Happy Friday!! It’s time to post some pics and throw in a couple of stories with the mix! Next week I will be resuming my regular schedule. I will (much like this week) be posting Monday, Wednesday, and Friday! Who knows what day will hold what, but I plan to do one photo day, one drawing day, and one writing day. If I get lucky, I might do more than 3 posts a week. Let’s see how it goes… On to the photos and good stuff!
First up is a group of photos from my 10-day meditation retreat. You can read the full story here. But the short story is that I and about 90-or-so others went on a 10-day silent meditation retreat over New Years 2010. After 6 or 7 days, people began ‘entertaining’ themselves by making patterns and writing in the snow.
One story that I neglected to include in my blog posts about my meditation was the “Love Boot” story. One day, as I was walking around the grounds on break time, I noticed a familiar symbol in the snow beside the path. As I kept walking, I noticed another, and then another. I went back to the first symbol, and realized it was a letter. Someone had written “love” backwards in the snow with their boot. I examined the boot pattern and decided to try to find “love boot!” I spent hours walking around during breaks, often glancing over at boot prints as people passed me to see if their boot print matched. It took me several days to finally find out who “love boot” was, but I did find her! Once the silence had broken, I had to ask her if it was her that had written love backwards in the snow, and it was! We laughed over the nickname I had given her.
Another story from my meditation retreat… On the tenth day, a lot of people began packing and sorting out their things. One girl, Mini Shepra (read about her and how she got her nick name), did her washing in the basin at the residence, then thought she would hang them to dry outside. Being from France, I am not sure she understood what would happen to her freshly washed laundry in the Canadian winter. When we talked to her, she said she was “trying an experiment.” It was one of the funniest experiments I have ever seen! The next three photos document Mini Sherpa’s Canadian Laundry experiment!
Last but not least, a cool photo I took while wandering the grounds of the meditation retreat. It’s amazing the beautiful things you notice when you are not so wrapped up in who is calling you, making sure you check your email, worrying about the conversation you had with so-and-so this morning, and all the things you have to get done today.
When I was a kid – I was always absorbing, asking questions, and kind of going with the flow. Parents and teachers were guiding me, telling me where to go, how, and when. Once I entered high school, I had a taste of knowledge, and began the typical teenage pull away from authority, from parents, from teachers. I wanted to be independent – but still depended so much on all of these people for answers, for support, for… well… everything. Then university started – and my REAL taste for independence occurred. I got my first chance at staying away from home and making my own decisions: if I was going to class, if I was going to do a reading, what money I was going to spend, and where… I really beginning to get a grasp on adulthood.
Then adulthood began. My first thought was :This sucks! I want to be a kid again! Doesn’t just about everyone have that moment? In any case, I plowed headfirst into adulthood – doing the things that were expected of my: getting a job, finding a place to live, exploring relationships. My mid- to late-twenties was really an information gathering time for me. Once I hit thirty – it felt like all of that absorption (from day 1 to my 30th birthday, really) had finally all come together and started forming a picture.
Up until my early thirties, I didn’t really feel like I had a full and complete view of myself, of things around me, of life in general. Now, at 32, I am finally really seeing into myself for the first time. I have finally come to a place where I accept so many things from my history.
Regrets are falling away like sandcastles into the tide – as I am realizing that they do not serve a purpose. My past has become a history of valuable learning experiences. It is no longer a place to bathe. The future is unknown to me – and I am still learning how to not play the “what if” game. I think after thirty-some-odd years of experience, I’m finally realizing what’s important: NOW, this moment!
I feel like I’m finally on the right path. Forgiveness is so much easier. Happiness is always close at hand. Sadness seems to crumble more quickly than I remember. Why? There’s so much less to worry about! The two mottoes that I have had for at least the past 8 or so years are finally really becoming crystal clear to me. They are both very simple, but usually one or the other helps to solve problems or puzzles I am facing.
One: Never Give Up! This motto should be taken with a grain of salt. There are some who might take this to the extreme and possibly apply it to projects or problems that might end up simply giving a negative ends. But it’s important in some places: never give up on loving those around you, never give up on forgiveness, never give up on yourself!
