Imagine words and images dissipating from your mind, until all you're left with is the stillness of your breath. Anapana Sati. You learn to feel the air move in and out of each nostril without control, noticing how each inhale enters our body as a cool breeze and every exhale has transformed into a warmth that brushes your upper lip. A thought arises, tempting you to break your concentration as you feel your heart beat faster while your breath begins to move at a more rapid pace. But instead of reacting, you observe. Oh, that's interesting. And soon, without control, it naturally returns to a steady flow.
Anapana; focus on breath. Sati; mindfulness.
Imagine you're told to not move a muscle, even when your nose starts to itch, your back starts aching or you swear your knees will break. Athithana; strong determination. Sit still, continue to observe your breath. 5 minutes down, 55 minutes to go. Songs that play like a broken record in your mind can easily break flow. Those eventually go away after days of hearing the Pali chants on repeat that signal you to return to reality. But the more difficult records to get rid of are the memories. Some are of joyful moments that warm your soul and bring a smile to your face, but more than often they are replaced with painful images from tragic incidents or of unresolved interactions that lead to questions of "What if?" Images are created in your mind, a result of cravings and desires we hope can be met to fulfill what we think is lacking in our lives. "I wish I were ________." "It's not fair that _________." "I want ________." Comparison leads to Jealousy. Rage. Anger. Hatred. Depression. Anxiety. Feelings of inadequacy. Dukkha; suffering. All these emotions begin to bubble up, the ones that seem counterproductive to this idea of 'meditation'. You want to run, but can't move. You want to scream, but can't speak. You don't want to feel any of this. Your heart begins palpitating. Heat emanates from your core and bubbles up your respiration, creating huffs and puffs that cause your chest to rise and fall quickly. Anicca; impermanence. A tear trickles down, but you are not to wipe it. You are forced to sit with your feelings of discomfort, to face all that which you'd rather suppress with sensual pleasures; a movie, a nice meal, a walk in nature, a glass of wine, a bike ride, yoga, music, anything that gets your body moving to distract your mind from having any thoughts that cause such misery. After all, aren't those healthy coping mechanisms?
Anicca; impermanence. What arises shall always pass.
I want to blame someone, lash out at the next person who speaks to me. But it is quiet, so I am alone and in tension with myself. Athithana. And soon, it passes. Anicca. Return to breath. Anapana. While there are at least 50 other people in the room, everyone's experience is different. We are each battling out our own internal war through complete silence and stillness. After three days of observing our breath with strong determination, the Vipassana finally begins.
I feel energy travel through every vein of my body. A subtle vibration that begins in my head and moves down from my third eye to my throat, throat to my diaphram. Shoulders to fingers, thighs to my feet. With hard concentration, it's almost as if I am giving each of my cells a mental massage to relax the inflammation arising from my organs. I manifested this. This continues for some time, until suddenly the heat cools from my skin then dissipates into nothingness. I can feel as if I am being lifted and I have transcended beyond my six senses; I am in total bliss. Vipassana. To stay grounded, I return to breath. Anapana. And the bell rings. It has been an hour.
We meditate, 10 hours a day for 10 days with short breaks in between. Wake Up, 4AM. Rest, 9:30PM. Some choose to leave; others reluctantly stay. As we have taken on the eight precepts, we also do not eat after noon. Noble silence is maintained, but we are only allowed 5 minutes to talk with the teacher about our experiences during lunch break. It is day 5; I think I have it figured it out, that I'm on the right path. I share with her my near out-of-body experience, and how I felt myself entering another dimension toward an indescribable light. But she is quick to check my ego, to remind me that my purpose of being here is to detach myself from such cravings, delusions, and desires; I am to continue focusing on my breath. Anapana. While I am taken aback by her response, I return to meditation, yearning to see what is beyond the light. I feel my heart become heavier for such longing and thoughts become scattered until I can no longer concentrate on breath. I am struggling to return to Vipassana because I crave to experience such bliss again. Instead, the broken record repeats; I have taken two steps backward from this practice. Dukkha; suffering. I want to go home. Frustration and despair is ready to overrule me; I feel the unpleasant burning sensations resonating from my core again followed by heavy breathing, and if I don't move I swear it will engulf me. Atthithana; don't move. But even sooner than before, it dissipates. Anicca; impermanence. I observe. My attention returns to the rest of my body, and as a light emerges in my view I do not acknowledge it. Anapana; breathe. My breath returns me to the reality of the present moment, and now I understand.
Anatta; no self, no 'me', no 'i', no 'mine'.
The light is not an end goal, but a symptom of progress that can easily become a distraction that takes us away from our true purpose - Liberation; an end to all suffering. The voice of Goenka, our head teacher, repeats in my mind, "No one is responsible for your misery. Only you are. No one is responsible for your liberation. Only you are. Buddha can only show you the path. It is your responsibility to walk it. Remain equanimous. Uppekkha... "
Uppekkha (Equinimity): the quality of being emotionally calm, balanced and even, especially when confronted with difficult situations.
