenka) The first 2 days were spent only focusing on breathing, specifically in the triangle area of the nose and upper lip. This was to be done with a clear mind, not thinking about anything other than your breathing, and most importantly, your natural breath. Short, deep, slow, fast, whatever is NATURAL to the individual. This is a lot harder than it sounds. Have you ever tried to not think? Breathing, breathing, breathing and before you know it your mind is already on its 3rd random thought. By the time you realize you are thinking, your mind has recalled the first pair of shoes your mom let you personally pick out, pictured yourself conducting an orchestra of off-duty police in the mall at christmas time, and wondered if that ant you saw all by his lonesome earlier was a recluse, runaway or maybe even an independent traveller. Hmm, do ants travel for pleasure? And then you snap out of it, go back to focusing on your breathing for a few more seconds and then wonder why you thought of such weird things in the first place. It is a long process to retrain the mind, not to mention sitting still in the pretzel formation with no back support for 10.5 hours a day. It is mentally exhausting and physically painful. After 2 days of focused breathing and realizing your random thoughts are just plain weird, you spend 2 more days doing the same thing but narrowing the focus point down to the smaller area between the bottom of the nostrils and upper lip. A strong determination and effort will calm, sharpen, and relax the mind. It gets easier and easier to focus. By the end of this section, you begin to feel sensations around the nose coming on stronger and stronger. This is a very important point. There are innumerable biochemical and electromagnetic reactions occurring constantly through every tiny part of the body, and you are used to having no intimate knowledge of them. These sensations can be anything from heat, cold, perspiration, tingles, twitches, numbness, soothing, and most notably pain. When you start to feel them around the nose area, you are ready to move your focus around the body and pick up more sensations. Once you start to feel them, your ability to do so magnifies intensely. After another day or two of practice you should be able to experience a free flow all the way up and down the body and feel countless sensations at any focus point you choose. The key is to just observe them and react in no way!!! This is the most impartant part. Objectively observing. Not wanting the pain to leave or the pleasure to stay. This would be equanimity and a balanced mind. Another very important aspect is the law of impermanence which states that nothing is permanent and change is constant. All of these sensations will not last. By objectively observing you will feel them come and go, even the most painful and deep rooted sensations which contain your negativity and misery. And so starts the process of purifying the body.

The Science of Mind and Body

As the mind takes in information of any kind, it is done so through one of the 5 senses. Eyes, ears, nose, taste, and feel. As the info enters it is characterized as either pleasant and unpleasant. These stay in the body as sensations and are occuring and changing constanty. They are usually thought of, felt, and reacted to. Example, a mosquito bites you, your mind has learned to react by scratching the itch, the itch goes away. More powerful feelings such as anger, craving, fear, addiction, etc. get built up in such sensations and pushed down to the depths of the mind only to be fired off when unpleasant thoughts trigger them, followed by a conditioned response. By reacting, the mind is just stockpiling and snowballing these negative sensations. When the body reacts by getting upset, or scared for example, the issues will never be erradicated, therefore, the misery and suffering continues to grow which can affect your entire demeanour, personality, relationships, thoughts, self esteem, etc.
Now in theory, because you spent all this time feeling your whole body at the sensational level and can objectively observe the sensations and not react to them you are able to erradicate the unpleasant issues. For example, someone says something that really angers you. You take this in through the ears to the mind, the angry sensations are triggered and rise to the surface of the mind. You can now feel this process happening and before this sensation reaches the surface, you have already observed it, and not reacted to it. Thereby, ending it. So before you fly off the handle and hit this person, you have already felt the anger, and let it pass at the sensational level. What are you actually getting angry at anyway? A feeling your mind has created.

My Experience

Nearing the end of the 10 days I found myself in a very calm state with a very clear mind. I was focused and attentive, and could feel intense sensations everywhere by thinking of them, which even continued outside of meditation. So I can see signs of effectiveness. While still a bit skeptical on the entire thing, I have kept an open mind and continue to practice 2 hours a day. I am by no means enlightened but can definitely see the positive influences that can be acheived through meditation. The path of enlightenment is a long road and 10 days of introduction is merely an essential first step if you wish to follow it. So will I follow this path set in front of me? Well, it’s too early to tell. As the technique itself suggests, everything is impermanent, and so to could be my devotion. Let’s just say, anything is possible and I will continue to see things as they are.

One Response to “ Vipassana. A 10 day Meditation. ”

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