Two: No matter what, everything will work itself out. This motto, I have found, is always 100% true. No matter what you are going through, things will work themselves out (either you will work them out, or something will happen to help the process). You might go through some real crap in the interim, and feel some real pain (which usually equals REAL GROWTH), but in the end… that’s right… it’ll all work out!
I’m seriously considering adopting a new motto that I learned in my latest meditation experience: This too, will change.
What does that mean? you might ask. To paraphrase S.N. Goenka: No matter what you are facing – be it a pain in your hip, or the loss of a loved one – this will change (either the pain will pass, or you will!). It’s very difficult to keep this in perspective when you’re in the middle of suffering, but it helps to provide a light at the end of the tunnel. There’s always hope 😉
So here’s to an amazing 2011 – filled with love, compassion, opportunities, adventure, and a NEW and FANTASTIC stage of my life!
Day nine was quite a day. I don’t really remember much, except that I was highly agitated for two reasons. One: Day eight was exceptionally trying, and I was still emotionally drained from my inner volcano explosion. Two: Shortly after breakfast, I realized it was day NINE and I only had ONE day left!!!
Needless to say, meditation was very difficult for me, I was struggling with my concentration. I spent my free time – all of it – outside walking around. I had already begun lamenting about leaving. I wandered the familiar paths, trying to etch all the sights, sounds, and smells into my memory. I wanted to remember all of this.
Before I knew it, the day was over and I was laying in bed, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling. I couldn’t sleep! The agitation I was feeling about yesterday and tomorrow were churning inside my head. I started doing anapanna and focusing on my breathing, calming my mind. It took a while, but eventually, I fell asleep 🙂
Day 10 – Noble Chatter
I woke up on day ten with a smile. Meditation did not come easy first thing, but I put all my effort into it and managed to calm my mind and focus properly. After the morning group meditation from 8-9, Noble Silence would be lifted – and then we would all be having Noble Chatter! I was excited, but also pondering the surreality of being able to talk to people again.
After the 8-9 group sitting, the teachers announced the lifting of Noble Silence, and mentioned that there would be books, information, and posters up in the dining hall. I got up silently from my very comfortable and familiar nest, grabbed my coat and boots in the lobby, and headed back to the residence. I walked alone, ahead of everyone else (my usual ritual). I was definitely having trouble fathoming that I could now talk again!
When I got back to the residence, I went to my room and lay on my bed, staring up at the ceiling. My mind was abuzz… Soon, more girls entered the residence, and the chatter began. People talking about their meditation, people talking about the food, people talking about Goenka. I laid on my bed, silently listening to the chatter with a small smile on my face.
Moonboot came in the room, looked at me lying there, and asked “Are you still meditating?” There couldn’t have been a more appropriate silence breaker! I laughed and sat up – and the Noble Chatter began. We talked about everything – from day one to the present. We laughed and gabbed.
Soon, 11:00 rolled around and we headed to the dining hall for lunch. There were posters up all around the room, pamphlets and books laid out on a table, and two desks set up where students could give donations and also claim their technology back. Again, adhering to ritual, I fetched my tea, claimed a spot at a table and served myself my lunch and staple salad. I didn’t sit anywhere in particular. Moonboot came in and sat next to me with her friend Ash. We chattered amongst ourselves and with people around us. The sounds were wonderful! Everyone was smiling and happy!
After lunch, I claimed my technology and gave my donation. I left the dining hall by myself and looked at the things in my hands. iPod, phone, camera. Most would think that my first instinct would be to turn on my technology and see what the outside world had to say – but I honestly felt indifferent about them. I put the iPod and phone, both still powered off, back in my pocket. Now the camera, on the other hand… THIS item, I was excited to have back!
I spent the next hour or so walking around the grounds taking pictures of all the outdoor beauty that I had witnessed during my stay here. I took photos of the pathways, the lookout, Cyril the Cicada Shell, the river, the gong… everything! It was so wonderful to be able to capture the visual things that had comprised my home for the last ten days.
As I walked around, just about everyone I met on the path said hello – because they could! Smiles were on all the faces I met. I chatted with a few different people as I walked around outside – hearing their experience and stories, and telling mine. The energy that was being given and received was all highly charged with positivity and happiness. We were all buzzing with it! The afternoon was excellent. I walked around a lot and really enjoyed my chats with my fellow meditators.
