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Archive for October, 2009

Day Eleven

Task for the day:  Pack up and go home.

My last day at the center started off pretty darn amazing: at exactly 3:40 am (the time my alarm went off), I was waking from a dream.

The dream: It was late at night, and I was outside sitting in a circle, observing various stars, with – get this – Michael Stipe and Dave Grohl, and several members of their crew.  There were probably a total of eight or so people there.  I vividly remember thinking, “Wow, this is SO cool!  I want to call Joel and invite him to come!”  (Joel is a VERY big fan of Michael Stipe.)  And while I didn’t say this out loud (in the dream), one of the crew people did look at me, then turned to me and said, “Stef, don’t think about anyone else.  Just enjoy the ride.”  So, I turned my attention to the circle, and I heard Michael and Dave talking – and they were talking about inner peace.  Their definition?  “Staying present, in the moment, with equanimity.”

And that was the very last thing I heard/experienced; then I woke up.

Wow.

My eyes popped open, and it hit me: Today is the last day.  Today I get to go home.  Today I get to go home! HOME!!

And that single thought propelled me out of bed, and I was to be a bundle of frenetic energy for the next six hours.

From 3:45-4:30 am, I showered, dressed, dried my hair, finished packing my possessions, and cleaned my room and bathroom per the specifications of the center.  (Please note I did all of these things in 45 minutes.)

At 4:30 am, I briskly walked (actually, I was nearly skipping/jogging) to the meditation hall, where I sat for our final “meditation” session.  (And I put “meditation” in quotes because I was so far from being calm and present, it wasn’t even funny.  My mind was COMPLETELY in the future, on planning out the next tasks I needed to finish in order to get the hell out of the center as quickly as possible – and my heart was racing and my legs were jumpy for the full 90 minutes of our sitting time.  [Heck, my heart is racing right now just remembering that morning, and it was nearly 2 weeks ago!])

At 6:30 am the meditation session FINALLY ended (thank you sweet lord), and I dashed to the dining hall, where I acquired my breakfast food, sat down at the closest table I could find, and ate my meal – and all of this was done in about 15 minutes.  (No exaggeration.)  A few women around me wanted to linger and chat, and I weakly smiled at them and tried to explain as calmly as possible, “I’m not trying to be rude; but I have a 6-hour drive ahead of me, and I just want to get home and see my husband.”  They completely understood, so I politely excused myself, then literally RAN to the dorm.

I kicked off my shoes (no shoes allowed in the dorm – along with many other rules that were still in effect), and literally RAN to my room – where I grabbed my car keys, and as many of my possessions as I could physically carry.  I then literally RAN back to the dorm entrance, shoved my feet into my shoes, and RAN (as best I could, as I was carrying around 20 lbs of gear) to my car – where I opened the trunk, dumped everything in the back, slammed it shut, and then ripped open the door to the drivers seat.

I threw myself behind the steering wheel, put the key in the ignition, and quietly-but-intently said, “please please please please please please please please please …”, then turned the key.  And after a few seconds of HARD grinding (the result of the car sitting in the cold outdoor air, untouched, for 11 days), the engine started.  Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!!

I drove my car to the entrance of the dorm, threw it in park, ripped the key out of the ignition, opened the two car doors closest to the dorm, and then RAN-back-into-the-dorm-removed-my-shoes-ran-to-my-room-picked-up-as-much-stuff-as-I-could-carry-ran-back-to-my-shoes-shoved-my-feet-inside-them-ran-to-my-car-stuffed-my-possessions-anywhere-there-was-space-in-the-vehicle – then paused, for about half a second.  One more iteration of the above (i.e., going to my room and collecting the final items I brought with me to then toss in the car), and my room was empty, my car was packed, and *I* was on the path headed HOME!!!!

But WAIT!  I had to do a final community chore before I left.  SHIT!  I just want to get HOME!!  I went to the dining hall, and looked at the man in charge with what must have sheer desperation (which it was), and I said, “I understand this is a volunteer organization; and I know the center needs to be made ready for the next wave of students who arrive in three days.  I’m not trying to get out of work; I am willing to do whatever chore needs to be done.  BUT – I am also DESPERATE to get home.  Is there ANY way you can make my chore something that can be done as quickly as possible?  I’ll do it – but I just really, REALLY want to go HOME!”  I looked at him, pleadingly, and waited.

He looked at me, his face a little concerned, and he said, “Okay – how about you just wipe down these tables and chairs, and stack them against the wall, and then you can go.  Will that work?”

