Honouring your evolution is a beautiful journey.
Its already been over a month since coming back from Vipassana and Im completely in the swing of life and feeling so so grateful! After being away for 10 (12 days) with noble silence, no eye contact, no books, no music, no exercise, no technology (they basically take everything that you know as normal away from you), 4am starts and meditation sittings for up to 12 hours a day the deep exploration into Vipassana meditation has changed me forever.
10 days seems like a very long time for us to ponder leaving our normal lives, our loved ones, our roles, responsibilities, jobs but the potency of taking serious time to be completely alone with your own mind is beyond words. I suppose its something we don't consider or even think about doing because, LIFE! I went through so many emotions, physical sensations, anxiety, fear, I felt claustrophobic, suffocated walking into the first sitting on the first evening. My social anxiety walking in to just register and commit to being there threw me off, I don't cope well in huge large gatherings but knew this was a part of something I needed to work through. Over the period of time you are there you are either in your room (I asked to be on my own) or you are in the main hall, (the main hall is filled with all participants) its filled with people but you cannot talk to anyone or look them in the eye, its a practice that allows you to delve into the depths of who you are, in complete isolation. The discipline is so strict because hey, we are constantly distracting ourselves...ALL THE TIME!
We move through life constantly absorbing information, calculating, reacting, learning, failing, craving, pushing away, every single minute our minds are very often elsewhere instead of the present moment. Within the teaching of Vipassana we are allowing ourselves to tune the mind into the present moment, every single breath, every single sensation within the body, we are stripping life away to connect back to the very core of nature, human life and natural law. Everything is a state of change and when we learn to watch it, we do not react. The technique is absolutely amazing and I feel incredibly grateful I worked hard, didn't sway or distract myself and fell deep into the meditation that once you commit to the practice its almost as if nothing else exists. You are within yourself.
By the second day I was watching my mind talk me out of staying, all sorts of scenarios of home appeared, what if Gus was ill, so many "What if's" became so loud within my mind that its so easy to talk us out of anything when we don't feel safe or in control. I have always had a hard time with the unpredictability of people so was creating scenarios there too, what if they are ill, what if they have a melt down, what if they are aggressive. This is a subconscious reaction within me from experiences Ive had within my life, so I have many moments of not feeling safe around people. (Its also the reason why I requested my own room and not to share with another person). Ive had uneasy feelings about public toilets and shower rooms, being ill away from home, terrified of people cooking my food for me. Lets just say that within these 10 days I have over come so many things that have impacted my life since childhood.
Day 3 came around and after witnessing people not arrive in their places in the main hall, people physically ill (throwing up), grey faced and in pain, knowing that they had left, there was something in me acknowledging the physical and mental strength that this practice was highlighting. I knew from teaching this concept for years that we must explore discomfort and pain to realise our potential, now it was my time to experience this and as soon as I grasped and surrendered into the practice I was committed. I could feel myself fighting it but gave myself a talking too..."You WANT TO BE HERE!" and after that reminder I sunk into the practice and the meditation sittings were a welcome pause of life. Over the 3 days the mind will wander, I was struck by how loud things where despite no one talking to each other at all. You do not break silence over the 10 days, I noticed people swallowing, coughing, one person continuously belching (which triggered me from day 1), it was also interesting to notice that a cold was being passed around the group. More interesting I didn't get it.
By the end of day 3 I had no thoughts, I was in my body and with my breath, thats all. I couldn't quite believe it but noticed I couldn't move my mind anywhere else. Ive said to Will (my partner) since coming home it was almost like an out of body experience, I could feel my body pulsating with my heart beat, I could feel my breath, hear it, felt every single sensation, it was so surreal!
Day 4 was where the actual technique passed down from Gautama the Buddha is taught, I guess the 3 days at the beginning separates the varying capacities of the mind, and our ability to sit on the floor for up to 12 hours a day. 3 days to distinguish the mental & physical strength of a person. The technique for me personally was amazing, fascinating and other worldly. From being taught to notice the breath for the first three days, you then learn to sit and watch the physical sensations INSIDE the body, like an itch, tickle, ache, warmth, pain, it could be absolutely anything, but just as you might imagine ants crawling all over you, you are taught not to react. One of the main things that also adds to the practice is from day 4 you are NOT allowed to move, so within your seated posture, you can not adjust any part of the body, you cannot open your eyes, move your hands, feet or adjust. Adhitthana (in Pali language) = Strong determination. This was interesting, but I found myself not moving anyway, almost as if my body wasn't even there but I was just made up of moving sensations and particles. When we could speak at the end of the session it was interesting to hear other peoples experiences, I described the sensations I felt as a tiny worm (about 5mm) crawling under my skin, but I was following it as it moved, and my attention didn't go anywhere else. You learn to scan the whole body in this way, just settling on a body part and observing sensations within that area, you don't react, you don't have a craving for nice sensations or an aversion to things that are uncomfortable.
These days are not necessarily a blur, but I was within the practice, within the routine and completely immersed, I would walk at 6am and do my oil pulling through the woodland and sit admiring the birds, the sun rising and flickering through the leaves, the dew on the grass. Everything was so still but so vibrantly alive, this practice enables you to purify the body and mind back to its natural state. Where we vibrate inline with nature and have no demands or distractions pulling us away from ourselves. The gong would ring to indicate that it was meditation time, or your breakfast at 6.30am and lunch at 11.30am. You do not eat another meal after that time, if you were a new student you could have two pieces of fruit at 5pm.
