Vipassana 2.0.

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

I am constantly reminded that the moment I think I might know something about something, I really don’t know it at all. Sometimes this is a kind and gentle reminder, and sometimes it is like being hit by a train. Vipassana is the ultimate truth teller.

I have just returned from another foray into the bewildering/fantastical/frightening world that is my subconscious. That trip manifested itself as a 10 day Vipassana meditation in Georgia. It was my second, and so very different from the first. My reference above to the “thinking I know something” and the “not really knowing it at all” were at play during my time there. The reminders came gently, but relentlessly, with the cold, the hunger pangs, the bad taste in my mouth and my walks in the woods.

I tried to go having no expectations. I had only been once, and, intellectually at least, I thought, every time will be different. You are a different human being each time, arriving with different baggage that needs unpacking. But, even though I understood it with my mind, I didn’t really believe it, because I was surprised and to be honest, a little disappointed each time something was different. Immediately I am reminded of the Sanscrit word for impermanence – annicca which we heard over and over again. Let things arise and then pass away. Don’t have expectations. Just observe without craving or aversion. Lovely words, such lovely words…

Vipassana Meditation : Chinese Medicine Living

The two experiences were wildly different. I was surprised by how different they were, but I now have to consider that it was a different human being that attended a year and a half ago than the one that arrived on that cold Georgia morning a couple of weeks ago. I was wildly different. Both times.

One of the first observations I had about the difference was that this was a very yin experience. Very contracted. Serious, and a little dark. This was partially the weather I am sure, it was cold as @#*! (in Georgia, really?) and it felt like we were all struggling with our psyches as well as the cold in our bones for ten days straight. Waking up at 4am to haul yourself out of a moderately warm bed to plunge yourself into the middle of the night where you could see your breath and there was ice on things was simply more than I could bear on some mornings. I slept in my hat and sometimes my scarf, and I wore the one pair of long underwear I had day and night for ten days. (I lost my dignity long ago…). Another reason for the yin nature of this experience was also I think that the average age of most of the ladies participating was over 50 which was really interesting. I felt young. (whee!)

My first experience was in late June/July and it was hot as the devil. It was lush and green and everything felt very alive, including all of us. The experience felt like it was awakening something in me, something dormant and decidedly yang in nature. Also, most of the girls were under 30. There were a couple of older ladies, but the rest were young. It was a very expansive energy and much lighter. Less serious. There was joy in the air amid the occasional snore and sob heard in the meditation hall. An occasional titter when someone farted while we were all concentrating so hard.

The Silence

Noble Silence : Vipassana Meditation

 The ten days (actually it is eleven) that you are there, you are completely silent. There is no speaking. There is also no technology of any kind, so you hand over your phones, tablets and all things technological when you arrive. You cannot have books, pens or paper either. And there is no eye contact. This may sound harsh and kind of a terrible way to spend ten days, but honestly, it is the best way for you to get the most out of the experience. And it is sort of awesome.

Personally, I loved the silence. Both times, I was sort of sad when we were allowed to speak again. The world gets loud, and so do your thoughts. How many times in your life do you spend ten days in the woods being completely silent? What HAPPENS to you when you remove the noise from the outside world and the noise coming out of your face? Well, it gets quiet. Really quiet, and eventually, something amazing happens. Your mind gets quiet as well. And when it stops churning and running and make believing (I did a lot of that), then some pretty profound stuff can happen. And some painful things too. For me, this time was a lot about the pain. I brought a lot of it with me, and I knew I was going to have to face it while I was there, because there were no distractions and there is nowhere else to go. Vipassana is like holding up a very large mirror helping you to see things the way they really are. That is the definition of Vipassana. And sometimes the way things really are isn’t pretty. But that’s ok, because it will pass. It isn’t permanent.

I found that this time I knew the mechanics of things, the way things worked. The logistics. And this seemed to free my mind up for deeper, slightly scarier and more intense work. I had a lot to work through this time. The last time I went with a problem, a question I was grappling with and a curiosity about what this thing was and what it was going to do to me, but this time I was arriving after a complete life collapse. And what I wondered about this time was that if I delved deep into the darkness that had become my world of late, if I would ever come out. If I faced my demons, if they would overcome me or if I would come out the other side, back into the light. I am happy to say that I did come out the other side, and was reminded that darkness can’t exist without light. They are both there. Always. It just depends on which one you are focussing on at any particular moment.