Yes sir!!  Boy, I threw on some yellow rubber gloves, grabbed a soapy rag, and went to TOWN on the task at hand.  I think it took me about 10 minutes to wipe down 10 tables and 50 chairs, and stack them all neatly against the wall.  (And, I’d like the record to reflect that I DID do a thorough job with the wipe downs, and I did stack everything straight and orderly – but let me tell you, I hauled some booty, too.)  As I stacked the last chair, I ran to the man in charge, whipping off the gloves and throwing the rag into the bucket, and pointed to the folded items leaning against the wall and said/half-yelled, “Look, look!  It’s done!  Okay?  Can I go?!”

He nodded, then looked at me intently and seriously and said (very calmly and slowly), “Please, drive safely.  You’ve been in a different kind of mental space for over 10 days; and you are a little excited right now.  And it’s a transition going from this place to driving on the crazy, fast freeway – so please, please, be safe.  Okay?”  And his eyes held mine for a few seconds, to illustrate just how serious he really was.

I paused, slightly.  And I looked at him for just over a second, right into his eyes.  And I got it.  And I nodded.  And I promised I would, indeed, drive safely.  And that seemed to re-assure him a bit, because he smiled, and let me go.  And I was off.

I got into the car, and was literally shaking with adrenaline.  As I passed through the (now open) gated entrance of the meditation center and left the premises, I felt absolutely, completely ELATED.  I felt like I REALLY had just been released from rehab.  (Or prison.)  My heard was racing, and I was grinning from ear to ear, and I was deeply breathing in the air, and my eyes were wide trying to capture all of the brightness of the sunny day and fall leaves, and I was enjoying feeling the vibrating steering wheel in my hand, and the power of the car beneath my right foot.  I was free.  I was headed home.

In that moment, I felt true joy.  TRUE. JOY.  For as much pain and hurt and angst and frustration and despair I felt during various days of the retreat experience, I now felt that much joy.  And it was real joy.  Sincere joy.  Joy like I truly have never, ever felt before in my life.  Ever.  EVER.

God, it is all so beautiful.  I just can’t help but smile, and be happy.

As soon as I located the freeway (about 20 minutes after leaving the center), I grabbed my cell phone, and FINALLY got to call my husband.  And truthfully, I probably should have waited at least a few hours before trying to talk to him.  Everything was just too raw.  My emotions were RIGHT on the surface of my being; I was just too vulnerable, too exposed, too raw – too unable to control anything about myself.  It’s like my soul was an open wound – and I needed to wait for a quick, temporary bandage to be put on it before I walked out in public.  No one wants to see a bloody mess.  But I was also desperate to talk with my husband, to hear his voice, to let him know I was coming home, and I would be there as soon as I could, and that I loved him, and that I missed him SO MUCH… So I called him.  And he answered in his lovely, caring voice, and said he missed me, and asked me how it all was.  And instantly, I cried.

Sobbing, I tried to explain, “It was really hard…but it was really good…but it was really, really hard…”

He sounded VERY concerned.  “Honey, it doesn’t sound like it was very good…”  And he said that maybe I should hang up, and I could tell him all about it when I got home; and that perhaps for now I should just focus on driving safely.  It sounded like he was talking to a slightly unstable person, in a very soothing, no-sudden-moves kind of tone.  And truthfully, he probably wasn’t that far off.

And I agreed; it probably would be best to focus exclusively on driving right then, and get home safely, and hug and kiss and adore him when I saw him in person.  And honestly, just hearing his voice, even just for those two minutes we were on the phone together, was all I needed to make the world seem “right” again.

So, we said our good-byes, and I hung up the phone; and I spent the next two hours just being in the car, on the road.  Just feeling the vibrations of the engine, and the surface of the road on the tires, and seeing the scenery pass by the windows.  Just being present.  Just being in the moment.  Just being.  God, it was SO BEAUTIFUL.

After about two hours, I stopped shaking.  Yes, it really, truly, sincerely, literally did take that long for my physiological processes to finally slow down a little bit, for the adrenaline to mostly wear off, and for the emotions to be reduced to a still-very-heightened, but slightly-more-manageable, level.

Around noon I stopped and got lunch; and it was such a treat to have the freedom to order whatever I wanted.  And to eat at any pace I wanted, and to be able to linger a little bit after the meal and not have to rush off to the next item on a rigorous schedule.

