The following guest post was written by Matt Joiner.
People have their demons of the past. As we reach out for happiness, we all strive to achieve a state of inner peace. Yet this peace is often troubled by fears, insecurities, and other internal or external factors. We blame this on the world, on our life situations and past choices. Yet what if it was all internal?
Vipassana is a 10-day meditation course offered around the world that helps people come to this conclusion. It helped countless people before Matt and myself, and I hope one day you will also invest the time to try it out and see the benefits for yourself.
For more information on the course you can check out this article (it will open in a new window).
Today Matt shares his enlightening and extraordinary experience with us, which I hope will inspire you as much as it did for me.
Take it away Matt!
Matt Joiner’s Vipassana Experience
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 is the first sentence in a booklet given to me during my travels.)
My fascination with Vipassana goes back to the very first group of people I met and connected with while traveling on my own for the first time. I had been in Peru for all of about 3 hours before I found myself chatting to this older man from South Africa, and he was travelling with his 40 year old son and his son’s 20 year old partner. It was her that mentioned vipassana to me as she had recently completed a course.
I ended up spending about 5 or 6 days with this family and had an amazing time. At some point during this little chapter, Michela gave me a bracelet with a little trinket on it, which was a 13 point star of transformation. The theory was that once it falls off, you have transformed and you are meant to pass it on to whoever you think might need it, and it just happened to fall off her during the time we were hanging out, so she passed it on to me.
I had it on my wrist for about 6 months, and when it fell off I wasn’t hanging out with anyone in particular that I wanted to give it to – nor was I ready to give it away – so I put it away, and I kind of just forgot about it.
While travelling for almost 12 months I came across countless people that practice meditation, and a few that had also done Vipassana and I always loved hearing about their experiences during the course. Hearing about the effect it had on them after they had finished the 10 days, both straight after and also in their life in general. I had not heard one negative thing about it. Everyone said it was difficult and intense, but more then worth it.
I thought about it a lot and knew it would be something I would do eventually, most likely while on this travel, but couldn’t decide when and where to do it, I had almost just decided to do it at home, but there were a few pivotal characters that I crossed paths with that convinced me that Chiang Mai in northern Thailand was the place for me.
Along the way I met a guy from the US in Malaysia who had just done it, and his experience was so profound and interesting to listen to that he was the one that convinced me to definitely do it as part of these travels. I met another woman in Laos that had done it 3 times, and she had gone from being a well paid lawyer to pretty much reassessing everything in her life, and travelling indefinitely. She was convinced that she would never go back to being a lawyer again, despite the massive amount of time and energy invested in that time of her life.
I was going to Myanmar (Burma), and at some point I found out that Burma was the first country where this meditation technique was preserved after it had been lost and forgotten in the founding areas of India. I can’t remember all the little details, but at the first place I visited outside of the city, I stayed at a crappy hotel, and the owner’s dad was there and he handed me a little booklet on Vipassana. I knew then and there that I had to try and sort out doing it while in Myanmar. But after a few emails and no response I ran out of time and it just wasn’t meant to be.
However, while in a little village called Hsipaw, I was having breakfast with some other backpackers and discussing what I was hoping to do and a lady from another table overheard and told me about the course that she did not so long beforehand in Chiang Mai, which was awesome, because I had 3 weeks between finishing in Myanmar trip and meeting my parents in Vietnam, and I was going to spend it in northern Thailand anyway.
So I got the details of where she did it and sent of an email to get the process started. It had been about a week with no response and I was on my way to Thailand, so I sent another one hoping for a quick response, but nothing.
I decided to skip through Chiang Mai and went straight to Pai, a little hippy get away that was a heap of fun. I sent another email just hoping for a response. After about 4 days there I was having some ‘enhanced’ fun with some new friends, and this Israeli dude came over to us and started talking to me asking about my night, my travels, the usual stuff, and for some reason, I can’t remember if it was me or him who brought it up, but we talked about Vipassana, and he had done it 3 times already. He spoke about it for what seemed a lifetime, but in the most beautifully intriguing manner. He was making me excited, but also annoyed because I was finding it hard to organise. Anyway, this guy was so cool he explained to me he would help me sign up for it all online and that that is actually the best way to do it.
The very next morning, I checked my email, and there it was, a response from the temple Chiang Mai saying I could start in a 4 days time if I was still interested. Obviously, I was. So I did it. 11 Days including the first day, which included a small opening ceremony and and an afternoon and evening meditation and the last day, which was just a closing ceremony.
