There are as many benefits to meditation as there are ways of doing it. From the virtual to the hilarious, the practice of sitting still has become a go-to for relieving stress, improving concentration and even revving up your brain’s compassion center, but there is one tradition that trumps them all.
Vipassana, the art of seeing things as they really are, is a 2000-year-old Buddhist practice that is offered at centers in almost every corner of the globe. Former students have described the 10-day course as both miraculous and not dissimilar from torture.
The latter is due to its strict no-distractions policy — no phones, music, books or even a pencil and notebook are allowed for the duration of the course. Also off the table are talking, gesturing or making eye contact with other students. The only time you will hear the sound of your own voice is during the nightly Q&A with your teacher and maybe while crying yourself to sleep on your first night. Speaking of sleep, prepare to be woken up by the morning bell at 4am to start a day that includes two vegetarian meals and roughly 10 hours of meditation.
The miraculous part comes slowly, as you learn to deal with the discomforts of your busy mind and restless limbs and discover the power to choose which whim or ache you give in to. It is serious work, but like a grueling physical routine, the more of yourself you put into the process, the more you will feel yourself transformed. Many students have found the course life changing, alleviating chronic anxiety and making it possible to connect to the present moment rather than running mental sprints between the past and the future.
The best part is that the Vipassana course (info here), complete with food and lodging, is offered by donation (and you only pay after completing the course), a rare show of generosity in the world of meditation and wellness retreats. By no means is Vipassana a vacation, but a course at one of their centers in Thailand or Bali followed by some exploration of the destination may create more meaningful memories than anything you’d find at a beach resort.
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