In this blog I will talk about a few things. I will touch on Vipassanas history, my experience at the center, things I learned and how it applies to my life today.
Vipassana definition is meditation involving concentration on the body or its sensations, or the insight that this provides. Vipassana is one of India's most ancient meditation techniques. It is the process of self-purification by self-observation. The 10 day silent meditation was spent learning this technique. To do so I traveled to a remote farm land near Rockford, Illinois. This location is called Dhamma Pakasa, there are 18 centers in the Americas and 158 worldwide. Dhamma Pakasa now feels like a second home to me and I hope to return to serve during a 10 day course, which means to be behind the scenes cooking or managing the students.
So what was it like??! If anyone knows me they know I like to stay busy busy and talk plenty. However, I also enjoy some down time and relaxation, this is different than being lazy, do not mistake it for a retreat or a vacation. It is amazing and taxing all at the same time.
When you arrive at Dhamma Pakasa you will notice it is so beautiful. There are big mature trees, there is a pond with ducks, squirrels run a plenty and there are handmade benches and places to sit on trails throughout the property. We check in between 4pm and 6pm. Each student hands over their belongings, except for things needed like clothing and hygiene products. A female manager is assigned the women and a male manager is assigned to the men. Each student is assigned a room number and has a roommate, the rooms have on door to get in, an open sink, closed toilet and shower room, and separate bedrooms with a single bed, nightstand and chair. After this the genders are separated until the final day. At 6pm we all eat dinner together, there is a curtain pulled between the men and the women and they reside on opposite sides of the property.
Once we finish dinner we meditated, where we took our vow noble of silence. We actually followed 5 precepts also; 1- to abstain from killing any being (This was especially concerning when I had ants in my bathroom. We used eucalyptus to get them to leave.) 2- to abstain from stealing 3- to abstain from all sexual activity 4- to abstain from telling lies 5- to abstain from all intoxicants. Old students, or students that have already completed a 10 day course before, also had 3 more. 6- to abstain from eating after midday. 7- to abstain from sensual entertainment or bodily decorations. (necklaces, earings etc) 8- to abstain from using high or luxurious beds.
There were also to be no gestures, no eye contact, no writing or reading, no yoga/exercise, no use of other techniques, rites or forms of worship and no communicating of any sort. All sensory off. All other things in life are to be put on hold during the 10 days. However, for material needs such as a pillow or socks or something, students could quietly ask their manager for help. For questions regarding mediations, there is a time and a place to ask the teacher.
What happens in between is truly unique for each student.
"With sharpened awareness one proceeds to observe the change nature of the body and mind, and experiences the universal truths of impermanence, suffering and egolessness. This truth-realization by direct experience is the process of purification. The entire path (Dhamma) is a universal remedy for universal problems, and has nothing to do with any organized religion or sectarianism. For this reason, it can be practiced freely by everyone, at any time, in any place, without conflict due to race, community or religion, and it will prove equally beneficial to one and all."
"What Vipassana is not:
It is not a rite or ritual based on blind faith.
It is neither an intellectual nor a philosophical entertainment.
It is not a rest cure, a holiday, or an opportunity for socializing.
It is not an escape from the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
What Vipassana is:
It is a technique that will eradicate suffering.
It is a method of mental purification which allows one to face life's tensions and problems in a calm, balanced way.
It is an art of living that one can use to make positive contributions to society.
Vipassana meditation aims to eradicate the three causes of all unhappiness: craving, aversion and ignorance. With continued practice, the meditation releases the tensions developed in everyday life, opening the knots tied by the old habit of reacting in an unbalanced way to pleasant and unpleasant situations." *Taken from the Vipassana Introduction materials.
What I experienced there was beyond words, and what I have experienced after is invaluable.
One of the things I love to do is cook, but I gladly savored the homemade, healthy and vegetarian fair that was served at the center. When there is nothing to do all day except meditation, personal hygiene and eat.....well, food tastes mind blowing when it's your only "entertainment". Ok, that and the squirrels and ducks playing outside. Let me tell you that!
One of the most amazing and just breath taking moments were each day at 7am. I would make sure I got to breakfast right at 6:30 to take time to eat, but also to be outside, alone, and watch the sun peak over the edge of the hill. I would breathe in deeply and feel the fresh days sun wash over my skin. The heat from the first days such still tickles my skin today.
The evening sky and the walks between the Dhamma Hall (meditation hall), the dining hall and our residential quarters were long but beautiful. It was cold then, but the cold didn't bother me, it was just a gift to be able to walk the trail back to my room. Once in my room my other entertainment was my after breakfast shower & hygiene, it was just so peaceful to have no calls, no emails, just my full attention on what I was doing and doing it with the technique in mind. I did indulge in longer showers and mini facials during the breaks after breakfast and after lunch I napped!
