Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Wonderful Vipassana! Observe your breath and focus this is a long one!

Of COURSE during my 10 day Vipassana course I was contemplating what I would write you all...Then I thought, "i have no use for this now, i must learn the technique now!" or else I would have nothing to tell but that I was thinking about what to tell you the whole time..... and that wouldn't be a very informative post.

This statement is actually very accurate of the teachings of Vipassana. You have to be present experiencing reality as it is, without your mind constructing and reacting to things, because you will miss what is actually happening in reality.

The course is taught by S. N. Goenka on video/audio. There are also assistant teachers present for the course to answer questions and check in with you.

 I'll add a list of glossary terms too, such wonderful Pali words. (Pali is the language at the time of the Buddha, it's mostly a dead language at this point but resembles Sanskrit) Do not take any of this as a teaching, if you are very interested in this I insist that you check out the Vipassana site and sign up for a 10 day course it's the best and only way to truly understand the technique. This is just what happened in my personal experience and should have no comparison to anyone else's experience. We all have our own path of dhamma, no two walk the same path.

I apologize in advance for errors and an incoherence.... ask lots of questions! ❤

The Timetable
4 am
I wake up to get into the Dhamma hall for the 4:30 am meditation. I practiced Anapana and observed respiration while sitting cross legged. We were allowed to shift positions when we became uncomfortable. There was usually chanting by S. N. Goenka to start off or end or both start and end this meditation. The chanting was to introduce good vibrations to the room and were encouraging descriptions recited in Pali.
6:30 am - 8 am
Breakfast of oatmeal and stewed prunes, cereals, yogurt and fruit. Then we could head back to our rooms for rest or shower still continuously observing respiration. 
8 am - 9 am
Group mediation in the hall
9 am - 11 am
Instructions are given as to whom (old vs new students) will stay and meditate with the teachers and whom may go to mediate at their residential quarters. I usually stayed.
11 am - 12 pm
Lunch. Vegetarian meals with salad and fruit.
12 pm - 1 pm
Rest time or if you signed up for an interview with the teacher you waited for your turn. I took rest or walked around outside.
1 pm - 2:30 pm
Meditate in the hall or your room. 
2:30 pm - 3:30 pm
Group meditation in the hall.
3:30 pm - 5 pm
Meditate in the hall or your room according to teacher instruction.
5 pm - 6 pm
Tea break. We got fruit and tea for dinner.
6 pm - 7 pm
Group Meditation in the hall.
7 pm - 8:15 pm
Teacher's discourse where we watched S. N. Goenka on video explain the technique and give stories.
8:15 pm - 9 pm
Group Meditation in the hall.
9 pm - 9:30 pm
You could stay and ask questions of the assistant teachers if you had them or retire to your room. I usually headed back to my room.

Pre Course

I arrived at the Southeast Vipassana Center in Jesup, GA round about 2:30 pm. Yea sounds about right for GA....( I get a kick out of the back country sound of the word Jesup :) especially when pronounced with a southern accent) The center was down a dirt road which in my opinion is always good. I wasn't sure if we were able to talk to people (I apparently took the instructions very literally and seriously!) but upon arriving in the registration building we were allowed to talk. I was assigned a bunk and moved my things in and surrendered my contraband: keys, phones, listening things, books etc. I was actually pleased to hand them over and excited, there was no doubt in my mind that I would be wanting to leave. 
The location was beautiful, there was a pond and nature walking paths. The men and women were separated once the course began which was later this evening. 
We had dinner and an orientation about how everything is run, like showers during rest times, a little about the Noble Silence vow we were going to take and staying in course boundaries. With that we headed to the Dhamma hall to be assigned our meditation cushions. I was so excited and ready for silence. 
We got in the Dhamma hall and watched a video of S. N. Goenka who explained the five precepts we were going to take and why they were important. 
To Abstain from:
1 killing any being
2 stealing
3 all sexual activity
4 telling lies
5 all intoxicants
We also took the vow of Noble Silence which was very very important. Noble Silence is silence of the body, speech and mind. Any form of communication between students is prohibited such as: gestures, sign language, written notes, etc. Basically we stared at everyone's feet, tried not to make eye contact. I couldn't help myself though, I watched people....You could get such a wonderful sense for people in silence just from how they carried themselves. Throughout the course I could feel which people were struggling. 

