Friday, December 31, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The powerful impact of sitting

It has been proven for many centuries, in many different ways, that meditation can have a strong impact on personal and spiritual growth.  It is one thing to read and talk about it; however, it is the practical application, the dedication, and the development of patience and perserverance, to realize the benefits of this powerful tool.

During my meditation, I try to remain focused on nothing but the physical sensation of breathing.  I try to remain detached from my thoughts by remaining focused on my physical sensations and still maintaining awareness of the passing thoughts without engaging them.  Obviously, a somewhat difficult task to maintain.  So, as I do every time I sit, I breath, I engage thought, I return to the breath, I breath, I engage thought, I return to the breath, and so on.

I have a coworker that frequently irritates me.  One afternoon this person seriously irritated me, enough to walk out of work grumbling to a friend of mine about this persons latest "offense". 

The next morning I sat in my meditation focusing on the breath and non-attachment to thoughts.  I entered a state where this "situation" with my coworker suddenly arose in my mind.  However, I was seeing it objectively, without emotion.  As I observed my thought process, I realized the latest feelings of irrituation were actually a compilation of a number of other "irritations" I had been maintaining an internal list of.  Again, I simply observed as each situation revealed it's true nature of where it began.  Each one led to the same origination.  Fear.  My irritation was simply an expression of my fear about the true nature of the situation.

However, the thought process did not stop there.  (Remember, this is not an engaged thinking or analysis, it is a natural process that unfolds as you simply observe it.) The thoughts continued flowing until a resolution appeared. Forgive self.  Believe in self.  Do not succumb to fear but to the natural order of things as they should be and embrace where you find yourself within that order.  Be open.  As soon as this became known to me, I felt a gentle peace settle over me.  I felt lighter.  Refreshed.

When I next spoke to my coworker there where things said that, by removing my filter and being open without fear, I realized the basis of my misconceptions which led to my self-induced fear.  Meditation has given me the opportunity for deep self-examination leading to healing, growth, strength, love, and compassion.  When I can see things as they clearly are, without my special pair of rose-colored glasses, I have the greatest potential for personal growth.

This is just one of the many examples why meditation is as important a part of my life as breathing.  I hope that you find the same, no matter what meditation technique you use.  Just find the right tool for you and use it frequently!!


Saturday, December 4, 2010

40 minutes

I have successfully increased my morning practice to 40 minutes for almost a week.  Even though it is only a 5-10 minute extension from what my average morning meditation period has been, it has sometimes felt much longer.  It feels like my brain is stretching...and resisting.  This is good.  Now to observe as my mind stretches, cracks appear, and the pus begins to ooze from my infected mind.

metamorphisis and meditation

The more I study meditation and Buddhism (the philosophy, not the religion), the more I begin to see a connection between the two.  One does not have to be Buddhist to study or understand the teachings.  To me, they are basically psychological and philosophical interpretations of reality.  The teachings of Buddha explain the theory, but meditation offers us the opportunity to explore and experience it.

As a result, I will be expanding this blog to encompass Buddhist teachings, philosophy, and reflections as I am touched by them. 

This will not be an attempt to convert anyone to Buddhism or to teach Buddhism.  It will simply be my reflections on teachings as I experience and understand them.  As I can watch my progress in meditation by reading through this blog, it will also give me the opportunity to observe my growth as I continue to study Buddhism.

Won't you join me on this wonderful journey?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Forever experimenting

I am always curious and interested in exploring different types of meditation cushions and benches.  I have a couple of zafus (admittedly, one has a hole in it waiting to be repaired) and one zabuton.  I have some sort of triangular cushion I picked up at Crystal Gardens that I haven't liked since the first time I used it.  I think it's not well designed for heavy people or people with bad knees.  It is very firm and at a steep angle.

I have a gomden and knee cushions.  Those have been my mainstay for quite some time now.

While visiting a friend he showed me his meditation bench and I got to try it out.  It is a small bench you sit on.  You can cross your legs in front of you or tuck your legs under the bench.  I like to sit with my legs behind me but on the outside of the bench.  The bottom of the legs of the bench are curved instead of flat.  I think this makes a huge difference in the comfort and support provided by the bench.

While using it I have found it easier to find the correct spinal position and to maintain it during my meditation.  There is no strain on the back of my legs since the bench is tilted to fit the shape of my body.

I used it for my first 45-minute meditation a little over a week ago.  I was surprised to find how comfortable it was.  I look forward to many more sits with my new little friend!

The calling ...

I have been feeling more and more strongly it is time to bring insight meditation practice to our meditation practice group.  We have been doing a chanting meditation once a month for about 8 months now.  While I enjoy it and know others do as well, attendance has dwindled in the last few months.  I don't believe quantity is the deciding factor for a group except when one format over another can serve the most people in the greatest way.

Beginning in January 2011, we will start another insight meditation group to explore and grow a personal practice together.  I am looking forward to it and hope members find it equally enjoyable and beneficial.

It feels so good to sit!

Maintaining my daily practice has proven, once again, that regular practice produces greater results.  That doesn't mean I don't struggle with monkey mind or distractions.  I still do.  However, I have reached a point of acceptance with monkey mind and distractions.  I realize that I currently have little control over my mind.  All I can do is continue to bring my awareness back to my breath when I find myself engaging thoughts.

Another huge challenge is hearing distractions and not labeling them or responding to them.  Although, it is difficult when a kitty has decided to join you and begins to knead his paw on my knee.  Did I mention he's not declawed?

Since I meditate before going to work in the morning, I struggle with list-making.  I can be quite a way down a list before I even realize I'm doing it.  Uh-oh!  Time to return to the sensation of breath again!

With all of the challenges, I am finding myself more and more attracted to meditation and the many benefits it offers.  I have been practicing for three years now and realize this is a lifetime journey.  It is one relationship I am committed to without reservation!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Baby Steps

I am very happy to report my practice is back where I would like for it to be!  In one of my previous posts I had looked for suggestions on, basically, how to get my butt motivated!!   What I began to do is try to get up 5-15 minutes earlier each morning.  After a few weeks, I have been able to increase it to 30 minutes earlier.  As a result, I now have the 30 minutes that is my goal (for now) to sit each morning!  What a difference it makes.

One of my favorite videos (posted early in this blog) is someone teaching how to get started with Zen-style meditation.  I loved a part in it in which he spoke of how sitting can be so boring or you spend your meditation struggling with releasing the monkey mind.  However, there ARE those moments, those sits, that you can hear the angels sing because you've reached that state of awareness that transcends physical self.

As I had mentioned earlier, and is a fairly well-known fact, the more we practice, the quicker we see progress in our daily lives.  Since I have met my 30-minute goal, I have found my practice and personal understanding have picked up the pace again.  These are the things that encourage me to hold on and don't let go of my commitment to sit.

This past weekend we had two, count 'em, TWO, amazing sits in our group meeting.  My husband and I facilitate a meditation group and offer two sessions.  The group had grown to a point it was overflowing our meeting space, so we decided to offer a 6 PM and an 8 PM.  While we are thanked for our service to others, they cannot realize how much the GROUP does for ME.  We have to be there.  No getting lazy and deciding not to show up.  It also means sitting for two 45-minute periods within a couple of hours of each other.

In our last group meditation, I was able to reach that point of total awareness more than once throughout both meditation periods.  Normally, I can reach that point in the first or second, but never in both!  It was an awareness that transcends the physical connection to our bodies.  When we reach that point of no attachment to anything, but just experiencing in the moment as it comes.  The mind becomes quiet and our thoughts aren't even clouds floating in the sky.  They have faded into silence.

I have found many people confuse this sacred point of meditation with "blanking out".  "Blanking out" during meditation (which usually means you fell asleep) is great if your intention is to relax.  However, it is my personal belief, that to achieve real progress and change in your life, you must sit with the intention of just allowing yourself to sit.  No judgement.  No goals.  No intention but to sit and be aware.  To observe without becoming attached.  When we get completely silent in body and in mind, but remain aware, that is when we fertilize that seed that eventually becomes mindfulness.  But most definitely, blanking out is not the right way to achieve this.  You must remain aware for the full sitting period.

