March 23 2017

FINISHING THE UNFINISHED (Blog no. 3 / March 2017): Vipassana meditation - silent 10 day meditation

13.3.2017

I don’t even know how to start writing about this experience. It was one of the hardest things I did in my life. One of the scariest. One that required a lot of mind power and almost no physical power. Yet my physical body was getting stronger every day, along with my mind. 

They say there is Yin and Yang in everything. Sometimes it is hard, sometimes easy. Sometimes you are happy, sometimes sad. Sometimes you feel warm, other times cold. Sometimes you can feel things and sometimes you can’t. And in between the black and the white colour there are infinite shades of grey. Always changing. Anicca. Anicca. Anicca.

I remember the first time I heard about Vipassana meditation. It was 3 years ago, in Thailand, talking to one guy – it was one of our first talks which later became our almost annual Thailand personal talks. At that time I didn’t understand why people do this. Nor how it can be possible to spend 10 days without talking and human contacts. I thought it surely isn’t my thing.  

3 years later I took the course. It was perfect timing. I was ready. I wanted to do it last year but it was getting away from me…being there but not really….my time was yet to come.

You really need to feel that it is a thing you want to do. That you are ready. Not that you should do it. Not that it is convenient. Not that you are just in the neighbourhood. Be sure. I knew I was sure when I applied and they said the course is full. I wasn’t relieved. I had a backup plan to go to another place, but I felt like Pokhara in Nepal was a perfect place for me. And yes, I got in, I found about it a few days earlier and was so happy. Not nervous. Not scared. It was my time.

Well the nerves woke up a little on the last day. I felt different emotions. I didn’t know that 10 days later I will look at my sensations in a totally different way. Just observing them with the awareness of Anicca, Anicca, Anicca…impermanence. And working hard on developing equanimity. Liberating!!

When I arrived at the centre I knew I was at the right place. Sometimes you just know. The view of the still lake, surrounded by mountains echoed tranquillity. 

After registration where you leave your money, passport and phone, you are asked again if you are sure you are willing to stay there for 10 days obeying the rules.  Although having a small doubt my answer was yes. The course starts at 8 PM when the silence starts. Complete silence – of body, speech and mind. Well I guess my mind didn’t sign the registration form because it just wouldn’t surrender its speech :)!!

Waking up at 4 AM wasn’t hard. Reducing the food quantity wasn’t hard – you don’t spend much calories so you don’t need much. In the evenings usually just some fruit with the tea was enough, so more times I declined the weird puffed rice with coconut and peanuts. The quality of the other food was so amazing, quite diverse: of course a lot of delicious Dal Bhat with different, unknown food, not just plain rice. But luckily I had enough selfcontrol there not to overeat otherwise meditation would be even harder. Funny how such a small thing like a delicious meal can make you stay nicer and a bit easier. I enjoyed eating slowly, consciously, each bite at a time and just experiencing different tastes and later also sensations. And after the meals I felt really good most of the times – in spite of eating so much dhal bat, beans, cauliflower my digestive system was very happy :)!

Sitting on a pillow more than 10 hours a day for meditation and another 1,5 hours for the Dhamma discourse was hard. Before I came I heard that somewhere you do also walking meditation or a lot of meditation in your room. Luckily I didn’t know what was yet to come otherwise I probably wouldn’t have come. On the first day we did get to spend two hours meditating in our room, which was so amazing because of the more relaxing atmosphere and because you could meditate with your back against the wall. The next day the teacher didn’t give us a choice – group meditation in the hall the whole day. The third day I was allowed again to meditate in my room for 2 hours, but from that day on I waited and waited and waited for him to let us meditate in our room. I waited in vain. I was craving it so much at one point that I was so disappointed when it didn’t happen. Looking back I can see that I was learning about the dangers of cravings and aversion first hand. Funny, soon I stopped craving it and on the ninth day we were allowed twice to go to our room to meditate and I stayed in the hall. It was ok. I gained more this way. I accepted it. I surrendered.

The pain starts already on the first day. It gets worse. Imagine sitting on the pillow without back support for 12 hours. The pain in the back starts combined with the pain in the knees. It is the worst. Of course some other parts of your body hurt also, but these two are the most painful. On the second day I wanted to ask the teacher if I could sit at the wall with back support. I was thinking that I didn’t come here to suffer and I am suffering so much. I was worried that the pain wouldn’t stop and I would hurt my back and my left knee. Then I realised something. All the people around me were also in pain. They were also very uncomfortable. And they were doing their best. So I said nothing and just kept on changing postures very often. Very often. Some were worse for my back, some for the knee, some for the ankle, some for the neck. So I just changed the point of the worst pain from one part of the body to another. And the pain was changing. Sometimes unbearable and the next time it wasn’t even there. I realised soon that the uncomfortable posture was actually important for the experience as it helps you to understand more about the nature of impermanence, Anicca. On the third day my knee hurt less and I was happy I didn’t say anything to the teacher. We all had our pains. And we were all doing our best. Sometimes a girl next to me was hurting so much. You could almost feel it. Besides giving her good vibrations subconsciously there was not much more I could do. But seeing her made me be more patient. Made me accept the situation I was in easier. Anyway I was there voluntarily. Despite making a vow not to leave until the end I was free to leave at any time. Except my stubbornness wouldn’t allow me to leave. Luckily :)!

