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This article was originally published on Medium, and can be found here.

What exactly is a 10-day Vipassana meditation course?

This 2500 years old meditation & art of living technique, practiced by Buddha, has been maintained but remained confidential in Burma before being spread all over the world by S.N Goenka at the end of the 20th century. Now Vipassana centers have flourished in almost every country in the world.

After you arrive at the Vipassana center, a beautiful chalet in the Swiss Alps in my case, you start following the main rules of the Vipassana course:

– Not killing any species (including eating Vegetarian) and eating only at breakfast and lunch, that’s it.
– Not lying, therefore you pledge to remain fully silent for the next 10 days.
– No sexual misconduct (men and women are strictly separated and do not meet over the next 10 days).
– No intoxicants, therefore I had to fully quit smoking 3 weeks before the course, to avoid quitting while going through such a demanding journey.
– No books, no pen & paper

You’ll then meet your roommates, with whom you won’t be able to communicate for 10 days. They will all look very depressed to you, and you’ll start inventing a life for each of them, one that is absolutely wrong most of the time.

I went to Vipassana with a very fresh and happy mood, not specifically looking for answers. I came out with questions nonetheless.

What is the Vipassana Meditation technique?

To put it in a nutshell: Every day in life you undergo emotions. Each emotion is actually a bunch of sensations on your body at the unconscious level. By learning how to become aware of sensations and how not to react to them, you stop feeding the chain reaction of anger, craving, aversion, etc. The Vipassana meditation technique is about finding awareness of the bodily sensations and equanimity. Easier said than done.

What is happening during a Vipassana Meditation course?

Here is a perfectly subjective rundown of my 10 days, based on notes taken every day (which was forbidden, but it was a way for me to avoid the effect of it-was-not-so-hard-after-all at the end of the course)

Day 1: This is going to be hard

It’s been 20 minutes, my legs and my back are hurting like hell. Still 10 hours to go. What the heck am I doing here? It’s not the clear-your-mind meditation technique I used to practice. It’s all about observing my natural breath, not regulating a deep breath while emptying my mind.

My mind is wandering so much. Normally it is quiet thanks to the 3-year personal meditation training I had previously undertaken, definitely not the same technique.

Time is slowing down: one hour feels like one day. You cannot physically exercise but there is a park. After one day of walking, I calculated that a tour of the park equals to 400m, let’s keep a daily objective of 20 tours, to walk at least 8km a day. A good way to remain mentally and physically healthy, in this new weird and lonely world.

Gandhi’s way of living was floating in my head: He did not consider it necessary to seek refuge in a cave in order to attain “moka”, but his refuge was within action. I really felt like I took the wrong path by coming here. I even had a panic attack in my bed on the first evening. Really? A 3-time entrepreneur having cold sweat after 24 hours of silent meditation?

Without knowing it I just put my finger on the first enemy of any meditator: the doubt (aka is this really for me?). My sense of determination, that I considered good enough, will have to improve.

Day 2: Is this really for me?

I woke up in a good mood. But meditation is still excruciating. I cannot stay focused more than 40min. For 11 hours we observed the sensations around the nostril area coming from the act of breathing. Later feelings of depression rose again while I tried to remember how cheerful I am normally. Is it part of the method ?

Counting days and hours. I read online before coming here that Vipassana is a deconstruction process. I had built myself piece by piece, until being quite happy, I didn’t want to be deconstructed. Like everybody I resisted the process.

Time is too slow. I discover the daily video discourse in the evening by S.N Goenka: always funny and full of examples, but so long and repetitive. It could be summarized in 5mn, but it last 1.5 hours. Is repetition inherent to any deep process of change?

The meditation master talks about the first pillar of Vipassana, the code of conduct. Do I really want a life without any sin?

Day 3: Feeling better.

The routine starts catching on, I managed to keep walking my 8km a day, and after more than 48 hours fully silent, the first side effect of Vipassana kicked-in: Creativity. The brain is working at full speed, constantly; the feeling is amazing, thousands of ideas per hour. I generated 57 business ideas during my Vipassana course.

Your brain is free from any other activities, material worries or time-sensitive issues. Every time you have to change your activity, from dawn to dusk during the course, a bell is ringing. 4am: wake up bell, 4:30am: meditation bell, 6:30am: breakfast bell and so on until 9pm: bedtime bell.

Meanwhile on this 3rd day we again observed our breath and the sensation it was creating on an even smaller area: the moustache area, between the nostrils and the upper lip… for 11 hours!

I was about to leave before becoming really insane, when at the evening discourse, the mediation Master S.N Goenka explained that on the 4th day we would start Vipassana meditation. What ?? We haven’t even started the real meditation yet? Damn I cannot leave right now without knowing the real Vipassana method. Indeed for the first 3 days new students practice only Anapana mediation technique, a way to sharpen their mind with a smaller focus area and a full concentration on their breath.

Day 4: What a day!

After 4 hours staring at your moustache area while breathing, we finally got initiated to the real Vipassana technique. Two hours in a row of sitting cross-legged. Starting from the top of the head to the tip of the toes, each student is required to scan his entire body 3cm at a time. It provided me with an incredible feeling of determination, a high focus, while sweating and breathing heavily. The knees and the back are really hurting, 60 zombies seem to walk out of the meditation hall. No more energy, but smiling, and slightly crying.

