I checked into the course located on 400 acres of ranch and forestland an hour away from my house at 4pm on Sunday afternoon. This was day zero.
I unpacked and drove my car to the parking area at the front of the property. As I walked the quarter mile dirt road back to the cabins preparing to turn in my cell phone, wallet and keys, I scanned the beautiful landscape that surrounded me. Tears started to fill my eyes as I thought of the long ten days that lay in front of me and of the wake of sadness and anxiety that I left at home with my departure earlier that day.
The pain of leaving home set in at lunch when my seven-year-old daughter turned to me from her coloring sheet at the restaurant table. She looked at me with distressed eyes and said in her most desperate voice “can’t you go a different day?” Up to this point, everyone had been ok with me leaving for ten days, but now that it was THE day, reality was setting in. I proceeded to lament a long explanation of why I had to go this day. She just put her head down on the table next to her mostly uneaten lunch and sobbed.
Later at home as I was saying goodbye, the whole family broke down in tears. My daughter was clinging to my leg and crying for me not to leave. My wife and I attempted to hold back the tears as we embraced and my son clung to my other side sniffling and wiping the tears from his eyes. I had no idea this would be so hard. How do military families get used to doing this all the time?
Now walking up the dirt path I again felt the pain in my heart and was fighting the urge to turn around, get my car, and leave. This would be the first of many times over these ten days that my fight or flight sense would be screaming to run.
Over dinner, the room was loud with chatter and excited discussion. This was the loudest this room would be until early on day 10. The new students, ones that had never taken a Vipassana class before, were visibly nervous. The old students, ones who had taken the course at least once before, were much calmer and aware of what was in front of us in the upcoming days.
At 8pm, we entered the meditation hall for the first time to our assigned 2×2 mediation mat that would be our own personal battleground for the next 10 days. Noble silence began. There would be no talking with other participants, no eye contact and no gestures. I was surrounded by about a hundred people, but I was alone to fight my own battles.
The Buddha, who is the founder of this particular mediation practice, stated that everyone can be shown the path, but each must walk it alone. No one can escort you down it or make you take the turns along the path that you are meant to take. You must decide to do it and you must steer your own course.
This entire course is setup to allow you to walk that path as you so choose. There is no dogma or rituals to be performed. It is not part of any religion or particular belief system. The technique is taught and you decide how you want to utilize it.
The Monkey Mind
If you have ever sat down to meditate, you know the experience of listening to the constant chatter of the mind. The monkey mind, as it is referred to, is constantly jumping from one topic to the next never allowing a second of reprieve.
The restrictions that we were undertaking in the course were all designed to help quiet the monkey mind. Like a comedian constantly on the lookout for joke material for his/her stand-up routine, the mind is constantly looking for material to use for its monkey chatter. It looks for material in what is going on around you, what is projected to happen yet, as well as your memory bank of past experiences.
By removing access to the outside world, the majority of chatter material that comes from daily life is removed. You are no longer reacting to world events or to drama in your favorite TV shows. The treasure trove of chatter material that is your family, friends and coworkers are all hidden from your mind.
By removing verbal and physical contact with fellow participants, even more potential chatter material is removed. The typical commiserating that would be occurring about how hard the course is or how much pain is being felt or how irritating some part of the course is are all removed. More importantly the influence of others experiences are removed. If Manny the meditator on the mat next to you told you that earlier he has such a wonderful experience in meditation where he felt a beautiful, warm and all-encompassing light and you had not had such an experience, your mind would start fixating on when that would happen to you. You would get lost in trying to experience a particular thing instead of paying attention to the experience that you are having.
By removing the constant access to food and putting a schedule around when food is available two purposes are achieved. First it removes the mind’s focus on what food the body wants and when it is going to get it. Second it limits the typical gorging that most of us do when there is open access to food. The benefit here is that when the body gorges on food, its energy is spent on processing the food instead for providing energy for the meditation practice. This leads to feeling lethargic, unfocussed, and the tendency to fall asleep during meditation.
The removal of a fee for attending the course probably has the most unobvious impact on the mind. If there was a fee for the course, the participants would get caught up in evaluation of the course and its conditions in comparison to their expectations of what they should receive based on what they paid. Thoughts like “I paid so much money and my bed is uncomfortable; I don’t get my own room; I don’t get the food that I want when I want it.” The mind cycles through such thoughts and generates more anger, frustration, and discontent; things that the course is attempting to remove. Because it is free, participants are more likely to be accepting of whatever is given to them.
In the next installment of this series, I will describe the two main techniques learned in the course.
- The Sound of Silence (practicalmeditationaudio.wordpress.com)
- Meditation According to Me… (rashelbell.wordpress.com)
- Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation (beyondmeds.com)
- Meditation Training or Boot Camp for Your Brain? – Part 1 (alongthetao.wordpress.com)