For the first three and a half days you focus just on the breathing. On your nostrils. On feeling the subtle air come in and out. Just observing it without changing its natural flow. Feeling the nostrils where the air goes in and where it goes out. Focusing on feeling different sensations on the area above the upper lip and below the nostrils. This was hard. First you feel nothing. It sounds crazy to feel something there. But then all of a sudden you start feeling things! Some heat, some vibrations, some itching and other sensations. You are so happy that you can feel things until you can’t feel anything at all. You start again. Focusing, training your mind. Sometimes you feel it more, sometimes less, sometimes you have more sensations, sometimes they are weak. And you realize once again – everything changes. 

Of course the mind keeps on trying to get you to move from this crazy action of observing the breath. It feels boring just doing that and nothing else. It feels hard just focusing on your sensations and nothing else. So the mind takes you to different places. To the past, thinking about all sorts of events and adventures you had, your feelings and unresolved issues. You think about the future, planning your next adventure and thinking about all the things you will think anyway much more at the appropriate time. I spent quite some time thinking about my Mount Everest base camp trekking which was waiting for me. When will I do it, how will it be, what I need to do it but also I spent a lot of time in the past, thinking of all the things I had just bought in Pokhara for the trek. Thinking if I had made a good deal or I could have got even better price, although I got really a lot for a decent price. Being happy of all the new things I had bought, how well will they serve me, how pretty they are. Funny, on one hand I kept on listening to the course talks about the nonattachment, how it is important if you want to eradicate suffering. And on the other hand my attachment to new things was growing, I was thinking a lot about them :). The theory and the practise can be so far away - you can have all the knowledge, but if you don’t use it in practice you may as well be totally ignorant. Ignorance is even better, because if you know something and don’t put it into practice you can get very upset if you don’t accept that you just need more time. More practice.

And this is just what you do in Vipassana. Practice, practice, practice. Observing your sensations for 10 days so you can feel how much suffering you cause yourself. Not another person. Not another thing. Just yourself. By not accepting things as they are but being ignorant, reacting in craving or aversion, craving or aversion, craving or aversion. The attachment to it is really the thing that in my opinion makes you unhappy. If you want something to happen or not to happen it is still ok, but if you are attached to the result of it that makes you unhappy. If you are upset because the food you just got is not good, that is attachment which will in long term bring you misery. If you just acknowledge the situation and say to yourself: “It doesn’t matter because the feeling will pass anyway and next time the food will be completely different”, you feel much better. Now the situation presented is absurd but yet to me it happens not so rarely that the food influences my emotions :)! Sounds pretty crazy but it is true! I am sure I am the only one who feels this way :)!

On the 4th day you start learning about the Vipassana meditation. Observing your sensations all over your body. Starting from the top of the head and finishing at your feet. Going through every part of the body, inspecting it for sensations. Taking step by step you can start feeling the sensations all over your body. You feel cold, heat, pressure, pain, waves, vibration, moisture, dryness, flicker and all sorts of sensations that cannot be described by words. It is amazing what your mind can do. But you really need to focus just on what is there and not what you think should be there. Don’t search for a certain sensation but just observe. Observe with equanimity and the awareness of the impermanence, Anicca. It is hard. Sometimes really hard. Sometimes you just want to escape. Go away. It is overwhelming. And sometimes it feels natural. It feels good. It feels relaxing. 

Goenka (the teacher)  explains that you are doing an opened operation on yourself. And a lot of times it is exactly how it feels. Like parts of yourself are being peeled off. You seem lighter. But still sensitive. Much in pain. And the next moment the pain is gone. Fascinating. You feel complete resolution of all the pain and the feeling is amazing. But you need to be really careful not to get too attached to this new revelation otherwise you can start creating more pain in your life in order to later experience the resolution of it. Dangerous!

The 4th day after learning about how to do Vipassana and what kind of sensations you can feel I felt weird. I felt scared. I felt exhausted. I felt like this is too much for me. But later, step by step, I managed to keep on sitting and doing the operation. Keep on focusing on the sensations. 

Goenka’s Dhamma talks really help. Yeah sometimes I was already so tired and in pain that I struggled through it, but mostly it is great stuff. He is so funny. It is refreshing that after being serious and without human contact for the whole day you get to laugh. First it seems like you shouldn’t but he is just so funny that you cannot resist. His stories and explanation gives you the well needed motivation for doing this extraordinary thing. It feels like you are not alone. 