My Vipassana Experience in Chiang Mai
This particular type of Vipassana turned out to be a little more casual then how I imagined and from what I had been told. There was people subtlety whispering over breakfast or lunch, the men and women were meditating with each other, and the meditation included walking and sitting meditation and also small rest periods. This was something that kind of bummed me out for the first day or two, which I realised was just dumb, so I got over it and it turned out to be the perfect course for me to start with. Which I know now is definitely no coincidence.
The schedule was: get up at 5am, dharma talk from 5.30 to 6.30am, meditation from 6.30 to 7am, breakfast was 7 to 8am, meditation 8 to 11am, lunch / break 11am – 12.30pm, mediation from 12.30 to 6pm including a small meeting with the monk who gave new instructions on what to focus on and to ask any questions, chanting from 6 to 7pm, then a last meditation from 7 to 9pm.
All food was vegan and there was no eating in the after noon. The meditation started out as a 15 minute walking plus a 15 minute sitting meditation, have a small break, then repeat through the session. Every second day mediation would get 5 minutes longer, and every day the monk would give me new additions and instructions on improving the technique.
I had been warned that the first 2 or 3 days were meant to be the hardest, but I found them to be ok, everything went well, I adjusted to the routine pretty quick and was really enjoying the challenge. I was really enjoying the environment and I was progressing better then I could have imagined with plenty of little ups and downs, and I found that I was having a lot of creative ideas that I didn’t want to forget, so in an attempt to remember them, I kept repeating them in my head which was a massive distraction as the main thing I was meant to be practicing which was being conscious of my thoughts, and when ever I was thinking about the future or the past to acknowledge it, then bring them back to the moment and focus on what was happening now, which was making me a little agitated.
However, in one of the few small conversations I had, a lovely older lady said a couple things to me which really put my mind at ease and it really changed everything for me. I then talked to the monk about writing things down, and he said it was ok as long as I didn’t spend too much time on it, so I just threw down a couple dot points every now and then, forgot about it, and I really believe it was the perfect way to get the most out of my experience. For the most part, the next 6 or 7 days were all positive, it was difficult sitting for as long as I was, but I slowly got used to it.
I was having so much fun with the crazy ideas that would just pop into my head, I was experiencing really intense moments of realisation both positive and negative, and also just playing with energy swirling around my body. I was experiencing the most incredible natural highs I have ever felt with clarity that I can’t even explain. No drugs at all. Just from focusing on my thoughts. It was fucking amazing. There was no gravity, there was no pain, and I was nothing and everything. It was the complete opposite of being numb. These were sensations that I had somewhat experienced before, but not like this. This was about as pure and clear as it has ever been. I was as energetic and excited as I can ever remember being, and I can only imagine that if I stayed there for another 10 days it would have got even better.
Then the last full day came. I was feeling really happy about how everything was going and felt I was ready to move on and keep travelling, try and process my experience a little more and put into action some of the things I had been thinking about. The morning sessions went as normal, but then after lunch I did my first round of meditation and it didn’t feel right, I was overcome with this weird heaviness throughout my whole body so I left the centre and with a failed attempt of resistance I just balled my eyes out. I couldn’t stop it, couldn’t hold it in, I couldn’t do a damn thing except for wipe the tears and snot from my face. Then a solid 3 minutes later, it was done. I went back inside, and everything went pretty well for the remainder of the day.
What I learned From the Experience
At the time I was really confused and wasn’t sure why it happened, but after thinking about it for the following weeks, it kind came together and now I understand it a little more. But it was a bazaar rush at the time. My main reason for doing this style of meditation was just plain curiosity, and I came out of it only more curious. I learnt more then I ever thought I would doing Vipassana. I had really high expectations after thinking about it for almost a year and talking to a lot of different people about it, and it exceeded every singe one of them. There were moments when it was confronting and intense and difficult and frustrating, but all in all it was so amazingly simple and beautiful and in the end, the most fun I think you can possibly have.
Then, (hold on to your heart strings people because they are about to be pulled) the last part of this little story is that I really wanted to say ‘thank you’ to the woman that said those couple of little things which really helped make my experience what it was. She had also mentioned that she was there trying to work out a lot of sadness. So I decided to write her a little note, and then while searching through my pencil case, I came across the 13 point star of transformation that was given to me almost a year ago, and even though I know I’ll never stop transforming, I knew I was ready to pass it on and I knew exactly who I had to give it to.