Vipassana Meditation can transform your life

Insight into reality

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Vipassana or insight meditation is a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens.

By Bhante Henepola Gunaratana The distinction between Vipassana meditation and other styles of meditation is crucial and needs to be fully understood. Buddhism addresses two major types of meditation. They are different mental skills, modes of functioning or qualities of consciousness. In Pali, the original language of Theravada literature, they are called Vipassana and Samatha.

Vipassana can be translated as “Insight,” a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens. Samatha can be translated as “concentration” or “tranquility.” It is a state in which the mind is brought to rest, focused only on one item and not allowed to wander. When this is done, a deep calm pervades body and mind, a state of tranquility which must be experienced to be understood.

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Most systems of meditation emphasize the Samatha component. The meditator focuses his mind upon some items, such as prayer, a certain type of box, a chant, a candle flame, a religious image or whatever, and excludes all other thoughts and perceptions from his consciousness. The result is a state of rapture which lasts until the meditator ends the session of sitting. It is beautiful, delightful, meaningful and alluring, but only temporary. Vipassana meditation addresses the other component, insight.

In Vipassana mediation, the meditator uses his concentration as a tool by which his awareness can chip away at the wall of illusion that cuts him off from the living light of reality. It is a gradual process of ever-increasing awareness into the inner workings of reality itself. It takes years, but one day the meditator chisels through that wall and tumbles into the presence of light. The transformation is complete. It’s called Liberation, and it’s permanent. Liberation is the goal of all Buddhist systems of practice. But the routes to the attainment of that end are quite diverse.

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What is the difference between Vipassana and concentration?

Mr. S. N. Goenka:

Vipassana is not merely concentration. Vipassana is observation of the truth within, from moment to moment. You develop your faculty of awareness, your mindfulness. Things keep changing, but you remain aware — this is Vipassana. But if you concentrate only on one object, which may be an imaginary object, then nothing will change. When you are with this imagination, and your mind remains concentrated on it, you are not observing the truth. When you are observing the truth, it is bound to change. It keeps constantly changing, and yet you are aware of it. This is Vipassana.

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Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain

Buddhist and meditation teacher Tara Brach leads a Vipassana meditation group at the River Road Unitarian Church in Bethesda. (Andrea Bruce Woodall/The Washington Post) Sara Lazar , a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, was one of the first scientists to take the anecdotal claims about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness and test them in brain scans. What she found surprised her that meditating can literally change your brain. She explains:

What Happens During a 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat?

I just got back from my first Vipassana retreat, and I wanted to jot down some thoughts and reflections on how it went down, what I learned, and what I’d recommend for others who might be asking themselves “Should I consider doing a Vipassana Retreat?” I’m going to be breaking down this essay into two sections:

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First of all, what is Vipassana?

Vipassana is a style of Buddhist meditation that is intended to help you explore the nature of reality.

That’s a lofty goal, which I’ll talk more about in a bit. but I think it’s important for people to understanding the difference between Vipassana and meditation generally, of which there are many different kinds (some of which focus on visualization or mantras rather than just what’s going on in your body), and also between Vipassana and Buddhism, of which there are also many different kinds (many of which don’t even involve meditation).

Vipassana is intended to be non-religious and non-dogmatic, meaning that it’s views aren’t supposed to conflict with any other religious beliefs (whether this is true or not is up for debate, but that’s what they tell you anyway).

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What happens at a Vipassana retreat?

In short, the idea of a Vipassana retreat (often colloquially referred to as a “sit”) is that you sit around all day long and learn to sharpen your awareness of what’s actually going on inside your body at the level of sensations.

And when I say that you sit around all day long, I really mean it.

There are many different lengths of Vipassana retreats from 3 days to 3 months, with 10 days being the most common but they all involve at least 10 hours of meditation a day.

Here’s a common schedule:

4:00am: Wake-up Bell

4:30am 6:30am: Meditate

6:30am 8:00am: Breakfast

8:00am 11:00am: Meditate

11:00am 1:00pm: Lunch

1:00pm 5:00pm: Meditate

5:00pm 6:00pm: Tea

6:00pm 7:00pm: Meditate

7:00pm 8:15pm: Lecture

8:30pm 9:00pm: Meditate

10:00pm: Lights Out

If you add it up, that’s 10.5 hours of meditation right there.

