Vipassana Meditation in Kanchanaburi Thailand : A Filipina Review
How did I learn about Vipassana meditation?
I didn’t get my hopes up about Vipassana meditation but the experience exceeded my expectation so much I’d like to do it again!
I became interested in meditation at the same time I got interested in yoga. When I found out that a friend went on meditation in a secluded area in Myanmar, I got curious.
I thought I’d like to try it, too. My mind was at haywire then. Problems here and there robbed me of my peace of mind. It wasn’t a happy point in my life. I was either stuck in remembering the past or daydreaming the future. I couldn’t control my mind. It sucked my energy, and I felt desperate.
After hearing that meditation helps in easing the mind, I got deeply interested in it. I spoke to this friend and asked about her meditation experience. She loved it and found it beneficial. I told her I wanted to give it to score some peace of mind. I got a nudge from her. A little after that was when everything started.
(Meditation isn’t a thing in the Philippines because most people are Christians. We just don’t do it here because of mainly religion.)
Not long after that conversation, I began hitting the online world searching about free meditation centers in Myanmar. During this time, I stumbled upon a website called Dhamma. According to the information on the website, this organization is teaching Vipassana—a technique on meditation.
Applying for the course for the first time
Next thing I did, I read blogs and reviews about Vipassana. I came across people who took the course and they had nothing but good words about it. It piqued my super skeptic interest. I decided to apply on the same website Dhamma and chose Myanmar as the location.
(They only process applications online. They have locations everywhere (US, Asia, Europe, etc.) as to where you’d want to take the course, it’s entirely up to you.)
That time, I decided Myanmar would be a good location to do it. So I went on and apply on open dates. I just provided basic details actually.
NOTE: You need to apply 2-3 months prior the course begins as slots get filled easily. Same reason why most Western people end up taking the course here in Asia. Slots in their home country get full most of the times. Or at least that’s what I know from experience.
After more than a month of not hearing back from the organization, I decided to send them an email. After a few moments, I got a response. Unfortunately, I did not get a slot but they told me they’d put me in the waiting list. That means if someone canceled their reservation or slot, I’d be the replacement student.
Good riddance, everyone made it to the course!
Applying in the course for the second time
Though they said, “third time’s a charm” I didn’t want to end it up with that. Last February, I applied again hoping I’d get my chance this time. I saw open slots for a center in Kanchanaburi Thailand in May. I quickly sign up.
For the second time, it took 2 months to hear back from them until I decided to update through email again. I guess they’re really busy about all this.
After days of waiting for a reply, at last, I got one! I got in! I made it in! I was happy as I was thinking this could be the turnaround point for me. They emailed me two more times asking me to confirm my attendance and I obliged.
I also received instructions through email regarding their policies, code of discipline, daily timetable, and the duration of the course which would be on the 8th to 19th of May.
They place heavy emphasis on the Code of Discipline while on meditation like:
Meditators should observe noble silence for 9 days while on meditation. That means no talking to co-meditators in any form of language (body or sign) for the next 9 days, nor I can make eye contact.
I am only allowed to talk on the 10th day, once an instruction that noble speech is permitted.
See timetable below:
The meditation lasted 10 days, but it’s on the 11th day that we left the center. So I was basically at the center for a good 11 days.
10-Day Vipassana Meditation
The registration started in the center at around 3 PM on May 8. We surrendered our phones, cameras, laptops, and writing materials. They stored our devices and gave us the key to its storage.
Other facts about the meditation:
- The foods served are all plant-based. No meat or products with meat.
- I don’t know with other centers, but in Kanchanaburi, I got one room with toilet and bath. With others, I heard they got a room too but with a shared bath—to be shared among two people.
- Other basic things in the room were a fan and a hanging rod with hangers, a small table, and a meditation chair/table. We were given bedsheets and clean linens before we got a room assigned to us.
- We were given plates and utensils, and a tumbler.
- While on meditation, anyone isn’t allowed to engage in any form of exercises.
- Religious artifacts or things need to be surrendered too.
- The meditation is completely FREE. It’s up to you to donate after it ends, in any amount you feel comfortable.
- Anything that may cause to lose focus during the meditation should be given to the Dhamma servers (volunteers) for safe keeping.
- You can take all your belongings back after the meditation ends.
The first day was about observing the breath. It was about drawing full attention to the natural breath. We were instructed to breathe as natural as possible without choosing to breathe deep or shallow.
(I do this exercise often when I can’t go to sleep and it helps me.)
The goal was to observe respiration and focus the undivided attention to the breathing. This breathing technique is called Anapana. It only took me seconds of observation before my mind drifted to other things. It wasn’t good as I realized that I really couldn’t control my mind to focus on one thing. Whenever I was out of focus, I snapped and refocused. We did this exercise for the first day for more than 12 hours. I couldn’t even imagine if I really did it.
During the discourse at night, we were taught about the underlying idea of the Vipassana technique and reviewed the guidelines of the course. Basically, Vipassana is a meditation technique that uses breath as the instrument of focus.
The technique was taught by S.N. Goenka (a teacher of Vipassana) through a video we watched during the discourse. He said that the second and sixth days of the course are the most challenging days. It’s when one’s determination is really put to test.
The second day was no different than the first, except this time, while breathing, our mind should also focus on the triangular area above the nose down to the upper lip. That area above the nose all the way to the upper lip forms a triangular section. That’s the area of focus we should work on.
