Travel, Meditate, Self-Love: The Spiritual Vipassana Journey of Sanela Kaknjo
After a painful break-up, Sanela Kaknjo started a world-trip with the aim to heal on a deep level. She traveled to lots of South-East-Asian countries and ended her trip with a Vipassana meditation retreat that she’s going to tell us all about. She didn’t communicate in any form with anyone for ten days and meditated all day long. She tells us all about both her struggles and the eye-openers. After the course, she felt never as connected with herself as before. Let her take us through her unique and beautiful journey.
What countries did you travel to after the break-up? How was it like to travel to exciting countries like India on your own?
Initially, the plan was to travel together with my ex-boyfriend and we had a list of countries we wanted to visit. These countries were mainly in Southeast Asia, and we also discussed going to Iran, because we both got an interest in the Middle East. After the break-up, I took Iran off my list because I thought it might be too dangerous for a woman to travel alone.
After the break-up, and the heart pain that came along with it, I decided to make a new travel list or at least to add several countries my ex and I did not share. At first, I longed to visit a country completely out of my comfort zone and one that not a lot of people go to. So, I chose Kazachstan. After doing some research, I found out it was not really a country to backpack in, let alone a woman traveling by herself. And as I never traveled alone before (as in backpacking) nor did I ever visited Asia before, I decided it might be best to start in Asia and let all the adventures flow more naturally.
I started my world trip in Sri Lanka and after that, I continued my trip to the Maldives, Malaysia, Borneo, Indonesia (Java/Lombok/Flores/Bali/Gili), Vietnam, Iran, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and eventually ended my trip in India. Unfortunately, I had to skip Nepal because of motion sickness.
The whole backpacking experience was new for me. This was going to be my trip to rediscover myself, get out of my comfort zone and to heal from the past.
Being a very social person and being in relationships non-stop, it was quite a challenge for me to be alone. I feared not being able to enjoy all these amazing countries and places, because I was still thinking about the trip that I was supposed to do with my ex. He was also going to travel in the same period as me, probably to similar countries, so there would be a chance that we would bump into each other. This made me turn my fear and sadness into a unique realization and chance for an amazing adventure. It was a chance to heal on a deeper level.
After the break-up, I read a lot of books and analyzed articles about childhood patterns and attachment styles, and how this affects your own attachment in an adult relationship. Although I had experienced three serious relationships, it was the last one that triggered the oldest pain and opened my eyes to this pattern that has been clearly visible in all of my other relationships. At the time, I wasn’t aware of these patterns, nor did I read anything about attachment styles until my last break up.
After having done all this research, I was convinced that my ex and I met to become each others teacher in life. We triggered each other’s old pain so we would become more aware of our own patterns. The next step would be to go on our own journey to discover the truth and to heal ourselves.
For me, this meant that I was determined to follow my heart and dream, which was to travel the world and to grow emotionally, mentally and spiritually on this journey.
After almost 8 months of seeing the other side of the world and experiencing not only a psychical but also spiritual journey, I can really say that I am grateful for this amazing experience that has changed me in so many different ways. Most importantly it gave my self-love back. Something that I always had inside but thought I needed to receive from my partner. I didn’t know better, but now I do. I also thank my ex, because I know that if this would not have happened, I would not have discovered this truth about myself. I wish him the truth as well.
“ Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment. “ – Eckhart Tolle
Why did you decide to do a Vipassana retreat?
When I decided I wanted to go to Nepal, I thought it would be a cool experience to stay at a Monastery with monks to meditate with them. This experience would be a part of my healing process. I always had an interest in spirituality and thought this would be a great way to experience something new and out of my comfort zone. For instance, I had never really meditated before. When I did some research online I came across the Vipassana meditation technique and started reading about it, it caught my interest because it said “Vipassana: to see things as they really are” and this was exactly what I was looking for. I was looking for a certain truth that I knew I had inside. I started searching for dates to apply for a Vipassana in India. Since the technique is from India originally, I thought it would be good to do it there. To enter a 10-days Vipassana course, you must apply online. Because the course is on a donation basis and only for those who take the course very seriously, it takes some time before they accept you into it. Mid-November, I got the news that I was accepted for my Vipassana course in the south of India Kerala.
How was it like to meditate for 10 days in a row and to not have any contact (in any form) with anyone?
I didn’t have a lot of experience with meditation before entering the Vipassana, but I knew if I could complete a Vipassana meditation course of 10-days, I could do anything. I aimed to reach the state of liberation, to be free of all misery. I read some articles online from previous participants and they all said that the first two days were the hardest and that most of the people leave on day 3 and 6. I made a deal with myself: I would at least complete 5 days. My friends back home, who knew I was going to do the Vipassana, were quite shocked. “How are you not gonna talk for 10-days? That’s impossible!”. However, the not-talking part was actually the easiest part. Also not having a phone, laptop or a book was not that hard. The hardest part was being alone with your mind. It was just me, myself and my mind for 10 hours per day, 10 days long.
The first two days, I cried a lot and talked out loud to myself. “Why am I doing this again?! Why am I punishing myself with this meditation course?”. After this experience, I would only have 5 more days until the end of my world trip. I felt like I couldn’t do it and I felt alone. “I am in the middle having no contact with the outside world. How is this going to heal me?”
