Natalia Noskova: ‘Even during meditation, you might feel some fearful thing, it comes and goes away. When you cut open the wound, the pus is bound to come out. It is a good sign that the pus comes out. It comes out to goes away.‘
What is Vipassana?
Vipassna is one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques which was discovered by Gautama Buddha almost 2500 years ago. This meditation technique entirely deals with the objectives of refreshment, purification and development of mental calmness. Vipassana the term literary denotes the idea of viewing something in its real form. Any individual irrespective of caste, creed, and religion can practice this mental exercise as it is wholly nonsectarian to the core. Its sole aim is to arouse the sense of complete liberation in human psyche after eradicating all the impurities from my mind and make a contribution to the society in a positive manner.
Every student has to follow The Code of Discipline:
The foundation of the practice is sīla — moral conduct. Sīla provides a basis for the development of samādhi — concentration of mind; and purification of the mind is achieved through pannā — the wisdom of insight.
All students must observe Noble Silence from the beginning of the course until the morning of the last full day. Noble Silence means silence of body, speech, and mind. Any form of communication with fellow student, whether by gestures, sign language, written notes, etc., is prohibited.
Students may, however, speak with the teacher whenever necessary and they may approach the management with any problems related to food, accommodation, health, etc.
But even these contacts should be kept to a minimum. Students should cultivate the feeling that they are working in isolation.
Complete segregation of men and women is to be maintained. Couples, married or otherwise, should not contact each other in any way during the course. The same applies to friends, members of the same family, etc.
It is important that throughout the course there be no physical contact whatsoever between persons of the same or opposite sex.
Although physical yoga and other exercises are compatible with Vipassana, they should be suspended during the course because proper secluded facilities are not available at the course site. Jogging is also not permitted. Students may exercise during rest periods by walking in the designated areas.
The following timetable for the course has been designed to maintain the continuity of practice. For best results students are advised to follow it as closely as possible.
4:00 am Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
11:00-12:00 noon Lunch break
12 noon-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher’s instructions
5:00-6:00 pm Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm Teacher’s Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall
9:30 pm Retire to your own room–Lights out
Above information was taken from the website (siri.dhamma.org) of the Vipassana centre I went to.
My Journey in Vipassana
There are some reasons which prompted me to experience this beautiful exercise.
I have always been curious to know how my mind functions without any disturbances from external influences, I was eager to escape the commotion of my busy schedule and the tumult of digital communication. Besides these I got to know the strenuous schedule of Vipassna. In my case it involved 10 hours of meditation every day for ten consecutive days, I was very much enthusiastic to test myself whether I would be able complete the course.
Another matter which impelled me to get involved into this that was very positive responses I received from my friends who have already gone through this experience.
The center is located near the small town North Fork, near Fresno. It is a very beautiful and peaceful area far away from the noises of large mechanical urban life.
After arriving on Wednesday afternoon, we went through the process of registration, checked in into our rooms where we were about to stay for the next 10 days. I lived in a house with other 12 girls. We each had our own tiny rooms that only included a bed and a little table next to it (similar as at the picture below).
The first night we had dinner and retreat orientation with the teacher, S.N. Goenka, who was a Burmese-Indian teacher of Vipassanā meditation centre and other assistant teachers. After the dinner we initiated the first meditation and that was also the beginning of noble silence.
Noble Silence: I thought that Noble Silence (silence of body, speech, and mind) would be an arduous task but with the passage of time I realized it was the easiest part of my exercise. After a few days it became clear that the silence was very much valuable; everyone was contemplating deep inside themselves thinking about their own experiences and working hard to make the technique work. It is important that all the students follow noble silence so that they don’t share their experience with other students. It is important that students should not be influenced by the positive or negative experiences of others. I found it was absolutely pointless to worry about the experiences of others and compare myself with others.
On day four, I began to realize that I actually had been missing human accompaniment. I signed up for a talk with the teacher. I had few questions about the technique, but also wanted to talk to someone.
At night when I was leaving the house I suddenly came across a girl who stopped with the sigh and stared at the ground. I got closer to her, turned on my head lamp and looked down. Both of us were looking at a frog sitting near the bush. We were not allowed to talk to each other so, we, awkwardly looked at the frog and then at each other (which is not allowed either) and separately proceeded towards the meditation hall. This moment was very pleasant and essential also because at that point of time I was severely craving for a human association which I had been missing for some time.