And finally, finally, at 3:45 pm, after 7 hours of being on the road, I pulled into my driveway, and RAN into my house, and got to hug and kiss and adore my husband.  I got to see his wonderfully boyish smile, and I got to feel his arms around me, and I got to experience exactly how much I love him, from a place deep within my heart, and my soul.  I was home.  And it felt SO good.

(Continue to the Afterward [and a summary of “lessons learned”].)

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Day Ten

Task for the day:  Metta meditation.

Last night I had a dream regarding (un)Noble Speech – basically, the dream was me just shooting off my mouth without thinking, making embarrassing and/or unintentionally insensitive comments; and doing so when a comment really just did not need to be made in the first place.  This un-Noble Speech is so harmful to me… and now, I have a rare opportunity to take advantage of a nine-day “reset” button that has been pressed.  Now, I’m not looking to be perfect (I’m human; I know mistakes will be made); but I am striving for progress.

Just after breakfast today, I started to feel lots of anxiety in my chest; and then I realized that what I was feeling was just intense (okay, and unpleasant) energy – but *I* was calling it “anxiety”, and therefore giving it power and increasing its’ duration; and making myself unhappy longer than I needed to!  The thought then came to me, “Hmm, let’s observe this energy, and just see how long it lasts.”  And I did.  And while it wasn’t gone immediately, it did dissipate after about 10 minutes or so.  Wow.  Meditation, observation, awareness…Vipassana truly is powerful.  This experience has been so powerful.  I only hope I can remember this, and continue this, in my everyday life.

At 10 am, we began the transition from the meditative life to “everyday life” – Noble Silence ended.  I had the rest of the day to practice transitioning from this intense, introspective, slow-paced, emotional and spiritual development experience to “the real world” – where people are people, bustling about, and life goes on.

And it all started right away.  At about 10:15 am, my suite-mate engaged me in conversation – and it turns out she had pretty negative things to say about her experience, her family, her world-view, her life in general.  So, I had the opportunity to not accept her “presents” of negativity.

Oh, that’s right, I haven’t talked about “presents” yet!  In last night’s lecture, the teacher talked about how some people want to give “presents” to others around them – that some people want to share their “gifts” of insecurity, negativity, hostility, frustration, overall misery.  And that when these “presents” come my way, I have a choice: I can either accept them, or I can leave them on the table.  And if I leave them on the table (and then walk away from them), they are not “mine” to figure out what to do with – I don’t have to try and re-gift the tacky lamp, or make a trip to the thrift store to give away a haul of things I don’t really want… the “presents” are not my concern, not my worry.  I’m free from the additional burden of them.  As tempting as they may be in the moment, I don’t have to accept them.

So, I didn’t.  After a few minutes of conversation with the suite-mate – and realizing spending time with her was not helpful to me – I politely excused myself, and went to my room, and gently shut the door.  And in that moment, I appreciated the rule of Noble Silence even more.  On the first day, the teacher explained that deep emotional and spiritual work simply cannot take place around others; that one really needs to be in isolation, in silence, in order to “hear” oneself, to hear one’s soul.  Every person needs to have his or her own experience – no one else’s.  And this quick conversation with my suite-mate affirmed that point beautifully.  If I had been surrounded by any chatter – no matter how positive or affirming it might have been – it would have distracted me from ME, and I just would not have been able to get at the core of some of the experiences and learnings and realizations I had over the past 9 days.  So, Noble Silence really was a very, very helpful rule for me – no matter how hard it may have been at times.

But, now it’s over, and time to get re-introduced to chatter.

(11 am):  I don’t understand.

I don’t understand how life as I experience it can change LITERALLY in one second, one moment.

Lunch today was absolutely jubilant – people talking with each other, smiling at each other, holding doors for one another… it was no longer a stressful experience, but instead a friendly gathering.

After the meal, I received my purse back (“my” purse), and once I got my wallet back in my hand, my ipod back under my control – heck, once I got a pen back in my possession (“my” possession) – I felt like I had just been handed the old “me” back to me.

It was such a palpable sense of me returning back to where I was 10 days ago.  I no longer felt like a prisoner, or oppressed, or lost… I felt like I knew who “I” was: I’m Stef, I have these things, I work at this job, I fill these roles, I have this place in the world…

I don’t understand how yesterday I can feel SO lost, SO lethargic, SO sad, SO alone, SO eager to GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!; and today, in literally one exchange of a small black-and-white bag, I can instantly be snapped back to “me”, FULL of energy and vibrancy, fine to stay a few more days if necessary – as if the past 10 days never really happened.

