Edges of Extreme – Part 2

(Interlude)

Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.

The Tradition

Since the time of Buddha, Vipassana has been handed down, to the present day, by an unbroken chain of teachers. The technique is taught at ten-day silent residential courses. The course requires hard, serious work.

There are three steps to the training.

1)      The first step is, for the period of the course, to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual activity, speaking falsely, and intoxicants. This simple code of moral conduct serves to calm the mind, which otherwise would be too agitated to perform the task of self-observation.

2)      The next step is to develop some mastery over the mind by learning to fix one’s attention on the ever changing flow of breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils. By the fourth day the mind is calmer and more focused, better able to undertake the practice of Vipassana itself: observing sensations throughout the body, understanding their nature, and developing equanimity by learning not to react to them.

3)      Finally, on the last full day participants learn the meditation of loving kindness or goodwill towards all, in which the purity developed during the course is shared with all beings.

And as it was so perfectly described in “Eat, Pray, Love”: Vipassana is an ultra-orthodox, stripped down and very intensive Buddhist meditation technique. Basically, it’s just sitting. And introductory Vipassana course last for ten days, during which time you sit for ten hours a day in stretches of silence that last two to three hours at a time. It’s the Extreme Sports version of transcendence. Your Vipassana master won’t even give you a mantra; this is considered a kind of cheating. Vipassana mediation is the practice of pure regarding, witnessing your mind and offering your complete consideration to your thought patterns, but allowing nothing to move you from your seat.

It’s physically grueling too. You are forbidden to shift your body at all once you have been seated, no matter how server your discomfort. You just sit there and tell yourself, “There’s no reason I need to move at all during the next two hours.” If you are feeling discomfort then you are supposed to meditate upon that discomfort, watch the effect that physical pain has on you.

(Part 2)

So, now you’re asking why I’m telling you about this kind of meditation  at all. Easy…

Because I’m a meditator.

I meditate.

Or, at least, I used to be a meditator…I used to meditate. I should be fair and give ALL the facts when I’m telling my story.

Thus far, I have sat two 10 day Vipassana courses in my life, the first in India which was epic and totally life changing, and the second in Australia, where I felt cheated in my practice and left with a spoilt taste in my soul. But that first experience in India, I went in as one person and exited quite another.

But, I suffered. Badly.

You can’t even imagine the amount of 1) strength 2) patience and 3) persistence it takes to complete a 10 day course. Everyone laughed at me when I first spoke about trying it because of the noble silence aspect (not speaking for 10 days). Let me just tell you, boys and girls, the hardest thing about Vipassana is NOT being silent for 10 straight days.

IT’S MEDITATING TEN FREAKING HOURS.

The process tries to get you to streamline your thoughts to follow body sensations, and every time your mind wanders from your practiced sensation, you have to draw it back in.

And this wander and return loop happens 1,000,000 times…an hour!

But when I left that first course, I was literally glowing. On day 8, I had made the connection to understanding and easily identifying with my bodily sensations and could successfully sit still hour after hour following my sensation pathways to serenity.

But let’s note that that India trip was about 7-8 years ago.

So when I was finally accepted into 3-day Vipassana course in California after almost a year on the wait list, I thought it would be an amazing revamp to my failing practice and, therefore, I would trek out to the middle of California to sit with myself for a few days.

Then on the drive I started to panic.

I suddenly remembered India; crying all of day four, not sleeping nights 6&7, the rage, the solitude, the anxiety. During the process, it was awful. And I was suddenly very, very scared.

And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. One of the many differences was that this time, every participant was HARD CORE. These weren’t newbies who wanted to make connections with the other participants through shy glances and smiles, maybe sharing the same dining table a few days. At this course, no one made eye contact. No one sat together. No one slept during mediation hours in their rooms.

Well, no one but me.

And I fought with myself daily, hourly…Jesus, I was fighting myself by the minute. And when you’re sitting hour after hour in a meditation hall waiting for a break, minutes go by like dripping molases.Having to keep reminding myself that I wanted to be here, that I needed to be here, made it seem like an even worse punishment.

My back hurt, my patience faltered, my mind screamed for freedom.

But then I calmed down.

I recognized that I wasn’t doing as well as I could be doing, but that I was DOING it and I should take comfort in that. Out of the 10 hours a day, I managed about 4 good meditation hoursy. 4 HOURS PEOPLE!!! I wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t even a star, but I tried, HARD, made it through the 3.5 days, and left with a respect for my body, my mind, and a great pride that I’m a pretty tough cookie.

Now the REAL TEST will be if I can actually keep up the meditation at home. That was the whole point of this difficult exercise, and that will be the true test if I was successful.

If…

Things at work are hard – Meditate.

Fighting with a friend – Meditate.

Overwhelmed by life – Meditate.

Happy – Meditate.

Sad – Meditate.

D) All of the above – Meditate.

And then spread the love. xxx

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