Hmmm… How to write about 10 days of silent vipassana meditation…. 110 hours of silent sitting…. (yup I did the math while sitting.)
Day 0: Ok, I can totally do this. Other people are nervous too, so that is normal. Oh my! Look at this beautiful place! Is that Mount St. Helen’s in the distance covered in snow?? … oh wow! A deer! Hello there. I almost didn’t see you munching on the bushes. And an owl! Owl of wisdom. That is a good sign 🙂 Yes. I will be alright…. Hmmm… I don’t really like Goenka’s chanting… I hope this isn’t going to be 1o days of listening to that.
Day 1: Up before the 4 am bell. I guess I am excited. Beautiful white frost all around. 4:30 am I am in the meditation hall. It is peaceful and quiet. I like this 🙂
Day 2: Oops. Slept through the 4am bell. Glad I heard the 6:30 am bell and didn’t miss breakfast! Ok, this is getting harder. Focus on the respiration. Yes, the breath, the breath…. Oh my dream house. How would I build the bed? And it should have a meditation nook that will look like this. What about that dilemma of the cooking stove…. Oh wait, I am supposed to be meditating. Focus on respiration….
Day 3: Focus on respiration. The breath, the breath…. I want my house to be part of a community. The land would be a beautiful south facing hill with a river at the low point and mountains in the distance. There would be just a few houses, all built using different natural building techniques…. and by the roadside we could have a little store for our CSA, community member’s arts and crafts, maybe a few offices…. Oh the breath, right. The breath…… Zzzzzzz Zzzzzzzzz….. Zzzzzz…. what? oh yeah, right. meditation. Not sleep. The breath the breath…. We should have a gong, yes, like the meditation gong here, rung for meals, wake up, and meditation times. Yes what a nice way to call people to meetings or announce a meal! … Focus on respiration, respiration…. Ok, thats it, I am going for a walk…. Ahhh fresh air. Look at these grand firs! So many grand fir trees. But grand firs usually die young due to some beetle or fungus and the douglas firs usually take over. Hmmm… Well, that does look like a christmas tree farm in the distance. That makes sense as those are usually grand firs… meditative walking, right. The breath, the breath…. Oh! Look at the deer! Mama with who two babies leaping. Awww. They look so free and joyous! All these little signs saying course boundary; no students beyond this point. But what’s down that path? Hmmm… if I ran would they chase me? Ok, I am being silly, this isn’t prison this is a meditation retreat!
Day 4: Focus on the breath, focus on the breath…. ok, this focus on the breath thing is getting old. Am I really not even half way through? I told myself this is only ten days of my life. Ten Looooong days…. Oh, but today is Vipassana day! Wait, are you telling me that for the last three and a half days we have not been doing Vipassana???!!! WHAT? This better be good…. “Now, … from top of the head to tip of the toes, tip of the toes to top of the head, top of the head to tip of the toes, tip of the toes to top of the head…” You have got to be kidding me. That is Vipassana? That’s it!? What have I gotten myself into. Can I really do this? Ok, bed time. Sleep and tomorrow is a new day. Sleep…. sleep…. What time is it? 10:30 pm… still no sleep. 11:pm still no sleep. Ok, it’s midnight and I have still not fallen asleep. This is not ok. First I can’t seem to keep myself awake during meditation and now I can’t fall asleep.
Day 5: Me: “Teacher, I can sleep *sobs* I am exhausted and cranky and I can’t sleep.” Teacher: “Yes, that is a common affect of meditation. Try not to get worked up about it and just be aware of your sensations and breath as you lie there.” …. Ok, lets give this Vipassana thing another try. Top of the head…. tip of the toes… tip of the toes… top of the head… wow what is that sensation? Its like shivers but not quite… tingles all over! This is it, isn’t it? This is what it is about! But wait, don’t crave this. No craving or aversion. No craving or aversion. Equanimity. Equanimity. Equanimity.
Day 6: What is this whole idea of enlightenment anyway!? I mean, you sit and meditate your whole life and then you leave enlightened and then what? You are done? I like this world. How is this any different then a religion where you are living for whatever comes after? …. and Goenka says the enemies of any meditator are drowsiness, agitation or sleeplessness, and doubt and uncertainty…. Did he know I was doubting everything? How did he know??