Most of it is loosely structured, meaning you can meditate in the main hall (a big room where you’re assigned a spot and a mat) or in your room.

Later on you’re also given a small meditation cell that you can choose to use during these periods. It’s quieter but also more claustrophobic it reminds me of being in a sensory deprivation tank, or solitary confinement, which oddly becomes sort of comforting after a while.

But then there are also three mandatory hour-long meditation periods throughout the day (8am 9am, 2:30pm 3:30pm, and 6pm 7pm) where you have to be in the main hall with everyone else.

During the lecture portion we watched a recorded video of S. N. Goenka (a pretty influential meditation teacher who helped popularize Vipassana throughout the world and emphasized the non-religious and scientific nature of the teachings). This lecture portion often helped to provide context for what we’d worked on that day and also set the stage for the next day.

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A Store-House of Answers by Mr. S. N. Goenka

-You have to do your own work; Enlightened Ones will only show the way.

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Vipassana Meditation

Wisdom In the course of his Dhamma work, beginning in 1969, Goenkaji has been asked thousands of questions, by Vipassana students and others all over the world. The questions range a fascinating spectrum from what is Dhamma Vipassana meditation , aim of life, human misery, God, rebirth to insomnia…. The answers and questions have been broadly categorized under various sections based on the nature of the question. It must be remembered, however, that Goenkaji’s favourite answer is always: “You must experience the truth yourself. Only then it becomes a truth for you. Otherwise it is only someone else’s truth”. To Vipassana students, Goenkaji has always emphasized that the real answers can only come from continuous and correct practice of Vipassana. The Q & A Bank, therefore, serves as a guide and inspiration to Vipassana students, and an encouragement to non-students to undertake a Vipassana course, and directly experience its immense benefits. Abandoning false illusions, moving towards the truth, may we keep walking step by step, advancing towards the true goal. May all beings be happy!

Questions have been classified alphabetically:

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How can we avoid bad habits like smoking cigarettes and chewing pāna?

Mr. S. N. Goenka : Not only smoking cigarettes or chewing pāna there are so many different types of addictions. When you practice Vipassana, you will understand that your addiction is not actually to that particular substance. It seems as if you are addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, drugs or pāna; but the real fact is that you are addicted to a particular sensation in the body. When you smoke a cigarette, there is a sensation in the body. When you chew pāna, there is a sensation in the body. When you take a drug, there is a sensation in the body. Similarly, when you are addicted to anger or passion, these are also related to body sensations. Your addiction is to the sensations. Through Vipassana you come out of that addiction. You come out of all outside addictions also. It is so natural, so scientific. Just try and you will find how it works.

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This technique is very practical, but can everybody benefit from it even those who suffer from severe addictions, such as to drugs or alcohol?

Mr. S. N. Goenka : When we talk of addiction, it is not merely to alcohol or to drugs, but also to passion, to anger, to fear, to egotism: all of these are addictions. All these are addictions to your impurities. At the intellectual level you understand very well: “Anger is not good for me. It is dangerous. It is so harmful.” Yet you are addicted to anger, you keep generating anger. And when the anger has passed, you keep repenting: “Oh! I should not have done that. I should not have gotten angry.” Meaningless! The next time some stimulation comes, you become angry again. You are not coming out of it, because you have not been working at the depth of the behavior pattern of your mind. The anger starts because of a particular chemical that has started flowing in your body, and with the interaction of mind and matter one influencing the other the anger continues to multiply.

By practicing this technique, you start observing the sensation which has arisen because of the flow of a particular chemical. You do not react to it. That means you do not generate anger at that particular moment. This one moment turns into a few moments, which turn into a few seconds, which turn into a few minutes, and you find that you are not as easily influenced by this flow as you were in the past. You have slowly started coming out of your anger.