The most effective method I have found, so far, is when my mind has become that runaway horse again, I gently take it by the reins and bring it back to the physical sensation of breath in my body.  Sometimes it's my upper lip, sometimes it's my chest, sometimes it's my diaphragm. My intention at that point is to redirect my mind.  Give it something else to play with while I practice releasing and allowing the moment to be, just as it is.

We have to take baby steps ... and some of us may take more years than others to learn to walk ... but the point is that you stand up and take each little step as it comes to you.

Now to take another baby step to 45 minutes!!

My kind of kitty ...

Monday, June 14, 2010

just 15 minutes a day

It's amazing how meditation works in your life and you just don't realize it.  Through my studies of Buddhist philosophy/psychology I am learning to be more mindful of the experiences in my life.

The frustrating part of this is my lack of meditation practice.  Although I try to meditate a minimum of 15 minutes each day, I have become lazy and undisciplined, not following my hourly practice as I was doing before.  While I do get in two 45-minute meditations on the weekend, it just isn't enough to make the progress I was making before.  Even my weight is back up again.

As a result, I can tell the difference.  Each time I sit it is almost painful to remain still.  It is like returning to the beginning again.  The pure agitation and nervous energy.  Monkey mind that bounces playfully against the walls of my mind.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to overcome laziness and forcing yourself to get up early to sit in the morning?  Evenings are out of the question for me.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Bathroom Meditation

See?  I'm not the only one that believes in the power of bathroom meditation ...

3 Misconceptions About Meditation by Susan Piver

Karen's Note:  An excellent article about some of the misconceptions many have when they come to meditation.  Unfortunately, for many of us it can take a few years before we realize it.  The first one is a big one that discourages people from meditating because they think they "can't meditate" because they "can't turn off their thoughts".  Not so!!  Taken from The Huffington Post online

Meditation has been getting a very good rap lately. Very good. Scientists have proven that it actually makes you happier. It is included in mental health programs. It is being taught at gyms, schols and in the workplace. It has stopped being associated with gurus, swamis, or anyone who wears robes to work. Somehow it has become acceptable and not scary. This is wonderful. But it has also made for some misconceptions.

I've been practicing meditation for 15 years and my main knowledge of these misconceptions comes from holding them myself and refusing to let them go because they just seemed so ... convenient.

I've also been teaching meditation for four years. Between my own pigheadedness and that of my students, I've had ample opportunity to observe these misconceptions from close range.

There seem to be three primary ones.

1. Meditation means you have to stop thinking.

No, no, no! This is a crazy hoax.

If I had a dollar for everyone who said to me, "I can't meditate! I can't turn off my thoughts!" I'd be, well, richer. Many people think that emptying the mind of thought is the point and if you can't do so, you've failed.

Not so.

Your mind exists to produce thought. That's what it does. It thinks things. Getting it to stop is akin to opening your eyes and telling them not to see anything.

Go ahead. Try that right now. Look out through your eyes and plead with them not to see anything. Try really hard.

That's how frustrating it is to think you're supposed to hop off the 190-mile an hour freight train in your head and onto a meditation cushion where you will somehow have magically stopped dead on the track.

Instead, the idea is to relax with your thoughts exactly as they are. This turns out to be far more relaxing than fighting them off.

Meditation has nothing to do with stopping thought, but everything to do with not going along for the ride. You hop off the train, but you don't stand it front of it, hands held out insisting it stop, whereupon you get shmushed like a bug on a windshield. Instead, you have a seat on the grass and watch it roll by. Trains keep coming, but eventually each fades from view. They all pass by. You don't have to do anything to make this happen. So don't get all hung up on stopping thought. I promise, your mind will slow down on its own.

If you'd like to try it, instruction is here.

2. Meditation turns you into a peaceful person who is unruffled by anything.

Oh my god, you have no idea how much I wish this was true. It just doesn't work that way. Instead of making you untouchable, meditation makes you like the most touchable person ever.

However, it does indeed pacify your mind, not by weeding out the bad thoughts and keeping the good ones (as encouraged by the thought police), but by noticing both and not necessarily believing either one. Freed from absorption in thought, you can open to what is actually happening. Into this opening come all sorts of things, wanted and unwanted, including all your good feelings and all your icky ones, and, notably, the joy and suffering of others. The more you practice, the more open you become. The more open you become, the more you feel. The more you feel, the more vulnerable you are.

Meditation actually cultivates vulnerability, not impenetrability--and it is right here that all the goodies reside, although it might not feel that way at first.

Once, I asked my teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, what was up with all the crying that had been accompanying my practice of late. In fact, I said, the more I practiced, the more I cried. The suffering of my fellow humans seemed untenable. What was I doing wrong? Surely this couldn't be what the Buddha intended as the path to enlightenment or a helpful gift I could offer others. When it came to empathy and care for my fellow humans, wiping my nose on their sleeves did not seem like the best I could do.

He looked at me so kindly and said, "You know, some of the worlds greatest meditators have cried a lot."

This simple answer was so liberating. I thought of the world's meditation masters and sages, like the Buddha, like Jesus, like Gandhi and tried to picture them, not as implacable adepts who always knew what to do and say, but as human beings who cried--under the Bodhi Tree, atop the Mount of Olives, in a prison cell--for all of us. But then what? They didn't just wipe their eyes and return to their lives, hoping for the best. Somehow they were left with a greater capacity for love, not less.

I wanted to get me some of that.

The profound opening that is the result of a strong and steady practice--and which includes deep, painful emotions as well as boring and joyful ones--actually creates the perfect circumstances for you to become a more truthful version of who you already are. This you can open to joy, outrage, boredom, terror and love without losing her seat. Occasionally, she is completely at peace, but she knows that it is not the result of using meditation to withdraw from this world, but to fearlessly enter it, take it on completely and stabilize her heart in the open state.

3. Meditation is a means of self-improvement and stress reduction.

It is absolutely true that meditation brings positive change to your sense of self, relationships and quality of life. It has also been scientifically shown to make you happier (by increasing activity in the prefrontal cortex) and relieve stress (by reducing cortisol.)

However, meditation is so much more than this. In fact, its greatest benefits are realized when attempts at self-improvement are abandoned in favor of accepting yourself. Pema Chodron once said that cultivating gentleness toward yourself is the single most important aspect of meditation practice. When you draw attention away from the inner chatter that is usually grading you for everything on a scale of one to 10, you make space for another kind of awareness to arise: your own natural, complete and indestructible wisdom. This is a guarantee.

Through meditation, you tune into your life rather than your thoughts about your life. You see that it has an arc, rhyme and pattern. In fact, your life has a life of its own and you are its guardian, not its master. Your unique path, the one that reveals to you who you really are, appears. You can see it. You can feel it. There is a sense of definitely being in the right place.

Ultimately, meditation is nothing more or less than the path to enlightenment. That it also happens to be an astonishingly effective way to like yourself more and accomplish your goals is peripheral. Using it solely as a means to conventional ends robs it of its elegance and power--and you miss the verdant and fertile forest that exists in the unending now for trees that have yet to flower.

(Thus have I heard.)

