This time last week, my sister had just dropped me off at the airport after having completed a 10-day meditation course at the Dhamma Medini Vipassana Meditation Centre in Auckland. I was emotionally exhausted and quite fragile - in fact I was also like this on the day prior (day 10). This course had to be one of the most mentally challenging things I’ve done in my life…actually, it was the most mentally challenging thing I’ve done in my life. Nothing compares…yet.

For those reading and know nothing about this course, I’ll give you a brief breakdown of what Vipassana is. The origin of Vipassana meditation is a Buddhist philosophy with the sole purpose being for an individual to develop insight into the true nature of reality - understanding that every moment, whether good or bad, passes. The course in particular is a 10-day experience where you mediate 10-11 hours each day for 10 consecutive days. There is no talking (noble silence except to the manager, teachers or servers only if you have legitimate queries), no phones/tech, no creative expression such as writing or drawing etc, no exercise besides walking along the tracks or areas made available to you on the grounds, no fasting, no killing of any being, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no intoxicants and to refrain from any wrong speech.

In this post I plan to discuss the why, what I experienced and what others too can benefit from practicing this technique. I think that this information alone is enough to inform someone on whether they’d be interested, as it did for me and pretty much all the other course attendees/students.

I will refrain from discussing the techniques as this is strongly recommended against and instead advise that people do the course themselves if they are interested, to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding. It’s almost better to go in knowing less so that you can go through the experience for what it is and appreciate each moment rather than going into it with expectations and anticipation. I was going to do a day to day account but after much thought, I’ll keep those notes for myself. In fact, if you are seriously considering doing something like this, then you may not want to even hear of my experiences from this point on in the post.

For those that know me well, you’ll know I have a very impulsive personality and a hot head. I don’t just mean a little fleeting disappointment now and again - I mean full on anger…punching walls, swearing, yelling, screaming, hurting those around me, driving recklessly…all to a point where I’ve run myself to a very very low point of utter disappointment in my own behaviour. I’ve gotten much better over the years due to some experiences, counselling and most importantly my amazing family, partner and some friends. Since I heard about Vipassana a couple years ago I knew this would serve me some purpose in the future and that I had to do it. It was in December after an incident that my sister asked what I was waiting for and that I should just book it. So I did.

Fast forward six months and I was on my way. I didn’t actually know too much about the course other than that it was 10 days of silence and meditation - nothing about the details. I didn’t want to do any reading prior to the course as I wanted to come to my own conclusions as everyone has different experiences and goes there for different reasons at different stages of their lives. The thought of leaving my partner without any communication for 10 days however was my main concern…to him and my family it would be like I was gone off the face of the Earth ha!

The Overall Experience
The experience itself over the course of 10 days brought every emotion imaginable to the surface. To name a handful of the main ones, frustration, anger, sadness, happiness and craving/desire. I could even say it was very possible to feel these all on the same day. I thought the silence, no phone or creative expression was going to be the hard part, but that was all surprisingly easy. It’s the meditation that exhausts you. This is coming from someone who hasn’t really mediated for longer than 10-15min…and hasn’t done any unguided meditation before. This is also coming from someone who is extremely fidgety and has trouble sitting still let alone being able to focus… a short attention span would be how I’d sum it up.

As mentioned before, you must practice noble silence and refrain from any eye contact with the other students, any form of communication would be a distraction and lead your mind astray. Usually in my day to day life, I’m in my head questioning my actions, values, observing reactions and discussing them with myself…but during this course without even realising, in between meditation sittings I was not doing this. I was not discussing with myself how the sessions went, not discussing what I needed to do better and not discussing how I can improve on the next sitting. It wasn’t until day eight during the evening discourse that I realised I had one day left to work hard.

The first two hour sitting on day nine was not ‘good’, during the breakfast and rest period following, I had a serious discussion with myself asking things like “what the hell have you been doing these past eight days, why have you come here, it’s been so difficult so far - what are you not understanding”. The issue was that instead of looking inward between each and every sitting, I was observing the small things going on around me regarding other students. Without me consciously and actively realising, I was looking for distractions the entire time because the days felt so long (4am-9/930pm) and I was struggling. Quick side note: there are times where you may want to leave but the question I asked myself was why am I here in the first place and that was enough for me to stick it out. I had a purpose and I believe everyone does when they go into something like this whether they realise it or not. Those eight days however weren’t a waste and I was working hard - but I knew I could work much harder so that I could achieve the correct outcome and experience Vipassana in it’s entirety (at the level I was at). 