The Course

The first three days we studied the Anapana technique which involves you objectively observing your respiration thru your nose. We were then instructed to focus down to the area below the nostrils and above the upper lip and focus on the sensation there of the air moving past or any other type of sensation, and as always observe OBJECTIVELY, meaning without a reaction. 
 I felt a kind of tingling or pulsating feeling that would appear in different areas. Sometimes I could feel the gentle breath passing over the area right below my nostrils. I think this may have been one of the days I struggled to keep focused, I felt tired and was head bobbing and mind wandering. Luckily at one point our assistant teacher announced, "STAY ALERT, STAY ALERT" shattering the dull hum in the hall frightening me awake for a bit. I may have headed back to my room at one point to give my knees a break, so I sat on the edge of my bed and continued the practice which helped (on this day). We were allowed about 5 minute breaks between hours to get up and stretch.
I was a bit frustrated because of perceived 'poor' mediation and that I wasn't able to stay alert and focused, but during the discourse I realized that that tired feeling wasn't a feeling at all. It was my mind whispering, "oh, I'm so tired it would be nice to go lay down. I did not sleep well last night I should take a nap. This is sooo boring!" I was without realizing convincing myself I was tired and distracting my attention from practicing. I felt better knowing this truth and my mind felt sharper better able to catch the lazy wandering habits of my mind.
This Anapana stage works as a whetstone, to sharpen your mind to its ingrained habits of distracting you from experiencing the real present moment. My mind likes to wander and explore creative endeavors and rehash the past and project into the future.
S. N. Goenka explains the habit patterns of our minds live only in the past and the future. Learning these meditation techniques helps you bring your mind to the present reality and into peace and liberation.

Day four was Vipassana day, half the day we practiced anapana then in the afternoon we learned the Vipassana technique. This technique to put it very shortly and while leaving out a ton of important info: you begin to observe sensations throughout the body starting at the top of your head and moving part by part down your body to the tips of your toes. We are also told that there will be three one hour sittings from now on that will be sittings of strong determination or adhiṭṭhāna. Meaning we will not be able to open our eyes, hands, or legs for one hour. This isn't a means of torture but to practice remaining equanimous and balanced in the face of what your mind perceives as "pain" and associates a negative feeling toward as well as adding to our virtues or pāramīs. Because essentially that pain is only a sensation, our minds just construct a negative reaction to it. This too goes for positive feelings, we should not become attached to them and crave them. 
Two of the five hindrances I remember very well are kāmacchanda--craving and vyāpāda--aversion. To me they are like positive and negative, wanting for good and aversion to bad. 
While we learned the technique I chose to not move. I ended up sitting rather still only moving to straighten my back or tip my head for an hour and a half.  I was having extreme intense pain in my knees and lower legs, they were pounding and frozen and on fire and numb all at the same time. There were definitely times my mind told me to move my legs but I was able to stay put.  Because I remembered anicca—impermanence, that EVERYTHING is impermanent and constantly changing.  So too this feeling would arise and pass away, the feeling itself was not solid but moving pulsating arising, getting stronger and then a break. It was so beautiful to observe this sensation as it was instead of breaking down into screams of pain which magnify and intensify the pain.
This day was good, all days were good, all days were constantly changing and challenging. 

Day six: this was one day Goenka said people are prone to 'run away.' I could understand why. I struggled. I woke up already my mind was not wanting to go and meditate. I took some deep breaths and headed to the hall where, I struggled for hours, it seemed my mind was wandering  more than previous and I couldn't keep track of it. I felt frustrated, I was out of balance, tipping in the way of negativity. I was very relieved by the breaks during the day, I tried moving to my room for a change to see if that would help. it didn't. I tried to remember my instructions but I resented the voice of Goenka a bit...I was feeling grumpy. My mind convinced me I was grumpy and that some external circumstance had made me grumpy. No, no environmental circumstance is the cause of dukka--suffering. I knew the trouble was my doing, it was due to my thoughts, my reactions to my thoughts. The discourse that night helped clarify and re-energize me for the next day.

Day seven: this day I felt a little more inspired, the days seemed to pick up pace, ha the numbers were nearing ten! I had to make sure I wasn’t trying to focus on the future and keep my head in my practice.

Day eight: Goenka had told us the night before that we had only two more days to work seriously. This was one of them. Knowing this helped me stay focused and do serious hard work. One of the more difficult thoughts to come in my head was time….when will this be done…I hope Goenka starts chanting soon. I think this feeling was compounded by the fact that I had a lingering pounding feeling in my head and by the evening sit it was migraine-al, including subtle waves of nausea. I focused on the feeling when I was surveying my head but when I was on other parts of my body I focused hard on that part and the migraine feeling subdued a bit, I also focused on my breath which was a bit irregular and kept hoping to hear Goenka.  There was a certain phrase Goenka would say that basically signified the meditation was coming to an end. Though it took me till about the sixth day to figure out the cue phrase and what it meant. Bhavatu sabba maṅgalaṃ—May all beings be happy! Then we could respond if we liked with, sādhu, sādhu, sādhu—well said, well done; we agree we share this wish. And I did :). 