Additionally, we should also be attentive of the nostrils and its inside where air passed as we breathe in and out. That day was a crazy one. It wasn’t something I expected from the course. I found it boring and useless that I thought I was wasting time. It came to the point that I wanted to quit the course.
On the other hand, some thoughts stopped me to do so. I persevered and ended waking up to the morning gong on the third day at a cold 04:00 morning.
Again, the day was pretty similar to Day 2 exercise except that the focused area became smaller. Instead of focusing on the triangular part of the nose and the upper lip, this day was the small area between the nostril and upper lip. Yes, that part where the nostrils meet the upper lip only. Very small part.
S.N. Goenka said on the discourse that night that the smaller area you focus on, the sharper your brain becomes. I felt the air as I breathe in and out as usual. However, I couldn’t feel the air as it passed through the area of focus. Later that night, I realized I could focus my attention on breathing longer than a few seconds. That night too, I could feel the air as it touched the area between my nostrils and upper lip. I guess I improved.
Again, I woke up by the sound of the gong at 4:00 AM of the 4th day. Right after I opened my eyes, I realized how good it was to wake up early morning and get a feel of the sun.
This was the moment I waited. We seriously got started with the technique. Instead of focusing our attention on the small area of focus on the previous day, this time, we were to focus our attention on top of our heads and feel any type of sensations from there. Then, I felt something was crawling in my head. Sometimes, there’s itchiness too. There was no specific sensation to look for. Anything that we felt in our heads may it be pain, itchiness, tingling, anything was a sensation. We shouldn’t react to the sensations. We should only observe them.
After the head, we moved on to the face. We observed the whole face for any sensations. Then again, we shouldn’t react to those sensations. In short, we had to be equanimous.
We finished the day by observing our whole body for any sensations from subtle to clear, one by one, part by part.
We did the same exercise as Day 4.
I was struggling the previous day because it was tough for me to drag my brain and focus it on one thing only at a time, but I found that Day 5 became a little bit easy.
We repeated the same thing of observing and feeling sensations from the top of the head, face, right shoulders, arms, wrist, and fingers, onto the left arms, then the throat area and chest, the abdomen, the back of the neck and the back of the body, then right thigh, legs and feet.
It was basically doing the same exercise from Day 4 for as many rounds within one hour.
This was the day it got intense. If in our prior days we were allowed to move if we felt pain on our legs or backs, on the 6th day, we were instructed, as long as we could persist, not to move within one hour. That was to not disrupt the focus.
If the pain was unbearable, that’s the time we could move. However, to get a good foundation at the technique, we followed the instructions given by the teacher and tried our best, at least most of us, not to move within the one-hour session.
I felt striking pain on both my legs and so I moved a few times to ease them.
This day was like Day 6 accompanied with more discipline. Say, if I moved 5 times yesterday, this day I should work on not moving max of 4 times. The goal was to sit as still as we could so as not to cut the flow.
During this time, I felt many sensations. I felt a subtle vibration within my whole body that would disappear after a few seconds. The teacher stressed out about being equanimous (not clinging or reacting to the sensations) in observing them.
Awareness and equanimity are the two most important things to master the technique as per the teacher. It was intense and at the same time challenging.
With the 3 one-hour group meditation every day, I managed not to budge on some sessions. I also moved a few times on the others. I came to like the 8 am – 9 am group meditation because I felt I did well during this time. I guess it’s the same with the other girls too.
DAY 8 – 10
The last three days were basically doing the same thing from day 6 but with less to no movements at all. Just meditating as still as the trees surrounding the center. This time, my awareness developed. I became more aware of the sensations and my brain was faster to feel even the subtle sensations. During this time, my time of focus was longer than one minute. I’d say maybe longer than 5 minutes, I’m not sure.
What I’m certain is, I could focus on one thing longer than the first day. After the first half of the course was over, in a snap, the meditation ended quickly.
The first 5 days felt like months. I was always counting the days when it’d be finished. Once Day 6 was over, the rest of the days came hurtling like an avalanche. It came in a blink.
I felt it was too sudden. Perhaps it’s because I was enjoying the last half of the meditation course. The last discourse on the 10th day was more of reviewing the important things from Day 1. There was also a reminder to do one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening meditation to help us master the technique.
What did I learn?
This is my conclusion according to my experience. Each student has a different experience so I may have different views with the others about the whole experience and the technique.
Vipassana basically teaches observing or looking deep into the inside rather than looking at the outside. It tells the universal law of nature that states everything come and goes. Everything rise and fall. It’s a cycle.
All we see, all we have, whether status, health, possessions are impermanent so we should not cling to them. A time will come that they will go.
Vipassana is a technique to purify the mind to achieve liberation. Achieving liberation means nothing can hold you down because you aren’t attached to even a single thing in this world. Nobody owns you, not your wealth, not relationships, not status. I learned tremendous things in this meditation.
After the course, I observe I am more present and calmer. I don’t overthink that much anymore so I’m not that stressed.
The most important thing I learned and I guess I achieved with taking the course is that I am more present. I think that’s what people need more. To be PRESENT.
Would I recommend it?
ABSOLUTELY YES! Why not stop reading and listening to other people’s stories? Why not make your own? I leave you with those questions if you are torn between trying it out or not.
Until next adventure!
©Melanie “Inday” Bacelisco