Yoga: Vipassana … would I make it to the end?
It was hard to see how it was ‘cleansing me’ and removing the many lifetimes worth of ‘sankaras’ (miseries) when for the majority of my time, as I explained to my teacher when I stood, suitcase in hand ready to leave on day 6, I appeared to be either asleep sitting upright, struggling to stay awake, in a state of semi-conscious blank weird space-ness or just generally trying to remember where in my body I had got to on my scan. As I also battled existential questions and the validity of such a method which was in diametrical opposition to all the wonderfully gentle and soft healing I’d thus far experienced (sound baths, shamanic ceremonies, yoga and reiki), a part of me knew that the reason my mind was putting up such a fight was because really, somehow, I’d stumbled onto the right path and this was the real route to putting the mental torment that plagued me in life away to bed. So I fought every cell in my body which rebelled every time I entered the meditation hall and looked around me sensing the torment under the blanketed human mounds, trying to remind myself it was not a morgue.
So I agreed to stay for the remaining four days and my god am I glad that I did. It was the strangest feeling when the silence was broken on the final day and the rabble broke outside the meditation hall. I felt I wasn’t ready. That I hadn’t done enough work. I wasn’t sure how I would cope outside and whether the pain had been worth it. I’d made it through ten days of meditating ten hours a day. It really felt quite an achievement and like everything else, the pain and discomfort of it had passed. I’d run a marathon every day – in my head, I’d had few moments of peace but had struggled on nonetheless and as an enlightened friend said, in spite of the weirdness, I probably benefited more than those who came away talking about feeling floaty, happy and having cosmic experiences. I was brought back to reality with a bump when I phoned my a friend who was out in London rather drunk and asked, “So what have you been doing all week Nic apart from sitting on your arse?” I had a much needed laugh. I noticed the positive impact of it on my behaviour almost immediately in how I began to relate to those around me. I have actually been able to calm down much quicker after an angry outburst and deal with difficult situations in much more constructive ways.
A tricky paradox to overcome within the practice surrounds the issue of pain itself. As human beings in a material world, pain serves a purpose in our survival. It warns us when we need to move away from something or to stop pushing ourselves so far. To be entirely equanimous to it could actually result in serious harm so it’s something to consider through the practice. Though I have since discovered the beauty of Ajahn Brahm’s teachings which emphasise compassion, gentleness and finding ease within the body – direct opposition to the style of vipassana taught by Goenke. On our retreat, it was insinuated that by sleeping late or failing to adhere to any of the rules could result in many more lifetimes filled with misery so it was refreshing to hear Ajahn Brahm welcome his students asking them to be kind to themselves and suggesting that, should they happen to sleep through a lecture or two, he wouldn’t personally be offended and it’s really down to you.
The element that stays with me from the experience is the knowing that everything arises to simply pass away and that intention in all action rules. The law of nature is such that if we create love, we receive love and if this is at the root of all we do, it will be at the root of all we experience too.