REFLECTIONS ON MY SECOND VIPASSANA COURSE
OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2016 PORTUGAL
BY JACK SACHER ©
This was my little hut during my stay
I am not a native English speaker, but it was important to me to write this text in English, because the whole course was taught in English and Portuguese. This text is not about writing skills, I just would like to share my personal experiences.
Vipassana Meditation is a technique taught by S.N. Goenka.
Originally from India, it was discovered by Buddha thousands of years ago. It was lost for decades, because those who practised it, changed the original technique. Somehow the technique in it’s pure form and Buddha’s pure words were kept by some of his followers in Burma.
When S.N. Goenka came into contact with Vipassana, it happened that more and more people wanted to learn it, so he started teaching. Up until today more than a hundred Vipassana centres exist over the whole world. The courses and the whole organisation were founded by means of donations. The courses are always free, but donations are welcome. The ten-day course follows a strict time table with about ten hours of meditation every day. The food intake should be reduced and only breakfast and lunch are served (vegetarian only). Although new students (which are students who take their first course) are allowed to have fruit, milk and tea for dinner.
The reduced sleeping time is justified within the meditation. You will need less sleep, because you meditate so much. Noble Silence is maintained during the course, you are not allowed to communicate in any way with the others. You are only permitted to talk to the manager and teacher. There are more rules to follow such as not to kill any beings, not to lie etc. If you maintain the meditation it is recommended to sit one ten-day course a year. You are advised to meditate one hour in the morning and one in the evening and you are expected to realize a positive change in your daily life very soon.
The technique itself teaches you to be equanimous with every situation or feeling. This leads you to a happier life. They postulate, that Vipassana is an „Art of living“. You have to live a life with morality and the good will to others.
The first three days, we did Anapana, which was observing the breathing and later on observing sensations between the edge of the upper lip and the area below the nostrils.
I tried to stick to the timetable very closely, I rested and slept in every break. When not meditating I was standing, lying or walking. I was lucky enough to have a lovely small wooden house on my own. The only disadvantage of it was the cold. The first two days it rained heavily and the nights were bitterly cold. After the first night I woke up with a terrible pain in my throat, therefore I took an Ibuprofen. I was hoping not get sick.
Anyway, all went well for me, although I was always rather hungry, I managed to cut my food portions down, as recommended by the meditation teacher.
On the fourth day, when we started Vipassana (which was observing the sensations all over the body) I was totally overwhelmed by a deep sadness. After the meditation I needed to cry a lot, but did not know why.
Somehow I could go back and listen to the evening discourse and join the last meditation that night. When I came back to my room I was feeling worse and worse. Not only mentally, also physically I felt painfully sick and I needed to cough a lot. I was desperate and very worried about my health, I thought I might get a pneumonia because of the cold air in my little shelter.
Anyway, I tried not to panic and get some sleep, because the next day I would need to get up at 4am like all the other days.
When I woke up the next day, I was not feeling better, I had no energy, felt rather weak and sad. So I decided to stay in bed to recover and not to meditate.
Around 8am, when the first group meditation started, the manager came and looked after me. I told her that I was not joining the meditation that day, so she went off and told the teacher. After a while a nurse came and gave me some tea, took my temperature and left me some propolis for my throat. After that, I felt much better mentally and stopped worrying about my health. I rested the whole day and was able to go back to meditation the next day, which went surprisingly well.
Because of the lack of sleep, food, physical activity and my body still feeling sick and coughing a lot, I reached a psychedelic state of the mind. I could meditate and all the physical problems (sitting still, the pain, holding the posture etc.) went away. I was able to sit nearly completely still for one hour, without any movements. I even felt the movement of the breath and my heartbeat disturbing and also tried not to breath in order to sit stiller. I experienced a free flow of energy through my body, which was very pleasant. Once it even felt like my body was dematerialising and lost it’s physical structure. Another time I felt like I was flying above the floor and sometimes I stopped feeling my legs, arms and it was impossible for me to visualize my actual posture.
The teacher said that it was very important that we did not react with craving or clinging to the pleasant sensations, so I tried not to react to much to them, but I have to admit that I felt quite happy after this experience. I was also lucky because it was actually the first time that I had felt a free flow or any pleasant sensation during meditation. The teacher said free flow happens, when the old „Sankharas“ of craving and clinging are coming to the surface. It is believed that Sankharas are our old stock of feelings like craving, clinging, aversion, anger etc. to a pleasant or unpleasant situation. That is what the whole Vipassana meditation is actually about. You try to observe all the sensations on the surface of the body and by not reacting to them, they are eliminated and by not reacting you stop creating new Sankharas, this process goes on and on, until the day where no old Sankharas are left, and you will be fully liberated, which means you are an enlightened person.
Goenka said that this is only possible because you learn, within your daily sittings, not to react to pleasant or unpleasant sensations.
In my ten-day retreat I was capable of connecting the daily discourses with my personal meditation experience. It suddenly happened that I understood that the sittings are not about finding the most convenient position or avoiding any pain that might appear but rather facing the pain. After this recognition I was able to sit still with my back straight and closed eyes. I barely moved and I faced my pain and waited for it to happen. After that sitting suddenly became very easy and I started enjoying my pain, knowing that I would get rid of my old Sankharas – mainly anger and rage. So I felt it was highly relieving. Another thing, I experienced, was an enormous heat all over my body, this happened in nearly every meditation session, I could have sat meditating naked, which was not possible – of course.
Another thing I noticed was that my period came four days earlier and without pain. Normally I would have had quite a strong pain on the first day, but this time I had no pain at all.
All in all it was an extraordinary experience and I would do it again, but next time the course would take place at my home. Doing this with about hundred people was also a bit distracting and required tolerance, which you develop in that course as well.
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