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People who have come to these courses go back home and apply this technique in their daily lives by their morning and evening meditation and by continuing to observe themselves throughout the day how they react or how they maintain equanimity in different situations. The first thing they will try to do is to observe the sensations. Because of the particular situation, maybe a part of the mind has started reacting, but by observing the sensations their minds become equanimous. Then whatever action they take is an action; it is not a reaction. Action is always positive. It is only when we react that we generate negativity and become miserable. A few moments observing the sensation makes the mind equanimous, and then it can act. Life then is full of action instead of reaction.

This practice morning and evening, and making use of this technique in daily life both of these start to change the behavior pattern. Those who used to roll in anger for a long time find their anger decreases. When anger does come, it cannot last for a long period because it is not so intense. Similarly, those who are addicted to passion find that this passion becomes weaker and weaker. Those who are addicted to fear find the fear becoming weaker and weaker. Different kinds of impurities take different amounts of time to come out of. Whether it takes a long time to come out of them, or a short time, the technique will work, provided it is practiced properly.

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Whether you are addicted to craving or aversion, or hatred, or passion, or fear the addiction is to a particular sensation that has arisen because of the biochemical flow (asava). This type of matter results in reaction at the mental level, and the reaction at the mental level again turns into this biochemical reaction. When you say that you are addicted, you are actually addicted to the sensation. You are addicted to this flow, this biochemical flow.

The asava of ignorance is the strongest asava. Of course there is ignorance even when you are reacting with anger or passion or fear; but when you get intoxicated with alcohol or drugs, this intoxication multiplies your ignorance. Therefore it takes time to feel sensations, to go to the root of the problem. When you get addicted to liquor, or addicted to drugs, you cannot know the reality of what is happening within the framework of the body. There is darkness in your mind. You cannot understand what is happening inside, what keeps on multiplying inside. We have found that in cases of alcohol addiction, people generally start benefiting more quickly than people who are addicted to drugs. But the way is there for everyone to come out of misery, however addicted they may be, however ignorant they may be. If you keep working patiently and persistently, sooner or later you are bound to reach the stage where you start feeling sensations throughout the body and can observe them objectively. It may take time. In ten days you may only make a slight change in the habit pattern of your mind. It doesn’t matter; a beginning is made and if you keep practicing morning and evening, and take a few more courses, the habit pattern will change at the deepest level of the mind and you will come out of your ignorance, out of your reaction.

We keep advising people who are addicted to smoking even ordinary tobacco smoking that if an urge arises in the mind, not to take the cigarette and start smoking. We advise them: “Wait a little.” Just accept the fact that an urge to smoke has arisen in the mind. When this urge arises, along with it there is a sensation in the body. Start observing this sensation, whatever the sensation may be. Do not look for a particular sensation. Any sensation at that time in the body is related to the urge to smoke. And by observing the sensation as impermanent, anicca, it arises, it passes; it arises, it passes; and in ten minutes, fifteen minutes, this urge will pass away. This is not a philosophy but the experiential truth.

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Similarly, for those who are addicted to alcohol or addicted to drugs, when an urge arises, we advise them not to succumb immediately, but to wait ten or fifteeen minutes, and accept the fact that an urge has arisen, and observe whatever sensation is present at that time. By applying these instructions, they have found that they are coming out of their addictions. They may not be successful every time, but if they are successful even one time out of ten, a very good beginning has been made because the root has started changing. The habit pattern lies at the root of the mind, and the root of the mind is strongly related to the sensations on the body: mind and matter are so interrelated, they keep on influencing each other.

If this law, this law of nature, is merely accepted intellectually, or devotionally, the benefit will be minimal it may inspire you to practice. But the real benefit accrues through the actual practice. It is a long path, a lifetime job. Even a journey of ten thousand miles must start with the first step. For one who has taken the first step it is possible that one will take the second step, the third step, and like this, step by step, one will reach the final goal of full liberation.

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How Silent Meditation Helped Me Succeed at Work

Health Economics Human Resources Opinion Global Focus India North America In this opinion piece, Payal Sheth, a global marketing manager at the Boston Consulting Group, explains how an ancient meditation technique helped change the way she thinks and engages with people.