But they did.  And I’m grateful that they did.  And I did learn a LOT – about myself, about life.  And I don’t want to lose those valuable insights and lessons.  I don’t want to “reclaim” certain elements of my life that have, at least for now, seem to have slowly, gradually, subtly drifted away – I certainly have paid a large price for them, AND for their release.

So, the question for me now, on Day Ten, is this: How do I integrate the experience I had here with the life I have waiting for me when I leave?  How do I “make best use” of the real presents that were shown to me (and that I EARNED for myself)?

I guess the experience of life will show me that.  I have learned lessons about staying present and equanimous, even in the face of uncertainty.  So, I don’t have to have all the answers right now; I just have to do my work before me, and trust that the present I create now will make a good child in the future.

(Evening):  A few minutes after 9 pm, we all returned to the dorm for our final night at the center.  One of the “old students” (someone who has completed this course at least once before) brought a bag of mini candy bars with her, and dispensed them freely now that we could interact with one another.  With the chocolate hitting people’s blood streams (after nearly 2 weeks of only “pure”, wholesome, organic foods), the conversation flowed freely – and it felt like I was back in college, the day after final exams.  All 16 of us women were sitting on the floor in the hallway, eating candy and talking and laughing and comparing our past experience and speculating about the possible future when we leave… just like the last day of college.  The end of something difficult, but special; and the start of something daunting, but exciting.

(Continue to Day Eleven…)

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Day Nine

Task for the day:  Use blind spots or gross sensations to avoid developing sankaras of aversion; use flow sensations to avoid developing sankaras of craving/clinging.

Today is the last day of Noble Silence; so I’m not going to take notes today.  Instead, I’m going to try to absorb as much as I can in this last full day of solo Vipassana.

(Evening): It’s 9:20 pm, and I’ve had a full day of solo meditation and silence.  In tonight’s lecture, the teacher said one comment that really hit me: “The future is the child of the present.”  Of course.  It is so, so simple; and I’ve heard variations on this theme throughout my life; but for some reason, when he said these words in this way, it just hit me right in the chest: The future is the child of the present.  If I just take care of the present, the future will take care of itself!  No need for me to worry; no need for me to fret; just do my part right now, and then let go – and trust that “it” (whatever “it” is) will all work out exactly as it should.  Because truly, “it” always does.

The teacher also talked at length about having love and compassion for others, and for myself – and the “for myself” part is the part I struggle with.  I really do a lot for others in my life; and often I think of others very “naturally” (i.e., without much extra effort on my part), and I try to live a caring and compassionate life – towards them.  But towards myself, it has been a very different story.

The timing of these two lessons this evening was absolutely perfect, as I had some pretty intense realizations come to my awareness today.  The first realization: When I was forced to live in the present today (as a result of not distracting myself with notes [I am now able to see that my note-taking these past eight days was the final “distraction” I was clinging to in this environment]), I realized how much I automatically want to live in the past or the future.  The past frequently brings up emotions of guilt or regret for me, and the future often takes me to a place of fear; so dwelling in these two realms most often generates craving or aversion – which all lead to misery.  BUT, when I live in the present moment – when I am truly in the present moment – all I experience is happiness.  So, this thought pattern of residing in the past/future is one significant facet of myself I really want to change.  My mind wants to be “efficient” (some may say “lazy” – I’m choosing to be gentle with myself and call it a desire to be “efficient”) – and being in the past or the future is often just mentally easier than being fully aware, in the present; living in the present takes a lot more work, and a lot more effort – but the results are a lot more amazing, a lot more beautiful.  So, I can view these current patterns of my mind not with frustration, anger, or hatred, but with compassion – and then I can absolutely work to change them, so I can foster happiness and joy in the present moment – which will make for a beautiful future “child”.

The second realization that came to my awareness today actually started as an experience: When I was alone in my room earlier in the afternoon , something very dark and painful came to the surface; and honestly, I have no idea what it was.  I could say that it was me missing Joel; or not having any choices at this center; or the stress in general of being in this setting… and while it was in part all of those things, it was also none of those things.  Honestly, I just couldn’t identify it – and I am really tired of trying to figure it out.  I’m a good person – so why do I so frequently feel like I am such a piece of shit?

