The reality as it is,
not as you want it to be.
I have always been interested in the practice of meditation. When you go to yoga class, it is usually integrated as a small part of the practice. And there were times when I used the Insight Timer app to get rid of anxiety.
A while ago my partner and I talked about Vipassana and how interesting it sounds to be away from the daily routines, to stop the overload of to-do or the want-to-do lists for 10 days and focus on the here and now.
The first time I heard about Vipassana was while traveling in northern Thailand where I met fellow travelers who shared their experiences of the course. I could only feel a lot of respect for them then that they were able to complete such a course.
Today I feel the same respect plus gratitude for myself for completing the course. I have to say I had my ups and downs, but it was worth it, and I highly recommend this experience.
Day of arrival
Not knowing what to expect and not having time to overthink it, I drove with a fellow participant to Dhamma Medini, 1 hour north of Auckland City.
The car we were driving was a minivan that had been transformed into a tiny house and packed to the roof with my driver’s belongings.
On the dashboard in front of me was a small wooden sign that read, “Adventure awaits”. It felt like someone put it there on purpose because that was a summary of what I was feeling at the time.
After a twisty ride through the forest we arrived at our destination. I must say I was feeling a little nervous. We both received our room number, which led us to the most basic room imaginable.
6 square meters, a bed and some hooks to hang your clothes on. But it already felt perfect, we wouldn’t need more. Back to the main building to complete my registration we had to sign a document with some restrictions to follow. Most of it I read before arriving, but when I read the sentence, acknowledging that it would be tough mentally and also physically, I thought like “Oh, ooohw, physically tough?”
In recent years I’ve been pushing my physical limits while cycling or running, so I thought it would be fine.
The day ended with lentil soup and our first session in the meditation hall, which was also the beginning of noble silence. That means no talking, no eye or physical contact, and no reading or writing.
Since I could not write down my experiences, I can share some memories of the course with you.
I’ve been home for 1 week now, so some of them will already have faded. And not to spoil too much from the experience, I’ll try to limit it to one topic per day.
Every morning the bell rang at 4:00 am and I needed a quick shower before the start of the meditation at 4:30 am. The days were strictly timed and meditation sessions followed smoothly with breaks and rest periods. Breakfast at 6:30 am followed by meditation in the hall from 8:00 am to 11:00 am, lunch time. Rest until 1:00 pm to meditate again until 5:00 pm, where the bell announced it was time for dinner.
Not a big meal but fruit is served at that time. I was a little concerned if this would give me enough energy for breakfast at 6:30am the next day. My body had to adapt to this but after a few days I got used to it.
The day was not over after our fruit break. Another meditation session was scheduled, followed by a discourse by the teacher who explained the theoretical part of Vipassana and told stories that were recognisable situations of our behavior as human beings.
The sessions ended at 9:00 pm and I can assure you, I was already asleep at 9:15 pm.
Looking for the right sitting position
Some sat on the meditation mat, others were building castles with all the cushions they could find.
I saw benches or extra supports for your back to lean against. I struggled to find the right position so that I could sit still for a long time. Each session I added or removed a pillow and wished I could sit on as few pillows as possible. It was that feeling of craving that I had to put aside and soon I found my perfect pillow combination. 3 pillows to sit on and a rolled-up pillow under each of my legs.
Days were hot and very humid and on the night of day 3 to 4 I woke up feeling nauseous and terrible.
At a moment like that you just want to go home. Luckily I was so tired and sleep quickly took over.
From that evening on, I added some salt to my water in the afternoon and evening, which made me feel much better during those hot days.
The beginning of the Vipassana teachings
For the past few days, our focus has been on the sensations of the nose area and above the upper lip.
You won’t feel much at first, but the more you focus on one specific area, the more new sensations you start to feel. Vipassana on the other hand teaches you to focus on the sensations throughout the entire body and how to experience them objectively without judgment.
You know, even we had to observe noble silence, there are people who are very noisy. Body language is very powerful and it was good practice for me not to focus on aversion towards them because there was a loud person sitting in front of me in the meditation hall. 🙂
In the Day 04 discourse, the teacher repeatedly uses the phrase “Be equanimous.”. Not being a native English speaker, I had no idea what that word meant. Fortunately, we were able to speak to an assistant teacher during lunch. Ruth, the female assistant teacher is a kind, patient and lovely person.