-- Taken from The Huffington Post online

Monday, May 31, 2010

Chanting Meditation Video

Here it is.  Amateur video shot during our 8 PM Chanting meditation Saturday night at Spiral Circle.  It's a playlist comprised of seven videos since YouTube won't allow me to upload more than 10 minutes per video.  Troy on Crystal Bowls.  Orlando Meditation Practice Group chanting with and without Deva Premal, Mantras for Precarious Times CD.  Enjoy!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Heart-Essence of Buddhist Meditation

Excerpt from Tricycle magazine.  Read the full article online here:
By Lama Surya Das
Artwork by Mia Muratori

The Heart-Essence of Buddhist Meditation
The common roots of various Buddhist meditative practices

Clinging to one’s school and condemning others
Is the certain way to waste one’s learning.
Since all dharma teachings are good,
Those who cling to sectarianism
Degrade Buddhism and sever
Themselves from liberation.
       —Milarepa, The One Hundred Thousand Songs

During my initial private meeting with the Venerable Kalu Rinpoche, my first root guru, I asked him about the main points of meditation. He asked what kind of meditation I was doing, and I told him mindfulness of breathing. “What will you concentrate on when you stop breathing?” he asked.

That was a real eye-opener. Suddenly I realized that I might have to broaden the scope of my understanding of Buddhist practice. In time, I came to discover that it included a great deal more than any one meditation technique and also that the many forms of Buddhist meditation shared fundamental elements.

The philosopher Simone Weil characterized prayer as pure undivided attention. Here is where all contemplative practices have a common root, a vital heart that can be developed in an almost infinite variety of skillful directions, depending on purpose and perspective. Different techniques of meditation can be classified according to their focus. Some focus on the field of perception itself, and we call those methods mindfulness; others focus on a specific object, and we call those concentrative practices. There are also techniques that shift back and forth between the field and the object.

Meditation, simply defined, is a way of being aware. It is the happy marriage of doing and being. It lifts the fog of our ordinary lives to reveal what is hidden; it loosens the knot of self-centeredness and opens the heart; it moves us beyond mere concepts to allow for a direct experience of reality. Meditation embodies the way of awakening: both the path and its fruition. From one point of view, it is the means to awakening; from another, it is awakening itself.

Meditation masters teach us how to be precisely present and focused on this one breath, the only breath; this moment, the only moment. In the Dzogchen tradition we refer to a “fourth time,” the transcendent moment of nowness. In Tibetan this is called shicha, a transcendent yet immanent dimension of timeless being that vertically intersects each moment of horizontal linear time—past, present, and future. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we are quite naturally present to this moment—where else could we be? Meditation is simply a way of knowing this.

Different Buddhist schools recommend a variety of meditative postures. Some emphasize a still, formal posture, while others are less strict and more focused on internal movements of consciousness. Tibetan traditions, for instance, advise an upright spine, erect but relaxed; hands at rest in the lap, with the belly soft; shoulders relaxed, chin slightly tucked, and the gaze lowered with eyelids half shut; the jaw is slack with the tongue behind the upper teeth; the legs are crossed. A Soto Zen Buddhist saying instructs us to sit with formal body and informal mind. The common essential point is to remain balanced and alert, so as to pierce the veil of samsaric illusion.

Although most Westerners tend to conceive of Eastern forms of meditation as something done cross-legged with eyes closed, in a quiet, unlit place, the Buddha points with equal emphasis to four postures in which to meditate: sitting, standing, walking, and lying down. The Satipatthana Sutra says: “When you sit, know that you are sitting; when standing, know you are standing. . . .” This pretty much covers all our activities, allowing us to integrate meditative practice into daily life. Learn to sit like a Buddha, stand like a Buddha, walk like a Buddha. Be a Buddha; this is the main point of Buddhist practice.

While many people today practice meditation for physical and mental health, a deeper approach to practice energizes our inner life and opens the door to realization. In Tibetan, the word for meditation is gom, which literally means “familiarization” or “getting used to,” and in this sense meditation is a means by which we familiarize ourselves with our mind. The common Pali term for meditation is bhavana, meaning “to cultivate, to develop, to bring into being.” So we might then think of meditation as the active cultivation of mind leading to clear awareness, tranquility, and wisdom. This requires conscious effort.

But from another—and at first glance contradictory—perspective, there is nothing to do in meditation but enjoy the view: the magical, mysterious, and lawful unfolding of all that is, all of which is perfect as it is. In other words, we’re perfect as we are, and yet there’s work to be done. In this we find the union of being and doing: we swoop down with the bigger picture in mind—the view of absolute reality—and at the same time we climb the spiritual mountain in keeping with our specific aspirations and inclinations, living out relative truth. “While my view is as high as the sky, my actions regarding cause and effect [karma] are as meticulous as finely ground barley flour,” sang the Lotus Master Padmasambhava, who first brought Buddhism to Tibet in the eighth century. By alternating between active cultivation and effortless awareness, we engage in a delicate dance that balances disciplined intention with simply being. By being both directive and allowing, we gradually learn to fearlessly explore the frontiers and depths of doing and being, and come to realize that whatever is taking place, whatever we may feel and experience, is intimately connected with and inseparable from intrinsic awareness.

Continue reading here:,1&offer=dharma

Saturday, May 22, 2010

babies know how

This morning the realization came to me that babies live in the Now.  Each moment is a new experience to them.  They cry when there is discomfort or hunger.  They cry when they want attention.  But the majority of babies do spend a great deal of time either sleeping (dreamwalking?) or staring at the ceiling or a mobile they can't reach or touch.  So until a basic need arises; discomfort from a wet diaper, hunger pains, or the desire for soothing or attention, babies live in the moment.
Each and every one of us was once a baby.  No skipping that phase.  (Although I joke my son was born a toddler because of his size at birth.)  But each of us, at one point, lay in a crib and stared at the ceiling.  Only later do we develop the desire for more and more stimulation.

It would then stand to reason that each of us know how to live in the Now.  But as we grew older we began to rely more on outside stimulation to help us develop into who we are.  We have become addicted to all this external stimulation, and as a result, have forgotten how to live in the Now.

As the old e-mail joke which has circulated many times said, we spend our childhood wanting to be older, become older and then decide we want to be a kid again.  Who says you have to be older to embrace your inner child?  Why not do it now, no matter how old you are.

Go outside and dance in the rain (preferably without lightning around).  Skip from your doorway to your car.  Whistle.  Ride a bicycle. Skip a rope! Sing a silly song in the car on your way to work; something like, "Jack and Jill" or "Humpty Dumpty".  Have fun and be silly!

Enjoy life while we can.  Advice I know I should heed more, and I have a feeling, more of you out there could stand to do so as well.

Be Happy!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

New direction for blog

Troy and I have been invited to speak on an internet radio show today about meditation.  We do not have any certifications that proclaim us Meditation Teachers.  We can only speak from our hearts about what we have learned thus far, how we apply it, our personal experiences, and the personal benefits we've experienced.

As a result, I've decided to take my desire to share meditation to another level.   This blog will be expanded to include all forms of meditation.  Hopefully by sharing what we've learned, then receiving feedback from other practitioners, we can grow our knowledge and expand our practice together.

If you have any suggestions or input, please share!

If you'd like to listen to us on the radio, or listen later to the archive of the show, visit:

The show is today, May 20th from 6-7 PM.  Anyone can call in and make comments about their practice or ask questions - that means any of you too! 917.889.7423 (Not toll free, sorry...)

Monday, May 3, 2010

4th & 5th day of the course: Saturday & Sunday

Saturday we followed the same schedule.  We were instructed by Goenka during one of the sessions to narrow our attention to a specific point for the sensation of breath.  We spent a day narrowing on this point and I began to doubt my ability to do so.  I felt so weak-minded.  It was so very difficult to remain focused on that one specific point only.

Then we were introduced to the first days teaching of the Vipassana technique.

It was a two-hour required sit.  Everyone was discouraged from leaving the room.  I cannot remember the appropriate term for the teaching, but there is one.  It is believed to be the actual process transmitted by The Buddha to his students.  Goenka chanted each step in Pali (Hindu?), then translated in English.  Our attention was moved from our nostrils and slowly expanded to cover ever single inch of our body and back up again.  This process took two hours and he guided us through the entire process.  I became so engrossed in the process I was completely oblivious of any discomfort or pain I was in after sitting in the position for more than an hour.  There are absolutely no words that can adequately describe my experience.  All I know is I returned to awareness outside of my own body when he released us with the closing chant.  Most of the room jumped up, trying to make it out the door.  Some were bursting into tears.  Some were bursting at the seams and trying to get to the bathroom.