In my evening meditation session, I had it out: The session started calmly; but about half way through, everything just got really intense, and physically painful.  But I didn’t run away from it.  I didn’t cry, I didn’t distract myself; I just stayed with it.  I literally said to myself, “Bring it; I’m calm.  If this is what it takes to be free, so be it.”  And I endured the intense pain for the remainder of the session – probably around 10 minutes or so.  I endured it truly, sincerely, equanimously.

I want to be free – or at least find some relief.  So if this is what it takes, I’m willing.  Bring it.

And at the end of the session, something really, truly had shifted.  I can’t explain it.  I logically, rationally don’t know what happened.  All I know is that something DID happen – something powerful.  I left that meditation session physically sore, that is for certain – but also emotionally lighter.  I felt (really, physically felt) more open space in my entire chest, in my heart; and more self-compassion in my soul.

Like I said, I don’t know what happened.  I really don’t.  But I know the way I felt – and I know the way I still feel now, nine days later.  I’m more calm.  More peaceful.  More relaxed.  More present.

As I walked back to the dorm at the end of that night, the rain had slowed to a very light mist – still there, but no umbrella required.  The wind was intermittent, but still pretty harsh at times.  It’s not perfect – it’s not a beautiful sunny warm day – but it’s a whole lot better than it was when I arrived nine days ago.  I’ll take it.

(Continue to Day Ten…)

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Day Eight

Task for the day:  Be equanimously aware of all sensations that occur as I move throughout the day, all day long.

(Equanimity = observing sensations without reacting [i.e., no clinging, no grasping, no aversion].  Just “accepting life on life’s terms”, whatever those terms may be – even if they are not MY terms.)

Wow, that is one helluva big order for an 8-day-old meditator.  I will simply do the best I can, and see what results.

One cool thing for me to remember about equanimity is that it and misery cannot co-exist.  AND, I am always cultivating one or the other.  So – which one do I want to grow?

When it’s put that way, it really is pretty darn simple.  Simple, but not easy…

During breakfast, I paid attention to the cereal – and noticed that Raisin Bran has a fun texture combination.  Crunchy plus chewy plus squishy and cold; I like it.  I also got to feel the texture of really thick, plain yogurt – and that was very pleasing to me, too (cool and soft, and I like the viscosity).

During a mid-morning break, I got to observe some insects (one of the “perks” of a no-kill rule – I watched the bugs instead of smashed them).  I saw that ladybugs are just plain cute, especially when they walk.  And did you know that mosquitoes have knees?  It’s true!

During the afternoon meditation session, an amusing observation came to my attention: At this stage in the meditation game, people are completely unconcerned with bodily functions.  Everyone is freely tooting, burping, gurgling, yawning, sighing – all completely unapologetically.  Even though we are all “adults”, bodily functions still make me giggle…

A bit “deeper” observation came to me during my early-evening meditation session: The quality of my emotional state really is evident and apparent in my meditation.  When I am anxious, tense, worried, etc., the sensations I feel during my meditation are fast pulsing, pushing, frenetic – not the nice, even, energetic vibrations I experience when I am sincerely calm and peaceful.  Good to learn – and now good to be aware of, watch for, and use to help myself.

So, how did the “equanimity challenge” go today?  Well…

Today’s weather was overcast, rainy, windy, and cold; it was a very sharp contrast to yesterday.  That, plus a very “aggressive” lunch menu that really wreaked havoc on my poor tummy, plus being away from family, friends, books, TV, email, entertainment, chores, responsibilities, and all other known/imagined distractions for over a week now, could really be the perfect set-up for unhappiness.  Certainly, all of these factors served as a good test of my newfound joy and equanimity from yesterday.  How did I fare?

Surprisingly (or not?), as I attended to really paying attention to my senses throughout the day, I found the noise of the rain to be soothing, not depressing.  I regarded my upset stomach as something to observe more than react to.  (How loud WILL that gurgling get?  How much pressure really CAN build up inside?  These questions were viewed more as scientific hypotheses to be examined rather than damning situations to be endured and pushed through.)  Overall, I remained pretty balanced and happy.  I don’t know if all of this is the result of Vipassana or not, but I am most certainly willing to keep trying this method of meditation if these results persist!  It seems like things were continuing to shift…

And then, I noticed something: my pen started to run out of ink.  And I completely freaked out.  (I admit it.)  I have over two days remaining at this meditation center – and writing has been the one thing that has kept me from completely breaking down.  I do not have any more pens on me.  I do not have a way to acquire any more pens.  If this pen runs out, I really am very very very very very VERY screwed!  What the hell will I do? ….  And so you can see how quickly I can get all worked up about literally nothing.