Group meditations today were practically useless. In the 4-5 group sitting, I tried anapanna for about 20 minutes, and ended up giving up and peeking out of the slits of my eyes periodically. I sat silently, unable to concentrate – wondering how many others were sharing my difficulty. At 5, I took my tea outside and ambled around again. A few people made comments about how they always saw me walking around 🙂 The evening meditation sessions were the same – lack of concentration. I mostly did anapanna.
At 9, we all headed back to the residence. Before we left, all students were responsible for vacuuming, dusting, and tidying their rooms, so the vacuum was running between rooms and people were bustling around. After we were done our chores, the chatter began again. Some people were chatting together in their rooms, but soon we all formed a large group in the hallway. We exchanged stories, we joked, we laughed. These conversations were amazing – it was great to get to know such an amazing group of people. I met girls from 21 years old (Mini Sherpa from France) all the way to a 48 year old mom who had moved to Toronto from Mexico many years ago. There were so many stories – and so many wide smiles! We stayed up until almost 11pm, and then grumbled a little when we realized that we would have to be up in the morning at 4… slowly, we retired to bed.
Day 11 – Release
Meditation on the morning of Day 11 was blissful and fruitful. My mind was calm and focused. I was happy and smiling. I relished listening to the chanting. I think my heart was bursting with happiness, compassion, and love. The Vipassana High! At the end of the morning’s last meditation (my last for this course) I sat there in disbelief for a little while. I had made it! … now what? After a little while, people began getting up and gathering the pillows from their nests. As we filed out into the lobby, we stacked our pillows (our home for the last ten days!) on the shelves, and headed out to the dining hall for our last breakfast.
The noble chatter was still alive and well this morning. I sat with Moonboot, Mini Sherpa, and Mini Sherpa’s roommate. Soon our table had accumulated another 8 or 9 people. It was packed! We were all exchanging stories and laughing. It was the best breakfast I had during my course!
After breakfast, people got together with their rides, gathered their things, and said their goodbyes. Again, it was surreal!
I had volunteered to help in the kitchen – so was bringing in trays of dirty dishes and then taking the clean ones from the industrial washer and putting them away. I learned the ropes in the kitchen very quickly. It was very interesting to see what happened behind the scenes! I spent almost two hours learning some of the ins and outs of the kitchen. I put hundreds of dishes away, and chattered with the other servers.
At around 9:30, I said goodbye to the kitchen staff, and headed to my car. I had loaded it earlier with all of my things. It seemed a little foreign to get out my keys, start up the engine, and hear the radio chirping away after all this silence. I brushed off my car as it warmed up and was soon on the road back to real life… a smile on my face, and a new experience in my heart.
Hello, dear reader. If you’ve been following my blog since the new year, you’re probably reading this and thinking “What is this crap, and where is the last part of the meditation series?” Well, I have a post planned for tomorrow that wraps up the entire experience – so you’ll just have to wait! I wanted to take a short break from all this meditation stuff and please your creative and silly side with some photographs! Stay tuned tomorrow for Dhamma – Part 7!
It’s fun to have my phone with me, because you never know when you will see something photo-worthy, or just plain weird! Every once in a while, I clean out the photos on my phone and flip through them. Often there are some fun ones in the stack that I forgot I had taken! Here are some of the best 🙂
As with the previous seven days, I began day eight with a smile on my face and a bounce in my step. Most meditation sessions began with audio by Goenka giving us instructions on what to remember while meditating, along with some chanting in Burmese (I think). Usually this preamble lasted about 5-10 minutes, and then we would meditate. At the end of the meditation period, usually more chanting would be played. This morning, at the beginning of the 9-11 session, Goenka’s preamble was excruciatingly long. I listened patiently, but was mildly annoyed as he talked more slowly than normal and repeated himself an inordinate amount of times. This morning’s preamble was about 40 minutes long! After it was finished, I headed off to meditate in my room and the day continued.