When you come to the end of the each day after meditating in the main hall there is discourse each evening on a projector, the recording is of Goenka from 1991 (I think!). He talks about many things, makes you laugh (internally of course! ha!), tells stories, explains the techniques and mentioned a few times that when you deepen the practice things bubble to the surface. It made sense when he first said, as Im familiar with this from teaching students, that we are exploring physically releasing tension and pain and enabling us to create more space and emotional lightness. What was so fascinating about this practice is that from sitting still for hours & hours I experienced no pain, I didn't need to get up and stretch my legs, get pins & needles, feel uncomfortable or stiff. I had energy, I felt open. What did appear though was trauma, discomfort, memories that I of course knew were a part of me and my life but they 'bubbled' to the surface and threw me off practice. It came to the surface and I re-lived many things, in depth, almost dream like. Even though these memories were not good ones, I did not react. Interesting to feel as some of these things came up within my 'breakdown' last November-December when I had to take time off. But this time I watched it, accepted it and was able to just let it move through and out of me.
I felt at home, didn't miss anything of my normal life and could have stayed for longer, I was actually going to miss the routine, the depth of the practice. I found myself not being able to come out of the meditation when the chanting appeared after the hour session, so I stayed and continued, very often for another hour & a half. It just turned into a natural practice where I was sink into it and submerge when my body and mind felt ready. I wasn't distracted, preoccupied, uncomfortable, time just didn't exist anymore.
As the course comes to an end, the noble silence has to end at some point, I wasn't ready for it and was so happy being completely quiet for that period of time! I know that many people have said they would struggle being quiet for a few days but trust me, thats the easiest part! Upon the morning of when we could talk again we did our morning practice as normal, and then at the end of it the assistant teacher (Who said a handful of sentences throughout the whole course) said noble silence has ended. No one made a noise, until a few minutes after i heard a few of the ladies laughing, from that moment most of the hall (from what I could feel) left. I was still sat, eyes closed, hadn't moved and felt a wave of heat and anxiety. As soon as everyone was outside, voices, laughter overwhelmed the space. Everything was SO LOUD. So loud that I sat in the main hall (with one other lady) for another half hour, I wasn't ready to end my practice. That being said after I took my time to leave the hall I went and sat with three lovely ladies and it was nice to talk about many things, it was also nice to just sit in silence, and somehow after not knowing anything about these people, we all shared Vipassana together. We all worked through so many things and felt connected in a new way, human to human, I guess we can all recognise how messy and busy life can get. It was amazing to feel free, light and when you have the freedom to talk again, you want to talk with truth, love, compassion and kindness, you want your words to be pure and loving. It really does make you appreciate everything that you have and you will take everything that you have learnt with you through the rest of your life.
On the last day (Day 12) its a 4am start, we do one last meditation practice as a group and then we have our mindful tasks of cleaning our room and going on our way. Its a beautiful gesture to know that having stayed there for 12 days that you were in service to yourself and others, that you were living like a monk and everything was provided for you. That in turn you do the same, you live to serve others without wanting anything in return. You are open, peaceful, pure and float through life.
My return to the ‘real world’ couldn’t have been better. After leaving Dhamma Dipa early Sunday morning I had the pleasure of sharing a sound bath for @thesigningyogi , a practice where I guided the community of deaf people into imagination and slumber. It was such a beautiful experience to feel, learn and connect in new perspectives and human ways. I was worried about using the bowls and vibrations after been away for so long, without any sounds or interactions, but it was peaceful and incredibly calming.
What have I learnt? I’ve learnt the power, strength and resilience of the mind is beyond contemplation, sitting still for over 10 hours can be a humbling experience, there is nothing else that exists when you’re so deep within your body, a sense of self. The practice allows us to find clarity, “As it is”, that we become so connected to the law of nature, the sensations within the body in that moment that you’re completely out of the busy mind and thoughts. By day 3 I didn’t think about anything, I sat with the birds, admired flowers and sank deep into my meditation where any sounds around me disappeared. My body has no pain, no aches, so much energy, there is a spaciousness and lightness within everything. Like a weight I didn’t know I was carrying has slipped of my shoulders.
I remember saying to myself on the 2nd day, if I can do this is can do anything. It was this day my mind was telling me to leave, so many emotions come up, memories, trauma, discomfort, self doubt, anxiety (I had loads) and you literally watch the mind bounce around in all directions, you then also notice that it’s controlling you. As soon as you surrender into the technique, the mind has no control! You have to try, you have to move beyond your comfort zone because thats where we learn everything about ourselves.
If you’re looking for deep personal development this is something I would encourage everyone to try, you will never be the same again.
Happy to be back teaching and sharing gorgeous workshops all week, I hope to see you!
" Real wisdom is recognizing and accepting that every experience is impermanent. With this insight you will not be overwhelmed by ups and downs. And when you are able to maintain an inner balance, you can choose to act in ways that will create happiness for you and for others. Living each moment happily with an equanimous mind, you will surely progress toward the ultimate goal of liberation from all suffering".
- S. N. Goenka