So, this whole “equanimity” thing is most certainly a process.  “Anicca” – everything changes, indeed.

(Continue to Day Nine…)

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Day Seven

Task for the day:  Scan the body symmetrically head to toes, toes to head (i.e., both shoulders at the same time, then both arms, then both hands, both legs, etc…).

Something shifted today – and I approached this work of meditation with true seriousness and sincerity; I let go of my desire to leave as best I could, and didn’t concern myself with what I might tell people about the experience when I got home; I focused on HAVING the experience, on getting the most out of my present time.  Shit got serious and intense today.

5:30 am meditation: A headache kicked in pretty much as soon as I started meditating; but I continued with the meditation anyway.  The headache went away pretty much the moment I stopped meditating.  Vipassana would say the headache means that this meditation style is “working”, getting rid of old, hurtful, painful sankaras.  It might be that; it could also be that this style of meditation does require a deep level of concentration for me; and/or it could be the various conditions my body is physically in at this center (little sleep, little food, little exercise…).  But whatever the cause, I got to see that I CAN work through “minor” pain; I got to see my resiliency in action.  The pain is short-term; and the positive results are lasting.

My 8 am meditation was also intense.  During the first 45 minutes I felt lots of various sensations; but during the last 15 minutes of the session my whole body was seized simultaneously by tiny, rapid, but intense vibrations; like lots and lots of sankaras were being brought to the surface, processed, and removed.  After the session, I felt spent – but in a good way.  I felt like one feels after a really hard-but-fulfilling workout.

Yesterday it was said that leaving this experience early (i.e., before Day Eleven) is not only not recommended, but can actually be harmful – and I can see why.  If I had left last night/this morning like “I” wanted to, I would have left in an emotional place of pain and despair – like leaving an operation in the middle of it; just not a good idea at all.  Better to let the doctor close up, pull you gently out of the anesthesia, and give you some pain meds to transition you from the hospital to the “regular” world back home, where you can continue to heal and fully recover – and be better than you were before as a result of the work done at the hospital.  Right now I’m in the deepest part of the operation; and while it’s painful, I can’t leave yet…

I experienced another benefit to Noble Silence today: I got to see how talking with other people (even [especially?] just idle chit-chat about truly nothing) can be a great way to avoid one’s own issues; and so this silence forces people (me) to face their (my) stuff, and not run away or avoid it via the distraction of other people.

Last night, the weather brought a big storm here – lightening, pounding rain, the whole bit.

Today, everything cleared, the sun came out – and it was warm.

Today I got to take off my heavy coat, and wear a very light jacket instead.

I am amazed by the parallels of all of this.  At the very beginning of this experience, I was surrounded by dark, FREEZING weather – and I was emotionally so dark, so sad, so unhappy, and so cold.  The weather then ebbed and flowed, sometimes getting decent, sometimes having a few peeks of sunshine, but always having a hint of overcast wetness in the air.  I, too, ebbed and flowed, sometimes feeling decent, but always having at least a twinge of uneasiness.  Last night, the weather broke loose – and I broke down.  And today, true beautiful weather is revealed; and true peace within me is revealed.

Now, nothing lasts forever.  The weather will change – some days will be light and beautiful, but some will be cold and dark.  The same is true with me – some days I will feel uneasy, sad, etc.  But today, I was able to shed my heavy coat – I was able to shed a lot of misery I just don’t “need” any longer.  So beautiful, so beautiful.

(Later) I realized that during today’s afternoon meditation session, I felt complete peace for the entire hour of the session.  No worries, no concerns, just complete, total acceptance of whatever the moment brought: from cool arm/hand/feet tingling, to uncomfortable shoulder pressure, to butt pain – it all was just in awareness, but without any reactions.  Just peace.  It was (is!) wild, and obviously so cool!

And for the first time since I arrived here, I didn’t dread going to the next meditation session.  No aversion.  (For now anyway; that could change in a millisecond.)  But all I have is right now, so I will accept it while it’s here.

And to think, had I left yesterday, I would have missed all of this…

(5 minutes later): I am laying on my bed, looking at plain white walls and a plain white ceiling – and I feel completely content and happy.  Wow.

