This was my worst day. Maybe ever. By the end of the day I was ready to leave. I even asked to leave. Was told I could leave, but asked if I would first talk to the teacher about why I wanted to go.
The Vipassana technique is as simple as the breathing. The whole thing is simply this-
Beginning at the top of your head observe sensation, moving down and through every part of your body until you get to your feet. You aren’t supposed to linger anywhere, just observe. So for the first time you’re allowed to observe your pain directly, but to remain objective about what you find there.
The technique was taught after a special schedule of group meditation from 2PM to 3PM and meant from 3PM to 5PM you were required to sit for 2 hours without even a five minute break. You were also asked to observe “intense determination” to not move.
When I read the instruction “intense determination” I just about flipped out. I had been assuming “intense determination” from the get go. So even when I was alone in my quarters I would not be on my bed or in my chair, but on the hard floor pushing through as long as I could.
By day 4 at around 7PM I was broken.
I knew from my training for and running marathons years earlier at least some of what I was experiencing. After 4 days I was experiencing intense Lactic Acidosis. My muscles were all creamed and they were just steadily getting destroyed further, leaching lactic acid as they tried to keep their head above water.
If any of you race or work out to any extremes you might know that over the top point. You start sweating profusely, you breathe heavily, you smell faintly of something like ammonia. When you go to the bathroom later it suds up like you’ve been drinking soap. It’s weird.
Before Day 4 of Vipassana I had only experienced that insane crash feeling in the last miles of a marathon. I knew I’d be fine- IF I STOPPED. but I also knew it was DAY FOUR of TEN.
The long short of my discussion with the assistant teacher was that I stayed. and I wasn’t so hard on myself physically after that. He actually laughed (when didn’t he laugh though) and said that the point was to stay still as long as you could and to let all those toxins flow. I thought it was a little crazy, but as with a marathon if you feel bad on the 8th mile it’s harder to go home a quitter than to march on into near-certain agony.
To anyone remotely considering sitting a course.
If I could give any advice at all to people sitting their first course it would be to let yourself break as soon and as quickly as possible.
Everything you currently employ to “withstand” tough experiences will come out and want to prove itself. I thought I was pretty tough before this. By Day Four of my first course I felt like a fool.
I think the longer you make it at Vipassana with those gimmicks you already have to distract yourself from feeling crappy, the shorter time you will have to learn to use new tools. Maybe your tricks are better than mine. Mine didn’t stand a chance. It was like squirming in quicksand and not listening to anyone’s advice until my nose was level with the ground.
Day Four. There was truly nothing left of me. I could conjure any miserable experience I’d ever had: heartbreak, death, illness. And I would have picked those over how I felt then. I was stripped bare and humiliated. The fight was out of me. But that was a good thing, although at the time I didn’t care. There was no more hope. But when my hope left it took away drama and despair. And left me humor. I think because laughter lives in the now.
I have always had this fear that I will die doing something hilariously stupid. That I’ll be at the Grand Canyon, excitedly rush out of the car upon arrival, and needlessly spill over into the depths. I’m pretty sure I’ll laugh all the way down. I’ll be terrified too, and really annoyed my life is over, but it’s the grand disproportion that makes it funny.
So after I was talked into staying, despite feeling physically and emotionally as bad as I ever had, I had to figure out what was left. It was like looking for your wallet when you wanted to buy something and coming up with a piece of foreign currency. And asking the lady at the Grand Canyon gift shop if they take Pesos. You don’t walk out of there with the gift you wanted, but you do laugh. And that’s not nothing.
My experience was in two distinct parts, the first 4 days until I broke, and the rest of the course where I finally started learning something. Those days were what made Vipassana more than worth it. And why over the years I went back for seconds and thirds.