I heard about it from a college friend and out of sheer curiosity, I took a 10-day course as taught by Shri Satyanarayan Goenkaji and his assistant teachers. It is a residential course, free of cost, run on donations from old students (that is, anyone, having done a 10-day course). One can join the donors after a course.
The first session starts at 4.30 am and with breaks for tea, lunch, some rest, goes on through the day for about 10 hours, with a video discourse of around 1.1/2 hours in the evening. Food is simple vegetarian fare and there is no dinner – exceptions are made for the ailing, pregnant women and the like who must have the teacher’s permission to eat in the evening. If this is forbidding, there is one more condition – the meditator has to maintain silence throughout 9 days, breaking it only on the 10th day.
Risking all this, I attended my first course when I was around 38. It was the month of December, quite cold in Ahmedabad, and despite following the instructions sincerely – two things distracted me. One, I had this excruciating pain in the leg which would not let me focus on my breath which we are required to do in the first 3 days, and on the sensations in the body in the remaining 7 days. Two, there was an Agarwal sweets outlet just opposite the meditation centre, and my mind was on food most evenings.
Nevertheless, I stayed the duration of the course. Did I benefit? Yes, I did not even notice when the pain disappeared. There was a remarkable lightness of body and mind. Was there any small step towards enlightenment? I doubt, but later on, it was noticeable to me and those close to me, that I did not get as angry as before. I also felt that I did not react to situations like earlier. I was not clear whether the change was due to the practice or Guruji’s discourses. Or may be both? How does it matter? When benefits accrue, one consolidates them; where there are shortcomings one works harder.
A few months later, I quit my corporate job, and being at a loose end, went to Igatpuri, (near Nasik, Maharashtra) where I took a second course. I was more grounded now, knowing what to expect. This time, I really got some insights – the impermanent nature of all things, especially the sensations in the body which swing the mind between craving and rejection, the suffering and misery which we cause ourselves and blame all others – in short, taking responsibility for our own happiness in life. Many reported relief from migraine, arthritis, spine problems and other ailments. It’s like ‘Reiki’, ‘alternative therapies’, ‘self-healing’.
I stayed on at the Centre for two years and a half, working, attending courses, serving on courses – I learnt a lot and when I left, I had a much better understanding of myself.
I have since moved on, but I do a course and serve one at least once a year. It is boring and routine at times, but when I see the takeaway, I am motivated to continue the practice. The benefits are ongoing :
- I understand better what I read, think and observe – ‘observe’ is right. There is more observation and objectivity
- Freedom for past wounds – the ability to let go, see fractured relations as whole and complete
- Not been to a doctor, except for the annual medical check-up
- Death is inevitable, how I die or how I face death is in my hands
- Take responsibility for my karma – not only what I do, but also what happens to me
- Able to live and engage with people; able to live alone without feeling lonely
I recommend everyone do the first course. For the second, no recommendation is needed or to be heeded.
(Course schedules, venues, rules, registration forms are all available online).