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Sandra Pawula

Do You Ever Feel Like It's Impossible to Change?

Recently, I watched an extraordinary documentary called Doing Time, Doing VipassanaVipassana is a simple, non-sectarian meditation technique.

This film moved me deeply.  It illustrates so vividly how anyone can change and the powerful transformation that can arise through simply looking at your own mind.

It might sound crazy, but Doing Time, Doing Vipassana actually renewed my faith in humanity and our inherent potential for goodness.  It gave me hope.  We can avert the environmental destruction of the planet.  We can dispel violence and terror.  We can create a harmonious world.  If only we can learn to look within and abandon our own negative tendencies, thoughts, and emotions.

Sure, we need to take practical steps too.  But without collectively changing the inner landscape of our minds, there is no hope for permanent, positive change in the world.

It's funny because I avoided watching the DVD for a number of months.  The idea of watching a film about prison seemed depressing.  But in the end, this is one of the most inspiring and motivational films I've ever seen.

If you feel like it's impossible to change yourself - or the world - don't give up.  Watch this film instead.  And even if you are not discouraged, I think you may find amazing inspiration here.

Doing Vipassana, Doing Time:   Film Description

"Two women filmmakers from Israel, Ayelet Menahemi and Eilona Ariel, initiated this independent project. In the winter of 1994-95 they spent five months in India, doing intensive research on the use of Vipassana as a rehabilitation method and its dramatic impact on foreign and Indian prisoners.The authorities were unusually cooperative, allowing the team free access to two Indian jails. The documentary begins with the story of Tihar Prison - a huge and notorious institution housing 10,000 inmates, 9,000 of them awaiting trial. When a new Inspector General, Kiran Bedi, was posted there in 1993, Tihar entered period of rapid-fire change.

Bedi had earned a reputation as an energetic but controversial officer in the Indian Police Service. At Tihar she launched a series of reforms improving prison conditions.But she wanted to achieve a deeper transformation, and when she came across Vipassana she was convinced that this was the tool she needed. Bedi learned that the technique had been tried before in other Indian jails, with astonishing results. The film briefly tells how Vipassana originated and how it was used in other prisons. A Vipassana course consists of 10 days of intensive practice, during which participants maintain complete silence. The strict requirements of such a course, imposed on a strict prison system, had created major challenges.

When Vipassana courses started in Tihar, results were immediate and dramatic. Many prisoners were deeply affected by the experience, and their attitudes changed drastically. The success led to one of the most extraordinary events to take place in a prison anywhere: in April 1994, at a special facility inside Tihar, one thousand prison inmates participated in an 11-day Vipassana course - the largest ever held in modern times.This led to another unprecedented event: within the precincts of the prison, a meditation center opened, offering regular Vipassana courses to the Tihar inmates. David, an Englishman serving a sentence in Tihar and a Vipassana student, volunteered to work in "the Vipassana Ward." The last part of the film present the inner journey travelled during a Vipassana course, and examines the technique in more detail.

Why does practising Vipassana have such a marked effect on people's behaviour and attitude? What do they realize and what do they actually do during a course? A few prisoners - Australian, British, African and Indian - tell of their experiences and their newly acquired outlook on life. The film concludes with a moving scene from Baroda Jail, showing the superintendent greeting his charges outside the meditation hall at the end of a Vipassana course."

Discovering the Root of Suffering

As you will witness for yourself, if you watch this film, dramatic transformations took place in these 'criminal' minds by the end of their 10-day meditation retreat.  It's not like everyone's anger immediately vanished.  But the brand new meditators were able to see, for the first time, the root cause of their aggression and other negative emotions.  This is  the magic key to positive change.  I think you will be moved to tears to see the changes.  I was and so were many of these prisoners.  And, by the way, the prison guards were the first up for the meditation retreat challenge.

Regardless of whether you have a dramatic experience in meditation or on retreat, results will come gradually through continued practice.  And, as our negative emotions decrease, our happiness correspondingly rises.

I think these prisoners had three things going for them.

  1. The spiritual teacher S. N. Goenka, along with his wife, presided over the initial retreats.  The presence of great spiritual teachers has the power to lift up everyone's mind.  This isn't something that can be explained or rationalized.  It's beyond the conceptual mind.
  2. It's often said that there is greater power in a group retreat.  The power of meditation is multiplied in a sense.
  3. The inmates were living in relative solitude without all the distractions and busyness of modern life.  Granted, prison life isn't pleasant and it does present challenges and distractions of its own.  But, generally, it does afford a bit of spare time.

None of these are requirements for establishing a meditation practice, but they can give your practice a boost.

Participating in a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat is not for the faint of heart. It is hard work as you will observe in the film.

If the idea seems intimidating to you, rest assured that there are other more gentle approaches to meditation.  For example, you can watch the 10-Step Introduction to Meditation on this site.  Then give meditation a try in short sessions of 5, 10, or 20 minutes.  It's not necessary to dive into the deep end of the pool to experience the benefits and power of meditation.

A Taste of Vipassana Meditation

On the other hand, if you are curious about the 10-day Vipassana retreat format, here are resources to give you a taste.

You might also enjoy these two articles by Evita Ochel.  She writes about her decision to do a 10-day Vipassana Retreat, the theory and history of the method,  and her actual experience of participating in the retreat.

Or get a feel for a different style of retreat by reading this new series about participating in the What Meditation Really Is retreat currently underway in France.  It's written by a New Yorker on her first retreat and filled with wry humor.

The truth is we are all imprisoned by our limiting beliefs and turbulent thoughts and emotions.  It's time to break free.  Meditation is the way.

[Please note that the term "Vipassana" has different meanings in different contexts.  In this article it refers to the meditation technique taught by S. N. Goenka.]

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