Just seeing her from afar in the meditation hall, it was a pleasure to speak with her face to face. Equanimity means keeping balance, being grounded and centered. Not leaning towards the sensation of craving or aversion.
The meditation center was surrounded by a beautiful tropical forest. And during the breaks we could wander around and enjoy the cooler temperatures and the beauty that nature offers us.
Ferns in all sizes, colours and shapes. And every time you walked through the woods, you discovered something new. On some days you could even discover items made by fellow students. Like a big heart, made of leaves, at the beginning of the path. Or small collages, with elements of the forest, on the benches. Because some students, including me, added elements to those nature collages, they grow and grow. It was our way of connecting and saying “Everything will be fine, we are here to support you.”. They always sparked joy and on the more difficult day those little works of art made me feel stronger.
Oh hello body, yes, I feel you
The fatigue sets in and my muscles feel very sore. It’s time for some extra rest and to skip a day of forest walks.
Although you ‘just sit’ while meditating, it requires a lot of effort from your body. Especially during the sessions they ask you not to move for an hour. Sure, you start to feel pain here and there, but the lesson is how to respond to those sensations and realise that everything is impermanent.
What I haven’t mentioned before is that during this course we were with about 80 participants. Men and woman are separated and the only time we join in one room is in the meditation hall.
As the days go by, you notice that many have created their own routines and habits. There was the girl always leaning on a beam outside her room, the old lady sitting on a chair in front of her door watching others. The same people who kept walking along the forest path during breaks, like me. Those who like to lie in the sun and then I heard about a lady who studied our names by remembering the name tags in the dining room.
Talk to assistant teacher
The mornings were beautiful, the stars and moon still high in the sky, the sun rose with beautiful pink skies.
Today was my last chance to talk to the assistant teacher.
Because sometimes my mind is like a record playing the same negative thought over and over, I wanted to hear her opinion on this. She said it’s okay that I realise the negative thought is there, but the key is not to react to it or focus on it. It’s like saying, “Okay thought, I see you are here, but I don’t have time for you.” And you try to focus on your sensations.
The day when we can talk again
Perhaps one of the hardest days for me. After the morning session we were allowed to talk again.
And 80 people who start talking after 10 days of silence… you can imagine, it was LOUD.
It was all overwhelming for me, so I went to the woods to let it all sink in. But I realised I couldn’t keep escaping it and it would be nice to hear how the other student had experienced this course.
But I must say it was exhausting and I felt my body needed more energy and more food.
Meditation sessions were still scheduled, but I found my mind drifting in all directions instead on focussing on my sensations.
Last morning meditation and discourse of the teacher. After breakfast it is time to go home.
I will miss it, miss the forest, miss the time and space you have to meditate. It will not be easy at home to integrate the sessions into my agenda.
Don’t know if she’ll ever read this. But I’d like to thank Mei for the car talk we had when we went back to Auckland City. It was a conversation about our experience and about life in general. It was great to hear her thoughts on all of this.
What I learned from the 10 days.
Due to the overload of sensations coming in from the outside, we can no longer feel what is going on at the inside. We try to respond to those attacks by holding a shield, running away to something we like, or to bounce back with a sense of aversion. But this doesn’t solve the real problem.
What I understood is that it is a matter of looking deeper into why you are reacting to something and above all that if your energy and time should be wasted on this situation.
I have learned that we can change our way of thinking and not run away from incoming sensations. even if something goes wrong, nothing is permanent.
Accepting the reality as it is,
not as you want it to be.
I feel that I can better deal with negative thoughts or difficult situations by not reacting immediately with a feeling of aversion. Instead I recognise the feeling, I don’t try to push it away but also don’t try to give it attention.
I truly believe this course would help so many people understand why they react and why they have certain thoughts about themselves, the people around them or the world.
It was a real eye-opener for me.
If after reading this post you would like to share your thoughts or have a question.
Don’t hesitate to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org or to leave a comment bellow.