Many had sat so still for so long they were completely numb, yet oblivious until they fell when attempting to stand.  I rushed for the door and once outside burst into tears.  I felt like a buzzing bundle of energy.  I felt as if I could fly.  I had an endorphin rush like no drug has ever given me.  I touched eternal bliss.  It was one of the most amazingly powerful experiences of my entire 44 years on this planet.

I felt as if I had to move.  I quickly headed for the women's trail, now a favorite spot of mine.  I walked slowly, looking at everything.  Even though it was winter and most things were brown and dead, it all looked so alive to me.  As the wind blew the trees and bushes, I imagined they were all waving at me.  I felt as if I had stepped into the Roger Rabbit cartoon and everything was singing to me.  I felt so amazingly connected to everything.  It is yet another moment beyond comparison.

Even now it is still staggering to realize just what my mind is truly capable of, IF I can remain focused.  It was very easy to do so when guided by a teacher.  Much more difficult once you enter the real world and have no one to guide you anymore.

Third day at the course: Friday

I lay awake for a very long time that Thursday night before finally falling into a fitful sleep.  I awoke Friday morning. exhausted and with my mind made up.  I was going home!  It lightened my mood a little to think I would be escaping all this pain, discomfort, and suffering.  Kind of funny now that I type that and think of the first of the four noble truths.  "There is dukkha (suffering)."

I went to breakfast same as the morning before and returned to the dorm to take my shower and get cleaned up.  Of those that left the course, almost all left during group meditation.  I think part of it was shame for each of us.  Another part was the desire to reduce the interruptions and facing those that would be staying behind.  As I waited for the 8 o'clock bell for group meditation, I sat on my bed and decided it would be nice to have a good long meditation before hitting the road.  Even to this point, I still have not lost my love or belief in meditation.

I was not concerned with leaving while the others were not in group meditation, so I decided to do the group sit and then pack my stuff and hit the road.  I entered the meditation hall.

It was the easiest meditation I had had in an extremely long time.  The time flew by and before I knew it Goenka was singing the closing meditation chant.  I was so surprised, I decided to stay for the next meditation period and see what happened. 

And that is how I learned to live in the moment.  If I thought ahead to eight more days before I could see my family again, the loneliness became almost unbearable.  The idea of sitting for eight more days, all day long, every single day, filled me with anxiety and fear.  But if I just thought of sitting through the next period and then I could leave if I wanted to, got me through the remaining days.

The schedule repeated itself each day and I easily flowed into it with my one-session-at-a-time attitude.  Before I knew it, it was bed time.  I climbed into bed and slept the best I had since arriving.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Second day at course: Thursday

The really sad thing is, I should have blogged about this right after I came back.  So much time has passed the details of some things have faded.  I know they are there, somewhere.  But access is denied at this time.  Only the bigger things still stand firm.

I approached the second day, Thursday, with some enthusiasm but wondering how in the world I was going to get through T-E-N days of this. 

The wake-up bell rang at 4 AM and I got up.  There was a 30-minute period to get dressed and visit the bathroom.  You had the choice of sitting in your room or in the meditation hall.  I had been assigned a cushion in the center of the room without back support.  I had not yet found that "sweet spot" that allows me to sit for longer periods without back support and minimal pain.  I knew that I would be very uncomfortable for an hour and a half sit, so I opted to meditate in my room, leaning up against the wall.  The time passed very slowly it seemed, but I remained focused on the sensation of breath within the triangle region of my nose.

At 6:30 the bell rings again for breakfast.  By this time I am ready for a break.  We walk slowly and silently, single file to the dining hall.  Breakast is served buffet style with each person fixing their own plate and drinks.  In the dining hall it is very silent and all you can hear is the scraping of dishes with utensils, pouring of liquids, and the sounds normally associated with breakfast.  Each person sits at a table that is affixed to the wall.  A few spots had windows to look out of, but for the most part you stared at a blank wall while you ate.  This helped you from accidentally making eye contact as you would if sitting across from one another. 

I'm not a hot drink person (except the rare hot cocoa when it's cold outside), so I opted for a tall glass of orange juice each morning.  Breakfast was oatmeal and a sliced apple or banana.  As I mentioned previously, I'm not only a picky eater, but not very adventurous either.  So I kept it safe and simple.  The entire time I ate I tried to remain focused on the sensation of breath moving in and out of my nostrils, as instructed the previous evening during the discourse with S.N. Goenka.  It was quite challenging.  At the end of my meal, I signed my name on the list to meet with the teacher at noon that day.  I had been told by Olga, our female manager, I had to speak to him about changing my seating arrangements.

I had signed up for the 7 AM shower time, so I finished breakfast and headed back to the dorm for my shower.  After my shower I busied myself making my bed, cleaning my room, and putting away my belongings.

At 8 AM the bell rang once again instructing us to return to the meditation hall for the mornings first group meditation.  One of my favorite parts at the beginning and end of each meditation was the chanting.  I love chanting!  The audio began with Goenka chanting and then providing us with brief guidance to begin our meditation period.  We sat in silence which is an awesome experience to sit in a room with 45 or so people all sitting in silence and focused on the same intention.  I still enjoy group meditation immensely.  There's just something about being connected in a room full of people with the same intention that is different from the enjoyment of sitting privately.  I won't say I'll ever choose one over the other though.  To me, it's all the same.  It's sitting. 

About 40 minutes into the meditation by back began to ache horribly and my legs were completely numb and screaming.  I was in quite a bit of discomfort but was trying so hard to sit still and not move.  The knee cushions I use are filled with something that isn't quite silent when you shift on it.  When Goenka began to chant again I thought I was going to cry with relief.  Goenka instructed us to take a brief break and return for teacher instructions in 10 minutes.  Almost everyone left the room to use the restroom and/or to stretch.  I did both wondering how in the world I could sit another hour with my back hurting like it was. 

We returned to the room and received our instructions from the teacher in the room.  Each day he would instruct a different group of people to stay behind while the rest were free to stay in the room or return to their room to sit.  Most would choose to leave the room and sit elsewhere.  Some would sit in the hallway, some outside in a chair, some in their rooms.  The first day the teacher instructed the new female and male students to stay behind.  He called us up four at a time to sit in front of him.  He would then look at each one of us in turn and ask if we understood the instructions and if we could indeed feel the sensation of breath.  When asked, I told him I could.  We then sat with him for about 5 minutes to meditate.  After that, he released us to return to our rooms or our cushion in the hall to continue meditating until lunch time.

That first day I returned to my room being too uncomfortable to sit in the hall without back support.  I sat in my room on my bed and leaned against the wall.  I remained focused on the sensation of breath flowing in and out of my nostrils.  When the bell rang at 11 AM, I joined the others in returning to the dining hall for lunch.  The same as breakfast, everyone was silent and only the sounds of people eating could be heard. 

After I finished my meal, I decided to check out the nature trail they had mentioned during our orientation.  Grabbing a banana, I set out for the trail located behind the dormitory and meditation hall.  Walking silently, with head bowed and looking at the ground, remaining focused on the sensation of breath, I entered the trail.  It wasn't very long, but I learned to savor every single inch of that pathway.  I came to feel an intimacy with those woods that I can feel even as I sit here and type these words.  It was my slice of heaven for six days.

At noon the bell rang again to indicate it was time for the afternoon break.  During this time period you were to rest and did not have to meditate.  It was also the time when you met with the instructor, if you desired a private audience for questions.  I met briefly with the teacher to request a chair to reduce strain on my knee and back.  He agreed and told Olga to make it so.  After my session with the teacher, I returned to my room and napped, as did most everyone else.

