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A Retreat of Self Discovery: The Vipassana Meditation Program

As my first semester at university came to an end, I decided to pack my bags and go off to Merritt; a city in the Nicola Valley of the south-central Interior of British Columbia, Canada. It is 270 km northeast of Vancouver and where I spent 10 days completing the excruciating meditation program called “Vipassana” in my pursuit of finding myself. 

The Vipassana meditation program has been promoted for decades by S.N. Goenka. According to Goenka, “Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2,500 years ago and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e., an Art Of Living. This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation.”

In the Vipassana program, one is bound by noble silence – meaning no form of communication is allowed for a totality of 10 days. This entails all forms of communication – verbal and non-verbal. Even eye contact is not spared! Despite the strict set rules the attendees were bound by, those days were the most enchanting few days of my life. Through the process of mediation and self-introspection in absolute silence, I was able to deal with a series of deep rooted issues that I hadn’t come to terms with yet. By the end of the program, mundane activities such as listening to music and looking into someone’s eyes as they spoke felt amplified and almost euphoric. 

Here’s a run-down on Vipassana and why I think every young woman should do it at least once in their lifetime.

tHE wHAT:

As previously mentioned, during the 10 day Vipassana program, attendees are asked to give up all forms of communication with the outside world. All digital devices and other reading material are handed over to the guidance counselors, and the noble silence oath includes all forms of verbal and non-verbal communication with other attendees at the program. The program is for vigorous self-reflection through yoga and meditation, which can only truly take place without any distractions. 

As you sit in the lotus position for 10-14 hours a day in silence meditating, a side of you that you may have never even known existed will come to light. I like calling this self-discovery through the boundless. The idea is that when someone is stripped of their key five senses, the other four senses strengthen dramatically. In the spirit  of being transparent, simple tasks like eating food or watching the sunrise felt orgasmic when I spent all my other hours of the day meditating and reflecting on my life. Eliminating all forms of external communication, interestingly enough, helped me internally communicate with my own body and soul in a way I have never been able to do before. 

During the sixth day of Vipassana, I remember slipping into what I like to call the “awakening” – I cried so much that day through the realizations I drew that I truly felt like I was reborn during that cold December of 2018. 

tHE wHY:

There are a lot of reasons why one may feel compelled to take part in this program at least once in their lifetime. For me, it was how interestingly the program was designed. During the 10 day Vipassana, you are instructed to refocus attention on the objective sensations in your body, arising and falling, as you do a scan of your limbs in a specific order. By doing so, over 10 days, you train yourself to stop reacting to the vicissitudes of life. The five precepts of Vipassana include:

·       to abstain from killing any being;

·       to abstain from stealing;

·       to abstain from all sexual activity;

·       to abstain from telling lies;

·       to abstain from all intoxicants.

So, a 10 day meditation retreat completely free of cost with the healthiest vegan food, aimed towards helping you come to terms with your own identity and purpose in this world? Count me in! 

tHE hOW:

When you meditate in isolation for 10 days, 14 hours a day, you can be sure that old memories will resurface. Many people have experienced psychologically difficult and traumatic events in their lives and the memory of these events are likely to come up during meditation. With that being said, Goenka’s recommendation to the resurfacing of these traumatic memories include staying equanimous and focusing the attention on the inner body sensations instead. For me, this helped me analyze and assess my trauma in an objective manner. The key skills I picked up during this program stay with me to date, three years later. I saw a shift in the way I dealt with my everyday life and that was the most rewarding aspect of this program. 

On the 10th day of Vipassana, when I was able to finally break my silence, I was much more intently with the words that came out of my mouth. When I held my partner’s hand again, I was so much more appreciative of the gift of touch. And when I stood in a position other than the lotus, I was amazed by my body’s agility. I felt so grateful to be alive. 

Long story short – if you’re thinking about going on a retreat filled with self-discovery and introspection, Vipassana is for you! Is the experience incredibly intense and testing? Yes. Will you walk out with a renewed perspective on life? Without a doubt in my mind.

The official link for Vipassana in Canada with logistical and detailed information on the program can be found here: https://www.dhamma.org/en/schedules/schsurabhi

Kirtana is a 4th year student at SFU pursuing an honours degree in Communication and a minor in Business. She is interested in corporate brand strategy and the data-driven research behind marketing. Outside of school and work, she is an adrenaline and nature junkie. Her favourite travel experience so far has been bungee jumping in Whistler, B.C! Reach out to her via LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kirtanamenonn/
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