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The Paradoxical Quest for Bliss - Insights from my recent vipassana meditation course (Part 1)

Updated: Jan 26

After sitting my first 10 day Vipassana Meditation course in 2019, as soon as we were allowed to break our noble silence, one of the students zip lined to me and asked how it was for me. I couldn't put what I felt into words, and instead, tears started to flow. I was asked a few moments later if I saw myself ever doing something like this ever again and I said with strong conviction that it was incredibly unlikely.

I returned in October 2021 to serve a 10 day course and just recently came back from sitting my 2nd course. If you're curious about the difference between serving and sitting a course, check out my previous blog.

These meditation courses are not your mainstream comfort focused retreats. During the 10 day courses, there are 10 scheduled hours of meditation a day (longest of these being 2 hrs). You are asked not to speak, make eye contact, read or write throughout the 10 days. For your first time sitting the course (they refer to the practice of meditating as sitting), you are allowed to have fruits with the tea they serve at 5pm, but the last full meal is served at 11am. Students that return after their first course, are asked to only have tea or coffee and to skip all fruits available during the 5pm tea service.

Icing on the cake, 3 of the 1 hour sits, you are asked to practice "adhitthana" or strong determination not to uncross your legs/hands or open your eyes. There is a short note from the teacher, Goenka, taped in the entrance of the meditation hall saying that it is not an opportunity to torture yourself, but to attempt to look at your discomfort in a different way - as the sensations that compose the experience without the aversion, or attempt to reject it, or identify with it as "your" pain. Although Goenka has passed, his recordings are what guide the meditations and discourses. That being said, there are assistant teachers there to keep things organized and to answer questions about the technique.

As challenging as all of that sounds, somehow, I have been able to have some of the most blissful experiences on these retreats and while practicing vipassana meditation.

Because my vipassana practice was starting to feel blissful, I was beginning to slip into the very dangerous territory of craving more of the bliss and completely missing one of the most important points of this practice. Equanimity.

The first of the 3 major insights that I'll be sharing over the next few posts is that this practice is NOT about creating more bliss for ourselves, but about cultivating equanimity - the ability to let go of clinging/craving as well as aversion and be with "what is" instead. The cultivation of equanimity is emphasized because the human experience is filled with challenges and most of us (if