Day 7: Well, I am here to give this technique a fair trial. Lets put aside the doubt and work. Just for four more days. That isn’t too bad…. Top of the head, tip of the toes… tip of the toes, top of the head…. ouch, pain…. tip of the toes…. top of the head…. ooo, pleasant sensation…. top of the head…. ouch, more pain…. tip of the toes…..
Day 8: Ahhh, So this is what a meditative space feels like….. such peace, such calm…. such equanimity! such quiet…. yes, I want to keep this quiet….
Day 9: Ahhh, more peace…. head…. toes… head… toes…. ouch! that hurts there…. ok, breathe…. head…. toes… head…. toes…. still hurts…. head… toes… head…. ahhh, tingling…. toes… head…. still hurts…. What a beautiful full moon! Such a perfect last night.
Day 10: Wow, is that really a full lunar eclipse?? Yes, I think it is! I wish those trees weren’t quite as tall so I could see just a little better! …. Today there is no more Noble Silence? We can talk?? I am not sure how I feel about that…. ok, I can do this. Go out of the meditation hall. Yes, I can do this…. Uh oh, nope. Too much sound. That laughter is waaayyyy too loud. Turn around. Go back in… Ahhh yes, quiet…. Peace…. Ok, I have to go get lunch soon… Go back out, walk around alone first…. Ok, brace yourself. You can go into the dining hall…. WOW! SO LOUD! One BIG hummmmmm of SOUND! …. Ok, it’s ok. Here comes the girl who shares my birthday! Yup, we are both capricorns, born on december 22nd, an hour away from each other, twelve years apart. So we are both dragons as well! Ok, I will get food and go sit with her. It will be ok….
Day 11: Time to leave. All this talking is bringing back the skepticism. Are we really all expected to blindly accept this practice? Goenka says look at all the happy faces; notice the difference from before the course. Come on, Goenka! We were all nervous before and now we have all be released from ten days of torturous ten hour a day sitting in complete silence! Of course we are happier now! No way am I gonna be able to meditate every day for two hours… And if I don’t what are you, Mr. Goenka, gonna do about it?? Who cares if by the tenth day I actually liked your chanting…. Ok, back at Penny’s now and I want to meditate. Yes, I admit it, I want to…. Ahhh, so soothing, relaxing, calming…
So hopefully some of you got some amusement out of that 🙂 Planning on writing this, oh, somewhere on day 6 or 7, definitely amused me during my meditation. But maybe it is one of those things where you have to be there.
All in all though, I think I really did get a lot out of the course and it will serve me very well into the future. I now feel like I get meditation; I understand what it means to meditate. This is huge for me as before it was always hard for me to tell if I am meditating or just sitting. What’s the difference? And what is the point, really, of all this sitting? But now I think I have gotten a little glimpse of what is the point, and that is invaluable and something I will bring with me to any other meditation practice I try.
Yes, I did have a lot of skepticism come up in me at different points in the course (all that education teaching me to think critically and all those north east intellectual skeptics….) but I also am already feeling like the practice itself has indeed done something for me. And that, the practical benefits of practicing, whether or not I believe or agree with all the philosophy, is another invaluable tool for me.
Thirdly, despite the many different, sometimes ridiculous paranoid critiques of buddhism I came up with during the course, the hour long dhamma talks given each evening were a wonderfully entertaining crash course in Buddhist philosophy. Goenka has a wonderfully adorable Indian accent and provides a very structured and clearly thought out progression of practice and philosophy that, for the most part, built off each other and helped me “speak the language” of Vipassana. As I have often found before, obtaining just a small piece of knowledge often lets you know just how much you don’t know but gives you the tools to now ask the questions and find the resources to continuing gaining the knowledge and exploring. Each piece of knowledge leads to more questions and more desire to experience and learn, and that, in my mind, is how it should be. With this new experience and new vocabulary a whole new world to explore has begun to be unveiled to me. I am excited to see where it takes me. May all being be well. May all being be happy! Remember, everything is Anicca (always changing). Yup, that’s right, the whole world, including you, is just made up of all little wavelets of constantly changing, vibrating molecules.