The first one hour group sitting of day nine after the break had to be the best one hour out of the entire course. I did it. I felt fully the entire time what I was supposed to feel and only had three or so fleeting distractions. The two hour sitting directly after that, I did it again. I was so emotional because it’s like I finally understood it all, everything was piecing together. I know that some of this may sound really simple but I swear your mind has the ability to make any foreign situation, any uncomfortable situation a million times harder. The rest of the day wasn’t as good as those three hours, I think I got a little too confident ha! But it didn’t bother me - all I was grateful for was that it took me those eight days to finally realise one of my largest issues and I couldn’t be happier that I had one more day and then the rest of my life to rectify it.

I say day nine was the last day of work because on day 10 you transition into normal life, you only do six or so hours of meditation across the day and you are allowed to talk again. It is after the first three-four hours of meditation around 9:40am that you can speak and I can’t even begin to tell you how beautiful this day was. There was so much love and happiness in the atmosphere I don’t think I had experienced anything like it. To top this off, it was a still day and the sun was shining. I just stood alone staring at the sun for 30min before I went into the dining area and mingled. While I was standing there, another student walked past briskly with a big smile on her face - I mustered a “hi” to which she responded with a warm laugh and “hiii, we can talk!!” as she kept walking… tears rolled down my face. I mentioned earlier - this day was super emotional for me. It just felt like a huge release. The rest of the day, almost every individual was on a massive high just chatting away, sharing experiences, stories and learning about each other because we’ve just shared grounds, a dining room, bathrooms and meditation hall for every hour of each day for the last 9 days. Now… with all these distractions, you can’t possibly work as hard!

Interesting Symptoms
I experienced what I thought to be some crazy symptoms and I am definitely not about to call these coincidences. These symptoms were definitely a result of mental conditioning.

During day five I had a little discomfort in the back, on day six I went to touch my back and noticed a sort of muscle flare in the form of a bump next to my spine just around my bra strap. It wasn’t until day seven that I was able to ask the teacher if I could sit against a wall or on a chair because of this pain. She responded “no” and advised that I use Vipassana to assist as the technique so rightly should correct (or at least in your mind where you ‘feel’ the pain). She told me to treat it as a Sańkhāra (reaction of what is deep in our minds coming to the surface). As I became more successful with the Vipassana technique, the pain wasn’t as much of an issue but the bump was still very much there on the Saturday and it did hurt to touch. On Sunday, when I was at my sisters telling her all about the course, I was about to tell her about the bump I got on my back and was going to ask if she could take a look at it since I was unable to see it myself. When I reached to touch my back…it was gone.

This was on my left side which is also the same side that my skin decided to break out on my face. Nothing on my right side.

I didn’t fully believe it before, but now I do. These were very much Sańkhāra’s, I believe our minds are so strong that once we work hard on what is deep inside changing our natural inclinations and behaviour, we are bound to bring ‘negative’ aspects to the surface. 

Going Forward
Obviously you can’t expect miracles to happen over 10-days, but you can expect a slight change if you were real and honest with yourself over the duration of the course.

I have definitely noticed subtle changes - there have been a few moments where I would’ve typically reacted or even moments where I’ve felt a little anger coming on but was able to push it to the side within a mater of minutes or even seconds or voice how I felt without showing anger. This may sound very easy but believe me, it was not something I could do before this course no matter how hard I tried.

To be honest, I planned to try and do a total of two hours of meditation a week (broken up) but I didn’t accomplish that this past week (the first week back from the course). I’ve been a bit lazy and haven’t made time for it. No disappointment though, it’s a new week, so even if I get in just half an hour, it’s better than nothing.

I will definitely be doing this course again and hope to go back and serve at some point in my life.

Earlier this week I caught up with a friend who had done the course five years ago now but she said if she had to recommend anything to anyone, it would be do this course. I fully agree with her. It is a beautiful experience and can provide so much clarity. You don’t need to have a bad temper or any major issues to give you reason to go, we all have aspects of our life that hold us back from being the best version of ourselves and I truly think Vipassana can help us take control.
If everyone did this course and practiced Vipassana, our world would be in a much better place. 

Thank you thank you for reading.

If you have any other general queries, how the facility is run, what the facility is like, what the daily schedule is like, food, leaving etc. happy to answer, but I will refrain from providing a day to day account or any details on the techniques and different meditations you learn because I don’t think this will add any value or benefit any individual. Apologies to those that I may have outlined this detail to already.

Disclaimer: This post is solely about my experience. I am not guaranteeing that anyone will feel the same way as every individual is on their own path and has their own reason, these are my thoughts, beliefs and experiences. I have no hidden agenda to be recommending this course - I recommend it purely out of love and compassion in hope that many others will be lucky enough to have such a positive experience like I did. 

Sonali Franklin