LitLab x P.MAI
We believe in the power of aromatherapy. We partnered with Lit Lab to offer you our own signature candle fragrance called "Bhutanical Gardens." Lit Lab is a Berlin-based eco candle brand focused on crafting custom scents to evoke cherished memories. Inspired by the quiet serenity of Bhutan, we created a lush fragrance blend to capture the verdant beauty and tranquility found within the Himalayas. With gorgeous notes of budding cherry blossoms, salty breeze, and bergamot, this candle brings us a quiet peace which we truly love.
I Spent 10 Days at a Silent Meditation Retreat in Nepal: Here's What I Learned
Vipassana Meditation: Insights
4 a.m. wake up bell. 10.5 hours of meditation a day. Another 1.5 hours of discourse. Vegetarian breakfast, lunch, and snack. No dinner. No exercise, including yoga. No cell phones. No writing or reading. Strict gender separation. No talking, but also no eye contact, gestures, or non-verbal communication of any kind.
I just spent ten days at Dhamma Shringa, the Vipassana meditation center in Kathmandu, Nepal. It was a beautiful place to spend ten days meditating. The center is a tranquil sanctuary nestled in the foothills above the smog and chaos of Kathmandu. Wild monkeys roam the grounds, white butterflies float around, and fireflies blink at dusk in the gardens. I first heard about Vipassana two years ago when a friend of mine took a course. While I practice yoga and pranayama (breath control), I had very little experience meditating. I probably meditated less than ten times in my life before going. I took a meditation class a few years ago at a local yoga studio and fell asleep five minutes in.
Vipassana means “insight into the true nature of reality” and is a mediation technique focused on the body’s sensations. The claim is that this method of meditation was taught by the Buddha as the path to reach enlightenment as he did. While the technique was lost in India and the rest of the world, it was retained in its pure form for over 25 centuries in Burma. S.N. Goenke, who passed away in 2013, learned the technique in Burma and became a teacher, establishing Vipassana centers around the world beginning in the 1970s. The course is taught using video and audio recordings of Goenke from previous programs. Everything including lodging and food is free, paid for by the donations of previous students.
The course claims to be non-sectarian, scientific, and universal. While I believe the technique of Vipassana meditation itself is non-sectarian, the entire course itself is fundamentally Buddhist. You are asked to adopt the five Buddhist precepts of morality for the duration of the course: no killing living creatures, stealing, engaging in sexual misconduct, lying, and imbibing intoxicants. The instructor chants throughout the course along the lines of "Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam" or "May all Beings be Happy." The students chant “Sadhu" three times to express agreement. I thought it was fine as it wasn’t cult-y or conversion minded and the discourse related to Buddhist philosophy was interesting.
The first three days of the course students learn and practice anapana meditation, focused only on the natural breath. This develops samadhi or concentration of mind. On day four Vipassana is introduced. The technique is intense focus on each part the body, scanning from head to toe and observing every sensation objectively and with equanimity. The more attention you pay to your body part by part, your mind sharpens and you progress from feeling gross sensations (itching, back pain, feet falling asleep) to subtler sensations including a buzzy vibrational feeling. Most people feel this most strongly on their face, hands, and feet. Eventually some meditators reach a free flow of subtle sensations that feels like energy flowing through the body from head to toe. I got 85% there for about two hours total on days eight and nine, but never got to a complete flow.
The purpose of Vipassana seemed to me to be twofold. First, that free flow energy sensation seems to give people a direct experience of connectedness with and understanding of the reality of the universe. We are all fundamentally composed of atoms, energy and matter, not the stable “I” or “me" that we think we are. This diminishes the ego and helps the meditator achieve enlightenment.
Second and more importantly, it develops equanimity which frees the mind from misery. To develop equanimity one observes body sensations during Vipassana and doesn't react to them, doesn’t develop craving or aversion. The mind body connection is the theory behind the method. If someone insults you or does something to make you angry, before you even get angry and react to them you first feel an unpleasant sensation in your body. Let’s say someone insults your country that you love. It doesn’t hurt your country. A country doesn’t have the ability to feel insulted. However, your body feels an unpleasant sensation physically. Then you react. Same goes for positive interactions, but those impact you negatively by leaving you craving more and more. By spending time focused on not reacting to every type of sensation in the body, you develop equanimity at the unconscious level, before the emotion even bubbles up.
A few key personal takeaways from my experience:
Mindfulness is the only consistent and real answer to anxiety, depression, boredom, and the general challenges and ordinariness of the human experience. During meditation my mind constantly wandered off, especially in the first and last two days. If I managed to regain focus, it knew what to throw at me to distract me. Pleasant fantasies or reminiscing over positive past experiences were first. If that didn’t get me, it would throw out something unpleasant to jolt me. This is the mind’s habit pattern. It took two days, but I realized at some point that focusing on meditating was more peaceful than letting my mind drag me all around. I felt infinitely calmer and more equanimous during and after the course. Mindfulness can mean a lot of different things to people: surfing, cooking, praying, practicing yoga or piano. I think some are better than others. While doing a high involvement activity like a sport, you can become engrossed and lose yourself in the flow of the activity. However, as soon as it’s over everything comes back, and the mind again is in control. I’m still new to it, but meditation seems to have a deeper, longer lasting impact by taming the mind itself.
Experiential knowledge is the only way to truly understand anything. To prepare I spoke to several people who had done the course and read two Vipassana books and countless Medium, Reddit, etc. articles. I even skimmed most of Yuval Noah Hariri’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century as he is a devoted Vipassana meditator and credits the technique with giving him the clarity to write SapiensandHomo Deus. In21 Lessonshe devotes the final chapter to Vipassana titled “Meditation: Just Observe." Still, until I had the actual experience it was all either educational wisdom or intellectual deductive wisdom. I didn’t really understand meditation or Vipassana even though I could tell you everything about it. In the same vein, this experience strengthened my growing belief that in life, you understand your own circumstances best. As long as you truly see reality as it is and do not suffer from deluded thinking, only you know what’s best for you. I used to give a lot of weight to others’ opinions about how I live my life, particularly those with authority or that I cherish and respect. I adopted their prejudices and adapted my behavior. I’ve slowly come to realize that while I should seek and listen to advice, ultimately no one else fully understands things as well as I do because only I am experiencing my life. Same goes for thinking I know how others should live.
—Anonymous from San Francisco
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- Kind Traveler Gift Box (featuring gifts from Numi Organic Tea, Big Truck, Hand in Hand Soap, MacroLife Naturals and EarthTuFace)
- Gift Box from Papa & Barkley
- Gift Card from Hyde Organic Yoga
- $100 Donation Made to Na’atik Language & Culture Institute in the Riviera Maya in the name of the winner, helping to provide English classes to local students - Spending Cash for Your Trip
New Year, New You Giveaway - January 2019
Kick-off the New Year in style to reach your #girlboss goals! We're giving away 5 tickets to an Alice's Table workshop, $150 gift card to Chilewich, $100 gift card to P.MAI, and $250 courtesy of Fairygodboss.
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