My Vipassana Meditation Experience – Part Two
I have been practicing yoga techniques – including postures/sets, breath exercises, and meditation – for almost twenty-five years and have found the results to be life enhancing for my body, mind and spirit. For the past eleven years, I have been able to hold a daily practice successfully by setting the realistic expectation of defining my daily practice as “doing some aspect of the yogic technologies every day”. Some days my practice may total 2 hours while others days doing my best with yoga might be a 5 minute breath exercise. Having this commitment be flexible has been a key to my daily practice success.
Having said that, this past year I felt like I wanted to deepen my meditation practice – to have a different tool that would allow me to meditate all day should I have the opportunity, such as when I go to India and do Panchakarma (Ayurveda’s powerful cleansing rejuvenation). I choose as my tool Vipassana – the meditation technique originally given by the Buddha.
There are Vipassana centers throughout the world which have no upfront fees for their meditation courses, though you are encouraged/invited to make a donation at the end if you feel you have gained something in order to support the next group of students. I am lucky enough to have a center near Rockford, IL – less than two hours from my home.
I have had this course on my internal radar for five years and things finally lined up so that this year my self-care retreat was the gift of the ten-day course.
So it was that in the deep, dark cold of January that I headed off to go further inward on my Self-expansion journey.
I knew what I was getting into on a logistical level based on information from the website which was further reinforced when I checked-in. I had signed up for ten days of complete silence with no communication with others – the exceptions being if I had an issue and needed to talk to the course manager or to ask a question with the course facilitator/instructor. No communication meant no verbal communication but also no eye contact and no gestures of communication. I admit that I found that I spend much of my time with my eyes closed during meditation or looking at the ground or horizon to avoid unintentional contact!
Beyond the lack of communication, there was also no avenue of mental or physical stimulation – no strong exercise or yoga (walking to and from the buildings and light stretching to deal with tight muscles from sitting was allowed), no reading, no writing, no listening to music. The only information was the minimal instruction given by the course instructor and a nightly video discourse by the sitting master Vipassana teacher about the underlying philosophy and components of the practice.
This might sound restrictive, unsettling, and strange.
It certainly is a big difference from my daily life. And although I had the natural reservations of the unknown, I wasn’t overly concerned. My larger initial concern was the no dinner – only fruit and tea for the evening “meal”!
I discovered that I loved the silence. I consider myself a socially adept introvert – I have no trouble being with people but recharge by time alone. As such, not talking didn’t seem like a big stretch. My bigger challenge was my own mental chatter – somewhat diffused by the nine hours in meditation when I had a different mental focus. The other challenge was no reading or writing, as I like to journal and I relax by reading.
Almost five months after the course, I can appreciate the restrictions as they gave me an opportunity to step into the space of letting go. From my week of silence, I realize how much words are loaded with emotions, agendas (conscious and unconscious), pattern threads and hooks of desires. That isn’t necessarily wrong, but it was interesting to see the role of communication on so many different levels.
And though I admit to being bored at times from the lack of stimulation during our short “free time”, it was quite interesting to have my entire day focused actively being with my self – during meditation, while eating, and during the short rest periods throughout the day.
I found the silence and being meditation space mostly comfortable. Not so much so for my physical body.
Having done yoga and meditation for so long, I thought the physical aspect would be the easier component.
Even with my meditation pillow and other support pillows, I discovered there is a BIG difference in thirty minute meditation increments one to two times a day and meditating for up to two hour chunks for a total of nine hours a day.
The first several days especially I experienced a variety of uncomfortable sensations in my knees, hips, back and neck. I experienced some fascinating unwinding of the physical tension – each representing, according to the instructor, physical manifestation of my past patterns and mental attachments. I also experienced high levels of discomfort that made focusing on the physical sensations of the body without reacting from a space of neither attachment/craving or aversion to any sensation (the goal of the technique) challenging.
There were times I wanted to give up, get up, and move. There were days I was asking myself “what the heck am I doing here?!”. There were moments of peace as well as relaxation that led to zoning out (not the goal) during the meditation. There were the natural thoughts that continued to cycled up. There were definitely cravings and aversions – still a practicing student.
And I made it through.
It is stressed that the ten days is the instruction and that one needs to have daily practice to move forward. One goes through the intensive fire with the training, but as with all Self expansion and clearing techniques, it is the daily practice that holds the deep power. I have experienced this truth in my Ayurveda and yoga self-care practices. And I knew that to hold this new level of meditative self-care, I would have to use a starter step approach that was realistic.
The ideal of this transition is to meditate two times a day for one hour each session. Knowing I wanted to hold pieces of my current Kundalini yoga practice and Ayurveda daily routines along with my cooking being done in the morning, I decided to start with a commitment of two times a day for at least thirty minutes.
As expected, the morning practice was fairly easy. I already had a routine of doing my meditation first thing in the morning for twenty-five minutes so this was just a slight expansion. Sometimes I’m able to get in forty or forty-five minutes, but rarely an hour.
The second meditation, also as expected, has been a little more challenging, but I am really appreciating this second internal recharge in the latter part of my day. The second meditation has also stretched me in holding my commitment, in figuring out the logistics, in squeezing it in at different times based on the fluctuation that comes with family and work activities during this time. There have been a few times when I was squeezing in my meditation at ten o’clock at night after a non-stop day where twenty minutes was as good as it was going to get. There were a couple times when I consciously had to skip the second meditation. And just one time that I just forgot.
Fast forward one hundred and eleven days. And this is where I now am with my practice – holding strong mostly every day with my two practice times.
Then this week – following two back-to-back trips with a heavy work week in between and at both ends – and I had a period of resistance and crash. For three days I missed one or both meditations.
And, without judgment, I got back on track again.
And this is my biggest success. Not that I got through the intense immersion. Not that I got a great start. But that the pattern is ingrained enough that I can manage a couple bumps with less than ideal or nothing at all and get back in the groove without falling too far off course.
To me it is the long game that has been and will continue to be most vital for my well-being. By committing for the long haul, something inside of me shifts – both in expectations and in what I’m opening up to in terms of change and growth.
And my new practice is yielding positive benefits.
Though I already had a good level of inner centeredness from my past meditation practices, I do feel like I feel even more peaceful, less reactive, and in a calmer flow with life. No, I am not in the space of neutral automan – nor do I see this as the end result. I still get frustrated, angry, excited, anxious, thrilled, sad, etc – but I don’t feel caught in the pulls of excessive emotion as much and don’t feel as attached in general.
I find that I enjoy quiet and times of not talking even more and sometimes need conversation breaks. I find that I am more thoughtful about what I say and conscious about why I am saying what I am saying.
I have been thinking a lot of commitment and what it takes to hold commitments and why some stick easier than others.
I know I want to continue to hold my twice-daily practice and wonder if and when I will be able to increase my time commitment up closer to the one hour ideal. I know from having done ones closer to that one hour that there is a difference in how deep I go between the thirty minutes and the longer times.
For today, I observe, wonder, enjoy the results.
For day I hold the commitment to myself that I feel is realistic and trust that it will carry me to the next space.
And as I am committed to the long game, for today this place of striving is enough.
©2016, Jamie Durner, Ayurvedic Practitioner and Certified Life Coach at Abundant You Coaching in Brookfield, WI