Saturday, August 16, 2008

Vipassana



Markha Valley Pics
Leh Pics

A couple days after finishing the Markha Valley trek in Ladakh I boarded a bus with a bunch of other travelers and headed out to a remote meditation center in Tamisgame 4 hours from Leh.

I rode on the roof of the bus with a few locals most of the way. It is by far the most fun way to travel. Apricots are in season and we grabbed large handfuls of them from low hanging branches we drove under. The local guys on the roof with me had some kind of repoire with everyone we drove past, and a couple of girls threw a big bucket of water at us.

fun fun.

I'd been nervous about the course because my knees start to hurt sitting still for even one hour and I had always thought that in 10 hours of seated meditation I would irreparably damage them.

In Varanasi I had a couple occasions to sit cross legged for long periods listening to a yogi expound on the tantric wisdom of the universe. During the discourses my knees hurt, but I got clear that it was more of a muscle thing than a joint thing, and somehow that made me feel better about it.

The meditation center just up valley from the Maha Bodhi School in Tamisgame was simple and gorgeous. Boys and Girls dorms were on opposite sides of the valley. The kitchen was at the bottom and the meditation hall at the top. Towering Himalayan mountains surrounded us on all sides.

The meditation vibe was more relaxed than I had anticipated. For the first few days there were no strong instructions keeping us from changing our sitting position, so whenever we were uncomphortable we shifted. Easy. Some of the meditations were longer than I expected from 4:30 - 6:30 am all in one go. The other sessions were 3 and 4 hours in total, but 5 - 15 minute breaks were given every 60 - 90 minutes.

On the fourth day the concept of 'Strong Determination' was introduced with which we were instructed to make every effort to sit completely still and not change position for the 3 one hour "group" sittings. I found that I could handle 1 hour ok. A few times I tried to remain absolutely still for the 90 minute sits, but I found that my knees ached significantly after.

A large part of the technique deals with observing sensations and learning how to deal with them without instantly reacting. There's an aspect to this that I really appreciate. When I'm working I feel I frequently lose focus by following some small sensation 'I'm thirsty, I have to pee, I'd like to take a walk ...' where I feel some benefit to simply observing the thought / sensation and then getting back to work.

There was (for me) a slightly strange emphasis on not doing other exercises. Particularly forbidden were yoga and Tai Chi. The point seemed to be to concentrate on the Vipassana technique and not cloud it with other practices. For me, I felt that my yoga practice enabled me to gain the confidence to sit still for long periods of time. And I was desperate to stretch during the 10 day course simply to alleviate the aches in my legs and back. As it was I sorta sheepishly stretched without doing 'assana' but felt I was neither completely obeying the spirit of what was being asked for or completely caring for my body the way I would have liked.

That said, I felt very healthy for the whole time. The aches were relatively minor. The food was good. I didn't miss having a real dinner, and waking up at 4am proved a non issue. While there are only 3 longish breaks during the day, I took naps during them, so didn't feel short on sleep at all.

On the eighth day around lunch I felt some sort of epiphany along the lines of:
"I don't need to think at all, just be aware of my body and whats going on around me"
Shortly after that my ability to meditate took a strong turn for the worse, and I struggled through the remaining day having difficulty focusing.

The kinds of thoughts I had surprised me. I had the expected thoughts about the future, getting an incubator going and different things I could do to help that process forward. The other types of thoughts were tended towards obsessing about stupid things I did when I was a kid I feel guilty about.

Unlike more 'spiritual' traditions Vipassana doesn't really address sin and forgiveness. Its more about observing whatever sensations you have and realizing that it will pass.

Talking later with an Israeli girl I mentioned that a large part of the Christian tradition is based on dealing with issues of guilt "Christ died for your sins"
Buddha clearly had other issues. "There is suffering, There is a way out of suffering" definitely a different vibe.

All together it was a good experience. While on day 8 my mind felt very clear, by the last day my mind felt cluttered again. Some benefits appear lasting tho. Previously I had rarely been able to sit on my own more than a few minutes before getting distracted. Now sitting is easier. I see the distractions come up, but its easier for me not to immediately react to them.

I also notice an increased tendency to pause and look into how I'm feeling when I'm feeling stressed or unhappy.

The crew doing the course was solid, and we had a good time chatting afterwards. A major storm blew thru the last few days and washed out a bridge. So we had a bit more of an adventure getting back into Leh. The last wisps of that storm canceled my flight back to Pune thereby postponing some meetings and changing my plans for returning to the states.

Anitcha, everything is changing.

1 comment:

vj azz said...

beautiful!

i also did vipassana for the first time this summer and it completely changed me!

shine on!!

violette