If you ask most people what it is they truly want, you will likely hear, ” peace and harmony.” In an attempt to find my own inner peace, I recently went on a 10 day silent meditation retreat. Many of my friends and clients are curious about my 10-day meditation experience. The best way I could describe my experience was to say it was a cross between, being a monk or nun, and a prisoner.
The most common first reaction is, “I could never do that, 10 days without talking or eye contact, just sit and meditate all day, you don’t eat dinner!” When I think back to past events at the center, I am amazed by how quickly time went by. While a day of 10+ hours of meditation passed by unexpectedly easier than I had imagined, 10 days of meditation with the same daily schedule passed by incredibly slow at times as well, I must admit, there were days when I was extremely bored. There were days that I was peaceful and totally blissed out and there were days when I thought if I had to listed to one more raspy, guttural chant I would lose my mind and be locked away forever (especially on day 2 & 6). There were days when the chanting lasted for what seemed forever and in the days to follow there were times I longed for this assault on my senses, because it meant that the one hour of no movement that filled me with joint pain, sleeping legs and excruciating back pain was about to come to an end! For me it truly was a love (craving)/hate (aversion) relationship. To fully understand what I am referring to click this link: Shri SN Goenka – (Vipassana metta chant)
At times I was grateful to be there in the silence and doing something just for me, and there were times I felt like crap, was in pain and felt like I was in some self imposed prison camp.
“What type of meditation was this” you ask?
Vipassana meditation, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was taught in India more than 2500 years ago as a universal remedy for universal ills and purification on the mind.
The four qualities of a pure mind are:
- metta-selfless love
- mudita-sympathetic joy
There were roughly 28ish men and 23ish women present at the retreat and we were segregated, the men had access to one side of the site and the women the other – with separate dining halls and a separate field and woods where each group could meander around and be in nature.
This course was conducted in noble silence, what does that mean?
Well, Noble Silence is a technique used by a lot of Buddhists, monks, and nuns in which a person refrains from speaking, eye contact or gestures as a way to help quiet the mind and condition the body. For me it was a way to focus internally without being taken out of my process by focussing on someone or something else. As one who does healing, I naturally and constantly make others a priority. I am easily distracted by their needs, and…voila, I no longer have to focus on my stuff. With 10 days of noble silence I was unable to allow myself to be taken of task. Although I felt myself being pulled this way or that at times by the many who were in pain or ill, I tried to remain focused on the fact that I could do nothing to assist them, I had to hold them as able and allow them to go through their own process…amazingly, everyone survived! For me this was a major breakthrough and I released a deeply entrenched habit pattern.
The daily schedule was as follows:
4:00 Morning wake up bell
4:30 – 6:30 Meditation
6:30 – 8:00 Breakfast and rest
8:00 – 9:00 Meditation
9:00 – 11:00 Meditation
11:00 – 12:00 Lunch
12:00 – 13:00 Rest / interviews with the teacher
13:00 – 14:30 Meditation
14:30 – 15:30 Meditation
15:30 – 17:00 Mediation
17:00 – 18:00 Tea break (only fruit)
18:00 – 19:00 Meditation
19:00 – 20:15 Video discourse by S.N. Goenka
20:15 – 21:00 Meditation
21:00 – 21:30 Question time
We were provided with two fantastic vegetarian meals each day, breakfast and lunch. At dinner time, we had a shorter break and were served fruit and tea. I must say people can be very creative when they receive the same food selection every evening for 10 days! For the evening break, many students soon discovered that a little cinnamon and honey on sliced banana or apples was a good combination. I even noticed one person mush up banana in a bowl and add hot water and honey. Others made fruit salads. I tried several of the previous options, closer to day 7 I began just having a 1/2 of a banana and some Bengal spice tea. surprisingly I wasn’t hungry in the evening and it all turned out just fine.
Those who were there in serve as volunteers were absolutely fabulous. I am sooooo very grateful to them for their loving contributions and have already decided that I will go back in a service role to contribute on another level.
I learned that my cravings/desires (raga) or my aversions (dosa) to certain things (possession, emotions, beliefs) create strong attachments. Suffering, unhappiness, anger, hatred, greed, jealousy, dissatisfaction, disappointment, frustration, pride, arrogance, fear and worry are all derived from craving and aversion.
When the mind is being over-powered by craving or aversion, or continual focus on desires or aversions lead to patterns in the unconscious mind that are connected to the sensory output. This then transforms any attachment to a craving or aversion we develop into what is referred to as a “sankhara.”
According to our teacher S.N. Goenka the body creates these sankharas; deeply rooted mental patterns with some kind of karmically reactive energy knot that generates impure thoughts and actions. They are basically habitual patterns we have learned over the years or lifetimes buried in the unconscious mind that we respond to. They in turn begin to trigger our cravings or aversions or avoidances. Most people try to stop craving or stop avoiding at the activity level i.e. “I won’t have a drink tonight” Regular Vipassana practice assists us to observe our sensations with equanimity, by doing so, we begin to stop generating new sankharas, and our old ones bubble up to the surface and get evaporated. When we evaporate all our sankharas, we become enlightened.
For someone like me whose specialty is removing patterns from the unconscious mind, I was delighted to discover a technique that I could use to eradicate these blueprints not only this lifetime but from all lifetimes.
Through Vipassana meditation we discover that our happiness does not depend on manipulating the external world, we only have to see ourselves clearly in order to free out deep seated patterns. It is the method by which the Gautama Buddha and his disciples freed themselves from every form of suffering and attained awakening and enlightenment, it is not Buddhism. In Vipassana meditation we do not call on the assistance of god, spirit or any other external power, is a independent method, open to people of any faith or none at all, you and you alone through your own efforts find mastery.
So what was my personal meditation experience like?
In Goenka’s teaching, Vipassana goes as follows: feel the sensations in your body, both the gross sensations (like pain in your knees) and the subtle ones (like just focus on your hands, right now, and after a few seconds you’ll probably feel a little tingling, or maybe heartbeat-like pulsing.) Notice them, develop your awareness, and also develop your equanimity, don’t react to them with clinging or aversion.
Some sittings were very eventful, others were distracting, some boring, others blissful, some intriguing. When all is said and done, what I have learned is that instead of labeling or judging each sitting, I have become a silent observer. In fact, I now realize that if I become attached to a experience in a sitting I may begin to crave that, if I begin to dislike a bored sitting then I may begin to create aversion for it, this in turn begins the cycle again and creates new sankharas!
My intention was to go and do something for me, self healing. In doing this I in turn make the world a better place. I learned a lot about my body and my mind during the process and in the week since. So life becomes an observation and as I observe all aspects of it without cravings or avoidances, I begin to release myself from my disharmonious patterns and misery…this has got to be good for all those I come in contact with…allelujah!
I wish you all compassion on the path to liberation,
Rev. Carol Lefevre