Too often I am distracted by the "light"; the next bright shiny object that comes my way and beckons me toward it, taking me away from getting to the root cause of my suffering. My sadness and rage are neglected as I only toy with pleasurable experiences or conversations with no substance, and I've never known how to be with them until now. It is scientific as much as it is spiritual, for one learns that our lives are navigated by sensations which are essentially a biochemical reaction to the delusions and illusions we create in our mind as a result of dukkha, our cravings and aversions that lead to pain. Vipassana trains us to remain equanimous so that such unpleasant feelings as a result of these thoughts may still arise but do not remain in the body for long. While many religions and spiritual practices have emphasized non-attachment as our gateway to liberation, rarely has there been an emphasis on psychosomatics (mind+body) to achieve this.
It cannot be studied, intellectualized, or even verbalized; only experienced through practice.
I was without any form of communication for those days; no phone, book, or journal to jot down my breakthroughs. No distractions from the outside world. As imprisoned as it initially felt, I didn't realize how vast my internal world was and how deeply it has yet to be explored. When I was able to feel the subatomic particles moving in my body while in complete stillness, I emerged from the spiritual to the physical realm feeling more alive than ever before. And the beautiful thing is, I didn't have to go anywhere.
What is spiritual and physical is no different; only one can be felt more than seen.
I grew up "Buddhist", but never understood what it meant until this retreat. One can read as many books or attend lectures about Buddhism, but without application it is just theory and intellectual games. When we refer to Buddha, it is mainly referring to Siddhartha Gautama, the prince who gave up his worldly pleasures to seek enlightenment. But there were many Buddhas before him, and many who have come after him. (Yes, Jesus was a Buddha!) Gautama did not care for disciples, didn't care to convert anyone to any form of religion nor was he interested in becoming an "-ism". He was only interested in showing people a path to end their suffering so that we can end our cycle of samsara. But overtime, people have broken up his teachings into multiple sects until it has strayed away from its roots.
Samsara: cycle of aimless drifting, wandering or mundane existence where life in the material world is bound.
Buddha literally translates to "enlightened one", which we are all capable of becoming when we walk the path of Dharma, which is becoming so in tune with the universe and recognizing that everything is made up of vibrations and subatomic particles to where every action we take is always the cause to an effect, and every reaction becomes our karma.
Karma: the sum of a person's actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences.
Dharma is cosmic law and order, which has governed our universe since the beginning of time. It is not mystic, nor does it depend on an entity outside of ourselves to liberate us from destruction. Our responsibility within Dharma is how we respond to situations, especially in the midst of chaos. Will I allow someone's negativity affect me in such a way that causes me to spread this fire further? Or can I remain equanimous and have such deep compassion for this person's suffering so that I can break this karmic cycle of harm by only emanating loving-kindness in return? After all, universe is nothing more than You + I = Verse; it is a process of learning to be in harmony with one another. And this is also the importance of Sangha, or having a community of people in verse with you who recognize this interconnectedness.
I TAKE REFUGE IN THE THREE JEWELS (TRIPLE GEM); THE BUDDHA, DHARMA, AND SANGHA.
Buddha, not as a godly being outside of myself, but one whose qualities of love and compassion I strive to embody.
Dharma, as in the universal flow of cause and effect; I also take part in the shaping of it through my karma.
Sangha, as in community has got my back. I am never alone on this journey, and there are more inter-beings to come as I continue to walk this path...
How can I work on generating so much love in my body for self until it resonates to all those around me and beyond? One cannot give what one is depleted of, so let us practice self-love so deeply until it outpours with abundance to all sentient and non-sentient beings. Perhaps then, we can be free of our attachments to Self and awaken to the path of Dharma.
May I be peaceful.
May I be happy.
May I be well.
May I be safe.
May I be free from suffering.
May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings be free from suffering.
May those who have caused harm unto me, whether knowingly or unknowingly, be free from suffering. May they find peace, joy, and liberation. And may I see them as my greatest teachers.
If I have caused harmed to others, whether knowingly or unknowingly, may I ask for their forgiveness. May I learn to break these habit patterns so that I can liberate myself from my suffering and spread only love, kindness, and compassion to all in this lifetime and the next, until there is suffering no more.
Nirvana: a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth. It represents the final goal of Buddhism.
For more insight, read the article: "Enlightenment is a Destructive Process", or watch the video below of an introduction to Vipassana by Goenka. However, please know again - everyone has to go through their own personal journey that can only be experienced through one's own practice. He strongly encourages people to not accept any belief with blind faith just because a teacher or guru says so.
May we all learn to walk this path together.
Thank you, thank you for being my teachers and for witnessing this journey.
To find a Vipassana center near you, visit https://www.dhamma.org/
*All courses are donation-based (dana) with food and lodging provided.