After ten days of silence, I put an end to my third Vipassana. The first words taste weird in my mouth, like if I had eaten cotton. My mind is waking up to another reality: The real one full of people who start using their phones and call their loved ones. I retreat slowly to my room to stay for a little longer alone. Sweet solitude, peaceful loneliness. The desire to reach Jia-yin becomes stronger. I grab my phone, turn it On. No battery. I plug it in and stay on my bed, watching through the window and the mosquito net.
My mind is flying away…
Twelve years ago, I started traveling around the world. My first destination was India. When I landed at the old airport of New Delhi (Yes, now there is a brand new one), in the middle of a very, very humid night, my first thought was to jump back in the plane and go straight back where I came from. I was scared and lost. At this moment, I would never have expected that this incredible country would take my heart.
Not speaking a word of English, I managed (still do not know how) to find my way. It was the beginning of a new life, the beginning of an unbelievable adventure.
During the first six months, I moved around, the eyes full of stars and the soul craving new experiences. India is incredible, indeed. If I close my eyes for a moment, I can still see the dunes in the Rajasthani desert. I can feel the cold wind passing through the pine forest in Vashisht and smell the incense burning in the holy Varanasi’s streets. I remember the kids, often mutilated, begging in Mumbai, the slum, the dirt, the distress, the extreme poverty. India is, at the same time, magical and terrible, gorgeous and ugly. Hanging in time and space, India will take a piece of your soul and will never give it back. It is the price I was willing to pay. Even today, I do not regret it.
It was a few months of craziness. My mind, blown away by the best and the worst, pushed me to look for a refuge. I thought going on a meditation retreat could be a good idea.
I did my first ten days Vipassana in an attempt to recharge my batteries. But that was far from being the gentle and pleasant short vacation I was expecting.
“Hanging in time and space, India will take a piece of your soul and will never give it back.”
Vipassana is not just a meditation technique. It is also a way of life. It teaches you the delicate and extremely hard to master “art of living” and, by doing so, teaches you the “art of dying.”
The Art of Living
Two thousand five hundred years ago, A prince left his sumptuous palace seeking a way to eradicate suffering and misery. His name was Siddhartha Gotama. On his path to becoming a Buddha, he discovered it. Yes, he understood how to eliminate suffering and started to teach it.
The concept we are creating our misery is not new and was not new when Buddha was alive. The mind is like a crazy little monkey that loves the mental habit of reaction. Our cravings and aversions lead too easily to attachment, from which all types of unhappiness are generated. Ignorance, craving, and aversion are the three roots from which grow all our suffering in life. All of that was also not new 25 centuries ago. Still, Siddharta came with a brilliant discovery: We can train the monkey. Ladies and gentlemen, this is where the Vipassana technique is entering the game under a thunder of applause.
“The Vipassana retreat is a mindfulness Bootcamp to make your peaceful inner warrior ready not to fight back.”
To intellectually understand a concept is not enough. You need to train your mind in-depth. To do that: observe your body’s sensations. No matter which feeling you encounter, it will fade away. You are facing a universal law: “Nothing lasts forever. Everything will change.”
Look at the process and stay calm and composed. Do not react. A nice, pleasant feeling: Do not create a habit of desire. A bad, unpleasant one: Do not develop a habit of aversion—just obverse with a calm and quiet mind. Be equanimous.
Because our society is feeding us with this pseudo-spirituality about being in the now, being happy and positive, we are all aware of that truth. Vipassana is bringing you one step further, though. It is not about understanding. It is about experiencing yourself.
By stopping reacting to what you are feeling, you stop creating craving or aversion. It becomes a reflex written deep in your nervous system. It is making you unconsciously see life from a different angle. Practice enough, and you will become excellent at staying calm and balanced in all kinds of situations.
During the ten days, you have to respect simples rules :
No killing, no stealing, no talking, no sexual misconduct, and no intoxicants. No writing, no talking, no eye contact, no communicating of any sort. You become the last man/woman on earth. Alone with your unfriendly mind…facing the void :).
