When I first started this challenge, my anxious brain was fretting over the theme “Sweet Dreams.” As someone who lives life just shy of burnout, writing a calming piece on unwinding was mind-boggling to me. Knowing this, I put my hand up to do the monthly challenge but instead of skinny dipping or putting myself way out of my comfort zone, I wanted to practice some grounding exercises. Thus, my intention for September was to sit down every night and meditate using Vipassana.
I was first introduced to the technique of Vipassana when my friend, Tanya, recently went on an intensive 10-day course following the principles of this non-secular meditation. Having parents with a background in practising Vipassana, Tanya submitted herself to the task of meditating for 12 hours daily; practicing silence for nine of these days and even following strict times to get up at 4:30 to begin meditation.
I was shocked when I watched her Instagram reels (chuck her Insta account @elixiric_ a follow if you want to watch it) detailing this gruelling experience. Tanya became a big inspiration for this story, so much so that I felt compelled to write about her experience. The main question bouncing on my mind as we listened to the beautiful urban jungle of Castle Hill: Why would someone sign themselves up willingly for meditating 12 hours daily? (Spoiler: it’s about as physically taxing as you can imagine).
INTERVIEW WITH TANYA
(Skipping ahead of our 20-minute gossip session and coffee)
Sophie: What drew you originally to this style of meditation?
Tanya: I got into this type of meditation from Mum and for years I was hesitant to do it because you have to do a 10-day course to access all these resources; you have to engage with it in a very authentic way. Within the course, for the first two days you focus on observing sensations in your body and your breath, for 36 hours you observe what the breath feels like. On the fourth day, you learn Vipassana meditation itself to scan the body for different types of sensations without focusing on pains that pop up. With that, they introduce the rule where you are not supposed to move because you are trying not to react to those sensations. Reactions are categorised as a craving or an aversion, the mind is seen as a sense as there are thoughts we crave/adverse to but what we must do is say “this too will pass” – impermanence.
Sophie: Do you want to get into your experience on your retreat?
Tanya: One thing I will say; it’s a course, not a retreat. You’re not going away for a holiday, you’re going on a course. My experience with Vipassana… well I wasn’t meditating beforehand, but in this course, you are really pushing yourself to do it. On the first day, I had a lot of adrenaline which got me through. But by the second day, I was so angry. I was sweating, heating up and was thinking why have I chosen this? It’s a Friday night but I’m sitting in this room putting myself through this. And I was so angry, but all this anger was internal. So I was still meditating but I’m observing my response to the sensation that I’m having. It really forces you to face your demons that you push away that don’t really contribute to your life. Looking back, one of the things I liked the most was that I did 10 days of something that I really did not enjoy for the first part. But I did it, and that gave me so much trust for myself to deal with problems; this too will pass.
Sophie: How have you noticed the changes that Vipassana has created?
Tanya: I just wanted to say as well with Vipassana, you’ll know when you need to do it. One of the beautiful things about Vipassana was that when I looked at the students, I was the youngest at 23, and the oldest was 65. In terms of the question; I don’t really do anything differently, I’m just aware of what I do. Coming back into my life I’m still doing all the things I used to do; drinking, working and seeing friends but internally I notice the reaction within myself. I see myself more in equilibrium; I have an embodied wisdom of myself now that in a bad situation I can pull myself out of it. It’s given me a vocabulary to think about my life in a unique way to understand the sensations of my body which are cravings or aversions and knowing that it shall pass.
Living life as a university student, I failed to sit down and be mindful during the call-out period. Finding the dedicated time as a routine to schedule this every night was immensely difficult. In all honesty, I sat down a handful of times to intentionally meditate with my salt lamp on for the vibes, and even then, my thoughts would wander until I became drowsy enough to fall asleep. In a sense, I failed my original challenge to quieten my mind and achieve inner peace to practise Vipassana meditation daily.
This isn’t to say that the challenge I set myself did not reap its benefits. I found the technique of focusing on breathing through the nose became a daily practice for me. Concentrating on this breathing style has allowed me to settle my nerves. Even after a near-car accident, I felt I had control of the situation because; this too will pass.
Another principle within Vipassana I obtained after this challenge was to observe my thoughts without judgement. Was this an aversion or a craving I was feeling? As a massive overthinker, this has allowed me to compartmentalise my problems into what am I feeling at the moment? Allowing myself to just feel the emotion without feeling guilty for being upset or trying to probe too harshly into the source of it, has improved my mood and relationships with friends and family greatly. I’ve still shed many tears this month, but this time it felt like a release of emotions vs bottling up frustration until it overflows again.
So the moral of the challenge: meditating is an incredibly grounding practice especially when getting into Vipassana. But I ain’t sitting in the dark waiting to achieve enlightenment, because as my dear friend Tanya mentioned, we all gotta find our paths and it certainly won’t be found by devoting yourself to something you read off the internet.