Vipassana Meditation Course, Pune, India
14.12.2007 - 25.12.2007 29 °C
Someone told me that the marathon is 26.2 miles long because at mile 20, you hit the mental "wall," and so the extra 6.2 miles is meant to see if you can break through that wall. Anybody can run the damn thing. If you train properly, you can condition your body to be physically able to run it. I didn't hit the wall during my 1st marathon. But my running buddy did... at about mile 17. We walked the rest of the way, not finishing with record time, but at least finishing. Still quite an accomplishment.
The year after that, I wanted to run the Chicago Marathon again. I hit the wall... at about -146 miles. I hit the wall while I was training halfway through the 5 month regimen. There was just too much stuff going on especially with finishing the last year up of grad school that it was hell on earth to get up at 5AM to run 6 miles or so. I remember the day I ran it. It was freezing. At about mile 5, I was like, "damn, I shouldn't have eaten that pizza last nite." And, "Damn, I shouldn't have eaten the left overs for breakfast." At about Mile 7, I saw a girl dressed up from head to toe as Catwoman, spandex, mask and all... and I remember wishing, "I hope you're chafing under that costume." I was miserable. Luckily, Ron ran the last 5 miles with me, with a sign, that read, "go Char go" so it got the whole crowd going and I just heard words of encouragement the rest of the way. I did it... cuz deep down inside, I knew that my body was ready. I trained for months, my body was physically able to do it. My mind wasn't.
But this 10 day Vipassana meditation thing makes a marathon look like a joke. We had to maintain "noble silence." No talking, no eye contact, no gesturing, no music, no reading, no writing. And that wasn't the hardest thing about it. It was the sitting and trying to concentrate, trying to bring your mind to focus on something other than the random thoughts going through your head. "What am I going to eat when I get home?" "Should I go to Miami again this year?" "What new movies are out at home?" "I wonder what everyone's doing for Christmas" I thought of everything under the sun. Who would've thought that sitting on your ass for 10 hours a day for 10 days would be so hard?
Here's the schedule:
4am: wake-up gong
4:30am-6:30am: Meditation in hall
6:30am-8am: Breakfast, bath time
8am-11am: Meditation in hall
11am-1pm: Lunch, laundry, exercise, rest
1-5pm: Meditation in hall
5pm: Tea and snack
6-7pm: Meditation in hall
7pm: video discourse
8:30-9pm: Meditation in hall
9:30pm: lights out
Everyday for 10 days... exhausting.
Vipassana roughly means "to be aware of the reality of now as your body experiences it." Abstract, I know. But it aims to teach us to stop being ignorant and to come out of misery. The whole purpose of the meditation is to sit there observing yourself from moment to moment, not trying to focus on the past or the future, which was one of the hardest things. It was SO hard to just focus on that moment and not let your mind wander from regrets in the past or to fantasizing about the future. The first couple of days, I sat thinking about what types of foods I craved when I got home, or what it would be like to drive again, or how I need a new pair of boots. My mind went everywhere, except to what was happening at that moment.
It took 10 days to teach us all the proper techniques about how to be more aware of our bodies and our feelings at the present moment. It takes account the concept that all things, even us humans, are simply matter; trillions of tiny subatomic particles that constantly change. So when we experience certain sensations, we develop feelings that may manifest themselves physically, but when completely broken down are just the everchanging subatomic particles. Then in response to the feelings, we react menatlly, vocally, or physically. For ex: anger may manifest itself as heart palpitations, flushing, faster breathing etc. Anger is unpleasant (duh) and thus we develop feelings of aversion of anger. And then we react by either vocally lashing out on someone or even hitting someone else. Why? You're miserable with the anger. And so are people around you. Through the course, we were given the methods to simply observe all the subtle and not so subtle changes our bodies were going through with the pain of sitting there (cuz that's what was happening at the present moment) and try not to develop feelings of aversion or craving for these sensations and thus not react in a negative way. A person isn't addicted to alcohol or nicotine. They're addicted to the sensation it gives them. So in theory, if you can observe the feelings these intoxicants give you, you won't develop the craving for the sensation, and thus, not need the alcohol or nicotine. When you observe something completely objectively (easier said than done) then the feeling goes away. So we sat there, knees hurt, back hurts, neck hurts, itch on my arm, cramp in my hip, foot fell asleep... and just tried to observe these feeling objectively... and they went away. It was weird, but it almost felt like I was observing my body like it didn't belong to me.
I came out of the experience feeling so refreshed. I was definitely mentally exhausted, but overall, I was just given the tools to "be happy." That was the main message... just be happy. This concept is so easy to intellectually understand... just so hard to practice. But I've been given the methods and so I have the chance to really try to stop being such a bitchy spoiled person, stop spreading misery with my own, and try to be happy... just takes some meditation.
On the last day of the camp, it was bittersweet. It felt so weird to talk. But almost like the whole experience could easily not have happened. You really have to keep up the practice of meditating to really feel balanced, cuz it's hard to get back to the real world and try not to be bothered by unwanted things happening and resorting to negatively reacting the way I had been acting for last 28 years to certain scenarios. Gotta break the habit.
This course also confirmed observations I've made about traveling. "It's easier to be ignorant, cuz with more knowledge, comes responsibility." It's hard to travel and realize that I've spent 200USD on a pair of Rock and Republics, but could have spent that probably feeding an entire town in the slums of India. If you pretend you never saw that beggar standing outside the restaurant, then you don't have to give them money, right? It's just easier to play stupid. How ignorant of me.
Also, "the more you plan and have expectations for someplace you visit, the more you'll get disappointed when those plans don't work out." Unwanted things happen all the time just as much as those things that you want to happen don't. So what to do? What can you do? Move on... don't dwell, don't regret, just be aware of that moment and how you can simply move on.
Does this make sense? I know it sounds like I'm a hippie believing in something completely New Age. (Don't worry Mom, I'm still a Catholic... just one who might be meditating at 4am every day). I've always been a skeptical person. Always studied the sciences and would have easily preferred a formula where you plug in numbers and data to receive a specific answer. Life's not so concrete and there isn't a formula to simply "be happy." I know I know I know.... easier said than done. But I've always been a person who hates saying things without doing them.
Here are some pics that I took of the camp...
The golden stupa of our meditation hall... our home for 10 hours of the day. We all sat on 2x2 foot pillows in neat rows. I also sat on a wool blanket for some extra cushion and had 2 small pillow supporting my knees so that my ligaments (don't ask me which ones, but I'm thinking the ITB) wouldn't overstretch.
The cafeteria... men and women were separated. No contact with the opposite sex, they always had separate enterances to the hall, were isolated in the cafeteria and in residences, and in the meditation hall. The cafeteria looks like a prison, huh?
My modest room a hard cot with a mosquito net. Had a private bath but had to take bucket showers, which I enjoyed... suprosed at how much water I waste taking showers at home. I night actually consider this bucket shower thing at home. Had a roomate, a lawyer from Mumbai. Didn't know her name or spoke to her one bit until the 10th day when the silence rule was lifted. Funny how I lived with her so peacefully and she was a complete stranger.
Christmas lunch with Priya, a member of our camp, in Pune with her father. The day we left the camp, she drove us back to the main center and let us unwind at her parents house. They also took us to a delicious Indian lunch. It felt wonderful to celebrate Christmas... didn't go to church but spent the morning meditating.