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Monday, April 25, 2011

Vipassana: Dhamma Surabhi

Home again.
Looking rough and feeling hungry.

So much to capture in a few words. The eleven days felt like eleven months.
It was grueling.
It was amazing.
A line from Amazing Grace comes to mind, was blind but now I see.

Meditating twelve hour days.
Living like monks and nuns.
4 a.m. wake-up gong.
No food past 11 a.m.
Silence.
No communicating with the thirty other women and thirty men.
Three roommates in my room.
No writing, no reading.
Nothing but: meditate, eat a little, meditate some more and sleep at night.

The very first morning, with the wake up gong at 4 a.m., my instant reaction was to blurt out "oh man..."

That first morning meditation was an adventure. My eyes were closed, I was meditating and suddenly something heavy landed in my lap, I opened my eyes to discover a body on top of me. The woman in front of me had fainted and fallen back onto me, her head in my lap. When she came conscious, I helped her back up. Later, before we left, I spoke with her and she told me the eye contact I had with her and my arm around her shoulder gave her comfort and she knew she was o.k.
Then, the very next morning, in meditation hall, I received a tap on my shoulder. This time, it was the woman behind--alerting me that I had a huge spider crawling up my back. I looked at it and discovered it wasn't poisonous so I ignored it--I have never been afraid of spiders.

Vipassana was the most grueling of experiences and yet the most rewarding. I learned much.

It is an amazing meditation technique that I believe would benefit so many that suffer from brain damage. A bonus to the meditation is that as one mentally feels the body to find sensations everywhere, in doing so, sharpens and rewires the brain's body map.
It proved challenging to feel my legs as separate limbs after sitting crossed legged for so long--the brain morphs then into one entity (in the brain map) naturally. I had to work to separate them in my brain's body map and feel them as separate.
 The practice sharpened my mind such, that in mediation I felt my mind was like a laser that could burn a hole through matter if I focused it on one spot.
Also, if you know a little about neuro-science, you might understand that after so many hours of "feeling my entire body sensations", I was able to "see" my body with my eyes still closed. I looked down and my brain received optical images of my arms and legs even though I kept my eyes shut. I moved my hands and arms and watched in my brain like my eyes were open. The optical space in my brain was being stimulated by input from other than the eye lenses.

The most bizarre thing that happened was that I had life changing meditations. Very odd meditations. Not your traditional Vipassana. In one case, on day five, it was as though I touched a live electric wire. My entire body was on fire with electric like vibrations. These were very intense. And my eyes were moving rapidly although they were closed. It was not a pleasant sensation, as it was so intense.  The current through my body was very strong and it was like my skin was on fire. I honestly felt like I was floating above my cushion. My limbs were locked and my fingers stiff and immovable. But, like a good Vipassana meditator, I observed the entire experience and it lasted for a good 5-10 minutes and afterward I discovered tears running down my cheeks. While it was happening my entire inside was brightly lit like a sun was shining from within me. It was a little frightening as I thought bodily sensations like that only happened in supernatural thriller movies. It must have been the mother of all sankharas I was feeling (negative reaction surfacing from my subconscious mind).

On another day, the agony in my hips was too great. I couldn't sit still for the hour long "sitting of determination." I talked to the teacher afterward and said, "Womens' hips are not the same as mens. I have given birth three times, if Buddha had given birth three times, he would have moved his legs too." She laughed and agreed with me.

My roommates were cool. One woman commutes to the UN in Geneva (she founded a non profit organization for refugees from Afghanistan to make sure they have human rights in their new countries). Another just moved to Vancouver from Dubai. When the nobel silence finally ended on our last day, we talked so late that everyone else in centre was asleep but us. It was the middle of the night and all 4 of us crept down the dark hall to use the bathroom. It was rather humorous from our point of view that suddenly our fellow meditators were treated to the flush of all 4 toilets at once in the middle on the night (11 p.m. is the middle of the night when 4 a.m. is wake-up call).

I enjoyed their company even though one of my roommates was a tattle-tale. She complained to the management that I "wrote something with a pen on paper." Writing is against the rules. When my teacher asked me if I was the culprit from room #8 behind such a deed, I just laughed and said, "Guilty as charged. I can't believe someone tattled on me!" It felt like second grade prison.

 My humor pulled me through the entire eleven days. In the deadly silence, I would tell my self little jokes and hide my smiles. My humour must have been sensed in my energy because after the silence lifted on day ten, one of my roommates told me I should be a stand up comedian because everything I did made her laugh and she couldn't look at me all retreat because she would crack up.

One of the greatest gifts was on the morning of day eight, I was walking in the forest yard and I heard wolves howling. It was a dream come true. Wolves are so difficult to hear as they are rare. Dhamma Surabhi is located in pure mountain wilderness off of the Coquihalla. The forests are teaming with big mammals: moose, bear, cougars and wolves. And the stars! They shone so brightly at night, reminded me of how clear the sky is in Hawaii.

It was excruciating at times and what pulled me through were the little pleasures in life. I made friends with a squirrel and chipmunk in the forest and spent my few free minutes outside watching them. The squirrel had unearthed its stash of pine cones from last fall and would dig one out at a time and excitedly eat each one like a cob of corn.

Can I maintain the 2 h a day meditations to keep my mind free of misery? I will do my best. I will return to Dhamma Surabhi to serve while my girls are in summer mini-meditation camps. I am also in charge of finding us Kelowna meditators a place to meditate weekly as a group. I am very close to securing us a room on campus.
Thank-you, to the Buddhas-in-training that helped me find the path.

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