Consciousness Bootcamp

Sponsored by a Gaudino Winter Study Fellowship, Danielle Grier ’18 took on a grueling—and transformative—challenge

Danielle Grier
Danielle Grier ’18

In January of 2016, Gaudino Student Trustee Danielle Grier ’18—along with classmates Rehaan Vij and Diego Guimaraes-Blandon and senior Sarah Austin ’16—drafted a proposal for a Gaudino Winter Study Fellowship. Their goal was to immerse themselves in an unfamiliar culture and experience, and to force themselves to critically examine their own beliefs and understandings. Their project, with its clear grounding in the Gaudino philosophy, was funded by the Gaudino Fellowship, which is awarded to two to four students at the College during Winter Study for collaborative projects focused on direct encounter with unfamiliar experiences and self-reflection.

“[Rehaan] told me about Parivaar, which is a residential educational institution located in India for impoverished, homeless and/or parentless children,” Grier told the Williams Record. “He showed me a video that he had made about the institute after staying there for two weeks during high school and told me that he wanted to go back.”

The trip encompassed a visit to Parivaar, a 10-day silent meditation, and attendance at an Indian wedding in Jaipur. The wedding and the Parivaar orphanage were impactful, but it was the Vipassana meditation experience that each of them felt had the most intense and perhaps lasting effect. For Grier, the experience was grueling—and transformative.

“If someone had told me just how difficult the meditation course would be mentally, emotionally, and physically, I am not sure I would have agreed to doing it,” she wrote in her subsequent reflection. “The physical pain was so extreme to the point that I would begin to sweat from it. I was in emotional distress almost constantly.”

Nevertheless, over time, her perspective began to shift. Her favorite part of the day was listening to the teacher, Goenke, explaining the philosophy and theory behind the Vipassana meditation technique: “I would always walk away from these discourses with a thousand thoughts on ways in which I would change aspects of my life, and how applicable and useful Vipassana is to my everyday life. I realized that my grandfather’s words of wisdom, ‘this too shall pass,’ were in fact brilliant. He unknowingly summarized the foundation of Vipassana, which while a meditation technique, is more accurately an art of living. Anitcha, or ‘change’ in the ancient language of India, encapsulates the idea of impermanence, in which every emotion, sensation, pleasure, abhorrence rises only to pass away. As such, there is no need to crave, to avoid, to react to anger or latch onto sadness. Instead, one should remain equanimous, observing such sensations because they are impermanent.”

While Grier says she began to experience some benefits while at the mediation center, it wasn’t until her return to Williamstown and her “normal” world that she began to witness true change. She noticed herself able to focus more on the present, for one thing, and less distracted by worries about post-college life. And she felt more balanced; the pressures of academic success, she says, now seemed less stressful.

“I have never been as calm as I am now,” she wrote.

Two years later, Grier recalls the trip with gratitude—and while the intensity of the experience has faded somewhat, some important effects remain.

“It is still one of the most memorable and impactful experiences I’ve had,” she says. “It was by far the most physically painful, mentally trying, and emotionally strenuous experiences. Yet, it taught me how to deal with stress. Today, I can take a step back from academic work, job-interview pressure, and the like, and take it in stride because of the meditation practices and art of living I learned through Vipassana meditation. I haven’t meditated since, but it was the techniques and the philosophy I learned while there that have directly impacted me back in the States.”