After lunch, I decided to spend the 1.5 hour meditation period in the hall. By day eight, I now had a ritual that started from the moment I walked into the hall. I ambled over to my space, and did a few stretches of legs, arms, back. Then I settled myself in what I now think of as my ‘nest.’ And it was definitely a nest! I had a meditation pillow that I sat on, and a pillow under each knee for support. Once I was comfortably supported by pillows, I would wrap a blanket around my legs to secure my nest. Depending on the temperature in the room, I would either don or remove my sweater. I almost always wore my scarf. Some others had a more sparse nest than I did, and managed with only one pillow. There were others who built a nest out of almost a dozen pillows, and sat high above the rest of us. I found it interesting to see the rituals of others as we settled in to meditate.
The day seemed to be passing quite nicely, and before I knew it it was time for the late afternoon 2hr meditation session in the hall. I had been working diligently in the past 2 days and had been spending almost all meditation sessions in the hall. Often I would sit for an entire 1.5 or 2 hour session without moving, as well as the 1 hour group sessions. It was tiring, but I wanted to make the most of my ten days here. I was happy because it was almost tea time, and I was looking forward to a walk around the grounds.
I stretched, settled into my nest, wrapped myself up and began to meditate. The audio came on. Quickly, I realized it was the same audio from this morning that had been long and repetitive. I noticed subtle differences in the audio, so wondered if it was going to be different. It was not! With growing agitation, I listened to Goenka repeat himself over and over. As the same words came again and again, I bubbled with anger – why does he have to repeat himself so much? He could probably do this in half the time! I felt my blood pressure shoot up, and my temperature rise. I was so angry! I sat patiently (angrily) in position, refusing to move. This only spurred my mood. By the end of Goenka’s preamble, I was shaking with anger, perspiration was standing out on my forehead, and I was grinding my teeth! At the moment Goenka said “you may continue to meditate here, or in your residences,” I was off like a shot.
I threw on my boots, grabbed my coat and was out the door, stomping my way back to my room. Inside my mind I was cursing and boiling with anger. Did he do that on purpose?? The thought crossed my mind. I fled to my residence and to my room. I threw myself onto my bed and buried my head in my pillow. I laid there cursing silently in my mind, on the verge of tears. I had reached my meltdown point!
Apparently, everyone reaches a point where emotions, anger, and general badness bubble to the surface. I realize now that this repetitive speech by Goenka was simply the thing that flipped the switch – and everything inside me came rushing forward, clamoring to escape.The previous day, someone had had a meltdown in the hall. She was crying uncontrollably, and when the teachers tried to help her out of the room, I heard her cry “I can’t move my legs!” I felt so bad for that lady. Eventually, she calmed down enough to head to her room. Being silent for ten days and looking only deep into yourself can be a trying experience 😉
I laid in my bed, still hot with anger, crying. I remember realizing that it was tea time and that I should probably go, and then thought in my head I don’t want any F#*King TEA! I don’t want any F#*King fruit! I don’t want to talk to anyone! Eventually, when my emotions had settled a bit, I decided to try and eat something and have some tea. I had group meditation to attend, after all. I hustled to the dining hall, tears still running down my face. As I walked I remember still being very angry. Stupid snowflake! I thought. Stupid bootprints in the snow! I grumbled in my head. I managed to grab a quick tea and a banana before they had been cleared away. I sat alone, as everyone had already left the dining hall.
It was almost 6:00, and I didn’t want to be late for group meditation. I speed-walked to the meditation hall, still angry and steaming. I sat down in my nest, and settled myself for an hour. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it. Not only that, but in a few minutes, I would have to listen to more audio of Goenka – whose voice I did NOT want to hear any more! I sat on my pillow patiently, waiting for the audio to start. Tears were still streaming down my face. I was trying to be as quiet as possible, so as not to disturb the other meditators.
Tears silently continued to stream down my face as Goenka began to speak, and then to chant. The audio was mercifully short. When it finished, silence fell – and my tears stopped! It was like walking into a cool room on a hot day. I began to meditate – and had one of the best meditation sessions!
At the end of the hour, there was a short break. I opted to stay in the hall. I stood at a window, a smile trying to find its way back after the deluge of tears. As I looked out, I watched an older lady walking. She stooped and picked up some snow. I watched her ball it up tightly and carry it along the path. Then she crouched, as if in attack, and hurled the snowball at a tree! The smile that was trying to find its way back JUMPED onto my lips, and I had to stifle a laugh! People are so funny! This was how Snowball got her nickname 🙂
I managed to make it through the rest of the evening – the video, and the following meditation. I was still agitated as I went to bed, but the storm had passed. Only two more days, I thought to myself as I lay in bed and drifted off to sleep.
