In April of 2014, I packed a few bags and headed to Jesup, GA to attend a 10-day silent meditation retreat based on the teachings of Buddha. Needless to say, this may raise a few eyebrows and questions from those who’ve never heard of Vipassana Meditation centers. Sit back, of course with a tall spine and your feet firmly planted on the ground, and allow me to explain why there is a meditation center in a small town in the Deep South along with the basics of the technique and what I gained from the experience.
Introduction to Vipassana Meditation
First, Vipassana is a meditation technique which was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha over 2500 years ago; Gotama used the technique to become self-realized, attaining full liberation while still existing in a human form. He then guided others through the technique, helping them along the path of full liberation. The technique is non-sectarian, and although it was taught by Buddha, is not rooted in Buddhism; it is rooted in universal truth, simply accepting the reality of each moment, whether it appears to be satisfactory or unsatisfactory, and remaining equanimous to the experience. The idea is that anyone who uses this technique, and practices patiently and diligently, is bound to “become” self-realized, and therefore “become” a Buddha.
The technique was maintained in its unadulterated form since being rediscovered by Gotama Buddha. It is now taught in centers throughout the world free of charge (yes, even in the Deep South) by S.N. Goenka via videotape and audio files. Assistant teachers and volunteers are present in the centers to help students with their questions and needs while learning and practicing the technique.
Basic Rules of a 10-Day Vipassana Course
Upon arrival to the Southeast Vipassana Center, I was greeted by warm and friendly faces. I was given a pamphlet that explained the code of conduct and rules for the course: to abstain from killing, from stealing, from sexual activity, telling lies, and intoxicants. Basically, if you attend a Vipassana course, you are solely there to learn and/or practice the technique and to discover truths within the framework of your body. That is all, besides walking to the meditation hall or on a designated trail and eating in the morning, at midday, and having fruit with tea at night. You are not to stretch, exercise, speak, touch anybody, look anybody in the eyes, write, or read. You are also supposed to leave your own religious beliefs and spiritual practices at the door for the 10-days of the retreat. As long as you agree to follow these rules and do not have any serious psychological conditions, you will be accepted to attend the course.
The first day begins with an explanation of the course and a question/answer session. Students are given one last option to leave the course if they are feeling apprehensive. After the meeting, there is a group meditation sitting, and the 10-day Vipassana course has begun.
Schedule Overview of a 10-Day Vipassana Course
Each day, students are to awake at 4:00 AM and be in the meditation hall by 4:30 AM. There are approximately 10 hours of meditation throughout the 10 days of the course. There are breaks every few hours for food and tea. At 9:30 PM, the day is over, and the students are allowed to sleep.
What is Taught in a 10-Day Vipassana Course
The first three days consist of Anapana meditation, in which students sit in a comfortable position and simply focus on the area below the nostrils, observing any sensations that arise. Sensations could be prickling, numbness, heat, cold, heaviness, lightness… there are an infinite amount of sensations that can be felt. The practice is to simply sit and observe these sensations, like a sentry watching a gate. This practice deepens the student’s concentration exponentially.
After cultivating much concentration and patience during the first three days, the student is ready to learn Vipassana. The Vipassana technique is then taught step-by-step until the course is finished.
The last day or so, metta is taught. One purpose of cultivating the awareness and equanimity gained through Vipassana is to be non-reactive and loving outside of the meditation center. Goenka goes through a practice in which the benefits of Vipassana can be harnessed and shared with others.
Vipassana teaches students to experience universal truth within the framework of their body. The technique develops awareness and equanimity. Basically, the student sits for hours and hours scanning their whole body, from head to toe, toe to head, remaining equanimous to the sensations that arise. Students are not to attach to sensations of bliss and happiness nor have aversions to sensations of pain and misery. The ultimate aim of Vipassana is full liberation, enlightenment, and existing in the state of Buddha.
My Experience as a Monk in the Deep South
After 10 days of serious meditation, I was bummed not to have become fully liberated. Just like after 10 days of running camp, I was bummed not to have taken Usain Bolt’s sprinting records.
All jokes aside, the 10 days I spent living as a monk in Georgia were incredibly worthwhile. It was the first time, ever, that I was able to sit for more than 10 minutes without becoming agitated. I learned to sit with intense pain, through heat and sweat, cold, both of my legs becoming numb, and while others were coughing and moving around me. Through this state of non-reaction, one is able to experience impermanence within the framework of their own body; I found that even intense sensations like numbing of the legs would eventually pass. This teaches a student that all things arise and pass away, and becoming attached to different sensations, or people/external objects, only causes suffering. When the course was over, and we were able to speak again, I had such gratitude for the center, the volunteers, and all of the students I spoke with. I could feel how their words affected me, both positively and negatively, and just observed the sensations, rather than becoming angry or overly excited. Further, when a student enters this process of self-exploration, many events from the past, both good and bad, will arise in the mind, and can be associated directly with the physical pain or pleasure the student is feeling. The technique allows students to simply observe such occurrences and allow them to pass. Further, I, along with other students, had very vivid dreams, which allowed us to objectively view and overcome challenges that we were facing.
This experience is my own, and the course teaches that one should only accept their own experience as truth. I share this information only to be helpful. There are many other meditation techniques and paths to liberation; this is simply a technique that I found worthwhile, is available to virtually anyone, is free, and is set up in a way to make the students as comfortable as possible while entering on the path of deep self-exploration.
How to Learn More About Vipassana Meditation
To learn more about Vipassana meditation, the following links will be helpful: Vipassana Meditation Overview; Vipassana Documentary in a Maximum Security Prison.
How to Find a Center in your Area and Sign up for a Course
Simply click the following link: Vipassana Meditation Course Directory. From here, locate the center nearest you, and click the courses link for that center.
Other Experiences by Attendees of Vipassana
Vipassana Meditation 10-Day Course
Did you enjoy this post? Leave a comment below and let me know what you thought! Also, if you are feeling really inspired and would like to help me cover the cost of producing this site for as little as $1/month, check out my sponsorship page. Thanks so much and have a great day!I wrote this a few years back and will definitely post more on this topic! I have attended a course once per year since this initial visit 🙂