In an Elizabeth Gilbert (“Eat Pray Love”) fashion, Ewelina Bubanja decided to leave Europe and a “falsely comfortable life routine” to “re-evaluate life’s perspectives”. Unlike Gilbert, the impetus of Bubania’s departure was not a divorce – she does have a boyfriend with whom she seems to be happy with – but the uninspiring reality that surrounded her, the “blind ambition, fake hierarchy and pre-conditioned priorities”. In search of “a new and much more suitable place to live on planet earth”, she landed in South East Asia, places she had “always wished to explore but were ‘too far away’” and for which she had ‘too little free time’”. She is now a yoga teacher, a reiki therapist and writes about holistic nutrition, travel and well being while on her culinary and spiritual journey among tropical fruits, lush rainforests, exotic cultures, and Eastern medicine and philosophies.
Ewelina Bubanja’s story represents a growing movement in Western societies towards “mindfulness”. It remains to be seen whether South East Asia will provide her with all the answers, or whether a different set of life realities will dampen her romanticism about the place.
However, it is well-worth reading her personal account of learning various meditation techniques there, such as this “10 Day Silent Vipassana” course she took in Bogor, Indonesia, for anyone contemplating such a spiritual sojourn.
I hope the meditation teachings will stay with her wherever she finds herself next, be it another country in South East Asia, another part of the planet, or back home in Europe. And I certainly hope she discovers mangostene before long!
10 Day Silent Vipassana Meditation Experience
By Ewelina Bubanja
I left my boyfriend in some absurdly looking hotel in Chinatown of Jakarta and departed with an aim to stay silent for the next 10 days. For those new to the term Vipassana or ‘insight meditation’ is thought over 10 days with a strict rule of ‘noble silence’ and a scheduled timetable filled with mediation for up to ten hours per day.
Vipassana originated in India from the teachings of the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago. Over the years it has been diluted and modified in other parts of the world, but has been practiced in its pure form in Myanmar as taught by S. N. Goenka, which is the style I practiced, has spread globally in recent years thanks to the positive results reported from the practice and its easy accessibility.
The centre was located in a remote mountain area surrounded by forests, where escape was possible only at a mental level. It would all be ‘according to the plan’ if I haven’t suddenly realized that I am going there a day too early. Terrified at the perspective of a shelterless night in the mountains I desperately tried to halt the driver. Unfortunately he did not pay any attention and had no intent of stopping or getting any other instructions from those given in his own language back at the hotel.
One of the things that I have learnt from recently completed yoga course – and there wasn’t a better moment to put it in use – was the need of ‘letting go’ and dropping the necessity of controlling every scene of the script of life. After couple more attempts I sat back and placed all the faith in what’s ahead and chose to trust in the way this was to unfold in front of my eyes.
Luckily there was an option of an overnight stay in one of the abandoned old Java style hats that were donated to the centre and left unattended for many years. The lack of facilities and the modest shelter was all I needed at that time. Left with spinning head I pondered on all the things that happened in the last 24 hours.
The next day it all started. I parted from all my belongings that could potentially be a distraction thus no possibility of contact with the outside world. Men and women were separated and placed in different sections of the building complex and the strict rule of ‘noble silence’ started. It meant that no one could verbally communicate but also had to refrain from any type of communication including eye contact or gestures. The intention was to provide the most isolated experience possible. In the end you were in your own space.
I vaguely imagined how the schedule will look like but must admit that waking up as early as 4 am looks much better on a paper than in reality. To my surprise I got used to the routine very quickly. I actually found it very helpful to discipline not only the mind but also the body during those 10 hours of daily meditation.
Vipassana is a scientific method that encourages to be aware of any physical cravings (for a more comfortable position) and aversions (pain, itchiness, numbness, irritations with those around you) and to be completely detached on an emotional level. By working on transcending these fleeting sensations, mastery over the mind will be transferred to the rest of life and one will reduce cravings and aversions.
During the first 3 days we focused on the breath and learning of Anapana mediation technique (emphasis goes towards observance of breathing in the restricted area of the body). This is an exercise in persistence and discipline to master your mind (Samadhi). Only on the 4th day we were taught the actual Vipassana meditation technique (scanning different parts of the body and staying with what comes up without any judgement just observing the sensations).
The hardest during the entire 10 days were times of ‘strong determination’ which meant sitting for one full hour without changing the position or any movement in one posture.
I have to admit that life has become quiet extraordinary, subtle and beautiful. Vipassana redefined my awareness, it helped me to re-evaluate how I make decisions in my life how I react to things that caused distress before. I am filled with peace and harmony. It brought my understanding of things to a completely new level. I realize how much I did not understand about life and happiness beforehand. There is a lot of peace in me, I feel much calmer and have a sense of gratitude and joy that is incomparable to anything I experienced in my life until now. In retrospect it was a magnificent experience but the during part was very tough.
We were waking up at ‘cocka-a-doodle-doo’ coming out of the dark silence from a cold mountain air. Each day opening meditation session lasted for two and a half hours until the breakfast at 6.30 am. The daily routine was precisely scheduled and adhered to by the staff and students.
After breakfast we had some spare time until 8 o’clock. Sitting for so long can tire you tremendously both physically and mentally. This little ‘siesta’ time was very much anticipated to ‘stretch the legs’ and warm in the morning sun.
The next section of the day comprised of a block of three hours meditation (with 5 minutes breaks in between). It might sound like a harsh routine but somewhere around the fourth day it quickly became a natural path to follow.
At 11.30 am we were being served lunch, as always in a form of buffet with a strict rule of only vegetarian dishes. Next we were back to the routine of meditation for another block of three hours.
As it was my first experience at the Vipassana I qualified under a ‘New Student rules’ which allowed a piece of fruit at 6 pm where the ‘Old students’ were limited to only drink tea. For the old students lunch was the second and last meal of the day. As explained by S. N. Goenka food was a tool used to discipline the body and it did work for everybody sooner or later as focus shifted quickly towards the meditation and quieting the busy mind.
Amongst many things Vipassana was the most powerful experience I went through in my life. It focused on the deep interconnection between mind and body and was a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It taught me to be aware of what’s happening right now, in my experience, without judgment or interpretation.
It was just a beginning of my personal self-exploratory journey of achieving a balanced mind full of love and compassion. I learnt to cultivate mindfulness also informally by focusing the attention on moment-to-moment sensations during everyday activities.
I am convinced to say this 10 days will change your entire life. Naturally this technique works differently for every individual and many factors should be taken into consideration prior taking this decision. But I must admit I am very grateful to have learnt the skill and encourage everyone to invest the time into self growth through Vipassana. After all if you don’t take care of yourself you cannot take care of others.