My path to peace & balance
There is a lot to say about meditation and people do say a lot about meditation. That it is an ancient tradition, that it can lead us to discover a sense of calmness and inner harmony, that it can help us cope with the pressures of everyday life, that it cuts across different religions and cultures. One finds it bullshit, way to spiritual and doesn't want to know a thing about it. I was just like that too, till 4 years back in time.
Before I started traveling in 2015 I found all these yoga-meditating-vegan people just boring who didn't know how to have fun, just gave themselves to many restrictions. What did I know about it? Nothing, nada! But now I do and I would like to share my knowledge and experience with you ♥
I didn't become a meditation/yoga lover from one day to the other, just like most things it went naturally. Kind of naturally, because I started cold turkey: from never -ever- have done any kind meditation in my life before, I went to a Buddhistic temple in the mountains of the north of Bali for a Vipassana course. This teached meditation involving concentration on the body and its sensations, and the insights which it provides. The meditation does not go on for just for a few hours, a few days or a week. No, I started doing it for 10 days long, 10 hours of meditation a day.
Why? Because I needed it. Since I graduated a year before that (2014), I felt more and for longer periods this annoying nervous feeling. The feeling I has to do something, had to move, do something useful. And when I started traveling, got my ass all the way to Bali to relax the hell out of it and I STILL felt this nervous feeling, I was sick of it. Then, again and again, I heard about the Vipassana. Afterward, I realize, it was probably the universe that wanted to put it on my path. It seemed like the only way to get rid of the tense feeling inside so... There I went! ✈
Vipassana as taught by Mahasi Sayadaw @ Brahmavihara Arama (May 2015)
The first experience I had with the Vipassana was during this 10-day retreat. I didn't read anything about the experience of others because I was afraid it would scare me off. Don't worry, here I won't scare you off but will only give you
an introduction and some of my mostly positive experience ;)
I had no clue that there are different kinds of Vipassana meditation. That actually took me a few years to find out. The first Vipassana I did was by Sayadaw. This style is known for being softer than like Goenka's Vipassana (next one I will write about).
It focuses on the breath, observing thoughts in the mind, includes walking meditation, mindful walking and mindful eating. At some places they will charge money for the course, the one I did ask for a donation. I liked that.
Not knowing a thing about it, I took a taxi to this beautiful area on top of some mountains in the north of Bali. I signed in on daytime, had a chat with some of the other students, got into my room I shared with one person -a very cute, small and old Indonesian lady-, had a light dinner, got an introduction of the course and went to sleep. Excited for the upcoming day.
"I didn't read anything about the experience of others
because I was afraid it would scare me off"
The first bell (gong) woke me up at 03:45. You were expected to start your walking meditation at 04:00. It was really good I was so motivated otherwise I was definitely not coming out of bed at this time of the day. Well, let's say, night...
The rest of the day was pretty much an alternation of one hour of walking meditation and one hour of sitting meditation. At least, it was scheduled like that. I think in the end the longest I meditated straight was about 45 minutes. And I thought that was damn long. The Sayadaw Vipassana is pretty relaxed, even more if you compare it with the one of Goenka. You can decide yourself where on the campus you meditate, there were only like 3 meditations a day you were really expected at the temple, for the rest I could meditate in the garden, your room, temple, or even in bed with your eyes closed. This last one was not recommended.
All of this was not only about meditating for about 10 hours a day. It was also 10 days without using a mobile phone, reading, do exercise, talking or having eye contact. It was 10 days of you, just you. Day by day they explained more about the Vipassana technique. This was one day by our teaches, a sweet Indonesian lady. The other day by the monk. These were the only times you were talking.
There was something between the monk and me. Me and him weren't really good a match. Or let's say, I didn't like the fact that he was bragging a lot, like about he finds it important to always have the newest Samsung phone, bought from money people offered to him. And he didn't like me not liking that. Nothing with that many words, but we both felt it. Further than that he seemed like a cool monk though.
But let's go back to the meditation. I like new things, new adventures. This whole-day-of-meditating-thing was definitely something new and day by day we did everything more mindful. The first days it was being mindful about walking, then about what leg you use (left - right - left - right) and after that about the movement of your feet while walking. Also eating became a thing. It was not just like "okay let's get this food in me asap". Every step was thoughtful. My hand goes to the spoon - I grab the spoon - I get food on my spoon - I put it towards my mouth - I open my mouth - and so on. Your mind slowed down day by day. In the last two days I remember thinking "how will it feel if I can do everything at normal speed again"? I also became to wonder how it was to just talk at again.
