The story of my journey began in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. I suppose now would be a good time to give just a little background on what Vipassana is, and what all these funny words (like Dhamma) mean.
Vipassana loosely means ‘to see things as they are.’ The longer version is that vipassana is a meditation technique that helps you to become master over your own mind by giving you insight into the impermanent nature of the mind and body. Did you have to read that sentence more than once? (I did!) Basically, vipassana is a meditation technique that helps you to live a happy life free of negativity!
Dhamma is a more difficult word to define, simply because it could mean a few different things. From what I understand, dhamma is wisdom or teachings from an enlightened person that bring you to enlightenment. It can also be taken to mean ‘law of nature.’
To recap – I went on a 10-day silent meditation course to learn the technique of vipassana meditation as well as dhamma (lessons) from S.N. Goenka. Vipassana meditation AND dhamma are both required for the technique to really begin giving you benefits in your life. It’s not easy to cultivate and get established in the technique of vipassana, and it’s definitely difficult to grasp not only the concepts of dhamma, but how to apply them in practical life. This is one of the reasons I recommend people take this course. I think it would be very difficult to understand and fully absorb everything simply by reading it in a book or by hearing about it from someone. The 10-day course fully immerses you and allows you time to practice and understand. Not only that – but once you are done, everything changes 🙂
Day 2 and 3 – Nicknames and whale songs
Day 2 and 3 sort of blurred together for me. There were no distinct events special to either day, but some interesting events occurred 🙂
During these two days, I began to ‘associate’ with my course-mates. During the course, we are not allowed to speak to fellow meditators, nor are we allowed gestures, writing notes, or even smiling and nodding in passing. This creates a very odd social environment. I didn’t really know anyone’s names – not that I was able to socialize with them – but because of human nature, I began giving people names. They didn’t all get named on day two and three. Some of the nick names developed over time and were based on observations of these people.
The first nickname was my roommate. One day we were taking our boots off in the lobby of the residence and I saw the boots she was wearing. They quite literally looked like moon boots, only black, and had “MOON BOOT” written across the back of them. From then on, I referred to my roommate in my head as *Moonboot* 🙂 Upon seeing one of the other girls, I immediately pegged her as “mini sherpa.” She had the tiniest frame (hence mini), she wore these really cool pants (like in Aladdin – puffy!) and had a big mess of curly hair covered with a large winter hat. Mini sherpa was given this name, because she reminded me of a sherpa hiking through the mountains. The third nickname that I generated actually occurred on day zero. A woman with dark hair, olive skin walked (pranced) into the dining hall on day zero wearing large sunglasses, a blonde streak in her dark hair, a parka tightly hugging her frame, with fancy boots, and her face was made up to the nines. Therefore, I had no choice but to dub her “Versace.” More nicknames arose, but didn’t come until I made observations of different people and the names began to stick in my mind.
With regards to the course – day two and day three were definitely difficult. Each day the anapana meditation we were doing had modifications, so at least that kept me from going insane. I found that the more I practiced, the longer I could relax my mind by only observing my breath. By day three, I think I could calmly observe my breath for over two minutes before my thoughts ran by and stole my awareness and I began thinking in the old habit pattern… When I get home I have to remember to do this, this, and this; Oh, that time she yelled at me was terrible (followed by a mental review of the incident); I can’t wait to get my new laptop (followed by plans for both the old computer and the new one). It’s easy to get lost in your own thoughts of the past and the future, and forget where you are… here. I think this is part of what the anapana meditation was teaching us.
Another interesting thing that I noticed starting on day two and three were the strange things that happened during the evening group sitting. Because no one was having dinner, by the time the 8pm meditation hour rolled around, most people were feeling hungry. When we were all in that final meditation – there was a whale-song symphony of churning stomachs and growling tummies. More than a couple of times, I imagined that I was deep under the sea, surrounded by creatures calling to each other under the water. There are definitely some strange things that happen in your mind when you’re silent for so long!
Before I knew it, day three was over. What an accomplishment! Yet in my mind, I was still thinking There are still SEVEN days left… how am I going to make it?! Little did I know that day four was going to be a pivotal day in my 10-day experience.