Then I looked around and saw 20 other women and I told myself: “Sanela, it’s only 10 days, you are not going to die, you are not alone, and you read online that the first 2 days are the worst. So if you get through these days you will be fine. And this is what you wanted to heal completely. This is good for you.” I was able to calm myself by telling myself those words when I was thinking of quitting the Vipassana. On the third day, one of the girls from my room decided she would leave and she wrote me and my other roommate a note. Before she left, she gave the note to me which said: “I hope the next 8 days will bring you a whole new perspective. I think you are really badass for never meditating before and jumping into a Vipassana course”. Her words were encouraging and became a daily reminder to myself that I am badass for doing this and that at the end of the course I would feel strong, calm and hopefully liberated.
Ten days had never felt so long, but with each new day and further into the meditation technique, I could feel the old pain and patterns floating away from the subconscious. I had trained my mind to be calmer and to observe the truth that I felt inside. Finally, on the 10th day, I felt I learned a lot: selfless love for myself, but also to the outside world. I felt total liberation and so much love. Love for myself, love for my ex, love for my family and friends and everyone around me. I felt so calm, strong and connected to myself. It felt like a natural high and complete liberation. Free of all my misery.
We can imagine that the weeks after the retreat were another unique experience. How was it like to be in contact with other people again? How did you perceive life after doing the course?
During those ten days, we had all the time to observe the other participants from the course. Before the course started, we had some free time to talk to our roommates. So, I did know a little bit about my roommates, but they were my silent partners for 10 days. We meditated next to each other, ate together (without any eye-contact or communication) and we even had the same routine for going to the toilet or taking a shower. When we were allowed to talk again on the 10th day, a Dutch girl was the first person I talked to. And we both were just laughing at each other. It’s interesting to see how easy it is to interact with other people again after a silence of 10 days. We all needed some time to ground and absorb the noises and voices, but everyone felt so liberated and happy that we wanted to share this amazing experience with each other.
After the Vipassana, I spend 5 days in Varkala on the beach with a few of my Vipassana friends. I was able to maintain my meditation mode during these days where Sanne and I were meditating every day for one hour. Coming back to The Netherlands, at least the first month back, I was still in my travel bubble and able to maintain this happy, liberated mindset. I was literality walk around with a smile on my face.
I started my new job after a month, and I must admit now being back for almost six months, back to work and the busy city life etc, I am experiencing some restlessness again. But my mind is stable and I still meditate when I feel the need. Because of my experience with Vipassana, I am no longer overwhelmed by negativity or setbacks, because I know that everything is impermanent. Knowing and having experienced this on a deeper subconscious level, I am more aware and connected within. However, Vipassana is not a one-time course and “you are zen for the rest of your life”. No, it’s a way of life. Vipassana is called “ The Art of Living”. One must work hard and meditate every day to remain equanimous.
How did it influence you in your daily life back home? Are you still mindful of everything you learned in those days? Did you get over the break-up with your ex entirely?
The first month of my return home I was still very much in my travel mode and I felt so calm and relaxed. I was walking around with a smile all the time. People would smile back at me and my friends told me I looked so relaxed and happy. I strongly believe that is because of this positive vibe I had, I managed to get myself a new job within one week. I really believe in energy and positive vibrations and I knew the moment I walked into the job interview that the job was already mine. Two days later, I got it. I meditated every day for the first month, once I started working again I reduced my daily meditation to only at the weekends.
Now, I must admit, it’s been a while since I meditated properly. But I am not harsh on myself. When I feel the urge to meditate, I will do it. Now with work, and some other personal things, I would meditate when I feel restless. I just let everything flow in a natural way and try not to resist it too much. Vipassana has thought me that everything is impermanent and that emotions come and go, so when I have positive or negative emotions, I only observe and try not to judge, so that I don’t create any attachment (whether cravings nor aversions). This keeps me calm, steady and strong. During the Vipassana, I literally felt the (old) pain of the break up floating away out of my body and a warm flow going through me. I cried inside with a smile on my face because this was the moment I felt liberated. I was not angry anymore. I felt love and compassion towards my ex. I thanked him for the great journey we had and the lesson I learned.
Where did you do the Vipassana retreat and how can you apply?
I decided to do the Vipassana in India where it’s from originally. I applied online through the website of dhamma.org. At the end of the 10-days, you can give a donation with the idea that other people can follow Vipassana too.
Can anyone do a Vipassana meditation course?
Yes. I had no meditation experience whatsoever, but I decided to take this course as my personal challenge and just go all-in without any preparations. It’s hard but soon into the course, you will realize that you can train your mind to be calm. Everyone can do this. There is a documentary about one of the oldest prisons in Delhi India where they thought Vipassana to inmates. Kiran Bedi, the former Inspector General of Prisons in New Delhi, who strove to transform the notorious Tihar Prison and turn it into an oasis of peace. It is a story of prison inmates who underwent profound change, and who realized that incarceration is not the end, but possibly a fresh start toward an improved and more positive life.
Would you do another Vipassana course of 10-days?
Yes, for sure I would. At first, when I came out of the Vipassana I told myself I would never ever do this again. It was the hardest, most intense thing, I have ever done in my life. After a few days, I realized the benefits of this meditation course and that if I want to maintain this calm, strong feeling, that I must meditate for the rest of my life. Vipassana helps me with this. I intend to do one Vipassana course every year.
“May all of you experience this ultimate truth. May all people be free from misery. May we all enjoy real peace, real harmony, real happiness.” – Sanela