The memories of my mornings are all beginning to blend together now. I recall turning on the night light, throwing on clothes, and heading to the meditation hall. Breakfast was always an adventure, as I tried to make something new each day. I was really getting into the routine of things now. I was not nearly as bored when I had breaks, and meditation was coming more easily to me now. I still had difficulties, and times when I just seemed to have no concentration at all, but progress was definitely being made.
This morning when I got to the hall for group meditation, I noticed that crazy hair was no longer there. Crazy hair sat just behind me, and suddenly a thought occurred to me. As I meditated, occasionally (and if you know me, you know what “occasionally” means in this instance) I would have to let out a toot! Keep in mind that I had been on an all-vegetarian diet, but a diet that included gas-inducing vegetables such as leek, kale, and onions. The toots I was producing were often more fragrant than most people would prefer. And by “more fragrant” I mean that if I was in a room with a small child and farted, I could easily render them unconscious or ill with a single *toot.* Needless to say, as I sat there getting ready to meditate, the thought that crossed my mind was: What if she asked to be moved because she could no longer stand the smell?! Horrified, I looked around to see if Crazy Hair had been relocated to a new cushion. There were a few empty ones, as some people cracked under the pressure and left before the course was finished.
With a sigh of relief, I saw that she was, indeed not here. Being me, I immedately wondered if she had smelled the toots that had been trapped in my little meditation pillow as I sat there. I’m quite sure that when we had finished a meditation session and I got up from my cushion for a break that some toxic gasses seeped out. Sorry fellow meditators!! Can’t help it!
Speaking of gas… Today another person got a nickname. As we all sat there meditating in silence, often people would have to sneeze or blow their nose. There was one lady that went above and beyond. I called her “Burpy McBurperson.” There were times where she would burp every few seconds for a good 5-10 minutes. I sat there thinking: She should get that checked out… or perhaps eat her food more slowly. After Burpy McBurperson was named, her burping outbursts were FAR more funny to me. Sometimes, I couldn’t stop myself from laughing when Burpy started on a gas-expelling run.
On the afternoon of day 7, I realized something else – Versace had left the building! I had a hunch that Versace wasn’t going to make it to the end of the ten days. I had it in my mind that if she did make it to the end, that I was going to congratulate her on making it! I must admit that I was not very upset when I noticed Versace was gone. Versace was known for her coughing fits, for making strange moaning and sighing sounds when she meditated, and for usurping all of the teacher’s time at breaks and noon. Either way, part of me felt sad that she hadn’t made it. I really hope she comes back and tries again!
Day seven ended without many out of the ordinary occurrences. I was definitely getting used to the routine. And at the end of the day, when I heard Goenka start his video with the customary “Day seven is over. You have three days to go,” my head didn’t sink down with worry about how I was going to make it. Instead, I had a proud moment of joy that I had made it this far. It’s a good thing that I had all this positive energy surrounding me, because on day eight I was going to need all the positive energy I could get!
After all the excitement of day 4, I was exhausted. I slept so well that night! When the gong sounded the next morning, I was up and at ’em with a smile on my face. I just couldn’t shake the smile that seemed to have taken up permanent residence there. I found my cheeks hurting after a while, but it felt good.
Day 5 and 6 kind of blurred together for me. Now that I was practicing Vipassana, things were changing rapidly. I all of a sudden had a million questions. My mind was racing. I determinedly sat through meditations and craved the time of day that Goenka would come on the video and give us some more understanding of what we were doing, where we were going. I spent my free time thinking, walking, thinking, walking. I did a lot of thinking about myself, about going back to real life, about practical applications of Vipassana. As I grasped more and more of the theory, my smile widened. I was beginning to truly understand more things about myself and about the world.
During these days, I created more paths, more lookout points, and explored more terrain. One day while walking out to the ‘lookout point’ I had created a few days back, I noticed something I had probably passed by several times without seeing. As I passed a tree on the path to the ravine, I looked up at it. Something caught my eye.