(Continue on to Day Eight…)

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Day Six

Task for the day:  Practice Vipassana in two directions (head to toes, toes to head; head to toes, toes to head …)

I didn’t sleep well last night (again); lots of tossing and turning.  I suspect this may come to bite me in the butt today.  We’ll see…

My 5:45 am meditation today was a combination of subdued and relaxed.  The experience was very dark, and floating – it was what I imagine the womb feels like; it was very peaceful and soothing.

During my 8 am meditation, it was suggested that if we are experiencing pain, we can use the pain itself as an object of meditation.  Instead of running away from the pain, or ignoring it, or wishing it would go away, we can get right up next to it and examine it, explore it, perhaps even “embrace” it as an opportunity to learn something about ourselves.  Well, what the heck, I’ve got an hour, right?  So, I decided to really look at the pain today, to study it non-judgmentally.  I picked a spot that pained me (my rear), and noticed precisely where it started on my body (just above my tailbone), where it ended on my body (the fold of skin between my rear cheeks and my upper-most back-of-the-leg area), and the exact quality of the pain (a combination of prickly numbness, uncomfortable pressure, and some mild pulsing/throbbing that comes and goes).  But here’s the wild part: As I was studying the pain, trying to get REALLY clear on what the experience of “pain” was like, the pain itself was not as bad.  It’s only when I shifted my attention/examination to something else that the “feeling” (experience?) of pain intensified, and became more uncomfortable and, well, painful.  Is that kooky or what?

Yet through all of this, it became amazing to me to learn how painful being sedentary is; I really don’t know how people do it all day, every day.

Sometime before lunch today, this random thought came to me: “This center is like meditation boot camp.”  And I mean to imply every analogy one can imagine.

Anywho…

After lunch we learned more about the “philosophy” of Vipassana:

1)      The goal of life is to have a good death (apparently so the last thought you have in this life sets you up nicely for your next life).  However, the only way to have a good death is to have a great [happy!] life.

2)      The goal of this meditation style specifically is to eliminate sankaras – reactions of either craving or aversion.  The thinking goes that if we can eliminate sankaras, we will reach a state of true peace/bliss/Nirvana – and that means we will have an end to the suffering that occurs in life, and have the absolute BEST death possible.

3)      So, “success” is defined in Vipassana as being in a state where we are equanimous to all sensations.  “Pleasant”, “unpleasant”, “happy”, “sad” are all irrelevant; the sensations that arise do not matter at all – what matters is our reaction to them (and specifically, that we DON’T react to any of them.  I.e., we don’t try to avoid the painful ones, we don’t cling to the positive/”good” ones; we don’t crave or desire or avoid ANYTHING).

Now, I’m not about to get into a discussion of re-incarnation, re-birth, the “real” goal/aim/purpose/meaning of life, or any other theological/belief discussion.  What I think the purpose of today’s teaching was for ME as it applies to my meditation journey, and my life in general, was to help me learn about and practice equanimity – i.e., accepting everything that comes my way, whether I “like” it or not.  FULL acceptance.  “Radical acceptance”, as Jon Kabat-Zinn calls it.

For example: Do I feel like I am “ready” to go home right now, and skip the remaining five days of this experience?  Yes.  Do I want to leave?  Yes.  But a part of me is willing (and wanting) to trust this process, to experience all of it; because I just believe that it is designed to teach me something every single day.  And if I leave early, what important life lesson might I possibly miss?  I don’t want to short-change myself.

(Mid-afternoon) Uh oh.  I feel like I am getting ill. Suddenly I feel trembly/shaky, simultaneously hot/feverish and cold/chilly, and a strong urge to sleep.  Walking the three minutes from my room to the meditation hall was exhausting, and trying to focus in my meditation was really a struggle.  Uh oh.

About 45 minutes into the meditation, I thought, “I just want to go home.  I just want my life back.”  Uh oh.

And yet, I also don’t want to miss out on the rest of the experience.  I’m over halfway done; can I hang in there a few more days?  Just a few more days?

Mind over matter… I’ll tough it out tonight, and see what the morning brings.  I can do this.  I can do this.

