I recently lost a good friend in a tragic accident, and decided that I should share everything with the world as I used to. After a 2 year hiatus due to starting a few businesses, I’ve decided to write at least once a month again.
So I figured I’d start with a story that is very very close to my heart.
Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Joaquim Miro’s Vipassana Experience
How does it sound to sit in a room for 12 hours without talking or looking at anyone for 10 days? No writing, reading, exercise or anything that would take you away from your complete and utter state of tranquillity.
If you are anything like me, then this probably sounds like the most difficult nightmare-ish situation to be in. And it was!! Yet without a doubt it was also the most useful and formative 10 days of my life. It freed me of former worries and surfaced the daily subconscious decisions that used to dictate my life without me realizing it in any way.
Welcome to Vipassana.
So what is Vipassana?
“The technique of Vipassana is a simple, practical way to achieve real peace of mind and to lead a happy, useful life. Vipassana means “to see things as they really are”, it is a logically process of mental purification through self observation.”
This technique originated over 2500 years ago in India, and became a widespread mindfulness meditation course over the past 100 years due to S. N. Goenka, the teacher of the 10 Day Vipassana Meditation Courses.
The course helps you become self-aware, and analyze every decision you make consciously, rather than subconsciously as most of us tend to do. And while I can try to explain the benefits of Vipassana Mindfullness and/or how to do it, the only way to truly comprehend how to do it is by experiencing it firsthand. If I try to teach you how to swim on a theoretical level, you still won’t be able to swim. You have to go in the water and try for yourself. It is the same thing for Vipassana.
I will go into greater detail about this information throughout the following story. For those of you who simply need basic information, here is a quick summary.
Location: There are centers close to most major cities of the world. Find them here.
Cost: By donation of your choice only once you complete the course – You can’t donate without doing the course.
Requirements: You must do the 10-Day session if it is your first time – It’s like a mental operation to you really shouldn’t leave half-ay
Benefits: Inner Peace of Mind
Who is the course for?
Everyone should do this course at least once. I entered Vipassana thinking there was nothing particularly wrong with me (except my hyperactivity!). I quickly realized that we all have subconscious problems whether we realize it or not. This course allows you to observe yourself and learn how to let go of preconceived negative reactions.
Nevertheless the course is especially beneficial for the following type of people:
Normal 9-5 People: Unhappy with your life at work? This course will put everything in perspective and free you of all the subconscious restraints you are placing on yourself without even knowing it!
Restless Over-Achievers: Let me guess – the only thing you are thinking about on a day-to-day basis is why you aren’t already further ahead. In every other conversation you find yourself talking about what’s coming next. Or even better, it’s what you are thinking about as someone else is talking to you about just about anything else. If you see yourself in that description, Vipassana is definitely for you.
Addicts / Junkies: This course has been proven to be more effective than any correctional camp in the world. Over half of the addicts that complete the course heal their addiction completely.
Anxious People: If you are the type of person that gets anxious about work, relationships, future events or anything else in particular, Vipassana will teach you how to deal with it.
Angry & Pessimistic People: Do you easily get angry and take things personally? Do you sometimes see yourself as a victim getting unfairly treated? Through Vipassana you will learn to choose to take things personally or not. You will gain new tools with which to face life’s tough obstacles.
Surmounting the Insurmountable
To tell you that my Vipassana Mindfullness experience was pleasant or fun would be a complete and utter lie. It was by far the most difficult 10 days of my life. I cried, I laughed, I screamed (internally), I fought back (internally), and I fasted at night. But most of all I thought, felt, observed and listened within. I came out of it with a newfound appreciation of everything, including my own reactions to any external stimuli. I came out with an introspection and inner peace that is impossible to describe.
So would I recommend this experience to others? YES. It was the most useful and eye-opening experience of my life.
Here is my story. I hope you enjoy and get a good laugh about it. Each person goes through a different internal experience, so I invite you to read Matt Joiner’s Vipassana Experience as well for another perspective and genuinely inspiring story about the experience of Vipassana.
My Honduras Vipassana Experience
In 2014, after over two months on the road traveling through Central America, my girlfriend and I were nearly broke. It was our first trip of the kind and we knew it would soon come to an end, as I had signed to start working with a Fortune 500 company in Montreal. However before doing so, there was one more experience we needed to live. In contrast with the others, this one would be an internal adventure rather than an external one.
