After years of living as a businessman suffering from health challenges, S.N. Goenka turned to vipassana, which is part of Theravada Buddhism, to heal himself. The benefits of the technique changed Goenka’s life enough for him to leave the corporate world to study and teach what he learned. Since 1969, he has influenced thousands, if not millions, of people around the world to stop and focus on their breath to heal themselves.
Goenka emphasizes that the ten-day course is not a vacation. It is a time to put in hard work to focus and strengthen the mind and to learn to let go of challenges. All of this is true. I have attended and volunteered for several. Meditating for 18 hours a day is hard work on the body and mind. That in itself tests your resolve.
Integrating what is learned from the ten-day course into your busy life can be challenging. It is the common discussion after the silence is broken. Simply stepping back into your life without reflection on the course may lead to everything learned to become a memory. Goenka cautions people of this and how it is not helpful to take the course repeatedly without integrating what was learned. You end up starting a cycle of behavior that looks like addiction.
Vipassana meditation helps you recognize the truth of yourself. It connects the body and mind and helps you become more balanced. There are benefits to the vipassana course that never gets discussed.
- Leaving family, friends, work, or school to sit in the course requires time, trust, and coordination. You learn whom you can rely on and leave with the sense that everything will work out. This can be difficult for those who are used to controlling every aspect of life. Trusting others to help you is the beginning of letting go. After a course, reach out to the same friends and family for support during the week. This will help bring balance to your life.
- The meals at vipassana centers are plant-based, with the exception of dairy that is offered. Your body goes through a slow detox and cleanse. When you return home, snack on fruit, vegetables, or nuts. Try Meatless Mondays. Drink more water and herbal tea to flush out the body. Notice shifts in diet, cravings, and how your body feels.
- Sitting in the meditation hall tests how tolerant or distracted you are. People belch, sneeze, cough, pass gas, snore, clear their throats, and crack knuckles and joints. You are learning to recognize what is happening in your environment and not being reactionary. This is sometimes called mindfulness. Integrating this outside the meditation course moves you towards being more equanimous in different situations.
If you haven’t found the time to meditate, see which of the above that you can work on. Start small. Be open and patient with yourself. You will start to see your life shift. Gradually, space will open up so you can meditate. You do not have to sit for an hour. Start with five minutes work your way up to twenty minutes.
Over time, challenges will fall away. Goenka said it was a struggle for himself in the beginning. He transitioned in 2013 and continues to influence people in subtle ways everyday. Your small changes can influence many as well.