Yes, you read that right. Silent meditation. One might ask: Isn’t it obvious that you are almost always silent when you meditate? Yes, but what I mean by silent meditation is the technique referred to as Vipassana (which means to see things the way they are), one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques. I learned it over a 10-day course at Igatpuri in Western India, among the world’s largest meditation centers and the main center of Vipassana’s rapidly growing global community of practitioners. Participants in the course stay silent for 10 days. They do not utter a word (unless there is an emergency); make no gestures or facial expressions; and they commit to spending 10 to 12 hours a day meditating between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. (with a few breaks in between).

Imagine a day without your phone or an internet connection; a day when you don’t communicate with another person or say a single word. A day without anyone you know around you. Now multiply that by 10. That is a Vipassana meditation course. It is by far the toughest thing I have done in my life. I believe it is one of my most significant achievements.

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The effects of Vipassana are life-long, in my opinion. You do not see a change in your personality on the 11th day when you walk out of the center. But over the months and years that follow, the change can be dramatic, depending on your practice. You begin to notice an internal shift, a shift only you can feel at first, and then at some point the world begins to take notice, as more and more scientific evidence now reveals.

What Science Shows The advent of MRIs and other brain-scanning techniques have allowed neuroscientists to peer directly into meditators’ brains to see the impact. For example, neuroscientists have learned that meditation strengthens the brain by reinforcing the connections between brain cells. A 2012 UCLA study showed that people who meditate exhibit higher levels of gyrification the so-called folding of the cerebral cortex as a result of growth which, in turn, may allow the brain to process information faster. Scientists suspect that gyrification is responsible for making the brain better at processing information, making decisions, forming memories and improving attention.

Indeed, as much of the research shows, meditation causes the brain to undergo physical changes, many of which are beneficial. Other studies, for example, have shown that meditation is linked to cortical thickness , which can result in decreased sensitivity to pain . Neuroscientists have also used MRIs to compare the brains of meditators with non-meditators. The structural differences observed led the scientists to speculate that certain benefits, like improved cognitive, emotional and immune responses, can be tied to this growth and its positive effects on breathing and heart rate.

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The integrity of gray matter, which is a major player in the central nervous system, certainly appears to benefit. Meditation has been linked to more positive emotions, the retention of emotional stability and more mindful behavior (heightened focus during day-to-day living).

“Imagine a day without your phone or an internet connection; a day when you don’t communicate with another person or say a single word.” In addition to these benefits, which health professionals at several universities continue to study, my experience is that meditation offers personal benefits. I enrolled in the Vipassana course just before I was to start working as head of marketing for the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in India. And I can say with conviction that this technique has brought about meaningful change in the way I think, operate and engage with people. Here are some lessons I have learned, which continue to help me succeed at work.

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Acceptance The fundamental premise of Vipassana meditation is acceptance. It teaches us to see and accept things as they are, instead of how we want them to be. This means that no matter how magical or miserable a situation may seem, we accept it as it is. We confront it in all honesty. We don’t cling to it, hoping things will never change, nor do we long for a rushed demise. Unlike other forms of meditation that help identify and stop certain thought patterns, or calm the mind using chants and visuals, Vipassana trains practitioners to focus the mind on observing the most subtle physical sensations. It is believed that these sensations are the root cause and the trigger of our thoughts and emotional reactions. By recognizing these sensations at their conception, instead of letting them develop and take us over, we can change our thought patterns to minimize agony and lead a more joyful life.

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Applying this principle in my work has made life so much more peaceful. I was often in a race to improve work situations or manage people’s egos. Sometimes I would get bogged down by difficult relationships with colleagues. Acknowledging and accepting that nothing lasts forever makes me view life in a different way. I no longer stay grouchy for days. I try to complain less and constantly remind myself of the impermanence of situations.

Respond, Don’t React By learning to step back and observe, you learn the art of responding rather than reacting. I had suffered from being reactive all through my life. As someone with a type-A personality, I gave a lot of importance to instant reaction. But that meant not giving myself time to think, reflect, introspect, and then act. I learned the process referred to as “response” only after meditating for more than 100 hours during the course.