I finally got the point of sharpening your mind over the past 33 hours of meditation. I’m still counting the days but I also have an exciting feeling that a progress in the technique will happen and side-benefits will increase. Like the voice guiding the meditations keeps repeating: “work patiently, work diligently”.

Day 5: Back to the nightmare

Here is why Vipassana is a tough journey: I work hard 11 hours a day to scan my body for sensations, and learn how to keep equanimity while doing so. But when my brain really decides after 6 hours to stop focusing, there is not much I can do.

Thus I start experiencing the very same process I’m learning to fight: the rebirth of the aversion process. I had equanimity while meditating, now a whole bunch of sensations are invading my body, but my mind is too weak to remain with equanimity, and the chain reaction starts again.

In Vipassana the first aversion I had to learn to control was the aversion to being here. My only way to control it: be in the present. Once I could do that, I could observe:

– The social attachment I miss so much right now.
– The need for social recognition (a deep craving for entrepreneurs).
– The need to enjoy luxury as a social status.

On that day I started overcoming the pain of remaining seated for 1 hour long, 11 hours a day.

On that day I understood that only the true wish to be in the moment (“in the now”) could save me from this permanent aversion of being here.

Small victories.

Day 6: Fake it till you make it

I couldn’t take any note on that day, because my roommates did not leave my alone a second in the room. My main feeling during that day was understanding the length of the meditation path ahead of me, both too short to master the Vipassana technique fully, and too long since I was craving to get out of here.

Day 7: The 5 enemies of a meditator

I started working more seriously and harder. I understood better where the technique was bringing me. My body scans are getting deeper and easier.

But here are the 5 enemies waiting in the dark of any mind during each meditation, something I learned during the evening video discourse:

– Craving or Aversion
– Laziness or Agitation
– Doubt

Not only I understood my main enemies, but also the method: I was never given more “intellectual food” than I could actually practice on that same day. I was voluntarily kept in the dark to really experience the technique instead of intellectualizing it.

Day 8: It works and better than expected!

Finally the Vipassana method has worked. I managed to calm down, be in the now and even enjoy the sitting periods! After 8 days I finally stopped counting the hours and started focusing on the present to make the most out of this experience. I was able to identify my “sankaras”, those points of sensation in my body and remain in silence while observing them with equanimity.

I felt relaxed and, as required by the meditation master, I tried meditating while walking and it worked. A great feeling! You can practice anytime, anywhere.

Today I managed to really feel through my entire body while observing sensations, both in the inside and at the surface. I could push those “sankaras” out and see them dissolving, an incredible sensation of mind control, focus and freedom.

Day 9: The Free flow

It has been a week the voice guiding the beginning and the end of each meditation is talking about the “free flow”, a mysterious state of meditation, in which you could experience “the dissolution” of your body in small particles, a bit like electric power. I had the impression this mysterious free flow was only the result of month of practice, reserved for better students.

I experienced the free flow on this 9th day, in the last 5 minutes of a one hour meditation, my body was not feeling anything anymore, a flow of energy had invaded it, sending fast waves through and outside of the body at the pace of my heart.

Day 10: You can speak again

This free flow is a very pleasant sensation indeed, but also quite powerful when we started “Metababana” meditation. This last technique of meditation is about using the free flow going through your body while truly wishing love and compassion to all beings. The results are impressive.

At 10am the “Noble Silence” rule was abolished and all students could start talking again, a shy but soon powerful social discovery process happened. It felt good to laugh again. It felt good to compare our experiences.

This Noble Silence was a gift that is quite easy to bear. However complaining to others plays a critical role in alleviating your pain. The absence of any form of communication prevents you from alleviating any pain or fear.

What are the immediate benefits of a Vipassana Meditation Course?

– Ability to remain highly focused for long periods.
– A real sense of determination. You can train your mind to do pretty much anything, as long as you can bear the training period.
– A burst of creativity: being fully silent and focused leads your brain to full creativity.
– Energy: you live an healthy life, and focus your mind while removing step by step all agitated thoughts polluting your daily life.
– Serenity: You don’t feel the necessity to run everywhere at once.
– Sexual hypersensitivity: some call it Tantric.

Bottom line: even if I hated the process every day, I loved the method and the results. I’ll be back to Vipassana next year, maybe as a server. Every one of us should attend a Vipassana course at least once in their life.

I hope I convinced you: changing your mind and bringing unconscious sensations to the conscious level is hard, but the results are impressive.

Next steps ?

As requested, 1 hour of meditation in the morning and 1 hour in the evening, to keep practicing at the Vipassana level. Will I manage? The answer will be in a future post about my daily routines, after years of tests.

Notes & Recommendations:

– As an entrepreneur you want to make everything more efficient. Vipassana seems to take the opposite stance. Live with it.
– Vipassana is considered in Tibetan Buddhism as the first vehicle, there are also 2 others to explore if you are looking for more metaphysical answers. However mastering Vipassana is already enough for a life or several.
– Your daily “empty-mind” meditation training will be of no use there. The pain and novelty is anyway part of the initiation ritual.