I took my first 10-day S.N. Goenka vipassana meditation course in 2011 at the Shelburne Falls, MA center. I was living in Texas when a friend first introduced me to vipassana, ten years prior. I took the tour, read the pamphlets, watched Doing Time, Doing Vipassana, and listened to people share their experiences. My response was “nope!”
A stressful experience with a neighbor changed my mind. I felt that it was time to release my suffering, or at least learn how to chip away at it.
I went to the meditation center with a former colleague, who was already a vipassana meditator. This was his second 10-day course. The center provides a ride share for all students; we carpooled with a man, also a seasoned meditator, driving from Ohio to the center. The ride was fun, even with the two telling me that I was going to starve and get no sleep. I laughed it off because I was looking forward to the course.
The parking lot at the center was packed tightly with cars. I later learned that there were around one hundred and thirty meditators, almost one hundred of them were female. The evening consisted of us checking in, locking away personal items (phones, computers, purses, etc.), eating dinner, and getting an orientation about conduct.
The course requires a 24-hour noble silence – no verbal or non-verbal communication with other students. We could reach out to assistant teachers during scheduled times to ask questions about vipassana, or course managers for emergencies. We were given a chance to leave before the course began. No one budged.
Shockingly, I bounced up at 4 AM every morning, ready to sit for the first hour before breakfast, when the managers rung the tingsha bell in the hallway. I felt spoiled having delicious vegetarian breakfast, lunch and dinner ready each day.
Anapana (breath) meditation was introduced and practiced for the first three days. My dreams were wacky during that time. On Day 3, I dreamed of hanging out with a group of women in Las Vegans, singing about a vipassana center in Georgia I knew nothing about before this course. We then shifted into vipassana (insight) on day four, scanning our bodies, being aware of sensations that came up then letting them go. I had visions of snakes on Day 5 and cried on another day. Looking back, I know this was emotional release.
Noble silence ended on Day 10. I thought hard about what I wanted to say first. It seemed superficial, but mustered an “okay.” The Shelburne center then still had shared rooms. The five other women and I figured out who each of us were and had dinner, laughed about our wild dreams, thoughts of leaving, and trying to convince ourselves that it was a vacation in order to stay until the end. Two women at another table were inspired to sing and beat box about their vipassana experience. The entire room became silent once again, this time for the entertainment.
Since my first course, I have taken two additional 10-day courses; served a 10-day course, which had two hundred students; and returned for an 8-day Satipatthana Sutta course.
In 2013, I met a woman a single mother of two who had a full-time job and was in a doctoral program at my second 10-day course. She sat for an hour twice a day. I was inspired and did the same every day for a year.
My vipassana experiences were wonderful, or in meditation-speak, I had good sits. I learned that mindfulness, as a technique, helped me discern what I consume – food, media, conversations, etc., — and share with others. Maintaining a regular meditation practice strengthens my mindfulness, regardless of how long I sit.