And here’s why
So if you are new at what Vipassana is, here’s a bit of basic info: Vipassana it’s basically a type of Meditation that comes from a 2500-year-old tradition that Sr. Goenka took and popularized it in India and latter around the world. They have a hat after system so you only pay for the retreat if you are able to finish it and you pay as much as you feel it was worth, it seems like a good approach taking into consideration the wide offer for scam-retreats that give you.
I’ve been flirting with meditation since I was 16 on and off and It’s undoubtful that when I have been consistent with it the results achieved have been unbelievable, but lately I was struggling, overall, but specifically on pulling meditation back to my life. I wanted some external inputs, some discipline that wasn’t self-imposed, and more tools to learn about something I already knew helped me soo much.
And then I found Vipassana and their hat after retreats and I thought it was a good idea. And don’t get me wrong, I took a lot of good things, but the bad overcame the good in four days and I decided to flea a place that wasn’t really that life-changing to me.
Why did I leave?
The main reason that made me leave was the simple argument that I wasn’t learning. I had prohibited myself to leave the retreat if it was painful or uncomfortable, it was supposed to be. The first day was a bit of struggle, getting used to the schedule, the not talking to other people, the lack of inputs. But the second day I was radiant. I felt blossoming, the third and fourth day I started to decline into an ataraxia state that is all I aim for.
We were being told to expect discomfort, I was feeling none. And we were being told that we would struggle with meditation. Well, I wasn’t able to meditate for 12 hours (I doubt anyone who doesn’t dedicate their life to it is) but I managed to do it often enough and I wasn’t feeling much anger to myself when I wasn’t able to achieve it.
I felt the tools we were being taught weren’t new tools to me (feeling the cold and warm breath, observing body sensations without reacting) and the only thing that I was getting from it was the silence and the disciplined space, but those are good only if you’re trying to achieve something. I felt like I was done.
Look, there are moments in your life where you step back and build the foundations, Vipassana is this. But most of your life is about living it and using those foundations to make the experience more enjoyable. I felt like I was supposed to be living, I felt like I wanted to enjoy time with friends before our daily routines limited the activities we could do. It felt absurd to be working on me when what I needed was to be working on life.
There are moments in your life where you step back and build the foundations, but most of your life is about living it.
What really turned me off
I have had a handful of experiences in my life when you are surrounded by a group of people and you have to do something together, sometimes as a team member, sometimes as a team leader. And in the end, it tends to be overwhelming, the connection between people, the love you feel those you didn’t know a few weeks ago impregnates the walls and the ceilings and it’s the closes thing to magic.
And in a way, I kind of expected this sort of complicity and calm, but I really did not experience it.
As an example, when I was registering in, my manager (the woman that handled logistics and I would have contact with) asked me questions as the woman that was doing the registration started to get tense until she abruptly asked the manager to let her finish the registration, arguing that she would be able to ask me all these questions afterward.
Look, I get it, it can be annoying that someone interrupts you when you’re working, but when you are volunteering in a Vipassana center and you’ve got some experience with meditation it straddles me that you get that mad for such nonsense. Shouldn’t you be able to calm down? To be more patient?
Another example, there was a lady that handled administration and, in between laughs, she told us that if we didn’t make the 10 days we would be blacklisted and would never be able to attend Vipassana again. Maybe it was a joke, but a rather disturbing one. Shouldn’t they be encouraging us? Telling us that if we fail we’ve got another go? Isn’t that what Goenka was preaching in every single speech for god sake?
Does Vipassana suck?
By no means. It really did not work for me, maybe it was the format, maybe it was my mental state when I got there. Maybe the weird situations with the people that worked at that particular retreat. Maybe it’s a whole other thing in another country.
But, you should do meditation to enhance your life experience. You should not live to meditate and this is what it felt we were being told most of the time as if meditation was the only and right way to live.
What Vipassana’s Moral part got wrong
Meditation, Vipassana in concrete since it’s the one I know the most, helps you fade the limits that fuck with your mind, helps you take responsibility for your life, you can no longer blame external factors, your life is on you. This can be (A) extremely empowering or (B) a big, big fuck up.
Let me explain, if you are trapped in a quite negative mindset, Vipassana can help you overcome it. But, what if you were raped as a kid? Vipassana would tell you that you choose that experience because you wanted to live it. It would be made you responsible and encourage you to stillness. And perhaps the right answer to such a situation would be anger and scream and act to change the circumstances.
At the end of the day Vipassana is telling you to sit quiet, still, don’t react to what’s going on and, while it can be helpful for a while, life is about reacting to it and changing what isn’t right and fighting for the right path. With Vipassana, suffragette women wouldn’t have made it possible for me to vote.
If you wish for further views on vipassana I highly recommend this other Medium story by William Matthew