- How Vipassana changed the way I engage with my thoughts
Meditation. I had never consciously thought about it much. And yet, two years ago, there I was booking my flight tickets to India, to attend a 10-days vipassana course. It’s amazing what the monotony of a sales job can push you to do. So after a long flight, a sleepy train journey, some haggling and an intense rickshaw ride, I finally arrived at the vipassana center in Bodh Gaya. The only reason I had chosen this centre was because the Buddha himself had gotten enlightened near a tree by the temple in Bodh Gaya. I figured hey, either go big or go home. Over the past two years, I have taken six vipassana courses. I guess I did go big.
At my first session, I had no idea what to expect. I signed in, read the code of conduct and was asked to share my room with a fellow attendee. After a brief presentation, everyone went back to their rooms and the lights went out at 9 pm. The era of silence had begun…
The next day, the morning gong struck at 4:00 am and from 4:30 am, one was expected to be in the meditation hall. From then on, starts an intense programme, which ends all the way at 9:30 pm. After the first group sitting itself, I asked for a backrest. The head server working there asked me to kindly try meditating without one. Not the exact response I expected, but well. I had a really hard time focusing and was constantly switching positions to reduce the pain that I felt all over my body. You’d imagine that a desk job prepares you to sit still for hours on end. But not here. Meditating for 10-11 hours every day for 10 days is tough. Day 1-3 are for ‘anapana’ or observing ones breath. Day 4-9 go into Vipassana, which is body scanning from head to feet and on day 10, the technique of loving, kind, meditation is taught.
On day 1, I noticed how my thoughts would jump from the past to the future but had a hard time staying put in this very moment…in the now. My mind was used to perpetual engagement and the restlessness, I realised, was my body’s way of telling me to engage in something more stimulating.
I noticed how my thoughts would jump from the past to the future but had a hard time staying put in this very moment.
All through these 10 days, one is expected to stay away from any other kind of engagement – online or offline. Not even a book. The only other things that you do apart from meditation are eat and sleep. It gives the mind a chance to regain focus. And once the mind has become focused, unconscious tensions arise and manifest through a (usually) painful sensation. It tried to pull my attention away from the sensations in my body by conjuring up happy images of projects I would accomplish in the future: why not become a concert pianist? Why not make that movie I always wanted? Why not try stand-up comedy? The deeper one goes, the more unconscious wishes (sankaras) pop up on the surface. “Observe, don’t react,” I reminded myself. By simply observing and not reacting, one is releasing the mind from its perpetual attempts to grasp things and once that is accomplished, the mind becomes more open. It becomes more conscious and attentive towards everything what transpires around it.
The deeper one goes, the more unconscious wishes (sankaras) pop up on the surface. ‘Observe, don’t react,’ I reminded myself.
Slowly you learn to not give the sensations much attention but treat them like sounds of the radio in the background – whose volume you have a control over. I was beginning to enjoy not comprehending but just observing. This was a new type of uninhibited happiness – like being a silent audience to your own mind show. A show that truly grew on me.
Slowly you learn to not give the sensations much attention but treat them like sounds of the radio in the background – whose volume you have a control over.
Today, it is a huge part of my life and what prompted me to pursue stand-up comedy – a far cry from sales, one would say. But don’t take my word for it. I cannot promise you any spiritual experience, or a life-changing event, or anything at all for that matter. But will I recommend it? Most certainly.
Mikael Palm is a standup comedian, theatre director and nonsensical raconteur, always on the lookout for a new spiritual experience