Meditation – Vipassana
Meditation – the art of thinking or rather art of thinking objectively. This is what I know of meditation – to think deeply, to the bottom most layer without emotions, without being an affected or vested party.
If you are in SE Asia and trying to understand Buddhism, you would hear about meditation and its importance to and according to the monks. There are various techniques of meditation, and Vipassana is one of them, especially in Burma / Myanmar. If you wish to learn this technique then Myanmar is an excellent place or any one of the centers of www.dhamma.org
I used to hear about meditation in childhood days but my first close encounter with meditation came in my early teens through my uncle who had done a 10 day meditation course. It was 1995. Vipassana was just introduced in India then. To promote this course, knowing its benefits, Government of Gujarat had allowed its employees to take 10 days off anytime for this course without any deduction to their paid leaves. If you do not want to do this course, then you don’t get 10 extra days. The course instructors knew how difficult this course is and how people are going to react after few days, so the centers were built with 10ft high walls to prevent scaling and jumping the walls. But some fit individuals could and did scale them. I was impressed with the stories that I heard, and thought I would do when I grow older. 18yrs is the minimum age for doing this course.
Second encounter came through my boss. He is one high energy, motivated, quick and aggressive professional with amazing quick on the feet thinking. How ideas are generated and developed, I have learnt from him. It was then I made a mental promise that my next holiday to unwind will be Vipassana course. A year later the moment came. I had taken a transfer to my home town then and during slow period told my new boss – I need leave. I want to do Vipassana.
I didn’t knew what I was getting into but all I knew was I will have to remain silent for 10 days. No communication – verbal or non verbal. Plus I will be learning a technique to concentrate and nothing else. And I will have to get up at 4am which is actually my sleeping time. I reached the center, re-read the instructions and answered in affirmative to ‘You know what the rules are? You cannot leave mid way. We will call the doctor here if you fall sick.’ I said yes, eager to switch off my mobile and enter bliss called silence. I had also asked for single room and not sharing which is typically reserved for first timers in India, hence the additional surety confirmation in tone. I was lucky to get one I feel.
At 7:30pm the briefing happened where we were allotted our seat number and then lead to the meditation hall. Our first session of one hour was held then. I am not one of the fittest guys. Probably just short of being fat. Just. I knew sitting on the floor over cushion with legs crossed will be a problem, but I had said to myself, let’s see. Next day at 4am, the bells rang and rubbing my eyes I woke up. Took bath and reached the hall at meditation. We followed the instructions and I joyfully followed them until I felt a numbing sensation mixed with needles poking in my leg. It was not even 10mins into the session. I stretched my legs, kept it straight and focused again. Couple of minutes later, I was tapped on the shoulder and indicated to cross the legs. From there on it became my 10min cycle.
The first and basic exercise or step in mediation is to close your eyes and focus on the flow of breath in your nostril. Simply observe where all your breath is touching your nostril. Just observe and feel and nothing more. If it is flowing through one nostril, okay. Both, okay. Just observe and see what is happening. Accept it. Don’t react to it. This is the truth of the moment. Your brain will be generating thoughts of various kind, no problem. Let it generate what it wants to generate while you observe your breathe. Focus on breathe, and only breathe. In the beginning your concentration will last probably 2 – 5sec before you get drifted back into chain of thought. No problem. Start again. This is what we did for nearly two days. Objective was to increase the concentration span. With daily practice over time, we were expected to cross 120 sec mark of unbroken concentration.
After this the area of focus reduced to smaller size, and then more, before it went to next level. It will not be right to detail the next steps or stages as I am not the qualified instructor and neither I will like to misguide it.
We used to meditate for ~10hrs in a day and another one hour was reserved for listening to the video lecture of the main guru Sh. Goenka explaining what we learnt today, what was the objective through examples and stories.
Since I was doing this course in August in a year when rains where not raining, it was hot and humid. To top it, fans and coolers of the meditation hall where switched off to make surroundings absolutely silent. Now add ~50 people in a hall and imagine the heat and sweating. When you are tired of meditating and taking half a minute break from concentrating, you can observe some very interesting and guilt reducing minutes. You are not the only one on break or leg cramps and someone around you is drifting into sleep and maybe snoring also. A genuine problem if you are lacking sleep or have poor fitness levels.
I was able to finish the course with a hiccup or two which my teacher resolved for me during teacher -student interaction between the sessions. Plus I also got the permission to sit next to the wall and use the wall as back support helping me to concentrate for longer duration. I came out of the course after 10 days, feeling very relaxed and fresh and lighter!! I had lost almost 10kgs due to combination of sweating and light food and walking to give some exercise to muscles. If you are skeptical of what you will learn and if you will like it or not, assuming you have few kgs to loose, I can guarantee this one benefit to you if you do this course in summer in India. But I am sure you will have many more once you do it. There were few more changes in me, better changes. Every individual who concentrates or meditates receives and sees some difference in him. For you it could be something for another something totally different.
Since my first course, I have gone back once more for my second course. In between, my meditation has been erratic if not nonexistent. But sometimes, just closing your eyes and observing your breath is sufficient to find the objectivity back, the fulcrum. But isn’t this the objective of meditation? At least the first step? I may go back again for the third course, but will probably try to develop a routine at home first and be become able to sir crossed legged for long duration. After all everything is impermanent, anicca, but the truth itself!