At first I was taken by surprise! I wondered what a bug this size was doing outside in such cold weather!? But then I realized, it was a cicada shell! How many times had I passed this tree without even realizing that this was here? It was a perfect replica of a cicada bug that probably sang its heart out in August and September. I named him Cyril the Cicada Skin. Every time I walked by the tree after that, I’d say a mental “hello” to Cyril.
One night I had a kind of epiphany while watching Goenka’s discourse video. I was learning so much from this man – and almost all of it was common sense wisdom that I had either not thought of before, or had not thought of it in the way that he imparted this wisdom. I was sitting there, watching the video and giggling periodically at Goenka’s accent, or use of the English language, or his jokes – and I realized: Goenka is just a BROWN YODA! He’s so cute, and small, and squatty, just like Yoda. He is always giving us wisdom in a very patient manner. And he even says some things backwards like Yoda too! It gave me great pleasure when I made this association 🙂
What was I learning from all this meditation, all these videos, all this time to think and have introspection? A few simple things that together explain everything we have to deal with in life. One: Everything changes. Two: All misery comes from either craving or attachment to things, or aversion to things. It all sounds simple at first – I know. Believe me, when I first heard these things, I was saying in my head “Yeah – so what?” But after 6 days of meditating, thinking, asking questions, and learning – I began to understand the philosophy behind these things, and why meditation and understanding can bring you great benefits in life and basically help you to BE HAPPY!
Before I had come here to this 10-day meditation I had already been on the scent of some of these ideas and philosophies, but spending time silently by myself enabled me to cultivate these ideas. Absorbing the wisdom and practicing the meditation enabled me to gain so much more insight. A lot of things about life in general (and some things specific to me) came into perspective for me. Things seemed a lot clearer.
I still had a million questions, and my mind was going a mile a minute – but I kept telling myself that I still had 4 days of learning – of experiencing – to go. After day 6, I was at the point where I was teetering between being happy that I had made it through 6 days, and still wondering how I was going to do this for 4 more days.
OK, so not everything happened on day 4 – but it felt like it at the time!
My eyes refuse to open. They are crusted shut. My throat is sore, and my nostrils are blocked. My head aches.
I begin to move and reach down to check the watch that I brought with me to be able to keep time and set an alarm if I felt I needed one.
I squint and read the time on my watch: 6:36 am. S#!T!! I slept in!!!
The gong I am hearing is the BREAKFAST bell, and I have approximately 25 minutes to get to the dining hall, wolf down my oatmeal concoction of the day, and rush back for my shower time slot of 7:00-7:20. I jump out of bed, crust flying out of my eyes, head swimming. Socks are shoved on, track pants go on over my pyjamas, I pull my hat down over my head and throw on a sweater as I rush down the hall to get my coat. In the lobby, I notice that almost ALL of the coats are gone. I groan internally, feeling terrible that I missed the morning meditation and that I’m so late.
As I finish tying my boots and throw on my coat, I stand up and my head spins. Luckily, I take a few moments to steady myself – and for this reason, my attention falls on a sign posted on the door. It read: Please note the change of time for the afternoon group sitting. 2:00-3:00 Group Meditation in the Hall, 3:00-5:00 Vipassana Training. A bolt of excitement runs through me. Today we get to learn vipassana!
The storm clouds that were forming in my head due to feeling sick and being late parted, and a ray of sunshine shone brightly through. I was excited and happy as I bopped to the dining hall for breakfast. How exciting that we were going to learn vipassana today, and how fortunate that I saw the sign, even in my morning haste! It’s funny how your mood can flip in such a short period of time. The universe works in strange ways. This morning it said Stop! Look! It’s going to be an important day!
My morning meditations went well (the ones I attended, that is). Today at 12:00, I had no questions for the teacher, so spent the free hour walking around the grounds. I saw a set of boot prints leading across the snow to the ravine, and followed them. Up until now I had thought that since there was no evidence of people walking “offroad” that it was not acceptable. This set of boot prints got me started on my path-making. I walked slowly and methodically – packing down the snow leading to the ravine, and created a path that anyone could walk on. When I got to the end of the set of footprints, I could hear water, but trees were blocking my view. I turned right, and pushed my path two meters to the right, made a left turn and shuffled forward. What a beautiful view! At the bottom of the ravine was a winding river. The sound of the water was amazing. I made a little circle of packed down snow, and dubbed it “the lookout point.” Now there was somewhere new for people to walk!
