Vipassana Part 1: Getting There and About the Course

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Last week, I completed my first 10-day Vipassana course at the Southwest Vipassana Meditation Center in Kaufman, Texas.

Now I’m back in New York and beginning to process the whole experience.

The Wheel of Dhamma

The Wheel of Dhamma

There were so many intangible things. It’s nearly impossible to describe the tactile and transformative qualities. After speaking with a few others about the impacts, I’m realizing how radically different everyone reacts to a course like this.

So I’ll outline my experience. Yours might be similar in some ways, but totally opposite in other ways.

I’ll start with some background and info about Vipassana and the Center I attended. Then, in a second post, talk about the coursework.

And also like, wow.

What’s Vipassana?

Vipassana means “seeing things as they really are.” It’s a meditation technique that’s part of Dhamma, the overall path.

The technique involves getting in touch with your bodily sensations as a means of mental purification. With Vipassana, self-observation leads to purification.

In application, that means to simply observe your body in complete silence. Through observation, you become neutral. And that neutrality (equanimity) leads to the realization that everything is impermanent, including any and all sensations you will ever feel.

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The beautiful, impermanent grounds of the Dhamma Siri Center

Reaching this state is the aim of a 10-day Vipassana course.

It’s the 1st stop on the overall path (Dhamma), to a transcendental state where you absolve yourself to the infinitesimal nothingness that everything, including the Universe, is made of.

So it’s pretty heady stuff. And the first steps are humble beginnings.

The technique isn’t affiliated with any religion, although it has origins in Buddhism.

There are ~170 Vipassana centers world-wide.

It costs nothing to sign-up. And in fact, you are not allowed to donate until you complete your first 10-day course. From that point, you are considered an “old student” and you are encouraged to donate within your means so the Centers can continue to offer the courses to others.

How It Happened

Link: Dhamma Siri Meditation Center in Kaufman, TX

I applied for a course at a Center near my new place in Dallas. Shortly after, I got the news they’d accepted my application for a 10-day course in March 2016.

So I flew to Dallas, and then coordinated with the Center’s shuttle bus. They picked me up at my doorstep and drove the ~40 miles to Kaufman, TX with other meditators. Which is awesome.

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All of the Centers are accessible from major cities. The Center in Texas is ~40 miles southwest of Dallas

I’d read reviews on Yelp and did some internet searches, but I was mostly unaware of what exactly would happen there.

I had no idea what I was in for.

Arrival and “check-in”

When we got to the Center, we took off our shoes and registered. They asked us a few times if we were prepared to stay the entire 10 days.

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I arrived on a rainy, gray day to the Dhamma Siri Vipassana Center in Kaufman

I filled out a couple of forms, then waited my turn to get a room assignment.

I was given Room #10 in the Men’s “New Student” dorms.

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Entrance to the men’s dorm

Halls of the Dhamma Siri Center

Hallways of the Dhamma Siri Center

My room, #10

My room, #10

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View upon walking in

The rooms are pretty spartan. You get an XL twin-sized bed, a chair and small table, and a shelf for your things. Each room was private and had a bathroom area.

There was also an alarm clock. That was it.

The room was immaculately clean and spotless.

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Pano of the entire room

The bed

The bed

Bathroom

Bathroom

Shower

Shower

View from my window

View from my window

The grounds were well laid-out and extremely well-maintained. You can tell a lot of care went into building this place.

Men's dorm layout

Men’s dorm layout

And yes, the whole area is radiating with good vibes. 🙂

There were a few critters! I spotted a couple of cats, cows, rabbits, and turtles. There were also apparently skunks and snakes in the area, so they advised us to keep to the walking trails, which were either paved or very well-lit.

The Vipassana rules

When you apply for a Vipassana course, you must agree to certain rules, or precepts:

  • No killing
  • No stealing
  • No sexual activity
  • No speaking lies
  • No intoxicants
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Can’t hurt a fly

The “speaking lies” rule was easy to follow because you must also observe Noble Silence: no talking or communicating with anyone else in any way. That includes signs, notes, or gestures.

