From December 27th to January 4th, I spent my days in silence, meditating. Upon arrival at one of these courses (Vipassana), you are asked to surrender your phones, any books/magazines, notebooks, and any food items. You are assigned a bed in a dormitory room and then the days start with a wake-up gong at 04:00 a.m. You pretty much meditate, seated, in your room or in the meditation hall, all day, with breaks for breakfast, lunch and tea (no dinner) until about 19:00 in the evening when you listen to a discourse. At around nine it's bedtime. And then you wake up at 04:00 to start it over again.
I sat my first Vipassana course over New Years 2011-2012. Since then I've either been sitting or serving (working in the kitchen, silence not required) at a course once a year. I've also sat a couple of 1-day courses, and I meditate daily.
Sitting for one hour, without changing the position, which seemed like a ridiculous impossibility the first time around, has become quite easy and painless.
The biggest struggle continue to be the mind. Oh, the monkey mind. It jumps from topic to topic. It replays painful events endlessly. It judges, fears, wallows. And it colours our moods, and affects our well-being in a major way. That is why, sitting in a pool of silky warm water, the color of emeralds, looking out over a stunning landscape, in the company of our best friends, won't feel amazing, won't make us happy the way it ought to, if our minds are not in the right place. How many amazing things have happened to us, that we haven't been able to fully enjoy or even experience, because our minds were full of painful memories, or of worries, or fear or self-loathing?
That is why it is so important to train the mind. In yoga asana we train the body; we stretch and strengthen it, scrutinize hidden corners and explore possibilities. And sure, having a strong, healthy body is going to affect our mental well-being. But I believe that reigning the mind in is even more important. And we do some of that in our asana practice as well, as the framework of a class should be to explore and accept the present moment.
But back to the meditation course in the Bavarian mountains. I said that it had become quite painless to sit. Well, that was true up to the first one hour group sitting. Three times a day, at these courses, you sit together with everyone for one hour, and are strongly encouraged not to change your position. Which in the past has been fairly easy for me. Not so this time. My back turned into a battlefield of pains and aches, little pinches, stabs and general weirdness. Sitting still for even twenty minutes became a real struggle. And because sitting was such a hardship, and it was impossibly to become concentrated, I started blinking my eyes open here and there (you are not supposed to, and I never ever have since the first course) and feeling envy of the others that mostly looked serene, or like junkies nodding off. Which surely must feel great. I kept on trying different things. This leg in front. No the other. Half-lotus. Oh fuck that hurts. Kneeling. On three pillows. No, that's too much. Two. Maybe if I put a blanket under my knees. I kept on squirming. Wallowing in my own misery. Sneaking glances at my watch to see how much torment time remained. Knowing fully well that time isn't linear. And that a minute can feel like and eternity. And an eternity can pass in the blink of an eye. Anger was swelling in my chest. Doubts that this even was useful. Am I just wasting my time?
But in the breaks, when all there was to do, after eating the delicious food (and finally, at least, I seem to have learned not to overeat), was resting and walking, and maybe flossing (my teeth get so clean at Vipassana) or cutting my toenails. My mind, while not constantly bombarded and overloaded, grew bored, and then, out of boredom, rising like a phoenix from the ashes, came idea after idea. Wow, interesting thoughts. Also, the few moments when I managed to stay still and accepting, and keep my awareness focused on the breath, or on the body scanning, are incredibly healing and restful. So much so, that towards the end of one of these courses, I have so much energy that it's hard to sleep at night.
On Day 5 I started having an easier time sitting. It still wasn't like before. But I started hitting these waves of extreme pleasure, that I was riding and riding, and that helped override the aches in the back and groins. At Vipassana this is explained as becoming so concentrated that you can feel the subatomic particles, kalapas, doing their eternal energy dance. CHANGE! Others would perhaps describe this as awareness, as being present. As BEING. HERE. NOW. Instead of always being then and there. Others might describe this as touching the bliss body. Some will say it feels like a full-body orgasm. Sometimes I think that a lot comes down to linguistics.
In any case, these experiences helped me prolong my sittings. And also made me feel certain I am on the right path.
Most people, when I tell them about Vipassana, wonder why I put myself through such torment. My answer is that there are dimensions I must enter to see what I am made of.