*This is from a previous newsletter written in March 2019*
Earlier this month I completed my third 10 day Vipassana meditation course.
When people hear meditation retreat, they say things like, “oh, that must have been so nice and relaxing.”
To be honest, it is anything but relaxing. It is hard work and pretty austere in nature.
When you first arrive you hand in your phone and any electronics. There is no reading, writing, organized exercise, and absolutely no talking or body language as you take a vow of noble silence your first night and remain in silence until the morning of the 10th day. You are to go about the course as if you are in isolation.
It is just you and your thoughts; no distractions.
The morning gong rings at 4AM. I had volunteered to be the gong ringer so I was up every morning at 3:45AM. You have a simple breakfast of oats and stewed prunes and a selection of fruit at 6:30AM, a vegetarian lunch at 11AM, and tea at 5PM. For returning students you do not eat after noon.
There are a short breaks throughout the day to bathe, walk, rest, or do laundry and clean, but besides that you are meditating from 4AM-9PM with three hour long group sits and the rest of the time either on your own or in the hall. The importance of continuity of practice is constantly being reinforced.
The first three days are the hardest. You are following stila, moral conduct, and adhering to the precepts and schedule. The meditation technique you first learn is anapana- focusing on feeling the sensation of the incoming and outgoing breath at the area around the nostrils and upper lip.
The first 3 days is when you see people start to drop out. They realize it’s not what they expected. It’s tiring, your back hurts from sitting in cross legged position, or you can’t stand the silence and boredom.
If you make it through the first three days you begin to learn the technique of Vipassana on the 4th day. Vipassana means to see things as they really are. It is not associated with any religion, but it is the meditation of the Buddha. (Read the story of the Buddha here)
It’s understanding the truth at the experiential level. The truth being the law of impermanence. You begin to feel sensation all throughout your body. Sometimes you may experience gross sensation while other times it may feel like a free flow. The key is to remain equanimous- let go of cravings and aversions to any sensations and thoughts that arise. You are to look at everything that arises objectively. As you do this you realize that the law of nature is change. The nature of all things is to rise and pass away.
Vipassana meditation has 3 stages:
1. Stila- The ability to not run away from you experience and feel
2. Samadhi- The ability to surrender and reach a place of peace and relaxation- this is what we feel after a nice yoga class or time spent in nature, but it’s not the final goal.
3. Pana- Panna means wisdom. Once you are relaxed the real work begins.
You see meditation is not just about feeling warm and fuzzy. It’s about doing the inner work. Fears, hurt, insecurities, deep seated beliefs begin to pop up to be examined. When you don’t react to them they dissipate and you become more and more liberated in the process.
Free Your Mind
It doesn’t matter how successful you are, how much money you have, how great your social life is, or how awesome your body looks, we all have mind stuff.
Meditation is cleaning the mind just as you clean your physical body and brush your teeth. It’s essential and maintenance is important.
What vipassana has taught me is how to stay anchored in my body throughout the day- be aware of thoughts, sensations, and emotions and let them go by simply knowing they change.
It helps prevent over identification with an emotion, “oh I don’t like this feeling so let me try to make myself happy by doing x y or z.” After a while the methods you sought for relief no longer work and you keep looking for more things, more ways, or people to solve the issue which can only be solved at the level of your mind.
Instead, I now just observe that there is sadness, excitement, elation, anger, frustration, fear. etc. all passing through, but I don’t try to make any of the visitors permanent residents or put them under interrogation on why they are here. Instead, I just watch them almost like I’m sitting by a busy street people watching, just thinking to myself, “hmm, that’s interesting/strange/heartbreaking /beautiful/heart warming/funny and so forth.
Doing this and understanding the law of impermanence may sound like common sense, but it’s interesting how we often know on the intellectual level but the subconscious initiates patterns and behaviors that conflict.
This is largely because society tells us what life should ideally look like. It tells us we need to be happy 24/7, sexy, hit benchmarks by certain ages….
If reality does not match how we “think” it should be it can create suffering in mind and body.
10 Days of Meditating In Silence and This is My Message?
The clearest message that came through was to build a new training and nutrition program for myself and start training again. To be honest I found it kind of shallow, but observing it, I see how it reinforces what I learn on my meditation cushion.
In a world and in a body that is always changing my training, nutrition, yoga and meditation practices are anchors in this flux.
I show up despite feeling differently each day and work with what’s there, practicing steadiness and moderation. It’s not about the result or looking for ways to have the best workout or achieve the pose in yoga. It’s simply about showing up consistently despite the forever changing emotions that arise.
It all becomes a meditation; a practice to observe, feel and respond rather than react. Every moment becomes an opportunity for greater awareness, self discovery and understanding, compassion, and connection. You begin to remember that this life is a somatic experience- one that requires intellect, sensation, heart, and awareness.
When you learn to see yourself so clearly, no longer pointing fingers or passing blame on others or circumstances you see others for who they truly are. Your heart floods up to the brim and the world that is reflected back at you is more serene, more loving, and abundant, because the inner world has shifted, but we must each experience this for ourselves.
*If interested in attending a Vipassana Course see the links below. Vipassana is 100% donation based and giving service is a great way to give back.