I had heard great things about Vipassana from friends and family. I even convinced one of my best friends that was going through difficult times to do it, from which he came back a new man (and subsequently did it 2 more times over the course of a few years!). From this day forth I knew I had to also experience it at least once in my life.
As a hyperactive individual with a very stubborn and energetic personality, I knew that sitting down to meditate for 10 hours a day without talking or looking at anyone would probably be one of the most difficult challenges of my life. What I didn’t know is that what would really get me was the fact that I couldn’t run, play, read or write. Being alone in your head for 10 days without a single external stimulus makes you realize just how much of your feelings are generated internally rather than externally.
Having trekked from Utila (a scuba diving paradise) to Tegucigalpa (the Honduras capital which is one of the most dangerous cities in the world), we arrived at the camp the night before the start of the course. Here the surprised teacher and teaching assistant greeted us, and reluctantly showed us to our room, explaining that the preparations were not yet fully finished. We offered to help, but they simply told us to keep it easy and to enjoy our last few moments before the course began.
Day 0 – The next morning people began to arrive and throughout the day we introduced ourselves and talked about anything and everything. I met a chess master, a professional musician, an avid paraglider with a crazy life story of false indictment, an ayahuasca chaman that used to be a coke addict, the president of the Honduran Central Bank, and many more interesting people. None of us had anything one specific thing in common, except our willingness to push our mental and emotional beings and embark on this 10 day adventure together. Having spoken with other people who have done Vipassana, I later learned that usually you are not supposed to have discussions on the first day, as it makes it more difficult to stay silent during the 10 days. But you know what, I’m so so so glad it happened. Rather than all being individuals, I felt as though we were a collective body of interesting individuals going through our inherently unique mental strains.
The first night started with an introductory ceremony commemorated by Goenka, the professor that has passed away long ago. So the video was turned on and we listened to his welcome speech. We then had the first hour session of meditation going to bed. That night I went to bed feeling sparks of inspiration and excitement all throughout my body. Little did I know what would happen throughout the next 10 days.
Day 1 – This was probably one of the hardest days for me. It occurred to me at 4AM, with the first “gong” noise from which we all wake up. The next 3 hours of meditation were pretty easy as you kind of fall asleep as you are meditating. We then had the first breakfast, which was delicious! I learned our food would be only vegan, with only half a fruit and tea for dinner (this is not the case in most centers around the world). Going back to morning meditation and afternoon meditation then made me realize just how long the next 9 days were going to be.
Day 2 – Do you remember when you used to be in class and you would look at the clock and it just seemed as though time was dragging itself, making that one hour class feel like an eternity? Well this is exactly how I felt on the first two days, with every hour passing by being longer than the previous one. This is a very personal perspective, as I have also heard the exact opposite. Nevertheless in my case, I really felt as though it would be impossible for me to go through the next 8 days.
But going to bed that second night, I realized that I was just fighting for no reason. I had nothing to prove, no opinion to impose on anyone but myself. I kept telling myself, “just let it go, just let it go.” And that’s exactly what I ended up doing.
Days 3 – 6 – The next few days were much better. The afternoon meditations were always the hardest, as they were under the warm sun and it was so nice outside that I just wanted to go out and play. Often times new thoughts would come up in my mind, and I would feel the need to get up and go write it down (which wasn’t allowed). However whenever I didn’t do it, I would keep on thinking about it, which was the exact opposite of what you are supposed to do. The idea is to continuously observe yourself, observe your thoughts, letting them flow in and flow out, just like your breath. This is the only way to truly understand the concept of “Anitcha” which means “Change”.
According to the technique of Vipassana, “Anitcha” is the only one true universal law of nature. Everything we know and don’t know has one universal law in common, and that is the law of constant and continuous change. The cells in you are in constant change, and the pain you feel from sitting down for hours at a time is a direct representation of these cells performing continuous change throughout your body. The same is true of any river, planet, living or innate thing in the universe. Everything is in constant change, and as soon as you come to this realization from an experiential understanding, you liberate yourself of all the attachments you so dearly hold on to.