Dinner time we had the choice of apples, bananas and oranges. With being seated all day there is no need for excess calories! Each meal there are many beverage choices from teas to coffee to hot chocolate to dairy to nondairy and they accommodate so many dietary needs so easily and (what looks like) effortlessly, but as a previous caterer let me tell you they go to a great deal of work to get it all done so delicious and to a "T" each meal. They even offer ACV (apple cider vinegar) for those health nuts in the world (Rob!).
As I sit back and reflect on my time there in November 2014 I know that it was truly the best experience of my life. It taught me so much about myself and gave me a new perspective that comes from spending 10 days alone with yourself.
I know that our emotions are fully controlled by our senses and have experienced being in touch with them and seeing beyond myself. I know that I am not perfect and that I am not even close to being fully aware 100% of the time. I know that it takes hours and hours of meditation and dedication to move from a reactionary mind to a balanced and equanimity. Most of all I know I am forever a student, working to be the best person I can be. Does this happen all of the time? No. Does it happen even half of the time? I hope so.
One of the areas we studied were the Four Qualities of a Pure Mind. These are: selfless love (love without expecting anything in return), compassion, sympathetic joy (basic goodness of all beings, and joy in the fundamental well being of ourselves and others), and equanimity mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation). These areas are things that I feel my life's work is set to try and achieve.
The biggest take-aways for me where these 3 sentences.
1- I am the one that decides my mental state, Monks have been studied to show that through mediation their Go To mental state is compassion and love vs agitation or anger. When they hear a baby cry or a horn honk, they know that someone is hurting and they want to share love with them. Oh take me for example, if I am keeping proper balance then I will feel love towards that person yelling at me to hurry up in a stop sign or the person that backlashes with hurtful words on a health post I share. THAT is compassion at it's finest.
2- I don't mind hanging out with myself and it's beautiful to just see a sunrise in silence while feeling the warmth of a new day. Growing up my families moto was, "Only boring people get bored.", and I find this to be true. With nothing to do out in the middle of a plot of land I found plenty of joy in being in nature and being with myself.
3- While we can't help what happens to us, we can decide if our future is positive or negative. This seems to tie in with #1 but is slightly different. While #1 is talking about reactions to something happening immediately, #3 here is talking about life in the long run.
Take me for example again, I think this is why I handled dads passing the way I did. Because when my dad chose to line the bottom of his van with carpet and tarp, then drive it to a park and shoot himself in the heart.......I felt compassion. I felt, not pity, but true empathy for the level of sadness he must have felt. However, I am still feeling a myriad of emotions since then. Then there's the concerns with other family members, fights with partners, keeping businesses going and making health choices that are opposite of what I believe to be healthy to try and create that high that is happiness, It is very possible to let these things weigh you down with negative emotions and become your everyday thoughts. OR by keeping balanced and equanimous it is possible to see the emotion for what it is and still be a great person. But do not mistake balance for avoidance. The emotions still need dealt with, then put to rest. To rehash the same issues repeatedly is the definition of insanity. And a waste of time!
To say it has been very trying to enter the world after this is an under statement though. I am quite focused in my mind about things I learn and experience. For myself, it has been hard to communicate this method without tarnishing it or ruining the process. I just suggest people go to the 10 day for themselves. It's been interesting joining what I learned with my current life. I would be lying if I say there have been real struggles between what I learned and what I want to do now and how I used to live. There is an internal sort of concern and trying to mesh it with those around me. By using the technique though, I can be totally self reliant and just know my truth and my own balance, despite those around me. Sometimes I mess up, and that is OK, but in the long run I'm just glad I went to Dhamma Pakasa and got to experience it!
So next time you have the chance to meditate, or to react to a situation or just talk to others about when they get upset remember that it is from our own minds that our responses emerge. No one but ourselves control our reaction, no matter how irate or sad something makes us, we choose where to go from there. Our emotions can show us concerns but it is up to us, from a truly deep and instinctual level, to act with balance and equanimity. this doesn't happen over night, just like an olympic star putting in hours of practice, we too must practice the strength of our mind, to strengthen our samadhi (concentration).
Why I waited to write the blog
I waited to see what the effects would be after more time. Initially I was blown away and I knew that it would be interesting to see how life before Vipassana would mesh with life after Vipassana. In doing so I have been able to really flesh out the benefits and give a more full picture of the experience.
Resources after - they give attendees all kinds of resources for students to connect, there is an app called the Insight Timer to talk with other Vipassana meditators. There is no cost for this service. Only old students that have gone through the 10 day mediation can donate to the center, each person can help sponsor a person after them or give their dana (sharing) in the form of volunteering at the center during a 10 day to cook food, manage students or between sessions to work on the grounds.
**Photos were taken from other sites for Dhamma Pakasa