On the 10th day when I resumed having conversation with my acquaintances, I found it difficult to restore my usual way of communication. I could not remember that in my entire life have I ever experienced such an astonishing time of silence when people around me are neither expecting me to talk to them nor are they willing to respond to me. On that day I understood the importance of this aspect of my training. And it was difficult to get back to my normal activities. It took me about 30 minute to start talking to other girls in a normal way.
Physical Exercise: I being a fitness freak individual found it quit easier to carry out the exercise which I was instructed. For the first time in my life I actually desired to run which is not my favorite exercise, but I had to follow the rule.
After each meditation, we were allowed to go outside the hall and stretch a little bit (usually 5 minutes breaks). Owing to long sitting I used to feel huge pain in my leg and back so the stretches were necessary to carry on the next sitting. The management reminded us a few times that stretching is not permitted. After the 6th day it started getting little easier to sit and stretching was needed; I just took a little walk in between the sessions and, sometimes hung on the branch of a tree.
Free time: We had free time (60-90 minutes) after breakfast and lunch. Most of us either slept or took shower after the breakfast and after the lunch hour we used to walk around a small pond. Some girls were walking very fast to compensate the exercise.
I was surprised to realize that there are so many minor aspects which we miss in our daily life. While walking I used to stare at a partially frozen pond, where two ducks used to swim following each other and dry leaf spread around the pond. Such visuals really pleased me. I felt all the sounds of nature around me and enjoyed all the minuscule details of nature.
We all got little bored after some time because none of us was used to this kind of schedule in our daily life.
As we were not allowed to read or write so it became more difficult to cope with the environment. But I kept on reading the signs with directions and instructions in the common areas again and again 🙂
Meditation: The training of the first three days was the prerequisite for enabling you to receive the teachings and guidance of Vipassana of the fourth day.
The course begins with a technique which is known as Anapana .In this technique you have to focus you attention the breathing and watch carefully the sensations around your nose area (the small area above the upper lip, below the nostrils).one has to feel and observe every minute sensation. This was to be carried out for the first thirty hours of the meditation. The main objective of this process was to calm your vacillating mind which was inevitable for preparing your mind for the main teaching of Vipassana. I personally experienced a more focused state of mind.
I felt that I have become very attentive to every minor and little detail, such as I started staring at some stone or at a leaf for a long time which I never did prior to visit this center. :). This also made me very sensitive. During the group meditation, all of 75 women and 75 men are in the same hall, and I had no idea how much noise people produce, different sounds from sighing to burping and farting, laughs and tears… you can hear.
It was definitely not easy; for the first few days, during the morning (4:30 am – 6:30 am) session either I fell asleep (I learned to sleep while sitting :)) or my mind travelled everywhere but not where it should have been. I was surprised to learn that I had no problems to wake up every morning at 4 am. On the second day, I became more concentrated on the technique and had a great mid-day meditation, and thought: “This is it! I got it!”, but the very next session I found it more awful. This taught me a very vital lesson of life which was the importance of living the life at a particular moment and not to expect the same experience next moment. It was indeed an important lesson because I learned to enjoy the delight of present moment without expecting the continuation of the same experience.
By the fourth day my mind was calmer and more focused, I became more prepared to undertake the practice of Vipassana: observing sensations throughout the body, understanding their nature, and developing equanimity by learning not to react to them (What exactly is Vipassana).
Each time you react to a body sensation, you create a Sankara, a positive or negative attachment. The goal of Vipassana is to stop creating new sankaras by staying totally and profoundly equanimous while observing them. Because every sensation is temporary: it comes and goes (Vipassana Practice)
The fourth day was the most exciting and simultaneously toughest for me. On the fourth day I experienced a felling which was a mixture of opposites. It was an amazing blend of some contrasts. It was pleasant and sacred and at the same time it was painful and sad also.
I’ve experienced the condition called subtle vibrations. I achieved it through both meditation and chanting, but people can get to the point that they can experience it with the meditation only. It felt like a lot of tiny needles touched every part of my body at the same time, and it felt amazing! It felt like I was weightless with no other sensations besides all the bodily vibration. The difficult part of this is that you are vulnerable to developing the cravings for this sensations and it is hard to ignore the urge when you are not going to experience the same again. I was terribly mad at the thought of doing something wrong.