Although you are alone. Surely you have guidance, but what happens depends only on you. You can just fake it and think about other stuff, what happened years ago or what will happen next year. And sometimes that is just exactly what you do. Some memory comes into your mind. From years ago. Some emotions get freed. A lot of revelation come to surface, if you just let them. It is good if you try just to observe them and not react to them. Try not to be angry because you still have some unwanted emotions from the past, just observe them and be aware of the impermanence nature of everything. Sometimes it is possible other times very hard. But the point is to try. And do your best not to judge. 

I realised that to me there are two things that scare me and control my life. Two feelings. I want to be heard and seen. If I don’t feel like this sometimes I feel like I don’t exist. But it is also so much important to me that I am not a burden to others. That my existence doesn’t trouble others. Realising this made me think about a lot of things. How I react because of this two separate but connected feelings. Why sometimes I react in a certain way just because of this needs that I am striving for. It wasn’t the first time I realised the importance of this, but it was the first time that I became aware of the major impact this has on myself. A lot of times in my life I still feel like a burden. I don’t want to do something because I think I will burden somebody. I feel this pressure is very strong sometimes and although I do something the feeling of being a burden remains. And this leads to feeling guilty. This feelings are very strong in me, still, sometimes more than others. But realising the importance of this can make a difference. Making this conscious can have the effect of changing it. And I shall try my best!! Because usually it is a totally unreal feeling – if somebody wants to do something for me I should just accept it, be grateful and feel good because of the love he is sharing. And if somebody says something and feels differently, well that is actually hid problem not yours :)! So simple ! 

There is also one thing that is important to me and motivates me – having a positive impact on others. Maybe it is connected to the need to be seen but this is also very important to me. I makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel happy. 
I feel like I should focus more on the mentioned needs. To be more aware they are there and they need to be fulfilled, but not to let them run my life. 

I also had more memories from my past come up. Some quite old. I already though that all of my past remained in the past but still some bad memories and emotions are stuck in my body. I have been persuading myself that it is good what happened but still part of me, connected to my ego, is hurt. After so much time. That is crazy. And at the 10th day of Vipassana I really liked the effect of Metta meditation – it is a short meditation where you focus on generating love, peace, harmony and happiness, first towards yourself and then sharing it to all other beings! Including the ones that have hurt you. Or whom you have hurt. Lovely feeling that needs to me practiced more often. Completely letting go of the past. Not letting it get stuck inside of you. Hard but liberating.

A lot of times I thought about my family and friends. Some that are very close to me and some with whom we have grown apart. Or have some unresolved issue. I wanted to talk to them. Just explain them the qualities I see in them. Also wanting to talk to some despite that some maybe don’t want that. Misunderstandings and miscommunication happens all the time. But when it happens with people that are close to us it is very hard. You think it should be easy to listen to each other and try to find a solution that is good for both of you. A middle way. Especially at times when you start changing yourself also your relationships change. And if you don’t realise that all relationships need care, love and compassion, than at some point you reach a line of no return. You can’t go back to the relationship you had and you need to build a new one. But both have to be ready for this. Both must want this. I guess there just needs to come a better timing for some things to resolve. Just let the time pass and work hard on developing love and compassion. Towards yourself! And others!! And accept the fact that some things don’t get resolved.

The emotions I felt during a few hours of my free time, while not meditating, were changing. Sometimes I felt good to be finally doing this. Sometimes I felt exhausted. Sometimes worried. Mostly I was thinking about the things I will do later when I get out of the voluntary prison. This kept me escaping to the future instead of being totally present but sometimes it is the things that helped me survive. Although I tried not craving the future too much :)!
It was amazing how every step of the day I learn t about the changing nature of everything, the impermanence, Anicca. 

The nature that surrounded us kept on reminding us that. It is amazing how much the views changed. When it was clear we could see the Himalaya Mountains around Anapurna. While walking up to the dining hall I already knew if it was a clear day. All the girls stopped on the path and were facing back to the beautiful mountain view over Begnas lake. The view made me feel calm and alive at the same time. And every day, every minute, the view was different. Sometimes you could see all of the mountains, sometimes just a few, sometimes just the top of them, otherwise they were covered in cloud. And their colours were magnificent, covered in snow, sometimes they were covered in shadow, sometimes in light. When the first morning sunlight came it felt like they were on fire. Alive. Gorgeous. And the next day the mountains in the distance were gone. Like they don’t exist. You could see only the smaller mountains in front of them. Some days it was raining. It felt like rain was washing our past away. And also the temperature was different every day – from being really warm to cold, so also this effected our sensations. But being cold or warm, it is all just a sensation. And it passes. 