No way I thought it would be so hard to just shut the f…up for ten days.
On top of that, the monkey does not want to lose control over you and starts trying to disturb your quest for happiness. Every time you sit and begin to focus, memories will start to pop up, fantasies, daydreams, doubts, fear. The monkey will take its mental bazooka and will fire full power at you. It is a war, and the Vipassana retreat is a mindfulness Bootcamp to make your peaceful inner warrior ready not to fight back.
This first experience marked me deeply. I was so proud to have done it. For a while, I kept meditating every day, but soon enough, my bad habits rushed back, and I forgot about it. I was drowning again in the river of my misery and life.
After these first six months in India, I came back to France. I went to Paris to work as a musician. But this trip had changed me forever, and I couldn’t stay in the grey, depressing France. Two long years later, I packed my bag again, and this time I was determined not to come back.
I did my second Vipassana at the beginning of this new life. And to be honest, I was not ready. I was, at this time, a chain smoker and had a very unhealthy lifestyle. This Vipassana was just about physical and mental torture. I managed to stay for ten days (which felt like ten years) and left with the deep desire to never do that to myself again.
Nine Years Later
Here I am, Taiwan, watching through this window and this mosquito net after an amazing and challenging ten days of meditation. I am trying to stay for a few more moments in the silence, at least until my phone got enough battery for me to call my beautiful wife.
One thing is sure. This time I was physically and mentally ready. I knew what I was getting into and had accepted the challenge. I worked very hard and still feel the benefits of this hard work as I write these few lines.
There are a lot of walls to breakthrough. It is challenging to stay focused, to stay awake. The drowsiness is passing her tempting fingers in your hairs, whispering to you that you should fall asleep. Then if you resist her calls, the doubts come: _”Why are you doing that? What is the point? I am sure they put things in the food. Maybe it is a cult. You should leave right away.”
But I resisted all of these mental enemies and pushed through all of the mental blocks. After the first three days, I could stay effortlessly in the same position without moving my legs, arms, or opening my eyes for one hour. After five days, I could last two hours. My mind became sharper. The time I spent lost in the memories or fantasizing about some impossible future reduced drastically. I was more and more in the now. Of course, there are good and bad days. You can be so in tune with yourself and the meditation that you would feel like staying motionless forever. But sometimes you cannot even stay still for 20 minutes. Everything is bound to change. You are experiencing impermanence every day, every second, every breath, and you have to remain equanimous.
“There are a lot of walls to break through.”
I love this meditation technique, even if the spiritual side of it does not touch me. Honestly, I do not buy the reincarnation stories. I am not judging people who believe it, though. Maybe I am not ready for it.
But the fact that I experience in my flesh the impermanence by feeling these sensations coming and going is something extraordinary. This is deeper than any intellectual understanding. Vipassana is placing you at the center of your universe. You are not just the one walking the path; you are the one building it. You are the one choosing to move your legs because of the discomfort, to open your eyes to check the time when you should stay motionless and focus. You are the architect of your life, and I never feel a better connection to this than during my meditation time.
I will not go into details about the schedule or what you eat during the ten days. I am not going to tell you funny stories even if there is a lot to tell. But I will tell you that it is a life-changing experience. It is hard and painful. You will experience boredom, loneliness, and will undoubtedly start talking to yourself. But it is worth putting all your will power into achieving a perfect ten days course. Because it is during this time, you will build the foundation of your future practice. It is like learning how to drive in a parking lot. You know all the basics but will become good by keeping driving out and going on the highway.
I am thrilled that I can now keep meditating two hours per day. It does not take me any extra effort, and I am excited every time I sit quietly in solitude. The journey to tame the monkey is going to be extremely long. I know that. I am just scratching the surface of a very complicated mind. But it is not important. What matters is the journey, not the destination.