[Full disclosure: I had some difficulties at dinner, and basically went into a tailspin (mindspin) about this whole experience.  I bounced everywhere internally.  I’m not going to post all of the insanity – if you are a close friend/family member and want to hear the details, let me know and I’ll likely share with you; suffice to say, at the 6 pm meditation session, I approached the teacher and told her I thought I was getting the flu, and perhaps it would be best if I left the center and drove home so as not to make anyone else sick.  She smiled at me, and said, “Well, do you think you could hang on until the end of this evening’s discourse?” (The discourse ends at 8:30 pm; so, stay in the hall for another 2 ½ hours.)  I said I could; and after the discourse, I felt slightly better.  When the teacher and I re-connected at 8:30 pm, she said that sometimes this meditation experience brings up emotional “stuff” that then sometimes manifests physically, like headaches, nausea, etc.  She said I could take my temperature, and if I was running a fever I could go home; but if I wasn’t, she really encouraged me to stay.  She analogized the experience to an operation; and if I left at this point in the process, it would be like me leaving the operating room after the surgeon has opened up my chest and was in the middle of fixing my internal bleeding – but had not yet completely finished the mending, nor had a chance to close up and bring me out of the anesthesia safely.  So I said I would stay through the night, and see how I felt in the morning.  And when the morning came, I was willing to continue on with the experience.  So, we move on to Day Seven…]

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Day Five

Task for the day:  Practice Vipassana in one direction (head to toes, head to toes…)

As the teacher reminds us each night, I have six days left to work. (He begins every evening talk with a countdown: “You only have ## days left to work”, and then proceeds with the lesson of the evening.)  And that countdown really solidifies in my mind how I just spent another day, another 24 hours of my life, that I will never get back.  It’s gone.  And THAT means I have one less day of my total life – which makes the urgency, the importance around THIS day even more dominant in my mind.

This morning during the one hour sit of “strong determination” (a session where you are not supposed to open your eyes or change your position for the full hour of meditation), I was successful – I didn’t react during the hour with any major body movements.  I also kept my mind fully present for nearly the entire full hour (it drifted for maybe 1 minute or so, maybe 3-4 times total).  AMAZING!

During the post-lunch break today, my walking pace finally slowed down.  WAY down.  Up to this point, I was walking so fast everywhere, just like I normally do.  Initially it was because of the freezing cold; then it was because it’s “just how I walk”.  This afternoon, something shifted, something released a bit – I sank down a little deeper into myself, and relaxed.  And slowed down.

Did everything in my meditation, in my thinking, in my life, change 180°?  No.  Did the shifts I had experienced so far last forever?  Hardly – they came and went, in intervals of 10 seconds, up to a few minutes.  But things shifted a few degrees, for a few moments; it’s absolutely a start.

At some point in the early afternoon, I got to thinking about how the entire physical body changes and evolves – it’s just how we are all designed.  We lose strands of hair every day, and new ones grow in.  I simply do not have the same strands of hair today that I had as a kid.  Skin falls off every day just in the course of showering, or walking, or being active in general, and new skin cells grow.  I don’t have the same skin I had as a child.   Internal cells also die, get excreted, and new ones grow… Basically, I have a 100% different body than I did as a baby, as a child, perhaps even when I was 20 years old.  I don’t know how long it takes for all of the cells in the body to “turn over”; but the body I have at 40 years old, or 60 years old, or 80 years old, WILL be different from the body I have today; both in how it looks, but also in what it IS.  So – if I start making changes TODAY, then I could have an impact on the “new” body I will have in the future.  What a cool premise this is!  If I don’t like how things are presently (with my physical body, or with my mental structures, or with my emotional “thoughts” and reactions), I can take actions  today, that will result in changes, that may result in a whole new life!  Very, very cool.

During my 2:30 pm meditation, I noticed that my self-talk was ALL positive!  I’m not even sure if self-talk is “allowed” in Vipassana (I’ll ask the teacher tonight), but wow – what a change from just five days ago!

During the 4 pm meditation, I started to feel full-on vibrations – and then I got accidentally bumped into by someone walking to the break room.  When her foot hit mine, she “broke” my concentration; and so that became my excuse to quit trying to meditate until the next meditation session began.

During the 6 pm meditation, I totally felt more of my body vibrating. Wow.  It’s an incredibly difficult feeling to describe, and really does have to be experienced (not read about) to fully “get” it, but here’s the best description I can put into words at this time: Imagine your foot falls asleep.  Got that feeling in your mind?  Now, if that feeling were the volume dial on the radio (TV, MP3 player, whatever), that feeling would be a loudness of “10”.  Vipassana is like turning the volume down to a really mellow 1-2; and then feeling that feeling not just in the foot, but all over different parts of the body simultaneously.  It’s trippy, and wild, and cool – and VERY impermanent.

And I’m told that the feelings will continue to evolve and change; that this is only a beginning.  I’m curious to see how this all develops…

(Continue to Day Six…)

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