My favourite part of each day was the hour after lunch when I would walk in the woods. The woods are so wonderful and full of healing energy. When there is no outside (or inside) noise, it is like every tree, every insect and every blade of grass is speaking to you. It is the hum of nature, the qi of everything that is alive. I remember this from the last time too. Nature becomes so powerful. So communicative. I wanted to touch everything. Appropriately. I picked up leaves, ran my hands along ferns and touched the bark of trees communicating back to nature through my hands. Interestingly, everyone else seemed to be feeling the same thing. All the ladies could be seen out and walking in the forest, drinking in every bit of energy that radiated from it. Some would be standing looking up at trees, crouching looking at something on the ground or inspecting some flower or plant along the path. At one point early in the ten days, something cool happened. Someone drew a heart with a stick in the sand on the path. I smiled when I saw it. Every time I saw it. And then some lovely being made a piece of art out of different coloured leaves and twigs and left it by the path for others to enjoy. And as the days went on, more and more of these lovely pieces of art began to appear along the path, like a burst of creativity, being pushed out through nature by the ladies in our dorm. I was amazed at how creative they were. And how up lifting. I was excited to get out each day and see what new ones would be waiting.

Something I was not expecting was that I didn’t sleep. The last time I slept like a corpse. Every night. I was practically asleep before I got into my bunk, but this time I feel like I didn’t sleep a whole night the entire time I was there. I felt haunted. And was uncomfortable in my bed. It wasn’t my bed that was uncomfortable, it was me. My mind was uncomfortable. My thoughts restless and dark. Sometimes I was still awake when the gong rang at 4am and wondered how I would sit for 12 hours in meditation on no sleep. But amazingly, I did it. Every day.

Another thing I noticed about this time more than the last was the need (or attempt) to overcome the body. There are three meditations in the day where you are asked to sit for one hour straight and not move. You work up to this, and I think these start on day three or four. At first, you feel like you are going to be paralyzed. That your knees will explode or that you will simply go insane. I know because when speaking to the girls at the end, we had all had this thought. More than once. But after a few sessions, you start to be able to sit, and to not move and you sort of surrender your body to it and that helps. Eventually, you can drop into it no problem when only a few days before you were sure they were going to have to carry you out of there on a stretcher. You are not “in” your body identified with it, you are a casual observer, looking from the outside. This is the point. Start with the body, and move it into your life. Its a powerful lesson.

The lesson is compounded by the fact that as an “old” student – which means that you have done at least one full ten day Vipassana course – that you will not eat after the 11am meal. At 5pm there is a snack which consists of tea and fruit for “new” students, but old students must refrain from eating. So… breakfast is at 6:30am, and lunch is at 11am… then you don’t eat again until 6:30 the next morning. Now, I don’t know about you, but I am a lover of food. Eating is like the best part of my day. I am also not a breakfast person as it takes my stomach a while to wake up. This usually happens fully at around lunch time. This caused serious problems considering 11am was the only meal my stomach was awake for. I had to really maximize that meal without looking like a greedy lunatic. For the first few days I did pretty well. I just decided, well, there is no food after lunch so don’t think about it. Even at 5pm when the others were eating, I made a point not to look at the fruit they were eating and that did it. I just didn’t think about it and therefore, wasn’t hungry. Then on about day 4 I accidentally made eye contact with a bowl brimming with delicious and tasty looking fruits and it was all over. It was all I (and my poor stomach) could think about for the afternoon and evening meditations. All 8 hours of them. I was hungry. SOOOooooooo hungry. And that continued every day until the end. I managed, but the feeling of hunger never went away. I am not sure my stomach will ever forgive me.

Another thing that is granted to “old” students is a meditation cell for some of your ten days. I was given a cell for two whole days. The meditation cells are in a hallway located behind a mysterious door next to the meditation hall. I remember last time I was there wondering fiercely what was behind that door and what the meditation cells were like… Behind the door is a narrow hallway and 5 or 6 doors, all very close together. I was in cell number one, the first. I opened the door and there was a meditation cushion on the floor. That was it, it was the size of a meditation cushion with enough space to open the door. I spent two intense days in that cell, burning through all the painful emotions that I brought with me. Those were by far the most intense days for me, but it was a good chance to feel through them and finally let them go.

All in all I am so glad that I went. People asked when I got home if it was a good experience. It was a difficult experience, but a worthwhile one. I came back exhausted and had lost some weight, but I felt clean. Purified. It was a healing experience. A friend who had come with me and I spoke at length on the way home in the car and this was a fascinating and extremely edifying conversation. How interesting how two people could have the same experience, but, at the same time have a completely different experience. It was a really helpful conversation.

Again, I am struck by how pure it remains. It doesn’t matter what you believe, what colour you are or what your background is, all are welcome. The goal is to bring human beings out of suffering by teaching them to gain mastery over their minds. A worthy goal, and one the planet so desperately needs. I think the intensity of the experience is really up to each individual. How deep you are willing to dig, how much light you are willing to shine on the dark places. And what you brought with you. I will go back. I am going to try to go every year to keep myself sane. As an attempt to be a better healer and a better human being. It is a work in progress.

Happy Beings : Chinese Medicine Living*Image from Root Down Coaching & Yoga 

If you would like to read about my first 10 Day Silent Vipassana Retreat, you can do so here – My 10 Day Vipassana Retreat. If you would like to learn more about Vipassana meditation, you can watch this excellent documentary called The Dhamma Brothers. It will leave you inspired. :)

 

Vipassana 2.0 : Chinese Medicine Living

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