Most of us travel to please the senses – sight, taste, hearing, touch, smell. The myriad of new sensations as you travel through exotic and foreign places, meet new people, gorge on great food and have wild adventures is addictive and cannot be substituted. However, we often forget a sixth sensory organ – the mind.
After a long while of not taking a break from work, or life for that matter, I decided that the best thing would be for me to go into a solitary kind of break, where my mind would be forced to rest, or to change habits. I envisioned a calm, cool space, with serene music and waterfalls, hushed tones and lone, winding paths to walk about.
I don’t remember how I heard about Vipassana meditation, but the first time I applied for this was in 2013. The process is simple – you log onto their website and read the details, then apply. And it’s free. Who wouldn’t take that?
The Vipassana program in Nairobi currently operates from Kopling Guest House in Karen, easy to access and reach (unless you’re caught up in the madness that is traffic to the diaspora, Rongai). The center is simple and clean, no frills and luxuries, but spacious enough and with adequate facilities. Throughout the world, the same service is provided in different countries, and the teachings are the same, as well as the timetable and routines followed. It’s also offered for free, to retain the practice as an original, authentic service for the good of mankind.
What it is:
Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. (Source: Vipassana)
In my own understanding: through a meditation technique that involves self-observation of the human body, you are taught to observe what is happening in and on your body, and relating it to what is happening in the mind. By teaching the mind to focus on a simple bodily function such as breathing, we are able to train it to stop reacting to what is happening around us blindly. We learn to observe things as they are, and to have a balanced mind.
It does sound like a bit of Greek sometimes, but reading through the information provided in their website can be helpful.
The Code of Conduct
Once you get there and are ready to check in, you’re handed the code of conduct that will govern how your 10 days will be observed. Most people baulk at this point, especially when you’re informed that you will have to maintain several rules.
Starting off, you have to maintain ‘Noble Silence’ for the entire stay. This means you cannot talk to other students, communicate with others within and without the complex, other than your teacher. You have to give up all communication devices and writing/reading material. Shut up. For 10 days. Continuously.
Then you have to keep away from human contact, observe segregation of men and women, accept the teachers and the technique, abstain from strong exercise (only light walking is permitted), wear loose fitting clothes, etc.
You also have to observe at least 5 precepts/rules for the days, including no killing, stealing, sex, lies, intoxicants etc.
Your daily routine is broken down into 3 basic parts:
4 am wake-up call
- 30am meditation start, breakfast and more meditation.
- 11am lunch and rest, meditation, more and more meditation
- 5pm tea break, meditation, daily discourse and more meditation
9.30pm lights out.
This is the part where you discover there is no dinner, and that you have to just deal with 2 meals a day. It’s actually quite easy as I found out.
What I learned
Solitude is good for me:
Very fast, I figured out that I can live quite well in solitude and in my little world, and that I’m fine with it. I didn’t have to talk to anyone, and that was quite alright with me. I also learned that we don’t need the things we think we need – a huge meal, our communication devices, a luxurious bed. I pretty much adjusted to being without them very fast.
I should have Googled more and read up more to understand what I signed up for. I was in shock by day 5 of the technique and how we had to meditate for long hours on end. I ended up being physically exhausted by day 5, and I opted out of the program
It’s not a quick fix:
Vipassana is not a fix for all the issues in your life, real or imaginary. You shouldn’t use it to heal a broken heart, fix a problem, heal from trauma, or find the meaning of life. You should use it to develop a healthy, balanced mind that allows you to be more objective in life.
Never forget your mosquito repellant
I had quite the buzzing choir around my head each night, and I didn’t want to draw the mosquito net over my bed as it was unbearably hot in Nairobi at the time. Eventually, the mozzies won, and I drew the net over my bed. I wrote a poem of sorts for the mosquitoes that bugged me.
It’s OK to quit:
While most people will strive to finish the 10 day program, not many can, as it requires serious mental fortitude. In fact, they call Day 4 Vipassana Day, when they teach you to make your mind one of ‘strength and determination’, by making you sit still through your meditation sessions. It’s way harder than it sounds. By day 5, I was totally broken with a hurting knee, a seemingly broken mind, and a wounded heart. I was unable to stay a day longer in the program, but the teachers assured me that this is normal and that many quit at this stage. However, they encouraged me to come back, and maybe I would be successful the next time.
I can’t possibly explain in words what I went through while at the program. It’s a very personal and mental journey that is not easy to describe. Will I try it again? Possibly. But maybe in a year, when I have developed enough strength, mentally, to sit through the 10 days.
Give it a try, and give your mind the break it deserves. For details on how to join, go through the website: www.ke.dhamma.org, (for Kenya, or look for other courses wherever you are worldwide). Maybe I’ll see you there someday, and we can swap stories!