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Column: Vipassana meditation changed my life


The meditation room in the Student Union, which is a great place to escape the chaos of life, is pictured on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022.

For years, I never felt disciplined, organized, focused or calm. Instead, I was restless, irritable, reactive and impulsive. I felt the consequences of this early in college – a vicious cycle of chronic stress and anxiety which made me feel like I had no control over my life.

I craved balance, so I sought out every self-improvement technique I could find on the internet. Bullet journaling, self-help books, vision boards, relaxation apps – you name it, I've probably tried it. 

With my well-being hanging by a thread, I was desperate for change. And yet, I could not stick to any single one of those strategies. Even therapist-administered exercises were not helping. I started to believe I was truly incapable of getting a grasp on my life. 

Everything culminated in a pandemic-induced quarter-life crisis, leading me to one of the most challenging-yet-rewarding experiences of my life. 

Enter Vipassana.

Vipassana, or “to see things as they really are” in Pāli, is an ancient form of meditation (re)discovered and taught by Gotama Buddha as a “universal remedy for universal ills.”  Although rooted in Buddhism, it is a non-sectarian practice that can benefit individuals from all walks of life. 

Unlike other types of meditation which rely on visualization, verbalization and other sensory aids, Vipassana focuses solely on the observation of physical sensations. By emphasizing the interconnectedness of the mind and body, I've found that it can be useful for young people.

Self-observation allows us to see that our bodily sensations are always changing, whether pleasant or painful, subtle or gross. The impermanent nature of these sensations trains us to remain equanimous, to not react blindly. 

“Universal remedy of universal ills” may seem like a lofty objective for Vipassana, but the practice lends itself very well to the real world, where practitioners can apply these understandings to our daily lives.

A recent poll found that around 60 percent of college students are diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder, anxiety and depression being the most common. From overwhelming academic workloads to navigating personal and professional relationships and managing financial hardship — this statistic isn't surprising considering we are vulnerable to a multitude of stressors in our lives.

Vipassana meditation is just one method I have found to navigate life's challenges. The core skills I learned through my 10-day course last year have been instrumental, and I believe they would be especially beneficial for other college students, too.

Here are all the ways Vipassana has helped me: 

  • The technique of self-observation was a lot like taking a class on myself. The first few days of the course brought all my deepest thoughts and fears to the surface, but it also allowed me to confront them. You can't perform “self-care” without knowing yourself well enough.
  • The practice improved my sleep issues. I used my phone at night to distract me from my racing thoughts. A strong foundation in meditation has all but eliminated all negative thoughts that kept me up at night. It has also improved the quality of my sleep, which reduced anxiety.
  • I learned to be more present. In retrospect, I operated on autopilot most of the time because I had little self-awareness. Now, even when I can’t stop to meditate, I am mindful of my actions throughout the day, even the minute ones like walking.
  • We can often find ourselves being our biggest critics. As a perfectionist with imposter syndrome, I had developed maladaptive behaviors that stunted my personal progress. Now, I can remember to be kind to myself because of the "metta bhavana," or loving-kindness, we practiced each day. Unconditional compassion for others is also great for conflict resolution and dealing with friends, family and strangers. 
  • I am centered, calm and more self-confident. A majority of my experiences were shaped by my reactions to life's happenings. Even a small incident would play constant reruns in my mind for weeks. With Vipassana, I was able to find balance and truly learned to let things go. 

Full benefits of Vipassana meditation hinge on the proper practice of the technique, so new students are encouraged to attend a 10-day course at one of the 14 Dhamma centers in the U.S. and many more practicing centers throughout the world. The closest one to Chapel Hill is Dhamma Patāpa in Jesup, Georgia, where I completed my course at zero cost.

It's important to note that this is not a free vacation, nor is it an escape from life's problems. The course requires strict adherence to the code of disciple, which prohibits speaking, singing and even humming. Just as the gym helps improve your physical health, a Vipassana course trains you to improve your mental health. You can expect to train over 10 hours a day for all 10 days.

Meditation is an ongoing learning process. Like any other subject, the more you practice, the more you get out of it. It is also an individual journey, so your experience may not look exactly like mine. Still, I urge you to try.


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