Did you know that only 19 percent of Canadians stick with their New Year's resolutions for an entire year? As the first month of the New Year is upon us, how are your resolutions going? Are you hitting up the gym more than once a week? Is the dairy-free diet treating you well? How about the vow of alcohol abstinence? I think many of us create our resolutions with good intentions, trying really hard to make them stick, but life just seems to get in the way of truly following through. You end up having to work late at the office (more days than you expected), that terrible flu going around at your kids' school catches up on you, the bitter weather forces you to refuse to part with that extra hour in bed, etc.. At the end of the day, regardless of the extraneous unaccounted factors that prevent you from achieving your goals, it all boils down to your mind. As Buddha says: "rule your mind or it will rule you."
Trying to rule your mind doesn't happen overnight, as I quickly learned from my ten-day Vipassana meditation course. There are many different retreats one can go to unwind, but for some reason, Vipassana stayed with me for the past two years, since my cousin came back from the retreat. She didn't tell us exactly what she experienced, but that glow of life I saw in her eyes was something I wanted. She did advise that I needed to be completely ready to purify my mind from the roots and learn to start seeing things as they really are.
Vipassana is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation. It was initially taught in India more than 2500 years ago as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e. the art of living. It came to the Western world by S.N. Goenka and today the course is taught via his teaching assistants and nightly videos.
Once you arrive, register, and eat a hearty meal, you go straight to meditation and start practicing noble silence a.k.a complete silence. That's right, no talking to anyone around you (except your teacher or manager for technical needs). No checking your phone and of course there is no Internet or TV for distraction. Now, coming from a communications industry, where I am known for my bubbly personality, many of my close friends, family and co-workers were skeptical about how I would fare. But being surrounded by a beautiful, natural landscape, encouraging mentors, and a group of people with the same common goal of purging negative energy was a once in a lifetime opportunity I was not willing to miss out on. Although daunting at first, the program made me address miseries that I did not even realize I was suppressing. It turns out that all of the useless junk in my mind clouded the wonderful things around me and stifled my potential. Although being isolated from my loved ones and meditating for 12 hours a day (on and off with breaks for outdoor walks and delicious vegetarian meals) was extremely difficult, it was by far the most gratifying thing I could have done for myself in 2014.
I have come out of Vipassana with the tools to help me love others and myself purely, and to live my life in the present moment with a positive, compassionate and understanding heart. Focusing on my breath and unplugging myself from the world unearthed a host of great ideas and allowed me to look at on-goings in my life with an alternate perspective.
Meditation might have recently become an increasingly popular practice in the West, but it is not just some trendy fad that's not going to be around next week. Meditation is thousands of years old and has seen beneficial results. Most recently, meditation has come under the microscope of medical science and tested with randomized trials in an attempt to discern its distinct health benefits. Numerous respected medical journals have published these trials of meditation and mindfulness-based recovery techniques with encouraging results -- patients experienced statistically significant decreases in pain, anxiety, and depression. Randomized trials in breast cancer patients have similarly demonstrated reduced patient stress and enhanced mood leading to improved recovery. Studies are ongoing to investigate the role of meditation in a variety of other medical illnesses.
At the end of the day, are you willing to dig deep into your roots? Learn to live a peaceful life free from negative cravings, aversions and attachments? I think Vipassana is something everyone should experience. Once we all accept the impermanence of any negative actions that are bound to happen in life, and learn not to react immediately - but to remain in equanimity - our resolutions will eventually turn into accomplishments without us even realizing it!
"May all beings be happy!" - S.N. Goenka