Later that day, I came across a girl of whom I had mentioned earlier. This moment was much needed and pleasant. At that point of time I realized how much I needed such association.
Every evening we engaged in discourse through video conference with our teacher, and at some point he joked about something, and everyone in the room laughed! What a pleasant feeling that was! To feel united with these people who you cannot talk appear to be a very powerful feeling of happiness. The joke was about the process and the present condition of every person present in the room.
At that night I couldn’t sleep for a long time, and when I finally did, I had my first nightmare during this retreat (I had few more after, but can’t remember them; the rules did not allow me to write anything down.). In my nightmare I was kidnapped, and I saw myself without a face, just the skin over the face area. It was very hard to fall asleep after that, but, surprisingly, I felt very refreshed and rested the next day.
The nightmares are common and are explained this way:
This is a sign of some very deep fear complex in you that otherwise would not have arisen. Because of this deep operation of Vipassana, it has come up and manifested itself as nightmares. Even during meditation, you might feel some fearful thing, it comes and goes away. When you cut open the wound, the pus is bound to come out. It is a good sign that the pus comes out. It comes out to goes away (Vipassana Practice).
The hard reality is that people have to realize that if you get distracted means you are successfully experiencing the practice. It is tough because when people get distracted generally they think they are on the wrong path and they are incapable of achieving the goal. But the truth is you are actually on a right path because it is a time when you are experiencing the transformation.
On the 5th day, we were instructed to not to move during the three group meditation sessions each day, Adhittana (strong determination). Feeling sensations and observing them was an essential part of the technique, and by not moving we are creating (our mind is creating) a lot of pleasant and unpleasant sensations to make us react to them by moving or leaving the room. During the next two days, I had a horrible pain in my back, which I’ve never felt before. I was instructed to observe the sensation and not react to it. It was a very hard project, but my reward was waiting for me on the 7th day when during the meditation hour I felt that the pain has disappeared during my practice! This event proved that the technique works, and that my mind created this pain so that I quit and give up. I was glad that I managed to sit it through and to achieve the beautiful relief.
On the 6th day, we were each assigned to a cell in the Pagoda building, where we were allowed to meditate during the day. The cell looks like …tiny room with no windows and only a pillow on the floor. I went there three times, but didn’t enjoy this experience. I realized that I prefer the presence of other people around me, even though I couldn’t talk to them.
On the day 7th and until the end, I got used to long sitting sessions, and didn’t move much. I also observed that how fast time was passing by and I wished the time to stop for a while.
Another thing I discovered my ability to make my opinion about people without even talking to them. I caught myself doing it on the day 3, and then continued to observe this behavior until the end. It became very obvious. I have never been in the situation when I can’t talk to people that I’m living with. I don’t understand why my mind was creating all these stories (positive and negative). I’ve never talked to these people, but by day 9, I had an opinion about my neighbors; some were accurate, but some complete nonsense! This taught me not to trust my first observation and not to judge people who I barely know.
Vipassana teaches you to avoid craving and aversions. At the moment when I started feeling subtle vibrations (the very good session in which one will feel very tiny needles touching all over the body). I attached myself to that technique, and it was very difficult for me to accept the reality that it was very hard to learn this technique and master it in three days.
On the day 10 after the morning session and discourse, silence ended, and we were allowed to talk to each other. It took me a while to get back to normal conversations. I enjoyed the silence, and it was hard to start talking again. Being in the environment of solitude for 9 days, it was unusual to hear so much noise during our lunch. We were discussing the experience, events, and ourselves. We figured out that for these 9 days we’ve learned a lot about each other. Without talking we knew each other’s walking habits, shower timing, clothes, shoes, etc… very surprising observation.
I was happy to learn that I have completed the course. I would love to do it once again. But it is difficult to find out another 10 days. But I do believe now that if I can manage the time then it would be a worthwhile experience again.
Words and Photos: Natalia Noskova
About the author: Natalia Noskova is trying to stay happy and enjoy every moment of her life and every living thing on this planet. She wants to describe motto of her life through American proponent Annie Leonard’s words “There is no such thing as ‘AWAY’. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere.” And she always wants to be nice to her home.