I don't want to tell you to much more, because the experience will be so different to every one of us. If I tell you my highlights, you will be going to hope for it. If I tell you my downsides, you'll be afraid for it. For some the Vipassana is hard. Like for me, doing for 10 days pretty much the same was very difficult. I sort of started to be bored after 6 days and I hated to do pretty much the same every day, but was SO proud when I made it to all these days and I wanted to feel the benefit of it. For some people it's VERY hard. I think especially when someone has psychological issues, because you have a lot of time to think about while meditating and around that. And it will be very hard for people who have gravings to things like drugs or alcohol. But don't forget to believe in yourself. There are MANY people who did it before you and also made it. And I will promise you: you will feel great after and would recommend everyone to do it!
Many people ask me why someone would ever do a Vipassana. And IF, why 10 days? Not just 3, 4, 5? I started explaining it like this:
Let's pretend you've been living in your house for a long time. A lot of things you have saved for all this time. Little notes, shells from beaches, maybe an empty bottle of wine here and there and besides that all the normal stuff you store in houses (HAH what can I know about it, I don't even have a house and if I could say I have one, it's a converted van!). Now you want to start cleaning your whole house. At day one, you're going to mentally prepare yourself. You will buy some cleaning things at the shop. Day two and three you're going to organize the big things. Put everything in one room so it's easier to organize the smaller things. Day four to six you throw a lot away - no, recycle please - and organize things and slowly you will find more space in your house. Days are passing and more things you will find from years back. Love letters, old pictures, memories. At my Vipassana experience, I had memories I had not been having for ten years or more. They came back because I cleaned all the things in my mind. And that is why the Vipassana is so good. People that do detox foodwise do so to clean their body, Vipassana is the detox for your mind.
I kept meditation like taught during this Vipassana for about 4 months and I also started doing yoga. The restless and nervous feeling disappeared and I was happy it was gone. Then a friend from home came over to travel together and day by day I start stopping my routine of doing meditation and yoga. The nervous feeling came back and I saw no other way out to... Join another Vipassana course!
Vipassana as taught by Goenka @ Dhamma Sacca (September 2017)
This time I wanted to follow one by Goenka. To me this teaching is the most popular, at least the one I kept hearing about. Of course, Noukie got curious and wanted to do it. Noukie drove with 90km/h with that concerted van from the south of Portugal to the middle of the west from Spain and it took her 8 hours. Without air conditioning and someone to talk with. I did some phone calls to a friend and my sister but obviously, that wasn't really legal. It was a long day. Anyway, I made it! It was a beautiful new center with a nice view and some beautiful rooms. There are quite some rooms with all bunk beds and just like at the other centra, man and woman are separated. I shared my room with 4 other ladies. Don't worry too much about the sleeping, you won't sleep much anyway. At least that was my experience. I just didn't get tired enough from sitting down all day. Because at this kind of Vipassana it was all about sitting meditation. My neighbor had about 12 pillows under and around her so don't worry, it is allowed to make it yourself comfortable while sitting and meditating.
Goenka has a special story to tell. He is a Myanmar-born Indian, was a multi-millionaire who had severe migraines before discovering Vipassana through his teacher, Sayagy U Ba Khin. You hear about his story in the -to me- very inspiring evening classes where Goenka tells you his story and what got me closer to the belief in love and yourself every day. I also loved that his teaching is so recent. He passed away in 2013 and everything he tells in his evening stories you could just google. It's not God or Jezus with all these great big stories where is no proof for. Sorry, I just like and want proof before I believe in things.
The set up for this Vipassana is a little different. The first 3 days you concentrate mainly on your breath, focusing especially on the tip of your nose. The next 7 days you concentrate on the sensations through the body. I won't go to deep into all of this, but there is a good story and reason behind all of this and they can explain you everything better than I can anyway.
For me, even though it was with all this sitting-meditation, it wasn't as hard as my previous Vipassana Yes, again, after 6 days I was kind of over it and wanted to continue with my other adventures in life. Maybe it was easier for me because I know every day I would learn something new and that was where I could look forward to. But what I missed about it was the kind of flowing I felt have during my previous Vipassana experience. Because there we did everything more and more mindful every day, after a few days you felt like you were in the air or something. With the Goenka Vipassana it felt more like 'okay, now we go meditating, and when it's done, we go back to normal'. To me at least! And this is why for the rest I don't like saying too much about my personal experience, because now you might be afraid or maybe look forward to feel the same and I guess it will really feel different to you =)
In the end, they told us to keep practicing. Every day. For one hour in the morning and one hour is the evening. Excuse me, WHAT??? So now I have to choose if I first want to go meditating or surf in the morning? Of course I rather went surfing first and actually not doing this whole meditation at all, but that nervous feeling kept following me and I had not much choice than to follow the meditation-path. So I did, like a good school student. For about 3 months. The more weeks that passed by, the more I got distracted and less 'deep' in my meditation and felt like I was just wasting time. Sometimes I also just fell asleep. So I stopped again doing any kind of meditation. Guess what: welcome back to mister nervous feeling.
