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.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

an open letter to Page...a quick summary...

One of my blog followers, Page, is scheduled for the March 10th Vipassana course, so I wanted to get something posted quickly since Blogger won't let me email directly.
  • the course is extremely rewarding and worth every single minute
  • the longest sit was one two-hour sit (on the 4th day, I believe) in which you are asked not to move at all.  this is when you are receiving Vipassana from Goenke.  it is fully guided and he is chanting between sections.  you won't even think about moving during this sit and was the most powerful experience of the whole course for me.
  • the longest period of required sitting is in the evening - one hour sit, 5 minute break, one hour sit watching discourse from Goenke on DVD, 5 minute break, one hour sit, then bed time
  • sign up for shower time as soon as you get there because you'll be expected to maintain that schedule for the duration of the course.  i'm a morning shower person, and ended up with 7:15 (6:30-8 AM is morning break time and one of the longest break periods when you can shower).  sign up is on the bulletin board near the bathroom (there are only 2).  if you prefer evenings, 9:30 is the best time because you usually get out of the final meditation around 9:15, lights out at 10 PM
  • use your breaks for BREAKS!  do not meditate during the morning, lunch, or evening break.  stretch, lie down, or take a walk around the walking trail.  during the afternoon rest, sleep.  that is the best and only real naptime you want to indulge in.  avoid any type of mental stimulation.  the brain is easily agitated in the beginning and is like taking steps backward if you lose that much fought for quiet mind.
  • i reverse the advice of an earlier posted video. do NOT sleep every chance you get! you are there for a unique experience and snoozing through it will not yield optimum results. cat naps are okay.
  • practice the breathing technique you learn the first day during everything you do!  shower, walking, eating  (as a result I was falling apart by the end of the first day)  LOL
  • do not talk!  the less you talk and the less you connect with others, the better for your experience (although it is challenging if you're sharing with two other people and the room gets too hot and you wish to open the window to cool the room)
  • if you meditate in your room, do not LIE DOWN on the bed.  best practice is to meditate only in the hall or outside.  reserve your room for sleeping and it confuses your body and mind less. 
  • there are lots and lots of cushions, backjacks and other things to choose from.  at Registration let them know if you require a chair or wall for back support. otherwise, you will be assigned a seat away from the wall and will have to meet with the teacher on the first day to request a wall or chair. 
  • know the difference between PAIN and DISCOMFORTdo not push yourself to the point of severe pain during a sit without moving.  if you reach the painful level, then shift.  just do so slowly.  i pushed myself too hard and ended up re-injuring my knee
  • try to remember when you are cresting on a wave of extreme doubt, indecision, anger, sadness, pain, or whatever -- THIS TOO SHALL PASS.  It became one of my mantras when I was trying not to shift during a meditation.  As well as what the teacher told me during a private interview when discussing the discomfort, "something hurts, SO WHAT?".  :)
  • do not overeat at meal times.  take 3/4 a plate the size you would normally eat.  more food makes you drowsy.  no food, only fruit, juice, and hot tea for the evening "meal", so really only two meals a day.  breakfast and lunch.  hope you like rosemary and vegetarian food.  if not, well, it's a great way to lose weight!  they do require you eat and no fasting is allowed.  i ate a lot of apples and bananas while i was there.  :)
  • take a water bottle that is insulated and easy to carry around.  you will drink a lot more water than you realize.
  • recognize your physical limitations.  i thought because i already sit in 45-minute periods that i would be fine.  not so.  i didn't think about the fact that these were 1 hour sits with a 5- or 10-minute break between.
  • remain as disciplined as possible about meditation periods.  the mind and ego are very strong and under attack.  they will grasp at anything to discourage meditation (bodily discomfort, mental agitation, etc.).  the more disciplined you are, the sooner your mind will become your ally.
  • be kind to yourself and don't try to be perfect.  this is a method you will be practicing for the rest of your life and cannot be mastered in 10-days or less.  the 10-days are more to provide you with an uninterrupted environment to experience the results and develop the discipline and practice.  i must admit i am awake at 4:30 every morning now and am able to complete a one hour sit without any problem.  it's a good habit to develop.
  • your two favorite words will become, "Anand..." and "Take rest, take rest..."  :)
I will blog more about my experience later, but can say it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I do not regret one single minute of it.  I had no expectations and was completely blown away by my experience.  I found everything I've been searching for while I was there.  I answered many questions for myself and even realized questions I had not yet formed.  I reconnected with my inner spiritual self, although the technique itself is not spiritual.  It is based in dhamma, the law of nature, of cause and effect.

The hour-long evening discourse with Goenke on DVD is a dhamma talk.  Some of what he says is in the book, "The Art of Living" by William Hart and is in the video you will see.  (Excellent book, BTW)  Goenke has a sense of humor and is charming and sincere.  Even though he is on DVD, you feel as if he is there with you, speaking to you, encouraging.  He chants before each group sitting.  It is wonderful, especially if you open your heart to the message behind the chanting.  More than once I was moved to tears by the sincerity of his chanting.

Please write to me, Page, and let me know how your course was!  Send me an email so we can correspond outside of Blogger, but post a comment here about your experience after you return so others can read about your experience as well.

Be well!  Know peace.  And long sits.


PS - if you're going to GA center:  Don't worry about bug spray.  Too cold, no bugs.  Just take a few outfits and wear them over and over.  They have a bucket with soap for handwashing clothing with a clothesline out back.  Bring your shoes in at night.  If it rains at night they might get soaked.  They have extra blankets.  Blankets work better than sleeping bag.  Minimize, minimize, minimize!  You don't have a lot of storage space.  Don't forget your own towel and wash cloth.  Dress in layers.  T-shirts were good when staying inside, but hoody and jacket were used when going outside or walking to dining hall.  If you have an umbrella, bring it. It will rain.  Wear socks and they will do for the meditation hall and indoor.  Have a good pair of tennis shoes or hiking boots that do well in squishy clay, mud, and water.  The walking trails are mushy and wet if it has rained and you walk a trail to the dining hall three times each day.

They have electric alarm clocks you can borrow at Registration.  Other than to know what time it is when you're in your room, you really don't need it, especially if you have a watch.  A bell is rung every time a new period starts (such as morning bell to wake up, breaks, group sittings, etc.) and schedules are posted in multiple spots.  Don't worry, you'll hear the bell.  :)