Saturday, June 26, 2010

How I experienced four days of a ten day Vipassana meditation course

Well first off, it was hard. But I'm getting ahead of myself. At the recommendation of my friend Hadas, I signed up for a ten day Vipassana course. She thought ti might do me a lot of good. It's ten days of silence, ten days of meditation, ten hours a day. The meditation is guided by audio tapes of S.N. Goenka, who teaches the meditation method by video discourse at the end of each day. No speaking( except to ask the assistant teacher a question or if you need something), no intoxicants, no reading, no music, no sexual activity. It's meditating, resting, eating(delicious vegetarian food) and sleeping.

The course took place outside of the City of Rogue River here in Southern oregon. At a private residence in the woods, very beautiful. Now I've never meditated before. I mean I've never sat down and consciously meditated. I know I've meditated on things before, just thinking, or praying. But never meditated to increase my level of awareness of my mind and body, which is part of what Vipassana is. So it was hard. First off, physically. if a week ago I had sat down and meditated for an hour, similarly to what i do sometimes in yoga, just sitting indian style, following my breathing, I would have had a better idea of what i was getting myself into. It hurt to stay in one position for one to two hours at a time. I tried a number of different positions while there, finally on the third day moving to the back of the meditation hall so i could sit up against the wall, which helped. So the first three days were hard physically including the fact that I slept poorly the whole time, nodding off over and over while meditating.

Obviously, it was mentally hard. It's all about focusing the mind on one thing, at first your breathing, then specific areas of your body. Focusing on these, being aware of them and aware of the sensations you feel connected to them. And when I was doing it really focused, it was a wonderful feeling of being at Peace and being very aware. Though most of the time, I was out of focus distracted by being physically uncomfortable or in pain, or just by the distracting nature of my mind. I must have had every song in my ipod stuck in my head, popping up all the time. I also had a tough time not thinking about the future, my plans, things i need to do. It's not easy to live in the present and only the present.

It was on the fourth day that things really changed. The first three days were just preperation for the actual vipassana meditation. The actual vipassana started with the focusing on our entire bodies, section at a time. Focus on the head, then the neck, then the shoulders etc. Being aware of whatever sensations pop up along the way. Anything. Warmth, tightness, vibration, pressure, anything. That wasn't so much of problem. It was the fact that we were discouraged from changing positions at all, as well as discouraged from leaving the meditation hall until the end of the one or two hour long session. Sure i could move to change positions or leave the room if I wanted, though slowly and quietly so as to interrupt my own medition and the meditions of others as little as possible. But I was already physically suffering and this just compounded it. The final straw for me was that i realized I was in pain physically and feeling very claustrophobic. There were walking trails but very short that looped back to the meditation hall. I couldn't really walk far to be alone. Couldn't make eye contact with the other participants, had to behave like I was alone there. Couldn't play guitar, sing. Couldn't scream.

So I left. They were really nice about it even though when you start you vow that you will stay the whole ten days. I'm not embarrased or ashamed. Sometimes I feel like I'm surrounded here on the west coast, particularly in ashland, by amatuer yogis and practitioners of every meditation technique or tai chi or hear circles or ancestral healings. I've been a Jew all my life, in fact I always will be. Point is, my Jewish upbringing taught me to pray,to read words from books. But nobody taught me how to feel, how to think, how to just be. So I sometimes feel like I have a lot of work to do to get where I want to be. I learned a lot in those four days. I learned a few simple techniques to help me focus and sharpen my mind to be aware of different aspects of myself. I can't tell you what I would have learned the next six days cause I wasn't there. But maybe someday I will.

I'm back home in Ashland. Back to work, back to friends, my housemates, music, my guitar, the farmer's market, the park, bonfires and full moons. Life.

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