On the 8th day you are supposed to be even more focused on yourself, not looking around. This was easier because on these days the view wasn’t clear, but the monkeys that came to visit our home made it more difficult – jumping on our roof and on the trees around us, minding their own business. They were so cute! So this made me being focused on the outer world for a while, but at other times I was trying to do the meditation and be aware also during nonmeditation hours. Walking and being aware of different sensations in my body. Eating and being aware of the different tastes and other sensations. I already know that I often use food to comfort myself or to deal with my emotions. Now I realised why. While eating good warm food it makes me feel warm, safe and loved. Such strong emotions I can get from food sometimes! And having cold food that was supposed to be warm could made me feel cold, unwanted. Wow, such a revelation, I realised that this is the reason that I like to eat food warm and get sometimes upset if it is not warm anymore :)!

I also realised that I process a lot of my sensations through my stomach or the area around it. If there is an unpleasant sensation in a part of my body I get some unpleasant sensations in my stomach. Also pleasant sensations are processed through it. Now I understand more why a lot of my problems were connected to this area – digestive problems, pains, disturbances. I guess it is just overwhelmed with sensations and emotions that it is just too much to handle sometimes. Also at some point I thought I was observing a sensation in a part of my body, like a pain in my back. I thought I am observing it with equanimity but I realised that soon I started feeling a bit sick in my stomach, although the pain was completely on a different place. So now my focus was on observing the sensations in my stomach, with equanimity and awareness of impermanence.

Usually I could feel a lot of sensations flowing in my legs and arms. Focusing on the head was a bit hard at the beginning but soon I felt a lot of sensations all over it. And the pressure in my head was really strong, I felt like the mind is working so hard and it really was! When I was focused enough I went deep inside my body searching for sensations not just on the surface but deeper. Here I could feel a whole new level of sensations, very strong and scary at some times. But after this I felt like having a deep tissue body massage, although sitting in an uncomfortable posture for a while I felt relaxed. Especially my back felt so good. 

Like everything else also the meditation experience changed constantly. On the 7th day I felt so good. It felt easy to meditate and also relaxing. I already thought that this actually is not so hard and that I am over the hardest part and am almost at the finish line. In the afternoon everything changed completely. I felt bad, hurt, in so much pain. I couldn’t focus. I wanted to escape. Run away. Not be there. Just go. I felt like I cannot do it anymore. But then I started to observe these feelings, trying not to react. They are just sensations so I just observed them with the awareness of the nature of impermanence. And this made me survive and stay. I felt proud at the end of the day. 

After this I had some meditations that were easier and others harder. But I already knew by that time that everything passes. And as the course was coming to an end I was actually a bit sad to leave. There was a safe place to do Vipassana meditation and get to know myself better and in a normal life I will be all alone. Now everything I have learnt and felt will need to be practiced and worked on. If I want, of course. And I do want. Now after more than one week I still meditate every day. I try to do it 2 hours like it was suggested, sometimes I do a little less but sometimes I also do it while driving in a bus, trekking or just doing some random thing. Being aware of the sensations and just observing them in the form they arise, not reacting, understanding that they will pass away.

The last meditation we did before we were able to talk to each other was really nice. Usually I have problems being patient and when something is coming to an end I am already in the future, but this time it was different. I sat for the whole hour without moving although it was hard at some points, because of the knee and the back pain. But when the bell rang, I calmly sat for a few moments more and just enjoyed the experience. Not in pain, not hurrying anywhere else. Just being there, in peace. 
When we came out of the hall, the sun was shining and the amazing view returned. The first eye contact I made was with my roommate, Elisa from Italy. When our eyes met, it was magical, we didn’t have to say anything more. We were so grateful to being able to experience this together. With all the girls it was like this – we didn’t talk much before but we felt a great connection between us. 

The 10th day you get to spend in the same environment but getting ready for the outside word, so you can start talking. So you do just a little of meditation and a lot of talking. And seeing the guys was weird. There is strict separation between males and females, although in a meditation hall the line is just some flowers put in the middle of the room. But I wasn’t aware of them mostly, I turned them off for 9 days, but now the power is back on ;)!

And one thing I have realised, although it is so simple: pain doesn't equal suffering. Suffering is a state of mind - you can be in so much pain and not suffer and suffer although have no physical pain ;)!! Let's try not to suffer anymore ;)!

I have learnt so much about being patient, a lesson I really needed! Since then I have no problems sitting in a bus for 7 hours (instead of expected 5 hours), 3 days in a row:)! I accept that this is Nepal :)!!

I am so grateful for this experience and proud of myself that I managed to take so much from it. Now, what happens next is all up to me. This feels scary but empowering at the same time! I am determined to do my best and keep on meditating, taking time for myself and just trying to observe the things as they are, being aware of the impermanent nature of everything. Anicca, Anicca, Anicca :)!