At 1 PM the bell rang again indicating time to return to the hall or sit in your room and begin your afternoon meditation period.  I decided to lie in bed and practice my breath meditation.  About 45-minutes or so into it, I began to see these images flickering behind my eyes.  They moved very rapidly and were difficult to ascertain what they were images of.  All I could say for certain is they were images of people and scenes, as if viewing many different clips of movies from many different eras and settings.  I began to feel frightened as they moved so very rapidly and I could not remain focused on any one image.  As my heart began to pound (my breath in my nostrils completely forgotten at this point), I saw the image of a large snake wiggle vertically on the right from bottom to top.  Once the snake had left my sight, the images stopped.  All I knew was I felt pretty freaked out and there was no one I could talk to about my experience. 

At 2:30 the bell rang again to return to the meditation hall for group meditation.  I sat there, freaked out by me experience, and attempted to meditate.  As if my feelings of agitation were not strong enough, my legs began to ache horribly and the idea of nine more days began to seem impossible.  I began to doubt myself, "I'm not strong enough.  I can't do this.  I'm so weak." I thought.  At 3:30 we were released again to continue in the hall or return to our room.  At this point, I returned to my room and just lay on the bed staring at the ceiling wondering, "What in the world am I doing?" as my heart continued to pound in my chest.

At 5 PM the bell rang calling us back to the dining hall for our evening break.  There is no evening meal, only fruit and lemon water.  I thought I liked lemon water, but when I tried it the lemon was too strong for me and instead, I just drank ice water and sliced up an apple to munch on.  I sat at a window, staring out at the cold outside, and wondered if I could really do this after all. 

At 6 PM we were called back to the hall for another hour group meditation.  It took me all I could do to sit in the chair and not squirm.  It was a required sit so I could not return to my room without notice.  Through sheer will, I sat there until it was finally time to get up again.  I darted out of the room at tne end of the sit, pacing and trying not to cry from the pain and anguish I felt.

At 7 PM we returned again for the evening discourse by S.N. Goenka.  In 1991, a recording was made of S.N. Goenka teaching the 10-day Vipassana course, same as the one we were taking.  Each evening there was a video taped discourse, same as he gave in the classes he taught.  I wish I could tell you I knew what he said, but I spent the time twisting in my chair and praying for an end to it all.  The minute we were released from the room, I ran straight to my room, climbed under the covers and tried to stifly any sound of my crying from my roommates as they came into the room.  There was absolutely, positively, no way I could sit through another hour in that room!!

As the dormitory quietened and each person returned to the hall, I lay in bed and gave myself over to my tears.  I began to sob and had never felt so alone, so frightened, and in so much discomfort as I was right then.  I was miserable!  But I still had not identified WHAT I FELT.  All I knew was I wanted to run home right then!

For each required sit, the manager would come get you if you did not show up.  True to form, Olga soon came to my room to inquire if I was coming to sit.  I informed her I could not.  As I explained what was happening to me, her eyes filled with tears and she told me she would let the instructor know.  I nodded my head, put my pj's on and climbed into bed thinking it was the last I would see of anyone for the rest of the night.  I was wrong.

Olga returned telling me the teacher had asked if I would come meet with him after the group meditation around 9:10 in the meditation hall.  I told her I would.  When I heard everyone coming out of the room, I put my clothes back on and returned to the hall.  From 9-9:30 PM, students can approach the teacher to ask questions publicly, but silently as people are still meditating in the hall.  I sat in my assigned chair and waited for him to call me.

He called my name and I approached.  He asked me how I was doing and I asked him if we could please speak privately.  He said we could and asked everyone to leave the room.  Once everyone was gone, I fell apart and began to sob again.  I told him about how much I missed my husband and what a physical ache it was.  I told him about the physical pain and I just didn't know if I could take 9 more days of sitting.  I told him how I couldn't get comfortable to meditate.  I told him about the images I saw before me during the afternoon meditation, but I still could not convey what I was feeling. I mentioned my fear that maybe this was too much for me and my bipolar condition and my mind was going to snap. Finally I looked at him and through my tears blurted, "I'M JUST SOOO SCAAARRREEEDDDD!!!"  I was surprised.  Up to that moment I had absolutely no idea what I was feeling was F-E-A-R.  L-O-T-S of I-T! 

That teacher is one of the first teachers I've ever had who could show what true equanimity is.  In case you need to look it up, it basically means to feel compassion for another without investing your own emotions into their drama or the outcome of their situation.  I felt his compassion, but his encouragement was more logical than a plea to "stick with it".  He made me feel as if it truly didn't matter to him if I went or stayed.  He had nothing invested in it because the course was about me, not him.  There was nothing he could do for me, but answer questions about the technique.  He was compassionate to my suffering and understood how beneficial this could be to me, but it had to be my choice.

Those are the wisest of teachers.  The ones who realize they cannot convince you to do something.  You must come to it on your own and your movitation must come from within.  They can encourage and guide, but when you make the decision and make it on your own, the inner strength you feel is much stronger.  This is how he guided me.

I left him and returned to my room.  I changed back into pj's and climbed back into bed.  With the key chain with the photo of my husband and I clenched tightly in my hand, I cried myself to sleep wondering if I had truly lost my mind.  What in the world was wrong with me that I couldn't just be happy with what I had?  Why did I have to keep searching for that unknown "something" that I just knew was OUT THERE.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It's been a while since my last confession...

Life happens and when it does, blogs are neglected.  If you are reading this, I apologize for the long absence.  Hopefully I can dedicate a little more time to getting things caught up.

My next post will continue discussing my Vipassana experience.  After that I will be branching into a number of topics as I study them and learn more about them.  One thing I have learned about meditation, is how little I know about meditation.  It is a bottomless well of opportunity that can save lives and change the world.  I have become a died-in-the-wool believer and God help you if you ask me anything about meditation.  Takes me a while to shut up about it.  :)

I do see one of my paths in life is to learn about meditation, apply it, then share with those who wish to listen.  I realize I cannot convince anyone that meditation is what it is.  Everyone must come to it themselves.  I can only answer questions, motivate, and encourage.  That is one of the things I love about meditation.  Everyone must do it for themselves, you cannot do it for them.  Assisting others as they become empowered is a beautiful thing to watch.  I have watched members of our group blossom over the past year as they remain committed to their practice.  I have watched people walk in who have never sat before and haven't missed a session since.  THIS is what feeds me.  Watching people open up to themselves, grow, and begin to see themselves as they truly are - without filters or conditioning.  That is what meditation does.  It teaches us to remain in the moment and not judge, just observe.  When we become observer, without judgement, we begin to see things as they truly are.  It's simple to understand.  Much, much more difficult to remain committed.

So, yes, I am committed to sitting... and learning who I really am.  Sometimes, I like what I see.  Sometimes, I don't.  The great thing is once I see something I don't like about myself, I am empowered to change it.

As The Buddha said (and I paraphrase horribly), "Do not believe it is so because I have told you.  Believe it only when you have applied it and found it to be true." 

Monday, March 29, 2010

Vipassana course experience: Registration & the first Night

I arrived Wednesday afternoon and got settled into my room, G-3.  I had a single bed without a bunk above me.  I was very grateful I did not have to try and haul my big butt up and down from the top bed!  Although, I do suspect the women at the Registration table were extremely intelligent and were able to deduce that climbing up and down a bunk bed was not going to be an easy feat for me.  I'm sure they probably considered liability risks as well.

Since I and some others arrived early, we were able to spend a couple of hours chatting and getting to know one another before the course offically started.  It was nice to talk to others and get to know your room mates.  I never really got to speak to our third room mate.  I'm not even sure what her name was.  There were two beautiful women we met who were returning students, one for the 17th time!  The other woman was an older woman whose husband also attends with her.  A woman from India was also there with her husband, but she was not happy about being there.  "My son talked me into it, but I don't want to do it!" she said with a small smile.  Her son is preparing to attend the one-year course to become an Assistant Teacher and take the 8 Precepts.  She was upset because it would mean no grandchildren or continuation of their family name on her side since he was her only son.