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“Reflecting on some of these traits has made me, I hope, a better people manager and a more rational individual.” I remember during my pre-Vipassana days that I would immediately lose my temper if someone in my team did not meet a deadline or something did not go as planned. While sitting cross-legged on the floor in Vipassana for three consecutive hours, I now think about how quick I was to draw conclusions without giving someone an opportunity to explain. Reflecting on some of these traits has made me, I hope, a better people manager and a more rational individual.

Being Decisive I once read that one of the key strengths of a successful leader is the ability to be decisive and see things clearly, even when one’s judgment is clouded by multiple concerns. In today’s fast-paced environment, it is essential to make decisions quickly. At BCG, whether you are a newly hired communications manager or an experienced marketing director, you have the creative freedom to introduce new ideas and implement innovations. To apply this creativity, one needs the ability to think clearly, strategize, and execute effectively. Vipassana meditation made me more observant and sharp and has enabled me to see things as they are. Over the years, I have seen a tremendous improvement in the way I make decisions and the clarity with which my mind can think.

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Effective Communication “Silence can be so powerful,” is something I had only heard. “Less is more,” is something I had only read. Ten days of not speaking a word was unimaginable for an immensely talkative person like me. That’s exactly what made the challenge of maintaining silence more attractive. I was determined to complete this course because I thought it was practically impossible to do so. It is during the silent meditation hours that it dawned on me that effective communication isn’t about the number of words we speak. Instead, it is about the way we articulate our thoughts.

As a global marketing professional, I have always needed to be an effective communicator. This skill is especially critical in a leading consulting firm, where I have to communicate with colleagues whom I consider to be among the world’s most intelligent minds and be able to forge strong relationships with people across many cultures and languages. I consider this skill to be my core strength, and meditation has helped me sharpen it.

Humility Vipassana meditation, for me, was both an eye-opener and a rude shock. I experienced the most minimalistic form of lifestyle I could have ever imagined for myself, with no soft bed to sleep on; no air conditioning during the scorching summer heat; a room with spiders and webs; a very simple diet comprising fruits and vegetables; and no form of alcohol, artificial sugars, or any such addictions.

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“… Effective communication isn’t about the number of words we speak. Instead, it is about the way we articulate our thoughts.” Vipassana keeps me grounded even when I travel first class to some of the most exotic destinations in the world. It reminds me to count my blessings while dining at Michelin star restaurants or spending a week at the most luxurious hotels around the globe. It is a constant reflection of how nothing in this world is permanent, or anything to get hung up on. It’s just causes and conditions doing what they do, manifesting through the body.

Going into Vipassana, I had strong opinions about relationships, morality, routine and personal choices. Walking away on day 11, I felt detached from so many of the preconceptions upon which I had built my identity. But it didn’t feel like a loss. Rather, it felt like a new beginning.

Where to Begin For anyone who wants to start taking the first steps along the journey that I have been on, I have a few suggestions. Vipassana can seem intimidating at first and therefore my suggestion is to start small. Devoting one minute a day, every day for a week, could be a good way to begin and you can then gradually progress as you gain more experience.

Meditators generally begin their practice by focusing their attention on their breath. I remember the first time I sat to meditate, all my mind did was wander and think of every possible thing in the world, except my breath. That, in fact, is very normal. The basic idea is simple. Every time your mind begins to shift its focus away from your breath and you get lost in thought, you simply and gently bring your attention back to your breath. And then you repeat this again and again until your meditation timer rings.

All you need to start meditating is a mat to sit on and a timer and you are good to go.

Why wait for the right time? Try it now.

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Guidelines For Practicing

A Vipassana course is truly valuable only if it makes a change in your life, and a change will come only if you keep practicing the technique on a daily basis. The following outline of what you have learned is offered with best wishes for your continued success in meditation.

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The Talk

How would you fancy 10 days sat crossed-legged, meditating 10 hours a day, in silence?

No phone, no journal, and no mates. Just you and your thoughts for company.

Sounds like hell right?

It’s got a fancy name — ‘Vipassana’ — but I like to call it the ’10 day suffer fest’.

Vipassana means to ‘see reality as it is’ and in that regard, it definitely delivers.

A ridiculously hard but insanely rewarding experience, Vipassana will show you things about yourself and the nature of reality that can take decades to figure out in the real world.

In this week’s episode I talk about my comedic and mostly unbearable foray into this unique self-discovery experience.