Day nine: Very wonderful!! Our last serious work day we continued with Vipassana and learned either this day or the day before to sweep from the top of our head and simultaneously and symmetrically arms legs etc down to our toes then back up in the same manner. I got this really well on my extremities but lacked sensation on my trunk. So then after a couple sweeps you keep going part by part to try to open up the blind spots.

Day ten: Mettā day!
This day we learned how to share mettā which is selfless love. We focused on the subtle sensations throughout our bodies and filled our bodies and minds with thoughts of love and goodwill to others.  We were then released from our Noble silence. I was very hesitant to talk at the beginning. Most people got up to see the mettā day display, I stayed in the Dhamma hall until the lunch bell rang, I was having a productive sit and didn’t want to stop.  After the bell rang my roommate said hello and it was over! Time to chatter! Noble chatter of course! This day was full of laughter, sharing of experiences, yummy food and healing from our deep operations we had performed on our minds. At the next meditation my forehead flutterd and popped with thumping pressure and I experienced flashing lights when I closed my eyes. The talking and chatter had overstimulated.  It settled after a bit and I fell right into Vipassana. We then practiced a bit of mettā at the end, I could only hold it for a couple minutes so then I went back to anapana. The same thing happened later, I came in with lots of energy and it showed up as a popcorn feeling in my frontal lobe and eyeballs. It was a good healing day. Later that night though we were to refrain from touching each other I got a haircut….a much needed haircut from wonderful Tye! We stayed up a bit late and filled our hearts with love and shared stories of life it was beautiful. And we did the majority of our cleaning. We all had trouble falling asleep…but managed a few hours before the 4 am wake up bell.

Day Eleven: Our last day, so exciting!  I was pleased to know I would be heading back to hug Dorian and pet little Bella Sue. I kept my focus though and knew it would come in time. I was also very excited that I had a buddy for my ride home, Fauna. Fauna’s friend whom had brought her down to the center from Charlotte had left on the first day!(that had to have an effect on her mind all ten days!) So I told her I would bring her home, we worked it out so that her friend would meet us and take her from basically my place to back to Charlotte. We had a wonderful long talk and exchanged much information. The 6 hour ride went by very quickly with such wonderful company! The driving was a little too much to handle….Fauna had the job of reading the signs…I could not comprehend... too much stimuli after being in a dimly lit Dhamma hall for ten days! 
Dorian had left me a lovely message on my phone welcoming me back to the ‘real world’ though he said maybe he should have called it the ‘fake world’ hah. Well, I finally made it home and got my hugs and wished Dorian a happy birthday! I felt exhausted! I shuffled around wearily and got to sitting. After our last discourse earlier in the day and talking with Fauna I realized I had been visualizing while I was meditating, which isn’t neccisarrily bad meditation but not in line with vipassana. So I had to stop the visualizations, I had thought visualizations applied only to religious symbols or shapes, but no it was all visualizations. I had been visualizing my body and a band of light passing over it….still not good. Needless to say, I was tired and really just wanted to sleep so the sit didn’t go well, I was cross. It was difficult to not visualize, a very strong habit of mine from being an artist. I build up and take things apart in my head, dream up artwork and solve sewing situations.  My mind habits appeared strong but I made it!

I have decided to rid myself of the visualizations I should head back to anapana and re-sharpen my tool. I am pleased, I feel calm and peaceful. It's a wonderful feeling, I hope you may feel it too. I hope you have lots of questions!! Leave comments and I will do my best to answer them. May you share my happiness, peace and love!

Bhavatu sabba maṅgalaṃ!

Glossary and some of my other favorite terms (I'll give you my best guess at pronunciation)

Dhamma [damma]: the law of nature; the teaching of an enlightened person; the way to liberation
Buddha [booda]: anyone who is fully enlightened
Adhiṭṭhāna [ahhditaana]: strong determination
Mettā [metta]: selfless love
Anicca [aneechay]: impermanence 
Saṅgha [sahngha]: anyone who has practiced Dhamma and has become a pure-minded, saintly person
Bhavatu sabba maṅgalaṃ [buhwadu sawa mangalam]: May all beings be happy!
Three Trainings:
Sīla [sheela]: morality
Samādhi [samadi]: concentration, mastery of the mind
Paññā [panya]: wisdom, insight that purifies the mind

1 comment:

  1. Wooh, what a wonderful description. Just did my first 10 day course myself, and my own experiences almost match yours for 100%. And this brings the good memories back, as I did not write anything down but realise (now two weeks after the course) that some of the magic is dripping away.