We met in the Dining Hall at 5 PM to meet the course manager and the resident female manager.  They went through a general explanation of the course and guidelines; basically everything you had read on the web site, re-read when they sent you your acceptance email, and read once again upon arrival when they handed you the little blue booklet to read through before the course started.  There was also a recording that was played which welcomed everyone and, once again, went through the course guidelines and your willingness to abide by all rules.  No one left the room.  More than one of us had a very serious look on our faces and appeared to already be deep in thought about the task that lie before us.

When the introduction was over and no one left the room, we were prompted for any questions we may have.  Once the few questions were answered, we were released to return to our rooms until the first discourse of the evening with Goenka on DVD.  Once we stepped outside of the room we were not to speak again (exceptions: physical or facility issues, questions for teacher or managers) or make eye contact with one another.  We silently filed out of the room, heads bowed, as we took the path back to the dormitory.

Once I got silent and began to retreat into myself, I became aware of this physical ache I felt missing Troy.  It felt as if a big piece of my soul was missing.  I was quite surprised by the intensity of it.  When it was time to come to the Dhamma Hall for the evening discourse and meditation, a bell was rung to summon us to the hall.  We were given assigned cushions to sit on and entered the room for the first time, one-by-one.  Assigning cushions was brilliant.  Time was saved when people weren't constantly jostling from one cushion to another and getting themselves comfortable.  We could also leave our personal cushions and didn't have to carry them back and forth.  This was a very nice convenience to have, especially considering how many cushions I was toting around!

We sat for the first discourse (which was wonderful, as they all were) and followed it with an hour meditation after a short break.  After the meditation I realized I would not be able to sit at my assigned cushion because of my knee and would require a chair.  I spoke to the female manager about the chair and she told me I would have to speak to the teacher the following day.

As I climbed into bed that night and everything around me got quiet, I began to softly cry.  I had removed a key chain photo I have of Troy and I and was clenching it tightly in my hand.  All I could think was, "What are you doing here?  What is the matter with you?  Why are you always searching?  Why can't you just be happy with what you have?  Don't you realize everything you need, you already have?" 

It took me a good two hours before I finally fell asleep.  Even then, I woke frequently throughout the night.  The next morning I felt tired and not too sure about what I had gotten myself into this time....

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Vipassana course experience: the schedule

I am finally ready to start blogging about my experience during the Vipassana course a few weeks ago.  Life has been coming at me fast and I have found an hour meditation every morning helps me maintain a calm and balanced mind.  This will be a series of blogs since there is way more to talk about than you would want to read in one sitting.

The schedule is the same almost every day, except for Vipassana and Metta day.  It is very easy to fall into the routine of each day.  For sitting all day long, every day, I was still exhausted and could easily fall asleep when it came time for lights out.  (Sometimes, I was asleep even before then!)

So, this is what each day was like for me.

4 AM:  Morning wake-up bell. 
The first day I got up at 4 AM.  Once I realized you didn't really have to get up at 4 AM (unless you had to pee), I no longer got up at 4 AM.

4:30-6:30 AM:  Meditation in the dhamma hall or in your room. 
I usually meditated in my room.  As a matter of fact, I only went to the dhamma hall twice during the 4:30-6:30 AM meditation, prefering to meditate while lying in my bed.

6:30-8 AM:  Breakfast break and showers. 
I was usually the first person in the dining hall for breakfast at 6:30.  I would enjoy my bowl of oatmeal with orange juice and an apple, then back to the dormitory to take my shower at 7 AM.  You had to sign up for a shower schedule, so I grabbed 7 AM since I like a morning shower, not an evening one.  The remainder of the time was spent making my bed and tidying up the room I shared with two other women.

8-9 AM:  Group meditation in the hall. 
This is a required sit in the dhamma hall.  If you do not come to the hall, they will come get you.  It always started with an audio recording of Goenka chanting followed by guidance about the technique delivered in a guided format for about 5-10 minutes.  You spend the remainder of the hour in meditation in the hall.

9:10-11 AM:  Meditation in the hall or in your room according to the teachers instructions. 
After the 9 AM meditation we would take a 10-minute break, then return to the hall for further instructions.  The assistant teacher would play another audio recording with Goenka chanting and providing any specific instructions for the day.  Goenka would then turn the session over to the assistant teacher.  The assistant teacher (ours was Riban Ulrich) would then provide instructions for the rest of the period.  Usually, he would specify a group of students he would be talking with (new students - all, new students - female only, old students - male only, etc.) and everyone else could continue meditation in the hall or in their room.  When the assistant teacher met with a group of students, he would always call four of us up at a time (by name), then question us about our practice and if we had any questions.  We would meditate with him for about 5 minutes, then he would release us to return to our seat in the hall or our room to meditate.

11 AM-12 Noon:  Lunch break and showers. 
Again, I was usually the first one there for lunch as well.  You'd think I liked the food, but that wasn't the case.  (Not due to their cooking, but due to my finicky tastes.)  I liked having time to look over what I probably was not going to eat before anyone else arrived.  It also reduced the embarassment level a little bit when people could see just how picky an eater I am.  I usually ate very little though.  Maybe rice and some fruit.  I discovered I really don't like true vegetarian foods.  (I'm a Westernized-processed-food-Vegetarian.)  Once I finished eating my meager meal, I would take a walk along the women's nature path.

12-1 PM:  Rest and interviews with the teacher. 
This was your one break during the day when you rest your mind or can take a nap.  Many people would take naps or take a walk along the nature path.  The first few days I would nap, but eventually found walking the nature path to be a much more enjoyable use of my time.  It is where and when I had some of my most powerful experiences.  (To be shared in later posts.)  If you had questions or wish to speak to the teacher privately, you could put your name on a list in the dining hall before lunch.  Then at noon report to the room outside the dhamma hall until your name was called.  I only met with the teacher a couple of times privately.  Everything was pretty straightforward.  Most people spoke to the teacher to discuss the emotional upheaval they were experiencing or any confusion they may have about the technique.

1-2:30 PM:  Meditate in the hall or in your room. 
I took this period fairly seriously, but usually would do the meditation in my room.  Lying down.  In bed.  Sometimes, you would hear snoring throughout the hall during this period.  I had an extremely intense experience during the first day during this period which I will blog about later.

2:30-3:30 PM:  Group meditation in the hall. 
Another required group sit.  Same as before, audio of Goenka chanting, then directing the exercise for that meditation during the first 10 minutes or so.  Rest of period was spent in meditation in the dhamma hall using the specified technique.

3:40-5 PM:  Meditate in the hall or in your room. 
I would usually stay in the hall and continue meditating, unless my legs or knee was bothering me a little more.  Then I would take a walk or go stretch out in my bed in my room.

5-6 PM:  Tea break. 
There is no evening meal.  During this time you can have tea, water, juice, or fruit.  After the fourth day I no longer bothered to even go to the dining hall for this break.  This is another peiod in which you could also take showers.  I would usually spend mine on the nature trail.

6-7 PM:  Group meditation in the hall. 
Another required group sit. Same as before, audio of Goenka chanting, then directing the exercise for that meditation during the first 10 minutes or so. Rest of period was spent in meditation using the specified technique.

7:15-8 PM:  Teacher's discourse in the hall. 
This was an hour long video of Goenka delivering a dhamma discourse.  One of my favorite parts of the day.  One student commented (prior to when we couldn't talk anymore) that she always thought we should have popcorn and a soda because it was just like watching a movie.  Goenka is an excellent speaker and teacher.  Required attendance.

8:15-9:15 PM:  Group meditation in the hall.
Another required group sit. Same as before, audio of Goenka chanting, then directing the exercise for that meditation during the first 10 minutes or so. Rest of period was spent in meditation using the specified technique.

9:15-9:30 PM:  Question time in the hall. 
This period of time was available for students to sit before the assistant teacher and ask any questions they may have.  Some people would stay in the room and continue to meditate during this time.  Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn't.

