A 10-day Vipassana sit was a whole new endurance experience that created new thought patterns and built strength in stillness.

I may have mistakenly used the word retreat prior to embarking on the Vipassana 10-day course. Vipassana is challenging work, certainly no vacation.

Sedentary in body and mind have yet to be personal strengths. Sitting down on a simple cushion to work on myself pushed comfort zones, thought patterns, stirred up chaos, doubt and wonder.  Though the daily timetable remain unchanged, each day’s work certainly did. Digging deep into the work ethic my Dad exemplifies, I worked in ways no job description could delineate.

Like mountain running that builds physical strength and stamina over uneven terrain, Vipassana tests mental strength and stamina. As a run with a steep beginning, Day One came with no doubt I would be packing up before the sun graced a new day. Day Seven, flooding tears, convinced I was doing something wrong, certain I was the lone human who battled marvels of such meditation. As the end of the silence neared on Day Ten, I  wanted to hide, escape any noise and stay in the silence of the Himalayan jungle.

Following an expedition to the site in the Chitwan National Park and simple explanation of procedures on Day Zero,  the 4:00 am gong rang soon thereafter to begin Day One. Simultaneously, a start gun was being shot to begin the Annapurna 100 trail race in Nepal’s neighbouring Kaski district where weeks’ back I had imagined my trail might lead. Pneumonia had prerogative of its own. There would be no repeat of last year’s race though a very different, yet similar, challenge presented itself serendipitously. Running in all directions, Vipassana challenged the habit patterns of my mind, the wandering, wondering and racing.

Vipassana, simply means to see things as they really. Through self-observation, Vipassana focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, a connection all aspects of my life could only benefit from strengthening.  When I decided to take my recovery to the mountains of the world, my intent was to work towards accepting the ways destiny changed my world.

A hard ball forged life into a whole new world which, at one time, I perceived as feeling unbearable. Not being emotionally reactive to the game life plays takes a unique strength and practice. Vipassana teachings, translated from Hindi to English, notoriously left me feeling lost in translation, semantics stirring out of control. How could I possibly remain equanimous when adrift in ambivalence?  No questions allowed. Instead, my head came up with a mountainous collection, each with answers lacking any validity whatsoever. Is a sensation different from a feeling? Is my imagination being creative? Back to the breath. Why am in the nineteen nineties? Am I the only one who is experiencing passing thoughts of skepticism? Back to the breath. Why did I do such ridiculous things in college? What is happening to my body without physical exercise? Back to the breath. Where did that ball come from? Is the fierce collision of thoughts and questions what is causing the throb in my head? Back to the breath. Rocky loves this meal plan, what would Dr. S think? Holy crap, where did the last hour go? Is the throb a feeling or is it a sensation? Back to the breath, return to the breath, just breathe; this nor anything else will last forever, simply breathe. Repeat.

Witnessing the law of impermanence in action, my thoughts were constantly changing: eager anticipation, doubt, fear, hope, frustration, agitation, misery, craving, aversion, confusion. Thoughts cannot be forced to disappear as it is the nature of the mind to think. Mountain running allows my monkey mind to jump freely between branches of random thoughts. Running is a personal tool that allows me to deconstruct the mountains of my mind; however, running is not permitted during the ten day course. Sitting with the thoughts, few of self-compassion, more harsh and some horrifying was like running downhill technical terrain in the dark with 30 percent vision, often believing light would never return. Back to the breath, return to the breath, just breathe; this nor anything else will last forever, simply breathe. Repeat.

Habits are difficult to break. Habits of the mind tend to repeat like clockwork. Habitually the modern mind seeks quick solutions rather than the hard work required to retrain thought patterns. Sankras, these reactive habits of the mind, manifest as cravings and aversions; longing for some things and feeling averse to others. We repeatedly do something because of the way our body reacts to it. Craving the light to return, the annoyance to disappear, the traffic to stop, a person to change, the meal to be manageable, the rain to stop, to appear a certain way has no power nor benefit. Observing experiences without judgement, no right or wrong, developing equanimity has power.  

Perception as part of our organic, constantly changing nature is unique to every being. Though all sensation is neutral, our minds have been conditioned to put a positive or negative reaction to sensations. Troubles of the modern mind are often rooted in comparison. Misery  tends to be created by way of comparison, the way we perceive something. Personal thought patterns tend to descend quickly when I compare myself physical and mentally to pre-accident JW. I hold myself to expectations rooted in the past. Uniqueness and making the best version of myself takes letting go of preconceived opinions which tend not to be based on reason or actual experience. By observing feelings and sensations objectively, exactly as they are, flowing and changing from moment to moment, cultivates life, growing insight and developing understanding of self. By working to change habit patterns of my mind, I am working to distance myself from reactivity and embrace impermanence. This is where the trail of life happiness flourishes.

Vipassana aims to create awareness of everything that is happening in one’s own perceived world, exactly the way it happens, when it is happening; complete awareness in the present moment. Just as I anticipated the Annapurna 100 to be, this is incredibly challenging. Like mountain running, Vipassana pushed comfort zones, thought patterns, stirred up chaos, doubt and wonder. By training, starting with one single inhalation, like one small step, life’s trail shines.

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  1. Rita says:

    What a great post, Jeel. I’ve been thinking about doing a 10-day Vipassana meditation, too. Thank you so much for sharing your experience! xxxx

    • mountainsofmymind says:

      Thank YOU for taking the time to read and follow along my trails Rita. Vipassana is a unique, challenging experience for every individual. There is nothing tangible that can be shared from such experience; I encourage others to be open-minded and approach the opportunity no expectations beyond the guarantee of personal learning and therefore growth. Keep exploring You with curiosity and compassion x