In this episode, you’ll discover:

What Vipassanna is and what it involves;

How the journey progresses over 10 days;

Why all pain is actually in the mind (and not the body);

How to transcend physical pain through your attention;

How to uncover limiting thought patterns/beliefs and nuke them;

What life-changing insights the experience gives you; and

The unique super powers you get from Vipassana

With poisonous snakes, emotional tantrums, and an unhealthy dose of cloud animal spotting, this is an ambitious attempt to persuade you to consider a rare modern feat — spend a lot more time with yourself.


Relevant links:

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Meditation as Discovery

Through the process of mindfulness, we slowly become aware of what we really are down below the ego image. We wake up to what life really is. It is not just a parade of ups and downs, lollipops and smacks on the wrist. That is an illusion. Life has a much deeper texture than that if we bother to look, and if we look in the right way.

Vipassana is a form of mental training that will teach you to experience the world in an entirely new way. You will learn for the first time what is truly happening to you, around you and within you. It is a process of self-discovery, a participatory investigation in which you observe your own experiences while participating in them as they occur.

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“Never mind what I have been taught. Forget about theories and prejudices and stereotypes.”

The practice must be approached with this attitude: “Never mind what I have been taught. Forget about theories and prejudices and stereotypes. I want to understand the true nature of life. I want to know what this experience of being alive really is. I want to apprehend the true and deepest qualities of life, and I don’t want to just accept somebody else’s explanation. I want to see it for myself.” If you pursue your meditation practice with this attitude, you will succeed. You’ll find yourself observing things objectively, exactly as they are-flowing and changing from moment to moment. Life then takes on an unbelievable richness which cannot be described. It has to be experienced.

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Human beings are intellectual beings, and at the level of intellect reasoning, logic someone will say, “Perhaps this is so. (

This is another kind of truth that human beings create: “I have great devotion in Buddha, so whatever Buddha says is the truth.” “I have great devotion for Jesus Christ,” and I will say, “Whatever Jesus Christ said is truth.” These are devotional games and they also vary from person to person. (

That being said, human beings are social creatures, so there’s a strong temptation to make eye contact with others and try to communicate non-verbally through gestures, all of which is discouraged. (

Buddhism sees the grief of a human being as something natural, as long as one has not yet attained enlightenment. (

The technique is based on the fact that as human beings, our senses are constantly perceiving information from the outside world. (

The technique is based on the fact that as human beings, our senses are constantly perceiving information from the outside world. (

That being said, human beings are social creatures, so there’s a strong temptation to make eye contact with others and try to communicate non-verbally through gestures, all of which is discouraged. (

Talking and communication of any sort, including eye contact and gestures, were forbidden. (

Still doesn’t sound too bad, except this is all done in noble silence meaning no forms of communication — talking, reading, writing, eye contact, etc. (

Still doesn’t sound too bad, except this is all done in noble silence meaning no forms of communication — talking, reading, writing, eye contact, etc. (

As explained by the researchers, subjective well-being is a “mental state which helps a person to maintain equilibrium, anchored by hope and optimism, even in adversity.” Criminal propensity refers to the underlying characteristics of aggression, impulsiveness, self-control or conditionality which determines the probability of committing criminal acts. (

Our mental states (such as attention and motivation) are as fleeting and changing as the physical sensations in our bodies. (

He observed that an addict’s decision making powers improve considerably after having practiced Vipassana. (

For people with chronic pain, studies have found that a lot of the suffering comes from anticipating future pain (like thinking about how much your back is going to hurt once you start walking) and that anticipation activates parts of the pain matrix where pain processing takes place. (

Meditation has been shown to be helpful for many people with chronic pain conditions. (

I was also dealing with chronic pain. (

As someone with chronic pain, this lesson was important. (

When you take a Vipassana course, you agree to abide by five precepts: no killing, no stealing, no lying, no sexual misconduct and no intoxicants. (

It shows you your inherent connectedness with all of life. (

What it was like

What I learned

Entrepreneur |Storyteller | Zen |Stoicism| Sufism |Author | Haiku| Recovering Perfectionist | Poet| polymath

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