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Noble silence

And moreover, no phones, internet, or computers (!!!). Noble Silence begins on Day 1 and ends at mid-day on the 10th day. You’re also not allowed to have books, talismans, religious items, journals, writing instruments, pictures of home, or anything else that would distract you from meditating.

For some, it could be incredibly hard to give that up. Especially because most of us are either addicted or compulsive about checking our phones and email.

But I was more than happy to give up my phone and the internet. I set up everything as well as I could before I left. I called everyone before the shuttle came to pick me up and said, goodbye for now. And I turned off my computer and internet connection to let the cables sleep.

Also, guys and gals are completely separated. Because they want you to live like a monk. No temptation. 😉

The day you arrive is considered Day 0. And you leave on Day 11. So your arrival and departure are in addition to the 10 days spent on the course.

Once we got indoctrinated at the end of Day 0, they sent us off to bed to rest up to begin Day 1. I’ll detail my experience with the coursework in a separate post.

The food

Was delicious. Simple as that.

You’re only allowed to eat simple vegetarian meals.

Breakfast is at 6:30am, and includes toast, fruit, and oatmeal. You can also have coffee or tea. And they occasionally had an extra dish, but it was pretty basic. No eggs. They noted when something had dairy or gluten.

Egg

Eggplant, rice, soup, and veggie nuggets

Lunch is at 11am, and was always pretty substantial. They did a great job of mixing it up. There was eggplant, roasted veggies, homemade soups, chips & salsa, pasta dishes, and (veggie) curries. All of it, without exception, was wonderful.

You could have as much as you wanted, and everything was served buffet-style. There was nothing I didn’t like. And I had seconds of a few items.

They also had desserts some days, like apple crisp, or oat cookies.

There is no dinner. Instead, there’s a tea break at 5pm. You’re allowed to have a piece or two of fruit. That’s it until breakfast the next day.

Noble Silence

There’s no talking to other students while you’re there. You can speak with the course manager or teacher if you have a question, or if you need help with something. But beyond that, you operate in complete silence. They even discourage eye contact.

Because your journey is about focusing inward. Not about interacting or socializing with the outside.

At times, it felt weird, almost comical. Because you still have to wait in line, wait to open doors, and be around people for hours and hours each day.

But all of us respected the Noble Silence. To be honest, it was refreshing to get away from idle chatter.

There were a few times I noticed something and wanted to point it out to someone else. Because it was beautiful, funny, interesting, etc. But I didn’t – couldn’t.

There’s something deeply moving about having realizations on your own.

It’s like watching a gorgeous sunset alone and wishing you had someone there to share it with you. But then realizing it’s up to you to enjoy the moment, even in solitude. In some ways it’s heartbreaking, but in other ways profound.

The silence was a reminder that sometimes, we have to do things alone. Those experiences aren’t inherently worth less. That in fact, they can be just as, even more, valuable than the ones we share.

For me, that was Vipassana in the most basic nutshell.

Bottom line

Out and Out is back! I missed you guys so much.

Feel free to ask anything about Vipassana, or to share your own experience. 

I’ll get the next post up quickly. Glad to be back with you.

May all beings be happy.

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About Harlan

Just a dude living in Dallas.

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Comments

  1. sounds fascinating. I’m doing the 21 day Deprak-Oprah free meditation program at the moment. It’s absolutely nothing compared to what you’ve experienced, but even with 20 minutes a day, I feel moved by the experience.

    • You can experience benefits with as little as 10 minutes a day. Vipassana was completely transformative largely because it’s so intense.

      But yes, keep meditating. The progress will be slow and steady, like climbing a mountain. But the first steps are the most important – keep going. I promise it’s worth it! 🙂

  2. I have been doing since 1984. I like Vipassana. In my first course, Goenkaji was the teacher. Later on I heard that it was the last course Goenkaji was present from 4:30 till 9:30 PM. all ten days. I have done long courses too, 20 and 30 days. Did my last course in February, 2016 at Global Pagoda. So far I have done it 28 different places. Vipassana is fun.
    Noble silence is not penance, its an entertainment.

    • Wow, very cool.

      I agree about the Noble Silence. I enjoyed it. It’s important to give yourself a break to observe every once in a while.

      I heard about the 30-day courses. Are they presented in a different format, or essentially the same, only longer?

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