Every thought, every subconscious reaction you ever have to external stimuli are actually most definitely conscious. It’s just that we’ve grown up believing in one way of thinking and reacting. What is normal to one culture is atrocious to another, and the fact that you fling away a fly when it lands on you is a conscious decision that you have unconsciously pushed down to your subconscious. But when you sit down and start observing yourself, you start to realize all this subconscious reactions.
At first they are mostly physical; moving because you are in pain, or flinging a fly because it’s in your face. And as the days go by you start realizing every single mental reaction you have to external stimuli is also a conscious decision, that is 100% because of you, rather than because of the external event. For example, if someone calls you ugly, you are essentially subconsciously choosing to accept this negative gift into your self, and will react with a negative feeling and maybe a feeling of animosity toward the person. But in the end the reason you are hurt and mad is not the other person’s fault, but your own. This is what Vipassana taught me.
Nevertheless the experience is truly different for each person. Having spoken with many people about it, I realized for many the experience was more zoomed in to dealing with certain past events, or to trying to achieve a state of pure zen-ness (AKA equanimity). Each person will react differently to the course, and I think that in my case the reason is that I was brought up around very opinionated people and am also quite opinionated (as you can see in this post!). However the difference is that now I understand that I’m opinionated, and that often times my ego gets in the way of rational thinking. And just that realization gives me the tools to work on myself over the next years.
Day 8 – Something quite funny happened one of the nights during the course. All the men would sleep in a large common room, and after brushing our teeth we were all lying in our individual beds thinking about our day. And then something happened. A guy started making noises without really saying any actual words (as we aren’t supposed to talk to each other). I look up, and find him pointing at the wall. I squint a little to realize there’s a reasonably sized scorpion on the wall!
One of the main rules of Vipassana is that you cannot kill any living thing. Not even a plant. So here we were, in the middle of night, trying to work together without talking to remove this creature from our common room without killing it. It took about 20 minutes to find a cup and piece of paper with which to trap the scorpion and let it free outside. But boy did it feel good to have this little spurt of action in the middle of the 10-day course!
Day 10 – On the last days of Vipassana, I cried like a baby. It was as if past demons that I didn’t even know I had just started pouring out of my body. For the first time in years, I felt completely liberated and pure of mind.
My meditation sessions became intertwined with feelings of utter ecstasy. It was the cleanest and purest sensation of clarity. I felt high on nature, and felt as though I did not need any drugs, meat, sex or any other worldly pleasure. It was supreme unconditional happiness. Crazy to think the only way to achieve it is to remove all stimuli and material pleasures of life!
But these feelings would come in very tiny waves, and for every high I would then have another low. And it’s funny because Vipassana is the practice of reducing the gap between your highs and lows, to remain in a state of continuous equanimity. I would imagine it takes a life to get to actual equanimity.
THE VIPASSANA AFTERMATH
“Paaaatiently and persistently. Paaaaaatiently and persistently, you are boouuuund to be successfullll.” – Goenka
I heard this phrase at least 5 times a day for the entire duration of the course. And you know what? It’s 100% true for anything in life. Invest time and dedication towards a goal and you will undoubtedly achieve it. I never thought I would be able to stay the whole 10 days, without talking for such a long time. And while I cheated a few times and spoke to my neighbours, overall I was able to stay silent and take some time to observe the way I think, react, and act. And that has made all the difference.
So overall, was this an enjoyable experience? NO. It was the most difficult 10 days of my life. It was the longest 10 days of my life. And it was by no means an enjoyable experience for me being a hyperactive individual.
Yet would I recommend it? YES! Yes yes yes yes yes yes. Nothing has helped me more, and I would be willing to say that one Vipassana course is the equivalent of 2 years of weekly sessions with a trained psychologist. Probably more.
Will I do Vipassana again? Most definitely I will. The purity and clarity you get from removing yourself from your day-to-day bullshit (excuse the French) is an invaluable experience that I can’t wait to relive.
I hope this gives you the inspiration and motivation to invest 10 days towards your personal development!
You can find the nearest Vipassana near you by checking out nearby courses near you on their website, which you can find here.
If you have already done Vipassana, I invite you to share your experience in the comments below, and to reach out to me to write about your inspiring experience as Matt Joiner did (you can find his story here).
Until next time,
Joaquim Miro from The Alternative Ways