9:30-10 PM:  Retire to your room. 
Prepare for bed.  Showers.

10 PM:  Lights out. 
I was usually sound asleep by this time.  The first couple of nights were difficult to go to sleep, but that was more of being in a new environment, than anything else.

...and that is pretty much how every day went, schedule-wise.  Now the experiences, that's a whole different story.  Stay tuned to find out why!


Monday, March 22, 2010

Goenka group sit meditation mp3s

I am TOTALLY psyched! I found some mp3s of S.N. Goenka leading group sits - with chanting - for FREE! After sitting in the course, I find his voice to be most soothing. Even if I don't understand all of the chants, I know they are powerful and meant to aid in meditation. I am looking forward to sharing this with our meditation group!

Here is the link for the mp3s:

PLEASE be sure to donate something for the mp3s to the site owner. This is a great blessing to find these and we want to make sure they remain available to others for free as well!

-- update to the update !!

I just found another site where you can download the discourses for each day of the 10-day course, as well as the chants in Hindi.  In the chant mp3s I purchased he is chanting for 45 minutes (not just before and after a meditation period).  Read carefully before clicking the "add to shopping cart" button.  Also confirm you are getting the language version you want because they offer a wide variety.   There are a host of other mp3s you can order on there as well.  $10-$35/each.  I found the download process to be fairly easy.  The first time I ordered I got the download link within a couple of hours.  The second time it was about 24 hours before I got the download link.  Not bad for a small organization, I think.  Recommend!
It's here:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

They're coming home!!

Yesterday was Metta day at the Vipassana Center in Georgia. Today, my new friends will be returning home from their experience. Since I haven't heard from them yet, I am hopeful that means they made the full 10 days. I am really looking forward to hearing about their experiences, and, if they allow, will post them here -- or if they post them somewhere else, I will include the link here.

Last week was spent adjusting to "real life" once again, so my posts have fallen horribly behind. I hope to start posting this week with more on my experience at the center.

Drive safely, my friends!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Is meditation your friend or enemy?

A thought-provoking article on by Ed and Deb Shapiro about the importance of developing a meditation practice that is a joy, not a chore. 

"Almost everything you do in life is to achieve something: If you do this, then you will get that; if you do that, then this will happen. You may not be used to doing something without an agenda. But in meditation, you do it just because you want to. There is no ulterior motive other than to be here, in the present, without a goal of succeeding or of trying to get anywhere.

If your purpose is to try to achieve a quiet mind, then the trying itself will create tension and failure. Instead, you are just with whatever is happening in the moment, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant. No judgment, no right or wrong. Watching whatever arises and letting it go is all that is required. It is more of an undoing than a doing."

back on schedule ... another lesson realized

Today is my first day back to work after 2-1/2 weeks on vacation.  Seven of those days were spent at the Vipassana Center in Georgia and I was highly disciplined.  The rest of the time off I allowed myself to become lazy and undisciplined.  I reached a point where I wasn't getting into bed until 2 AM and as a result not getting up any early than 7 AM.  I told myself I deserved a break.  I mean, after all, look at all that difficulty and sacrifice you went through for 7 days!  Relax, you'll return to it when you return to your regular schedule at work.

Bad idea.  The time at the center gave me great discipline that I didn't even realized I had gained in such a short time.  When I sat this morning for my first 45 minute sit, my mind was as chatty as it has been in a long time.  I was bouncing all over the place.  It took very heavy, controlled breathing to finally break the hold, but even then it was only a reduction from frantic to a slower pace.  At 30 minutes I finally began to feel a touch of my "groove", but it was fleeting.  The discomfort and distractions set in early.  I couldn't stop list-making for things to remember to take to work.  Random and contemplative thoughts. 

I feel as if I have lost a lot of ground I gained during the course.  Since it will be an extremely long time before I have that opportunity again, it will take me a long time to get back to where I was. 

Lesson Learned:  My mind is much more undisciplined than I thought.  Discipline is critical for a solid meditation practice.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Good luck to the March 10th group at Jesup!

I've made two new friends via Blogger who will be attending the March 10th group in Jesup for the Vipassana course.  I'm so excited for them and realize the huge undertaking they are about to start.  You go through so many emotions as the day approaches.  Excitement at the prospect of devoting so much time to your personal spiritual path.  Anxiety of the unknown.  Fear because you realize what a huge undertaking it is and cannot help but wonder if you will be able to withstand the ten days.

No one knows how their course will end.  The most important question I had to ask, seriously review, and answer before I left was:  "Am I running away or is leaving truly the right choice?"

If I would have left after the first night, for me, it would have been running away.  Although I knew a lot of my discomfort was coming from the process and I was reaching another peak, I also realized the amount of physical pain I was in was no longer allowing me to focus on the technique to continue the process started.

It was scary.  I will not deny that.  And it takes every single ounce of self-determination and will power you didn't realize you had, to not walk away.  But even if you only make it a couple of days or all 10 days, everyone who has ever taken the course understands and respects you the same. 

When you are sitting in that hall together and you know people are crying around you, in pain, and deep inside themselves, you feel a connection, a kinship, that never goes away.  It's a connection at a soul level that removes all human interactions of judging who did more or who did it the best.  The only thing that matters is dhamma.  Everything else is unimportant and that is the point of understanding that you reach when you walk away.  Regardless if it is 2 or 5 or 7 or 10 days.  If you can reach that point of true understanding, then you are doing the right thing.

Good luck, Sangha!  Good luck to my new sisters!  I will be thinking of you each day and where you are at in your process.  When you hear the bell, know that many have heard that bell just like you and have all come away better people as a result of it.  I look forward to hearing about your experiences!

Look for deer tracks in the parking lot and racoon tracks on the women's trail near the top of the loop.  There are signs of wildlife everywhere if you are just quiet and look.  :)


