Pablo Picasso marked the beginnings and endings of his periods with trips and time away from his usual surroundings. I feel like I just left my blue period behind and am into a new space. 10-days silent will do that to ya. Yes, you! I'm not going to speak personally on this one because I feel that most people who enter the space of Vipassana come out the other end transformed in some way or another.
This is my experience, what little I can share with you, at Vipassana, a 10-day silent meditation retreat.
Have you ever sat most of the day, in silence, focusing on breath and practicing observing sensations in your body without making them mean anything? Probably not. Opportunity knocks.
It was an opportunity. That's the word I keep using; Opportunity. To have the pleasure and sometimes pain of seeing yourself in such a real way. There's no hiding out in Vipassana, it's you and your seat cushion-all day.
Well, most of the day but even that occurs like all-day, most of the time.
I was scared on the drive over, meandering through the desert hillside of Southeastern California. I had no idea what I was walking into but I knew in my heart I was ready to clear out the clutter. Arriving at the SCVC (Southern California Vipassana Center) in 29 Palms, CA and walking onto the campus that I would call home for the next 10 days and 11 nights was a surreal experience. The first night, which really is 'Day 0' we were allowed to talk until about 8pm when the first meditation took place which would carry the space of noble silence all the way through Day 10's morning. I made some chit-chat with my roommate and some guys in the dining hall during dinner.. But got the feeling most of us didn't want to talk. People were ready to go silent and go deep.
And really I coasted into Day 1, 2, 3 and into Day 4 with little hardship. The only part that was difficult was getting used to sitting, in which we had three group sits for 1-hour each every day. The rest of the time was for us to be in the Meditation Hall at our own leisure and later diligence to get what we each respectively came for. I would walk the paths a lot during the day, making rock scultpure's of fish and comets.
I watched the animals meander around the desert floor, the birds play and sing-songfully to each other and the ants working tirelessly, also in silence and in complete cooperation. I learned a lot by watching nature. After a few days that's all I could really do to pass time. Everything slowed down. There weren't a lot of thoughts entering my mind like there usually were pre-Vip.
My senses heightened. I heard animals and sort of embodied one as I would patiently sit in the desert watching, listening and learning about how an animal just is what it is. How a tree just is. A mountain just is, and all have no trouble just being what they are. Why is being human so difficult sometimes? When someone sneezed in the meditation hall, I felt the sound-wave ripple through my ear into my head. I smelled breakfast coming out of my pee in the morning and I felt more at peace and gratitude than I have in a loonnng time.
On the 4th day we learned Vipassana and in one two-hour meditation block scanned the body of sensations and thoughts that arose with them. At the end my body was humming. Vibrating so loudly, with so much sensation. My legs probably fell asleep, my arms were made of granite. My chest pounding. For me it was before some of the other teachings that would eventually release me of making the sensations mean something about me. I guess that's the best way I can put it. I took it personal, like when you have a pain you react-you took it personal. Or when you have a pleasure filled sensation, you react as well-although it is pleasurable you still take it personally. I felt a spinning wheel in my solar plexus, I got nauseous, I was scared. I backed away not knowing what was happening to me and found myself, actually just observed myself shaking in front of my eyes. For 30 minutes I shook until at tea I pulled the bag out of my cup and the seizing stopped literally as I my fingers touched water. I still can't explain it but feel I touched my pain center... whatever that means.
Vipassana is the practice of purifying the mind, the ancient technique taught by Gautama Buddha. It's an art form really; to observe sensations arising and passing away in the body, constant sensations, constant thoughts, constant constants. Everything is impermanent, Anicca, always rising and passing away. To sit and learn Vipassana is the act of watching and observing these sensations without attaching a story-line to them. This one is good, OUCH-uncomfortable-I wish that would go away, damn that annoys me, I like this feeling...Oohh, Wow, my third-eye activating, I can feel the concentrated sensations on my forehead! I'm so spiritually connected!~ As Miles Davis said, so what?
To observe all of this and catch myself enacting the attachment of thought-to-feeling was astounding. And alas, the teaching of Vipassana is to observe just that. To recognize that it's always changing, that the feelings CAN'T be mine because they don't stick around, it's not a personal thing, Anata. And to be able, which really is a practice-enabling is.. to be able to just solely observe all of this, letting the constant force of the universe and nature, Dhamma, just naturally flow, flow, flow... Well, that's a beautiful thing. We are just witnesses in this life, WOWWW~ I'm so excited right now and so feeling this. To be able to live our lives as witnesses.. Oh man! What a notion (conceptual).. What an experience.. Yes!
Vipassana also is the experience of actualizing substance. Feeling, on a deep conscious and unconscious level - the mind. I think I read on a 'Yogi Tea' label once that 'wisdom becomes knowledge through experience.' It's one thing to be an academic, to be wise and knowing. But to experience our own mind and the power and learnedness inside of it, to see what we preach and teach and demonstrate to others FREE of the ego-meaning when the mind is ego-less for a moment and no thought is there, we can open up and be authentic with ourselves because you can't fake it anymore. The ego has gone missing and the cosmic mirror is placed right in front of you.
But why do this? The Buddha taught that in our suffering as humans we are conditioned to feed the cravings, avoid the aversions and attach to feelings, and often with malcontent. Why do we steal, lie, cheat, cut corners, hide truth, self sabotage, over indulge, be excessive and manipulate? We trained ourselves to; from childhood the mind has been making meaning and morphing its' identity to avoid pain and get what it wants. So, at the root level, we suffer. The rub is most of the time we aren't aware that being these ways cuts us off from love and compassion, which makes us feel good and provides healing for ourselves and others. Vipassana is a way to go down and weed-out the impurities so we may be loving, compassionate, peaceful and a contribution to the world. It's to be of service, selflessly serving others so they may be at peace and be happy.
