Friday, August 5, 2011

Vipassana Meditation - the experience through Twy's eyes

We had tentatively planned to head north to Ladakh and the Himalayas after the US, but we realized a SCUBA trip to Malaysia and then a trip to the US was enough money to spend in one summer. So, in Tim and Jill's kitchen we began to research and to think about alternative plans. Neither of us wanted to spend two weeks in rainy Mumbai. I looked at some yoga retreats, which Greg was only luke warm on. He had his mind set on meditation. He came across Vipassana meditation, which I had done nine years earlier when I traveled to Northern India. There are several centers in Maharastra, but they were all full except a center in the south eastern part of the state. We both put in an application and were accepted. My brain, "what am I doing?! I already went through that torture once. Yea, it was a great experience, but twice!" I made train reservations and we were all set before we left the US.

When we arrived in Mumbai we had four days to recuperate from jet lag and I had developed a cold. For those of you who don't know, I've been struggling with allergies and colds consistently since January. The sickness was a reminder of what I was returning to...and I had yet to see a doctor for any of it due to my denial that it would last this long. So, on the day we were suppose to board an overnight train, I was having breathing issues and finally decided to see a doctor. I went to a respiratory specialist ($12), got some meds and a blessing to go on the meditation course. It was at this point that I finally committed to going. My brain: "Alright, I'm doing this. I know I can do it and it will be a growing experience. Plus, I want to see how Greg does."

Luckily, the first class compartments had been available when I booked, so we got a door and shared with one other person. He was a businessman in textiles and the area we were headed was known for textiles. Still dealing with jet lag, a cold, and Greg had hurt his back earlier in the day at the gym, we headed to bed pretty early. At 6:30am, we got off at a rural train station at Hatkangale. We had most of the day ahead of us. Our first task was finding breakfast. We negotiated a little with a rickshaw driver to take us to a restaurant (luckily one was open that early) and then onto the meditation center. The ride there was 6km through lots of farmland. It was quite beautiful and peaceful. Registration wasn't until 3pm and it was now close to 8am. No one was at the office, so we ditched our packs and walked over to the huge Jain temple next door. That kept us busy until 9am, when we wandered back and thankfully someone came up to help us. We were given some breakfast and keys to rooms. Pretty much we just relaxed most of the day, met another person who wandered in early, also from Mumbai, and watched people slowly appear in the afternoon. I was wondering if I would be one of the only women, but there ended up being over 30 of us, with one leaving after day two. 70 men started and 65 completed the course. At 5:00pm, we had dinner, a discourse about the next day and at 8pm we were in Noble Silence. The course had begun.

So what the heck is this Vipassana meditation??! The technique was discovered by Buddha, who found his way to enlightenment through this meditation technique. He taught it to five of his friends and then suddenly, everyone wanted to learn. When Buddha started off, his teachings were this technique and encouragement to continue the practice. It was not about a certain dogma or worshiping him. Those things really flourished after he died and his teachings were changed into a religion. This technique expanded in India for 500 years and then faded. Luckily, monks had traveled to other countries and it was practiced in its pure form in Burma for 2500 years. Then S.N. Goenka came to India to teach the technique to his sick mother and others wanted to learn...he did not leave India and Vipassana centers are now located all over the world. That's the history in a nutshell.

The technique is observing sensations in your body and remaining "equanimous" to all sensations. Basically not being attached to positive sensations or attaching hate to negative sensations. Just acknowledging them for what they are and moving on. So simple, yet it takes much practice, young grasshopper. There is this thing called "The Mind," that is like a gerbil in its wheel. It keeps going and going and going, distracting and getting you no where. So practice has a lot with training this wild beast.

The course itself is a great test in determination and discipline. Ten days, no talking, the sexes are separated for everything, no reading or writing or cell phones or internet, two meals and an evening snack, and meditating for ten hours a day. That's sitting for ten hours a day for ten days. It's sooooooo painful at first. Quote from Greg,"I just kept thinking, all these Indians who sit and crouch all the time are struggling, so its got to be hard!" The first three days we learned Anapana, which is observing the natural breath and the sensations between the nose and upper lip. Then, day four, you learn Vipassana and it is announced that three times a day you are to sit for one hour without moving anything. Goenka had a great way of putting this: "First you are thinking this is so wonderful, feels so good. Then 20 minutes you are thinking there is pain, I can deal with this. Then at 30-40 minutes you are thinking there is just too much pain, I can't sit here any longer. One minute feels like an hour. Surely the teacher has lost track of time. Then the chanting starts and you are relieved but you still have five more minutes." I think I made it to one hour about one third of the time. I rolled a few cushions, sat with my legs folded under me and the cushions between my calves and butt. To get out of this position I had to peel out the cushions from under me, flop to one side, slowly get on my butt, and then it took several minutes to get my right ankle to flex. Finally I would manually straighten my legs and shake them out. But I was proud of myself for having the determination to stick it out and then I'd try it again later on in the day. And, yes, by the end I felt pretty happy. Just happy and giggly.

