“Meditation is a teaching which offers you the possibility of breaking free of this egoic state of consciousness and coming into a whole new realization of who and what you truly are. And all this starts with the willingness to question. To pause for just a moment and realize that maybe you aren’t who you imagine yourself to be.”
~ Adyashanti — with Vickey Scott.
“In meditation you withdraw from others and focus your attention inside to gain purity of mind and wisdom energy. Then you must become extroverted and use this energy. When you take a long jump, you must first take some steps backward. Then you run, and make the jump. Like this, you first withdraw, observe yourself, develop clarity and unlock the wisdom. Then you make a long jump intosociety, to serve society. These two steps cannot be separated.”
~ S. N. Goenka —
Sunday 9 June 2013
For me, 10 days of monastic living, deep meditation and not uttering a word to anyone is the ultimate in emotional cleansing An Osho Vipassana retreat. Photograph: mistadas/Alamy
There’s this thing I do, every now and then. I will step away from the comforts of my life: my spouse and child, my home and dog. I pack a small bag with two pairs of old linen trousers, three T-shirts, a thin cotton wrap and flip-flops. Then I make the trek to a Vipassana meditation centre and begin a monastic life for 10 days.These centres are scattered around India and all over the world. I have been making this trip for more than 10 years, varying my location each time. Wherever you go the retreat has an identical structure and discipline: 10 days of silence, meditating from 4am to 9pm, with short breaks for meals and rest.You rapidly get used to this routine.
The morning wakeup bell at 3.45am is followed by a quick bath in warm water, then a silent walk to the main meditation hall, which can seat 200. We sit in our designated spots and meditate until breakfast, a simple vegetarian meal consumed in silence. More meditation, this time alone in our tiny cells – a room no bigger than a sofa and lit only by a round window near the ceiling – until lunch at 11am. After a short period of rest there is more meditation from 1pm to 5pm. Then a glass of lime juice and a brisk walk in the designated area.
A lecture, where we learn the theory behind our meditative experiences, more meditation and bed at 9.30pm.Men and women are segregated throughout the compound; we live and eat separately. Returning meditators may get a room of their own, but newbies usually have to share. Those on retreat include students, corporate executives, artists, housewives; rich and poor.
One of the great principles of Vipassana is that no fee is charged. Centres are instead maintained by the donations of those who have completed a meditation course. This opens the doors to everyone and places every meditator in the position of being a bhikshu (monk), who for those 10 days possesses nothing. It is very humbling and wonderfully freeing.Vipassana means “to see things as they really are”. It is a pre-Buddhist meditation technique that was revitalised and popularised by Gautama Buddha 2,500 years ago.
The instructions, played out over the speakers, are straightforward: observe your breath for three days, then observe your body for seven. Simple, the way instructions for running a marathon can be made reductively simple: take a step or two; continue for 26.2 miles in a speedy fashion.Sitting still and silent on my cushion, I learn that observing my breath at the point where it exits the nostrils focuses the brain. That by observing my breath, I am learning to observe myself. Anger and peace at the subtlest level are all in my breath. For breath, I learn, is spirit itself.As the practice deepens, my chaotic thoughts and emotions, memories fond and painful, yield all manner of sensations: pain in my joints, leaps in my chest, tingling behind my neck. I am told not to suppress them, but not to chase after them either. I am simply to observe them on their journey through me.
When emotions are observed, not suppressed or amplified, they filter through quicker, leaving a smaller residue behind. Sensations rise and pass. Just observe, they say. Don’t react. This is unbelievably difficult.The journey deepens. Heavier sensations dissolve from the body and awareness sharpens. Meditating for hours is throwing myself wide open: I am part of a rush of energy far bigger than myself. When I step out of my cell, the world is unimaginably bright. I notice the intense flavour of steamed rice; the music of distant everyday voices. I am extraordinarily peaceful.
I carry this peace back with me to my daily life, along with the clarity and mindfulness that only peace can bring.That is one kind of experience, but not all Vipassana retreats have been filled with peace. One, in particular, undertaken when I was under severe emotional stress, stands out. I stepped inside, and was blasted by the anger and fear and hurt and sorrow that I had packaged away in my daily life. These feelings brought forth tears and heat and chills and fever as they rose to the surface – so many layers that it seemed as if it would never end. The discipline required to just observe the sensations as they happened, to not distract myself from them, to not run away, was enormous. Layer by layer they rose, in full force, before lifting away months of anguish and suffering. At the end I was drained, exhausted, limp – but cleaned out.
The gift of Vipassana to my writing life is unparalleled: my relationship with words is more intense and playful; I am sensitive not just to my work but how I work. The way I observe people changes – I am able to step away from myself more easily, from the constraints of my own life and experience and understand them for who they are.I am both faster in the things I do, and calmer in the manner I do them. My world is lighter and yet more meaningful. Vipassana is the single most powerful thing I do.
“Mindfulness is the quality and power of mind that is aware of what’s happening — without judgment and without interference. It is like a mirror that simply reflects whatever comes before it. It serves us in the humblest ways, keeping us connected to brushing our teeth or having a cup of tea. It keeps us connected to the people around us, so that we’re not simply rushing by them in the busyness of our lives.
We can start the practice of mindfulness meditation with the simple observation and feeling of each breath. Breathing in, we know we’re breathing in; breathing out, we know we’re breathing out. It’s very simple, although not easy. After just a few breaths, we hop on trains of association, getting lost in plans, memories, judgments and fantasies.
This habit of wandering mind is very strong, even though our reveries are often not pleasant and sometimes not even true. As Mark Twain so aptly put it, “Some of the worst things in my life never happened.” So we need to train our minds, coming back again and again to the breath, simply beginning again.
Slowly, though, our minds steady and we begin to experience some space of inner calm and peace. This environment of inner stillness makes possible a deeper investigation of our thoughts and emotions. What is a thought— that strange, ephemeral phenomenon that can so dominate our lives? When we look directly at a thought, we see that it is little more than nothing. Yet when it is unnoticed, it wields tremendous power.
Notice the difference between being lost in a thought and being mindful that we’re thinking. Becoming aware of the thought is like waking up from a dream or coming out of a movie theater after being absorbed in the story. Through mindfulness, we gradually awaken from the movies of our minds.”
~ Joseph Goldstein ~
- Suffering itself is how we live, and how we extend our life (zenflash.wordpress.com)
Water gives life to the ten thousand
things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject
and so is like the Tao.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In daily life, be competent.
In action, be aware of the time
and the season.No fight: No blame.
- No fight: No blame (zenflash.wordpress.com)
“Meditation is one of the ways in which the spiritual man keeps himself awake.”
~ Thomas Merton
I know, the retreat date has passed but you still can do it here on your own.
Happiness that is not shaken by conditions begins with imagining that such stable and open happiness exists, and could exist for us. Meditation practice can play a large part in discovering that happiness. The practice of meditation is far simpler, more fun, less esoteric and much more relevant to the wide-ranging situations we encounter in everyday life than we might imagine.
Rather than an ornate, arcane set of instructions, meditation consists of practical tools to help deepen concentration, mindfulness and compassion. We rely on this depth when things change though we would much prefer stability, when we feel out of control of events, and above all when we want a quality of happiness that is not so fragile, so dependent on shifting conditions. During this retreat we’ll discuss, and practice, these 3 tools.
Retreat begins February 4, 2013.
- Meditation found to increase brain size (zenflash.wordpress.com)