Friday, February 26, 2010

10 Days of Vipassana

“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell.”  Buddha


Blog… I have neglected you.  But not because I have no interest in you, it’s because I have been living in a monastery for the past ten days.   I was finally able to get through to a meditation centre and the monk had asked me to be at the by 10 AM the next day.


I was ecstatic because I have been looking forward to this meditation for a while.  However, it meant I had to rush around to pick up white underwear, and send out emails to let my dad and Sebastien know I was going to be disappearing for ten days.

The mediation practice was amazing.  On this trip I have visited many temples. But never have I been able to experience one the way I experienced this one.  I was able to spend a lot of time meditating in front of the beautiful Buddhist statues, and in the temples.  Also, every morning, I had the opportunity to eat breakfast with the monks.  It was amazing to participate in the ceremonies, the singing and the chanting before every meal.


For me, the experience at Wat Rampoeng was the most humbling experience I have ever encountered.  It was the most physically and mentally challenging ten days I have ever endured.  In order to participate you have to exercise a lot of discipline.
Within 2 days, 2 of the guys in my group had dropped out.  One couldn’t handle not talking and the other couldn’t get over his restlessness.


I have to confess that the thought of leaving the temple had crossed my mind many times.  Especially on day 6 where I had experienced the most intense stomach pains.  They say it’s a physical cleansing of the impurities in your system.  Also, a reminder of how impermanent life is.  The whole day I couldn’t stop thinking about how I am going to complete my set number of meditation hours while I was laying in bed.


The rewards are there.  I don’t even know if I can explain it and do the practice justice.   But I will try.  Through Vipassana, I was able to gain mental clarity and alertness.  Meditation in the morning woke me up more than a cup of coffee would.  Also, it was great practice to let go of attachment to physical things.  (I.e.. Makeup, Coffee, Alcohol, music, cell phones, computers, etc.) The point is to alleviate ourselves from the mental sufferings we put on ourselves.
Even jealousies for example.  During your stay there, you are not supposed to look at anyone, or make eye contact, or wear make-up.  The reason for this is so that you don’t look at someone, and start wanting things that they have.


One of the biggest things I was able to let go of though was expectations of others.  I’ve read many times that in order to fully be happy you have to be able to not expect anything from other people.  That way, when your mood is not affected by the way other people treat you.  But I’ve never fully been able to understand or practice that.  After ten days here, I can really grasp what that means.  And I think so far, I have been able to practice not having attachments physically or mentally to others.

During one of the first few days at the temple, I had mentioned to the monk that I was experiencing pain in my leg from meditating.  They said “Good, you can experience what it is like to be old before being old.”  Why on earth would anyone want to experience being old?  Further into my practice, the pain did subside quite a bit, and I started to notice the separation.  My mind could be happy, while my body was in pain.  And then, when there wasn’t pain, I would start to crave it.  My mind would say I’m ready for this challenge … where is the pain? The monks said that this is a good thing, may your mind always be happy no matter what your physical condition.


Another thing I noticed about myself was not being in the present moment.  We were to alternate between two different meditations: sitting and walking.  Whenever I was sitting, I would think about walking, and vice versa.  But when I was able to fully be in the moment, my meditation was much stronger.  And I think that applies to me in regular life.  It’s important to just enjoy yourself instead of always thinking about the next step.

This was just a quick summary of my experience in Vipassana.  I would recommend it to anyone who is up for a challenge.  It has only been a few days since I’ve left so I’m sure there is still a lot to process.  Before going in though, I had felt myself going into a pattern of drinking with backpackers, and smoking a lot.  I felt the need to break that pattern, and since coming out of Vipassana, I have not had a drink, a smoke, or a coffee.  And I have been practicing meditation every morning.  Hopefully I will be able to keep it up.  I felt it was important to get my trip back on track and realign it with it’s purpose which was spirituality.
I really enjoyed the spiritual teachings while I was there.  We were lucky to be there during Buddha day.  During Buddha day, everyone buys lotus flowers, candles and incense.  We take part in a lecture, then we walk around the stupa three times making wishes for the upcoming year.
During the lecture, the monk had translated some of the teachings into english.  He had said that the basic principles of Buddhism are:
  1. To do Good and not do Evil
  2. Meditate on a regular basis because it makes you a better person
  3. Donate money to good people.  Not to poor people or rich people but people who need the money and are good.
At the end of the ten days, the monk had asked me “Why don’t you stay?  You can stay for the 26 day program…”  It was really kind of him to stay but I felt pretty maxed out by the tenth day.  Not to say that I won’t do the 26 day eventually, but for now I need to get back on the trip.


This is Natalie, a Londoner I met after the meditation.  It’s amazing to connect with people and share the experiences you have.  Because you see each other every day for ten days but you don’t have the experience to talk to them.  Natalie and I ended up bonding over a healthy organic lunch, and then we pampered ourselves with a Thai massage (Did I ever need it!) and a pedicure.  Then after one day, Natalie headed back to the temple for another ten days! I have so much respect for someone who can do that. ~