In my quest to try new things for short periods of time, I had the opportunity to participate in a 10-day Vipassana meditation course, "as taught by Goenka".

What is Vipassana? It's a meditation technique. It was rediscovered more than 2500 years ago by Buddha as a universal method to alleviate suffering.

Goenka passed away in 2013, and was a notable lay instructor of Vipassana meditation. He helped establish approximately 250 non-profit centers worldwide, offering courses entirely free of charge — not even to cover the cost of food and accommodation.

The course has been repeated in the same way for generations, with Goenka being the latest teacher in a chain that preserves the tradition. A rigorous, serious, and monastic lifestyle is mandatory. Telephones and communication with the outside world are prohibited, and complete silence is required — except for an optional 5-minute daily conversation with the teacher.

Goenka's approach to teaching is distinctive because it emphasizes the universal and pragmatic elements of Buddha's path. The idea is that, irrespective of your faith or beliefs, you can incorporate this practice into your life to reap its advantages.

The daily schedule includes waking up at 4am, and going to bed at 9pm. There are three breaks of approximately an hour for breakfast at 7am, lunch at 11am, and a tea break at 5pm. The rest of the time is dedicated to meditation, in the hall or in one's own room. 12 hours a day of meditation in 1-2 hour blocks.

In a nutshell, for ten days you will do nothing but eat, sleep, and meditate.

I must say that in undertaking this endeavor, I greatly underestimated the difficulty. I didn't inform myself much beforehand, I've never meditated for more than 20 minutes. I just dove in. On the other hand, I've never had problems in my entire life working hard and with determination... how much more complicated could it be this time?

Well, it turned out to be an incredibly tough experience from every point of view: there wasn't a day, from the first to the tenth, in which I didn't seriously consider quitting. The feeling, at least for me, was that of being continuously punched, sometimes physically, sometimes mentally, sometimes emotionally.

At the same time, it was an incredibly powerful and metamorphic experience, from just as many points of view. I discovered things about myself that without the harshness of the course, I would never have been able to bring to light.

But let's take a step back: what is the lesson that Vipassana is trying to teach us in 10 days?

It's about learning to observe your feelings without reacting, which can help reduce your anger and self-destructive behavior. Vipassana trains you to impartially notice all body sensations, without responding to them. Typically, we crave pleasant feelings and respond to unpleasant ones with anger, but Vipassana teaches us to understand that all sensations, whether positive or negative, are transient. They come, and then they go. Therefore, simply not reacting is the key to eliminating misery from our lives.

By consistently practicing this non-reactive observation, you can change your instinctive reactions. So, in daily life, when you encounter something unpleasant, you’ll recognize the unpleasant feeling but won’t react to it with anger as before. Similarly, if you encounter something very pleasant, you'll learn to recognize the pleasant feeling, but won't react with attachment and craving as before.

Can anyone really dispute this premise? I think we're all on the same page here. So, what's with the ten-day course duration?

Well, some lessons are hard to grasp. They might be easy to read/listen to and understand logically, but much harder to comprehend subconsciously. And unfortunately, true change happens when you deeply understand these lessons, and experience them personally.

Every experience within the ten days of the course, from the practice itself inside the meditation hall, to the very life that is required to be led between one meditation and the next, is designed to give you no escape, way out, or distraction from your involuntary impulses. It's not physically or mentally possible to complete the entire course without having actually deeply learned the lesson, by experiencing on yourself that stopping reacting impulsively is possible, and makes you feel better.

I wouldn't want to spoil the journey for you. Moreover, discussing my personal experience doesn't make much sense, as yours would be different. However, I still want to provide at least one tangible example.

Sitting cross-legged with a straight back for an hour straight is impossible, unless you're already a meditator. It's simply impossible. The back is subjected to excruciating pain, the legs lose sensitivity. The mind rebels, screams, cries, and suffers immensely. And after that hour, there's another, and then another... believe me, twelve hours a day of meditation is a lot.

Very soon, the thought begins to develop that if you persist for just one more minute, you'll probably end up in a wheelchair forever. You begin to loathe the course, believing that everyone involved is crazy. You can't go on. You simply cannot go on. It would be absolute madness.

So you give up. You change position. Or you get up, silently cursing everyone, and once again start thinking about leaving this madhouse. But literally 20 seconds pass... and your pains have absolutely disappeared, all of them. The legs are perfectly fine, the back too. You weren't dying. You weren't even close.

On the other hand, we already knew this, didn't we? Just a few paragraphs earlier, we all agreed, verbally, that "all feelings, whether good or bad, are temporary". There you have it. Here lies the difference between rationality and the subconscious.

The lesson of the course is in the very experience you're living. You have to cry, suffer, rebel, and finally, as the very last resort, try to let go, make a small leap of faith to see what's on the other side. Those who quit — and there are plenty who do — have not been able to make this leap of determination: the subconscious wins over reason, and they go home, defeated and angry for the wasted time and pointless suffering.

How did my story end? On the seventh day, at the umpteenth session of infinite pain and frustration, I hit my lowest point... and it finally happened that the subconscious let go. And the pain, which until that second was simply unbearable, dropped from 100% to 10%. Just like that. Same position, same back, same legs, same person. It was the mind generating 90% of the pain.

Suddenly, I could sit in that position for as long as I wanted. All I had to do... was not react. Observe the pain, detached, and consider that like every sensation it is destined to pass. And in the end it passes. Period.

It was a profoundly transformative experience, and honestly, I still struggle to believe it works. And it's not the only deep and unexpected thing I'm grappling with.

I recommend you give it a try: believe me, it's worth it!