Sunday, December 20, 2009

vipassana - prelude

Vipassana means to see things as they really are. It is an ancient meditation technique having its roots in the Buddhist traditions. It is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.

Vipassana is taught at a 10-day residential course and there is a certain discipline one must commit during the course. This includes to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual activity, speaking falsely, and intoxicants. Also, all students must observe Noble Silence from the beginning of the course until the morning of the last full day. Noble Silence means silence of body, speech, and mind. Any form of communication with fellow student, whether by gestures, sign language, written notes, etc., is prohibited.

In addition, no outside communications is allowed before the course ends. The playing of musical instruments, radios, etc. is not permitted. No reading or writing materials should be brought to the course. Students should not distract themselves by taking notes. The restriction on reading and writing is to emphasize the strictly practical nature of this meditation.

I first heard about Vipassana a few years ago and it sounded really intense. So I did not pay much attention and forgot about it really fast. I anyways always had difficulties meditating for even a minute let alone 10 days... However after coming to Ubud, I kept hearing it more and more... Mostly with very positive comments attached to it. I did my own research around it and the more I found about it, the better it sounded. Then one day, I visited the official website and applied for a Vipassana in Thailand during the christmas-new year period. (Special thanks go to my friend Anders, his openness in sharing his experiences was probably among the biggest influences for me to take this step) It turned out that all 4 centers in Thailand were fully booked, however then almost miraculously I found a spot in Java, Indonesia. This happened in early November and since I got accepted I am looking forward for this experience.

Our daily lives do not encourage us to feel. Without further discouragement from the environment, it is anyways difficult to feel and to stand with whatever is going on. Hiding your feelings, pretending nothing's happened and going on like “business as usual” are more socially accepted than saying “hey, that hurt like hell, so I just need to take time to heal myself”. We don't want to appear vulnerable, we don't want to show our weaknesses, frustrations or anger. Slowly our “human” side gets to be buried under a lot of debris. They never disappear by themselves, they are stored somewhere and keep piling up. Waiting for the opportunity to be expressed....We just lose contact with them and forget they exist. Once in a while, we may see the tip of the iceberg

There's a lot that can distract us from feeling. Keeping busy is a perfect way to keep out focus outside and pretend that our insides also comply with it. Spending a lot of time on computer games, drinking or have any hobby that we give an obsessive amount of time and energy... Then of course is over-working. What is a more socially acceptable way of ignoring our own feelings and our significant ones than staying 12 hours a day in the office? Anything that keeps our attention on the outside, be it a computer screeen, movies, excessive eating, having a very busy social schedule to avoid taking a moment to focus inside to see what's going on there. It is painful.

We don't need to have major dramas or childhood traumas for that pain. Facing the very simple fact that we ignored ourselves all this time and suppressed our feelings is painful. To observe what's going on, to hear what we have to say, what we really want, to see ourselves for who we really are... Sometimes even recognizing our strengths, out talents is a challenge. Because we see what we are capable of, but simply do nothing about it.

During the Vipassana, I will sit for 10 hours a day just focusing on the breath. Observing how the breath comes in and goes out is a gateway to stepping into deeper emotions; the true self. And there is no escape, no TV to numb the brain, no computer to distract the attention, no music to sway the feelings away, no talking to tune into how others' feel. Knowing that my mind is quite skilled in distracting me in whatever ways possible, I know this will not be easy. There will be a lot that I will see and feel for the first time; for what they really are. And there won't be anything to distract me this time. Hell, there's not even yoga so I can only focus on how my poor hamstrings are hurting...

6am Monday morning, I will be taking the bus to Bogor and arriving there 27 hours later if there are no delays (I was told that the roads flood a lot during the rainy season, so even a 10-hour delay would not be unheard of). Then Tuesday afternoon, I will check-in to the ashram and stay with myself until 2nd January morning. Yeah, I kind of like myself, but don't know if the love between us is strong enough to keep us together for 11 days :)

Vipassana looks scary to me in many ways, but what feels better than being scared of something and doing it anyway? The journey may be rough but I know the end result will be only good for me.

Stay tuned for the post-Vipassana observations :) 
Happy new year everyone

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