Monday, March 8, 2010

Checklist for women attending Vipassana course in Jesup, GA

Here's a quick checklist for women attending one of S.N. Goenka's Vipassana courses in Jesup, GA.
  • Bring minimal clothing.  No one is paying attention to what you are wearing and eventually, neither will you.  They have a bucket with soap for handwashing garments if you find the need.  Just bring plenty of underwear and socks.
  • NO PERFUME or smelly hair spray!!  PLEASE!
  • Shoes:  one sturdy pair that can be worn walking outside in mud, clay, and sandy areas that are wet.  If you can get a pair that are easy to slide on and off (without ties) they are the best because you'll be pulling them off and on a lot.  I found wearing socks inside was enough and only needed the shoes when going outside.  I did wear Ugs when it got really cold at night to wear in my room and the hall when socks just weren't enough.
  • Clothing:  Hoodies are a plus when it is cold out.  Sweatpants or loose, comfy pants are best.  Loose t-shirts are good.  I liked using a scarf around my head to help minimize distractions for me when others moved, sneezed, or coughed around me.  Sometimes my mind would seize on the slightest thing!!  There are scarves available outside the dhamma hall that you can use during meditation.
  • Bring a warm shawl or blanket (separate of the one you sleep with) for the dhamma hall.  Sometimes, it is cool and you will be glad you have it.  You can also leave it and any other cushions you use where you are assigned so you don't have to carry things back and forth to your room.
  • Bring a small bag with cough drops and tissues.  Cough drops help when you get a tickle and you aren't supposed to leave the hall.  You aren't allowed to have water, so sometimes they can help. 
  • Bring an extra blanket and don't forget your sheets and pillow case.  If you do, it's okay, they have extra sets for those who don't have them.  They also have a nice blanket and decent pillow on the bed for you already.  
  • Plan for a minimal period of time in the shower.  Try to organize yourself so you are in and out quickly.  Don't use too much hot water.  We seem to have an issue of running a little cool toward the end of a shower at times. 
  • Snoring!!!  Don't worry - they have No Snore strips available in the dining hall and in the student closet for us.  I only know of one situation in which someone snored loud enough to be heard throughout the hall.  The only reason I heard her was because I woke up in the middle of the night needing to use the restroom.  The rest of the time I think everyone was too exhausted to notice someone snoring.  :)
  • A sign-up board is posted near each bathroom to sign up for the time you wish to shower.  Everyone is asked to adhere to the same time each day.  The largest window for showering is morning break from 6:30 until 8 AM.  Study the schedule carefully for break times as they are the only times you are permitted to shower.  I recommend saving the afternoon nap time for resting.  Take morning or evening shower times, depending on your preference.
  • If you wish to speak to the teacher, try to be the first to sign up on the board in the dining hall each morning.  You are usually called in the order you sign up and the time for private teacher interviews are from noon until 1, which is also your rest time.  If you aren't first, you can wait up to 30-40 minutes before your turn.  30-40 minutes of your rest time spent waiting outside the dhamma hall.
  • You can also ask questions of the teacher after the last meditation of the evening between 9:15-9:30.  People are still in the room either meditating or waiting their turn to ask questions, so it is not private.  Each person takes a turn sitting in front of the teacher and quietly discussing their question.  If what you wish to ask is not personal, it's as good a time to ask questions as any.  Only use the private interview time when it truly needs to be private or might be an emotional discussion best held in private.
  • Cut yourself a break every now and then, but try to stick to the scheduled meditation periods as closely as possible.  Try to limit resting to your room, but meditation for the meditation hall.  The more you slack, the less your results will be. 
  • Pay attention to your body!!  There is a fine line between discomfort and pain.  Recognize when it becomes pain and move.  Don't worry about everyone else sitting like stone and you have to move.  Just do so very, very slowly and quietly.  Most won't even notice you moving.  Just be sure you are truly in so much discomfort you can no longer bring yourself back to just the breath anymore.  Count the number of times you move and try to reduce by one each sit.  If the back pain is too much, request a back jack, wall or chair to assist you. 
  • Be sure to take a walk after each meal.  This helps digest your food, but also work out any kinks in your muscles between sits.  During each break between sits when you are returning to the meditation hall, always be sure to stretch your legs before sitting again.  DO NOT stretch in the meditation hall.  Exit outside and do so gracefully and discretely.
  • Use the port-a-potty!  People are shy about using it in the beginning, but eventually, when you've REALLY got to to, you won't mind using it.  They keep it very clean.  There is hand sanitizer and toilet paper inside.  Instead of standing in line and fuming because you have to wait behind someone having bathroom issues, take it outside and get it over with.  If it's cool out, the brisk air will help wake you up and re-energize you!
  • Be mindful of others.  QUIETLY close doors and flip light switches. 
Most important advice of all
  • When it gets really rough (and it will), just keep telling yourself:  "This too shall pass" and it will. 
  • When the discomfort or the itch becomes unbearable and you just have to move, say to yourself, "It itches, so what?  If I don't itch it, so what?  It will rise and then it will pass.  My mind is strong enough to watch it rise and pass without reacting to it."
  • If it does not pass after a considerable period and you are no longer able to focus your mind on just your breath, it is time to shift - quietly and slowly.  Shift as little as possible, then observe the pain and see if it begins to lessen or if it moves to another location.
Good luck to all who undertake this wonderful opportunity!  It is worth every single minute of it and one of the wisest choices I have ever made. 


I'm back... a quick summary

I'm not quite sure when or why I exchanged the word course for retreat when speaking of the Vipassana course.  It really was a course taught in true India-n style.  Lodging, food, and education are all free.  The entire day was devoted to practicing the technique.  It was one of the most amazing, painful, difficult, powerful, and self-enlightening experiences I have ever had in my life. Things became very, very basic.  Very, very simple.  Priorities and people in my life became crystal clear.  I had two distinct experiences that border on the edge of spiritual and ecstasy.  I experienced pure bliss.  I cried at least once each day.  I laughed like a child more than once.  I delighted in the simple beauty of nature.  Those experiences will be shared in more detail in forthcoming blogs.  There is way too much to share and limit to one long, torturous blog.

But the basic things people want to know are easy.

Did you make it all 10 days?
No.  I left the morning of the 7th day.  I tried many different sitting positions, including chair and sitting with back support and my legs stretched out in front of me.  Each day my left knee and right leg became worse until the pain only subsided to a continuous dull ache between sits.  Once my knee began to swell again I knew it was time to leave before I was unable to drive a long distance.

How long did you really go without talking?
Define "talking".  I spoke to the female manager or the teacher at least once every day or so.  As for my room mates, only when the shower schedule became a little complicated and sign language no longer was able to adequately convey what we were trying to communicate that we succumbed to verbal discussion.  Going without speaking, on a whole, wasn't that hard.  I had a constant conversation going on in my head all the time anyway, so what's the difference?  The one in my head just got more attention when we didn't speak aloud.

Was it really that hard?
Yes.  Each person there had their own challenges and faced their own demons.  No one was skating through this experience, no matter how many times they've attended before.  (One women was attending for the 17th time!!)  Most who will walk, leave within the first 2-3 days.  I was proud that I could push myself to a full six days before finally pulling out of the course. 

What did you do all day?
Breathe and sit.  Sit and breathe.  Each day you were taught an additional step in the technique which helps to sharpen and strengthen your mind through focus and awareness without attachment.  On the fourth day you receive the Vipassana technique of meditation. That is another blog all by itself.  That was orgasmic bliss.  No other way to describe it.

How was the food?  What did you eat?
If I were vegetarian, then I could probably rant about the food.  I discovered a much-used spice that I do not like.  Rosemary.  Now I like it even less.  I tried things that, since you can't speak to one another, I have no idea what they were - other than, lactose-free, gluten-free, and taste-free.  I ate a LOT of apples and bananas.  I had cold, lumpy, tasteless oatmeal every morning with a huge glass of orange juice.  I would, secretively add about 1/2 cup of sugar to my oatmeal to help get it down since I knew it was probably the most solid thing I'd have to eat all day.  Drinks were limited to water, lemon juice, hot tea, cider or juices, and milk (soy, rice, or good old-fashioned cow's milk).  No, Chas, there wasn't any kool aid offered.

What was your room like?
I had a room on the end, near the bathroom, and shared with two other women.  Our room had a bunk and one single bed.  I was lucky enough to get the single bed and the other two shared the bunk.  The rooms were very small.  Maybe 7 feet by 18 feet?  The width of the room was the length of my bed with a couple of inches to spare on each side of head board and foot board.  Privacy could not be an issue because there wasn't any, yet I wasn't uncomfortable with my unknown companions at all.

How do they teach the method to you?
S.N. Goenka is the teacher of this method of Vipassana meditation.  In 1991 he was audio and video taped while leading a 10-day course and it is used by each center now to teach new and old students.  There is an assistant teacher who is physically present to answer any questions or discuss concerns about the technique.  The teaching you receive, however, is directly from S.N. Goenka via digital.  It is just as powerful and it's simplicity in technique leads easily to this format of teaching.   Each section begins with a chant recited by Goenka in Pali, the original language of Buddha.  Each mantra or chant, is designed to impart wishes of peace, health, and well-being to those who hear.

What is the most important thing you have learned so far?
That I was searching just for the sake of searching but with no real goal in sight.  Once the daily demands had been removed for a couple of days and a new, gentler schedule settled in, I found things became much more clear, much easier to understand than before.  I realized, on a cellular level, my connection and place in the web of everything.  I realized that which I have always sought lies not only within me, but beside me each and every day and night.  Unconditional love.  Acceptance.  Willingness to allow me to try new things.  Devotion.  Security.  Peace.  Undying Love.  If one has that, how can they possibly ever want for anything else?  Realizing this, it made things so very, very clear and so much simpler.

I will share more intimate detail of my personal experiences on my other blog Windsong Reflections.  This blog, Insight Found Inside, will remain dedicated to meditation practice and meditation-specific topics only.