Bit late with this week’s musing on meditation. Sorry – I took a holiday yesterday.
Here we go with Part Four of my thoughts/feelings about my recent adventures at a 10-day Vipassana Retreat. The series starts with What is is, Why I went, What you DO.
One thing I quite enjoy about this particular form of vipassana that I am practicing is that – for now – for ME – it is an entirely experiential technique. I am sorely tempted, of course, to run off and find all I can to READ about the philosophy and beliefs BEHIND vipassana as taught by Goenka. About Goenka and the Vipassana Centres and about Buddhism in general. But I am purposefully focusing myself on the practice of Sitting and feeling for myself the effects of this Sitting without TOO much input from others. For now, I am content to explore this practice for myself. In this body.
That said, I also feel the need to talk with you about a few things that … I THINK about as well. There were things Goenka said in the discourses each evening that… will need further exploration. Things that… I have doubts or concerns about. I want to talk about them, in case you are reading these posts and decide to attend a retreat and find yourself sitting there going “OH MY GAWD IS THIS SOME CRAZY CULT??!!! What the hell has Pam encouraged me to explore here?”
I totally do NOT think that this is a cult. But there are things that sent my Cult radar a-tingle. There is the isolation factor. The, to some, “strange food”. The intense schedule. The chanting. The repetition of things. The watching of some old guy on a video talking to you each night being the only real “INPUT” each day. The seeking of enlightenment. The idea that this form of meditation has been saved in a “pure form” and passed down through a line of teachers.
Scared yet? I was. Not enough to run away – but I must confess that these things DID and still DO make me think.
Goenka goes on quite a bit in the discourses about how vipassana is a technique and is NOT a sect. That it is a technique that is available and useful to all. But… the things he spoke of often sounded like… “A Religion” to me. And referring to this practice as a “way of living” doesn’t actually mean it isn’t also a… sect… or religion.
Goenka came from a strongly Hindu background. When he first discovered vipassana – he was resistant because he saw it as a Buddhist practice (here’s a quick peek at some differences between the two http://www.diffen.com/difference/Buddhism_vs_Hinduism). He firmly believes that one can practice vipassana without… abandoning ones own “religion” whatever that may be. That is cool. But I still think that … the deeper one gets into this practice and into the world of retreats and so on… the more one might be drawn to Buddhism. I’m not saying this is good or bad. I’m just staying that all the protesting that it is NOT a sect… well… I’ll need to see how I feel about this as time goes on.
There is also something a bit… disturbing to me… about how Goenka keeps referring to this practice as something preserved in a Pure form. In fact, any mention of Purity puts me on guard. It’s one of my quirks.
I enjoy and appreciate the… simplicity… of this practice. It isn’t SIMPLE to do – but the instructions are simple and clear and BASIC. I like that sort of… purity… but talk of Purity with a capital P always gives me the heebie-jeebies. Any talk of “this is the REAL way” makes me nervous. And there IS a bit of that in the discourses – no matter how many times he says he doesn’t mean to put down or diminish other practices.
So… there’s that.
I guess the thing I hold to, and the reason I’m giving this Goenka guy a chance, is that he also kept saying that the only way to find out if vipassana is our way forward is … to do the practice. Not to go and study words and so on but to DO IT. Not to “believe” everything HE says, but… To Sit. Every day. For like… a YEAR. And then to examine ourselves and our lives and see if practicing vipassana changes anything for us. That is what I plan to do.
Though I may read a BIT on the side. Can’t help myself. Like this rather fascinating article by Sara Breikrutz. And this one on Vipassana – The Essence Of The Teachings from Buddhanet. And “One Tool Among Many: The Place of Vipassana in Buddhist Practice“, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Oh yes – there is plenty to read. I come across articles and bookmark them. I find books and put them on the “to read” list.
I read a bit, but I feel that the most important thing for me to do right now is to continue to Sit – following a strong intention to establish this as a daily practice.
There is something in the physical practice of vipassana that calls to me. Something in the discipline of Sitting every day … soothes me… and leads me to believe that I will benefit from it.
Do I seek enlightenment? Sure. Though I think it could be a long path traveled this way. What the hell, I’ve got time.
I grin as I type this. I think about … Eckhart Tolle and how he sort of… came to… one day. Suddenly … aware. I honestly think THAT can happen as well. I think about a book I read last year called My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor wherein, in the absence of her left brain’s neural circuitry Taylor’s consciousness shifted into present moment thinking and she experienced herself at one with the universe.
This experience is what I seek. A thing I KNOW but a thing that hasn’t truly… landed for me in my reality. And I think that this practice will take me there. I’m also thinking that the journey itself will be interesting as well. That I will meet some great people along the way and learn a heap of new things all along the path.
One of the things that I observed about myself during the retreat is that I work really hard. As I sat in the meditation hall, hour after hour, I felt myself WORKING SO HARD. I kept tensing up and causing myself extra, unnecessary, pain – pressing down on my legs for instance or holding my muscles in odd positions. I also noticed that I was moving my eyes as I passed my attention over and through my body parts. I knew that I didn’t need to move my eyes – but I couldn’t stop. My eyes were exhausted. I gave myself headaches. I went to the teacher and spoke to her. She listened to me and nodded.
She said, “You are aware of me now, yes?”
“And you do not need to…” she scrunched up her face and held her body tense.
I smiled and said, “No.”
She smiled back at me. “It is the same.”
She commended me on noticing the tension in my body and said to simply… release it… when I became aware of it. I began to do that and it helped ease some of the pain I was experiencing.
Later, I got to thinking that if I had been sitting in front of her without my glasses on – that I might well have squinted up at her – trying to bring her into focus. That this is what it felt like when I was Sitting – that I had to WORK to find that focus. Now, after a few months of practice, I no longer move my eyes as I move my attention. I find the over-all body tension has eased as well – though it can crop up now and then.
Now, I think that if I had gone back to the teacher and told her about this brilliant insight I had about not having glasses on she might have said, “Does it help you squint and squish up your eyes like that when you can’t see me?”
I would have said, “Well. Yes. I believe it does.”
But now, I’m not so sure. Now, I think it might be better to relax my eyes and listen. That by doing that I might see even more clearly. Not with my weak eyes – but with my heart.
Something to think on.
Happy day, my lovelies.
go easy ~p