This being my second course, I knew what to expect with the logistics. I did not worry about the lack of food as I had the first time, my mind went on shorter jaunts this time, and I had felt more unpleasant sensations this time around. The environment was much more pleasant this time. We were nestled up against a large hill in a lush, green landscape. There were many flowers and loads of birds. I tried counting the different bird calls, but I lost track. The one that made me laugh the most were the peacocks. They were everywhere along the hillside and loud. Day three I thought of calling this blog, "Distractions of the peacock, a meditation experience." I was the only female to maintain Noble Silence, which was annoying at times (good practice for non-attachment to emotions) and also weird. I'm not sure what was up, but I stayed away from it.

On day ten, both Greg and I had Indians, curious, descend upon us, asking many questions. The women dressed me up, Mahrastrian style, in a sari. then I was paraded around, shown off to Greg and made to pose for many pictures. It was fun. The course officially ended the following morning. Greg and I went for a walk up the hill to the top where there were many Jain statues all over in different building stages. We wandered down the hill on a road and ran into a Shiva temple. We didn't go inside because we were so muddy from our hike. Instead we headed back to the meditation center and helped clean rooms. We decided to walk the 6km to the train station since we had time. Half of it was along many fields and villages. Once we got to the main road, it was busy and we tried to get off it as quick as possible. After an hour wait, our train appeared and to our astonishment, the same man we shared the compartment with last time was sitting there with another business man. The three of us laughed at this. We talked and shared food. At least food was shared with us, which was wonderful and another example of Indian compassion and caring.

I've meditated for an hour every day except for two days since returning to Mumbai and just notice I'm slightly more calm, don't always react to situations unless it's with a rickshaw driver. (Don't ask me why). At least I can recognize those situations a think of another perspective. So, I will continue along with practicing yoga since they go right along with each other. My future will, hopefully, involve a teacher training course with my teacher, Prasad. I'm enjoying this path...

Iowa, Colorado and Boston

We were able to see some family and friends in Iowa, Colorado, and Massachusetts during our three week, stateside visit. In Iowa, outside the wedding, we spent time with Greg's parents, Grandma and Grandpa Tibboel, the Schulers, Aunt Donna, and Mr. D. We stayed with Tim and Jill in Denver, always a wonderful place to be. Friends we saw on the front range were Jenny, Ryan, and little Zoey, Juan, Ken, Dine and Nate (Iowa and Boulder, we were lucky), and Lizzy (thanks for coming down from Fort Fun). We were fortunate to have a chance to see Susan and Collin twice, once in Denver and once on the way to Marble. The stars were aligned and we were able to stay with Rory and her parents in Westcliff and get in a little hiking.

Our time in Marble was spectacular, as usual. I think this is our favorite place in Colorado. Beautiful scenery and great company! There was still quite a lot of snow, so our plans to hike up Treasure Mountain at just under 14,000 feet were not realized. We did get in a hike up to Avalanche Pass (12,000 ft) with Ann, Krissy, and Tikka. We saw a huge herd of Elk make its way up and over the mountains, plus saw the backside of Mt. Daly, which we skied two winters ago. We also hiked to an amazing waterfall and Mount Marble when Amy joined us. Amy was a trouper and had her first experience with glissading. A little bit of the Himalayas made it to Marble with vertical prayer flags that Ann, Mike and I put up. We even had true American culture with ATVs and playing around on Pete's dirt bike. (Krissy loved this soooo much she know has her own). It was wonderful. The two sad pieces to our trip were missing Beatle and Sweet Buns being sick (and being put down the day we left). Both are such big parts of our thoughts and memories and will be in our hearts.

Boston!! Jake!! Need I say more. We had a lot of fun with our nephew, Jake. He's growing so fast, learning new things all the time, and just so darn cute. He really got into growling while we were there, to which we laughed at to no end, all the more encouraging him. We extended our stay and went to Cape Cod to spend more time with Jake, Grady and Laurie, and met Laurie's family. Jake has three older female cousins, who we had lots of fun with. One of the highlights was getting to be with Jake in his first pond experience. He LOVED it. But who wouldn't love to be in their b-day suit, enjoying warm water and having everyone oogle over you? It was also wonderful to watch Grady and Laurie be mom and dad...whew! We left the Cape via ferry. It was the most choppy boat ride I've ever been on. Quite a few sick people.

Here are a few pictures: