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Another intensive course attracting a lot of attention is the Spirit of Freedom. Spirit of Freedom clients openly admit they have turned their businesses around, improved relationships and generally got rid of any negativity in their lives. A weekend course requiring a fee promises to deliver you, ‘positive ways of dealing with your life and the opportunity to clear away any negativity so that you can move and live your life to the fullest.’ Some even say it has saved their lives. However it is impossible to get details about what really happens there. Positive affirmations – only. It is shrouded in secrecy and the organisers are highly protective of any negative publicity. Contact details are difficult to get hold of and they pride themselves on people discovering this intensive course via word-of-mouth.

Vipassana lies at the other end of the spiritual spectrum. Free – donation only. It is a 10-day live-in retreat during which participants follow a prescribed Code of Discipline, learn the basics of the method and practice enough to experience the benefits of its results. Vipassana, which means ‘to see things as they really are’, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was taught in India more than 2500 years ago as a remedy for universal ills. Teacher Patrick Given-Wilsen says, “It’s a practical course and a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body. We are teaching people to listen to what is going on inside and accept it.” It is no camping holiday though. The course requires hard serious work. For the duration of the training each student is asked to observe the five precepts:

To refrain from the use of intoxicants and drugs.

To refrain from lying

To refrain from stealing

To refrain from sexual misconduct

To refrain from killing

The thought of 10 days silence can sound intimidating, but Given-Wilsen confirms, “You should not talk amongst the other Vispassana devotees but you are encouraged to talk to the teachers and managers at anytime. There is a daily interview where students can express verbally their experiences.” Sound scary – no daily chit-chat? Apparently the training, if followed diligently will lead to a calmer mind and inner peace.

Like The Landmark and Spirit of Freedom, people find themselves at Vipashnaa for different reasons. Some are genuinely lost and need direction. Others like nurse and mother of three teenagers, Anna Adams says she needed a, “strong thing. Ten days in silence seemed strong. I’ve had a hard life and I wanted to learn how to live happily. My original reason was because I was intolerant of everything. My first Vipashnaa was in 1989 and it was extreme. I liked the silence and knew immediately from the first day that this was the right thing for me. It was really powerful.” So powerful in fact that Adams is into her tenth year. “I go every year and do the 10 days and consequently I have developed as a person. It is different every visit. You start to see things in a new light. My self-talk is a lot more positive and I am more tolerant and less self-centred. I’m glad I found it. It works for me.”

The entire 10 days is actually a mental training. Just as we use physical exercise to improve our bodily health, apparently Vipashnaa can be used to develop a healthy mind. “Stripping back all the material things in your life can be very powerful,” says Dr Ballinger. “Maybe Vipasana is not taking you over as much as some of the intense three-day courses. You’re not force fed or led into anything that you don’t want.” People from all walks of life have found Vipashnaa helpful and beneficial to their day-to-day lives. Given Wilsen is continually overwhelmed by the noticeable change he sees in people, “To see the transformation in them is extraordinary. They arrive tense and leave glowing.”

Vipashnaa like The Landmark Forum is not some quick fix. If it does not come naturally to you then it probably isn’t the right thing for you. As Martin confirms, “I’ve done other courses and The Landmark is the one that really worked for me.” People who are emotionally happy already can benefit from making the decision to do a course. As Martin says, “I think my acting has improved because I was able to see why a character behaved a certain way. It helped me deal with fears about being in front of people. I am closer to my family and friends.” Dr Ballinger backs this up, “If a course teaches you to communicate better and it promotes confidence boosting skills then this can’t be a bad thing.” Ballinger worries about the emotionally vulnerable people. “There are so many out there. I wouldn’t recommend any courses to anyone that suffers from anxiety disorders such as panic attacks or phobias. Nor would I encourage the clinically depressed to do them.”

If it’s a course that has helped you face the music of your life and ‘save it’ – so-to-speak and set you on the road to true happiness and given you more depth then that is a good thing.

Soul Food

Vispassana Mediation Centres around Australia

Sydney: (02) 4787 7436

Victoria: (03) 5961 5722

Queensland: (07) 5485 2452

Tasmania: (03) 6263 6785

Perth: (08) 9435 4858

The Landmark Forum

www.landmarkforum.com