It was said that Jesus, upon being crucified had love and compassion overflowing from his heart. Literally while dying and being nailed to a cross he was experiencing love. He knew his captors were miserable people who didn't know any better, and b/c Jesus was an enlightened being he died the way he lived.
So, Vipassana is the the practice in the art of living, and the art of dying. People who regularly meditate and are committed to living a transformed, peaceful life of service are happy at their death beds, ready in the moment for what comes next, just like in life right now-moments arising and passing away, all is impermanent and there is nothing to hold onto.
I could write endlessly about this experience in the desert and all the profound happenings. And Vipassana was also hilarious.
Oh, the things I observed, like this one man who every night before the 6pm meditation would open the two small windows closest to his seat, only to watch them be closed by an elderly man who came in after him and sat in a chair directly underneath them. Just to be a witness and watch the whole situation go down was priceless, and it happened every night! That alone was better than anything I could watch on tv.
Because at Vipassana, despite there pretty much being only meditation, walking, sleeping and eating that takes place-all in silence and without any body language or eye-contact, texting, phones, computers, ipods, pda's, etc.. There really is A LOT of content rich with color and vividness, and none of it can be discussed. And the content is rich considering the context of the situation you're in. When laughter broke out on the 8th day, uncontrollable laughter for myself included b/c someone farted, oh man, what a release and so much joy. I got in my bones, in the deepest part of my core that a fart will go down as the funniest sound that has ever been created and experienced by man. I don't know what it is, but they are funny! But they're only funny in groups. A lonely fart is just that, it's lonely, and they like an audience. And-you can't talk about it.
Beautiful and odd moments too; The sunrises and sunsets, the skies and clouds that were witnessed were moments of timeless silence shared by us all. It was like we were all in this dream, dreaming together and watching things happen for the first time. Couldn't talk about it.
When this mysterious bright orange light appeared in the sky one night that a few of us were around to look at it, we couldn't talk about it.. I mean, is that an alien ship? I don't know and I have to shut up about it.
Dammit. Oh, I just reacted.. back to work.
Vipassana is so simple it's brilliant. Anything that happens is an opportunity-there's that word again, to look at yourself and what you experience within everything that happens outside of us, because in that meditative state of noble silence, it's so apparent to observe the mind when something remotely distinct happens.
I had this one moment where I found this quartz in the desert and brought it with me in my pocket. I did that with lots of rocks, mostly every day and would sit with one in the meditation hall. So this quartz fell out of my pocket one afternoon and I forgot to pick it up. An hour later realizing this I caught myself hook, line and sinker saying to myself, 'My rock!' Then it hit me. My rock? Why is it mine? What is mine? I didn't even know of its existence all but two hours ago and now it somehow belongs to me and it's become 'mine'? Funny huh... Who really is 'you'? Who's me? Who's my? And for the love of Goenke who the heck is 'I'? All really good inquiries.
S.N. Goenke, btw, is a Burmese man who at some point brought the teaching of Vipassana back to India where apparently it wasn't being practiced authentically for years. And the guy took India by storm and we have today a world where Vipassana is being taught and paid for by the students who have preceded a guy like me coming into the course. Two meals a day, nice accommodations and top-of-the-line life school teaching all for a suggested donation of $100. It's non-dogmatic, scientific and universal in its teaching. You just sit with yourself. That's it.
Goenke is the Tony Robbins of the east. He's charming, funny, inspiring and brutal in the sense that he is the teaching. But he's jolly too, brutally jolly. No messing around here, "the teaching will liberate you from misery, and most people are miserable". But when he says misery he doesn't mean the kind of dismay that reaks to be around... he means the kind of misery that sneaks up on you when the last slice of pepperoni was just taken by the guy in front of you. It's the kind of misery that has you pray you don't run into your annoying neighbor every time you step outside. That's the same misery that then has you be excited and happy b/c you didn't run into your neighbor. They both feed each other. When you're happy that something didn't happen that you thought would you only solidify it's roots. It's the vicious cycle of your habitual nature that keeps you safeguarded and secure from all things your mind wants and doesn't want every day. Traffic; now that's a source of misery. You are miserable when there's traffic and you tried to beat it, but didn't, and that misery is fed by a craving of no traffic and an aversion to traffic. Then you are happier than you've ever been when you beat the morning or evening rush-hour. It all feeds the same source of wanting/not wanting, craving/aversion, good/bad. You become a slave to yourself.. or your mind actually. And that's how we live, that's how we die. And it's filled with suffering.
Vipassana was the space where I taught myself how to live and how to die. I can remain balanced in the face of traffic and remain equanimous by the pushes and pulls that happen in so many moments like at the family dinner table, or do my best at the very least. And you get that teaching downloaded all by sitting and watching your respiration, observing the sensations in the body that rise and pass away and learn not to hold onto them like they're yours, because they're not. And of course the thoughts; they never go away. I just observe them and return to sensation and breath, the thoughts subside, slow down... and cease for a but a few precious moments hopefully ending years of conditioned thinking about pain and pleasure and curing your need for anything outside of yourself where the ultimate goal is enlightenment-freedom from suffering.
And the moments of clarity that did come to me, forget about it~ It was weird,... it's like I got clear by not thinking. Stuff would just come to me. Like moving to Los Angeles, practicing health counseling again and teaching yoga. The sound I want to create for my next didgeridoo album, relationships and how to be a better brother!
It all rises and passes away, knowing that doesn't mean anything. Being that does. And yes, you really should do this at some point in your life, because you will die, how is up to you. Here's the link.