"Of course I rather went surfing first thing in the morning
and actually not doing this whole meditation at all"
I won't say Goenka's Vipassana style is better or worse than other kinds of Vipassana or meditation. I spoke with many other (experienced) students after this Vipassana and many told me they had great benefits of it like being more happy, feeling light and opening up more. But for me, it didn't work this way.
Months passed by and I was looking into another Vipassana course, because my body continued to feel nervous again. Despite the fact I stopped with his kind of meditation, I really liked his style and the love he puts out in the retreat. I sighed up for one in Belgium for February. But then my dear daddy got an accident and I stayed in Holland to take care of him.
In these days I stayed back home, I read for the first time about Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. How he was such an inspirational guru and his Art of Living Foundation is one of the biggest foundation in the world run by volunteers. Now I don't really understand that last part because I find the courses very expensive (€300 for the first course), but as they told me the money goes to big social projects, I have more peace with it. Anyway, Sri Sri developed The Happiness Program and its central breathing technique, Sudarshan Kriya, which effectively reduces stress and seems to take people effortlessly into a state of deep meditation. This is covered by 70 independent studies as I found online. I was impressed! And even though I had not much reason to have stress in my life, I still kept having this veryyyyy annoying nervous feeling from the second I woke up, so I wanted to experience this program and I signed up.
Meditation Program at the Art of Living as taught by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar @ Amsterdam (April 2018)
At least, I thought I signed up for the course I read about in the Happiness Magazine: the Happiness Program. The scientifically proven stress-reducing breathing technique sounded like something I wanted to experience myself. But, as I wrote before, I hardly ever look into things on forehand. So there I went to Amsterdam, to the first of the three days. I had my whole weekend planned around this -even looked up where to sleep in my mobile home/campervan. It turned out they have more programs and I ended up with the Meditation Program. I really doubted if I wanted to continue because I heard all this great stuff about the breathing technique. But I continued as I was there already, I couldn't manage to join any of their Happiness programs for the next months and the people seemed nice. And I am very happy I did. There where only 3 short classes this weekend for about 3 hours each class. The first evening we all did meditation together and we got a personal mantra. Then you could go home and I thought "really, is this all? This is what I can look up on Youtube". Anyway, I went back the morning after and loved the meditation. It's very easy though powerful, the way this program is set up. Also the Saturday and Sunday we started with a little ceremony, followed by information about the Art of Living, the meditation technique and the deeper meaning of meditation in general. After, we did some simple yoga exercise and started with the meditation. Slowly but surely I came closer to the basic of my being. So beautiful.
"Two people came to me telling me that I had such a
good energy around me"
And also a pretty awesome fact to tell you: when I went partying that Saturday night, not just one but TWO people in this club - were many people were a bit weird and on drugs- came to me telling me that I had such a good energy around me. And I DID feel good. And kept feeling good as I continued doing my meditation, until today. This technique requires two hours of meditation a day - thank God - but only 20 minutes in the morning, after you had a shower and stretched your body / did yoga. This works just so good for me! Thanks to The Art of Living and my teacher Wim van Rijswijk I realized I will have to keep meditation to keep my inner peace ♥ ♥ ♥
Happiness Program at the Art of Living as taught by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar @ The Netherlands (August 2018)
And then my time was there to join the Happiness Programs. I was very excited and full of expectations, as this is what I have wanted to do since the beginning of this year. The main idea behind this program is to reduce feelings of stress, to share love more and be peaceful from within and outside. Not a bad intention, right?
Just like their meditation program, this program is a weekender. Friday till Sunday, 3 hours each day. We all gathered in a peaceful yoga room in Almere, a city near Amsterdam. We got the change to tell what brought us here and also the volunteers that have been joining the course a few times before, told what the breathing technique brought them already. And to me, it was mind-blowing! There were life-changing things, like from not working because of physical and mental problems, to working 3 days a week. From feeling a lot of pain in the body all day, to no more pain at all. Most of the newcomers came to enjoy life more as it is and to feel less stress which they get from work and children. Now I don't have any of this, but I am very good in stressing my life up a little by doing all the things I love so much! But in the end we were all here with the same reason: to bring more happiness in our lives! :)
In this weekend we learned all different kind of breathing techniques. One of them of which I feel the results most is the one with the Ujjay breath, also called the "Victory breath". It is the breath you also use when you warm up your hands in the winter, from the back of your throat and then continue, in and out... While doing this we take three different poses. All of these poses have the goal to open up different parts of our lungs. Apparently, we normally use 70% of our lung capacity and with this technique it increases. Now you don't only get more fresh air, also more life energy, power and relaxing at the same time and this will lead to feeling balanced. Combined with other breathing techniques you feel more awake and energized all day!
But this program is not only about the breathing technique or feeling balanced. To me, it was also opening up my mind. I realized once again that we are all the same, what made me emotional. And we also learned more practical things, like how to react on other peoples opinion or how to life more in the present moment.
Got curious? Definitely check out to click here if there is any center near you!
♥ NAMASTE ♥