For some reason, I ate my lunch rather quickly. Perhaps I was eager to get back outside and make more paths, but now that I think back I think my motivation was to get into the bathroom quickly so that I could brush my teeth before the 11:20 shower slot – when all the bathrooms would be filled. I exited the hall just behind another girl – I had nicknamed her Crazy Hair, because when she took off her hat in the meditation hall, her hair all stood up crazily. Crazy hair held the door for me (with no eye contact) and we began walking back to the residence.
Luckily decided to take the long way around, and walk by myself. I didn’t notice that a deer was walking through the grounds, and as I walked around the long way and turned a corner, Crazy hair inadvertently scared it in my direction. I stopped dead in my tracks. The deer was about 2 meters away from me. It stood there for a handful of seconds and we watched each other before fear took over and the deer began to run away. It bounced lithely through the snow, before hopping down the bank of the ravine. I was speechless (literally!). I stood there for a few moments more, and a smile crept across my face. As far as I knew, Crazy Hair had not even seen the deer, and the rest of the grounds were empty because everyone was inside eating. What a moment! I thought to myself: This must be a sign of some kind from the universe.
[Later, I learned that the entire kitchen staff had been watching the deer out the window, and saw my encounter. One of the guys approached me later to tell me they had been watching the entire thing. Apparently that is the first time in a very long time a deer has walked through the property, and they were all saying how lucky I was to have been out there at that time!]
With a bounce in my step and a smile on my face, I headed to the afternoon group meditation – which was going to be followed by vipassana! This was shaping up to be an amazing day 🙂
Over the first three days, I had been trying to do an entire hour without moving. So far, I had not had success. I estimated that I had made it to about 45 minutes that morning, but I was determined to sit for the ENTIRE hour from 2:00 to 3:00 before Vipassana. I situated myself in what I determined was the least painful position – cross legged – and began to meditate. Part way through the hour, my feet went numb. My butt began to go numb. Then my knees began to throb. My hips chimed in with screaming pain at what I had hoped was very close to the hour mark. At some point I stopped doing anapana and began counting. It was excruciating, but I was determined to make it. Just as I thought I was going to crack, the final chanting came on – I had MADE IT! I sat proudly through the last five minutes of chanting, my joints screaming in pain, my bottom half numb in places, my back muscles burning – but I had a smile on! I had done it! I sat for a whole hour without moving!
After a short break, the time had come to learn vipassana, and I was practically vibrating with anticipation of this amazing technique that so many people talked about. We all settled in and listened intently to the audio. Confusion crept across my face as I listened. I wasn’t sure about this. One thing that I heard made me laugh inside. Near the end, Goenka said “From now on, when you sit for an hour at group sittings – you will sit with Strong Determination: without changing your position.” When I heard this, I was SO HAPPY that I had already accomplished this feat – I knew I could do it again!
The audio lesson ended and we were dismissed, I slowly got up and headed to the dining hall for tea. That was it? This is vipassana? What had been explained to me in that two-hour span did not make any sense to me. I was so confused and let down. A thought occurred to me. That deer from earlier? Yes, it was a sign from the universe. The message was simple: RUN!
After dinner, I headed to my room. I sat on my bed, still confused about vipassana. For some reason, I picked up the little pamphlet we were given on our first day and began to read. At some point, I came to a paragraph that struck a nerve with me, and gave me a little bit more insight into what I had learned that afternoon. I sat there for a few moments, and thought to myself: OK, I have to give this a fair shake. I have 6 more days to go. There must be more to it than what I learned today. I decided then and there to continue to move forward with an open mind.
I’m glad I did! At 6pm, I meditated using the vipassana technique we had learned that afternoon. Not only that, but I watched others prepare for the hour, and learned that I could put pillows under my knees to support them. Sitting was SO MUCH more comfortable now… That evening’s video discourse clarified a lot of things for me. See? I thought to myself. I knew there was more to it!
Despite my cold, and the sniffles it brought along with it, I was feeling happy again. I was on an emotional roller-coaster full of confusion – but only because I wanted the car to go FASTER and FASTER! I wanted to learn everything, to understand everything NOW! I was learning patience… and had so much more to learn and practice 🙂
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.