Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Vipassana: Days 1-4

Note: I've divided this post into 3 parts because it got so long. Start here and work your way down :).

Hey lovely people!

I made it home yesterday, but I needed a day or so as a buffer. Getting back into the real world was a little tougher than I thought it would be. Going from complete silence and calm, to a world of noise and such a sense of urgency was a little much for the first day. I decided to not get straight to the blogging so I wouldn't overstimulate myself.

It's funny, I felt like I was thinking about the post I was going to make the whole time. Planning it out paragraph by paragraph in my mind, day by day. But now as I sit here trying to recall the past ten days, it's like a blur. It all seems so distant and far away because so much happened.

But let me quit with the crypticness and cut to it. Before I go into my experience though, I think I should give you another brief reminder of exactly what Vipassana is and what the course hopes to achieve. This is a really short video that sums up the course better (and quicker) than I ever could.

There are only a handful of Vipassana Meditation Centers throughout the world and I was lucky enough to be relatively near one (about 2 hours). The one I went to is located in Pecatonia, IL. Doesn't ring a bell? It shouldn't. It's basically in the middle of Bufuland. Surrounded by cornfields, you'd expect the site to resemble an old ranch or farmhouse. But when you actually get there, you see that it's a quaint little acre of land with nature trails, ponds, and gardens. Instead of housing all the areas we'd be occupying in one building, they were divided into three small ones: the dining hall, the dormitory, and the place where we meditated. They were all spread far apart from each other, so every day was basically a nature walk. The whole set up was very cozy, tranquil, and beautiful--not at all what you'd expect. I'm really sad I didn't get any pictures of the campus because, I didn't bring my camera :-/

Anyway, because my mom sucks at being on time, we got there after check in. Most of the other students had already arrived and were waiting for the last few stragglers to make it. I dropped off my clothes and bedding in the dormitory, and then headed to the orientation. There was a short introduction and a reminder of the moral code of discipline. We were given five precepts that we were to respect for the duration of the course: No killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no telling lies, and no intoxicants. After the orientation, we headed to our rooms to change into something more comfortable for meditation. When we made it back to the hall, the men and women were separated and Noble Silence began. We meditated for an hour that night and then went to bed at 9pm.

Day 1-4

The first fours days were a matter of just getting accustomed to things. The new schedule, the nature, the animals, the silence, the food, the meditating. Surprisingly, I found the transition relatively easy. It was nice to be in silence, away from everyday stimuli and the fast pace of the world. Everything was laid back, quiet, relaxing, and calm. The scenery was just amazing, and, my favorite part: there were animals everywhere. Chipmunks, frogs, flocks of geese, litters of woodchucks, butterflies, birds of like 12 different species. And they all cohabited peacefully. The only part that I never got used to were the bugs. Ugh. They were everywhere. And, because we agreed to the precept of not killing any being, I'd have to either ignore the fact that there was an epic Jurassic Park looking bug an inch from my face, or I'd have to suck it up and take it outside. So, I had to grow gigantic balls about six times to catch and free bugs.

By far the easiest thing to get used to was the food lol. I'm not a huge meet eater, but I still though that going to vegetarian cuisine would be difficult. Not only that, but our meal schedule was that we ate breakfast at 6:30am, lunch at 11am, and then tea and fruit at 5pm. And that would be our last "meal" of the day. I was pretty sure I'd starve to death. But surprisingly, the vegetarian food was delicious. I had been contemplating going vegetarian for a while, but I didn't want to make the jump because I thought it would be too expensive. But the truth is, with a little creativity, you can come up with a lot of recipes just from ingredients you already have. Seeing as I didn't miss meat at all during my time there, I figured I'd give it a long term try.

So, now. All of that stuff aside, you probably want to know about the meditation itself, huh? Well, that was definitely the hardest part of this entire experience. On days 1-3, we practiced the simple technique of observing our respiration. As the video said, we were to just focus on the action of breathing through the nose and nothing else. Just be aware, like a silent observer, of the natural passage of the breath. Sounds simple enough right? I challenge you right now to stop reading, close your eyes, focus on your breathing through the nose, and see how long it is before your mind wanders. Go ahead, I'll wait.


How long did it take, 10 seconds? 5? 3? After practicing the breathing, you quickly realize just how wild and rebellious your mind is. You can't even focus on your own breathing for longer than 10 seconds before your mind starts to go. And when you try to bring it back, 2 seconds later your thinking about something else. This was the point of this the first two days. To just make you aware of how the mind works and how fleeting it is. After hours and hours and HOOOOUUUUURRRRS of practice, I eventually was able to control the wandering a little better. But no sooner that I almost had that part down, there was something new to learn.

On the third day the teacher introduced the second phase of the technique (anapana). Now that we were more aware of our breathing, we were to try to focus on feeling of sensation. In the area just below the nose and above the lip, we were to observe any sensations we felt. An itch, a tingle, pain, feeling, numbness, heat, coolness, pressure, vibrations, perspiration etc. Just any feeling that we had in this small area. The point of this technique was to further discipline the mind. Zeroing in on a such a small part of the body sharpens your mind's ability to stay focused. After practicing the breathing, I found that this part wasn't difficult at all. It was actually kind of easy to actually detect sensations. But once again, as soon as I had that part down, the Big Kahuna was thrown at us: Vipassana.


Anonymous said...

AH Sounds like you had a good experience of growth, I feel you on the rebellious mind cause that's how it works for me when I'm trying to sleep HOURS of even a song in my head or something stupid like that nonstop

I will also dabble on the vegetarian thing but that part where they said NO SEX.... I walked away crying alright already

Experience is the best teacher. said...

Interesting, so far. I must admit I was looking forward to this post. It seemed like you were gone forever!

I'm also fasting from meat... It truly isn't that hard but today I caught a whiff of Harold's as I walked to my car from the train... And I thought about that chicken for an hour! But when I got home and ate a PB&J, that craving passed! lol.

Tonight, when I get into bed, I'm gonna try the concentrating on breathing thing b/c I have a very wandering mind, and I'm sure that would prove to be a very useful skill in law school.

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