It was early June and I was in Mexico City with my good friends for Dylan’s bachelor party and somewhere amidst our escapades in between Franky’s bar and our well-kept Bodega rooftop the conversation swayed towards spirituality where Jason and Erik mentioned the low budget edits of a videotaped voice from the leader of one of the Vipassana retreats that they both participated in, one in India and the other in California. Several months before in San Francisco I had been searching for ways to find my true self after realizing I was in yet another unrewarding job scenario and looking to learn how to better speak with compassion, where I wrote in my Moleskin that “I must first enable myself to live a happy life” and after Youtubeing how to go about this I ended up going to sleep one night to the sound of a jolly Burmese man chanting in a language that I had never heard of before and speaking knowledgeably about finding your truth. Little did I know that this man was the one who helped bring Vipassana from Burma and India to the west and would be the voice I was looking forward to at the end of every sitting. Without much further thought about it I returned back to San Francisco after a great last night in Mexico City filled with empanadas and Mezcal. The next day back the Golden State Warriors won an NBA championship and I decided to apply to The North Fork Vipassana Center, which is located about 3.5 hours south of San Francisco as Jason had recommended this location as being one of the nicest. Since the next course was listed as being waitlisted and starting two days later and in addition to being a Vietnamese/English course, I applied thinking there was a very slim chance that I would get in, but the next day I got an email that said I had been accepted. So I texted Dylan and Jason to let them know as the realization and gravitas of the juxtaposition of going from 10 days in Mexico City to sitting silently and meditating for 10 days hit me. Jason gave me a call to provide me with some good advice and didn’t let me squirrel out of making the leap and I am very grateful for his guidance.
The first night was just to get a brief orientation and to get settled into the cabins, where I and 5 other housemates each had our own private rooms that were more luxurious than I was expecting after seeing one of my buddy Joel’s pictures of his wooden pillow on a concrete slab from his Vipassana experience overseas. The next day and every following day began at 4:00 am with a well-planned schedule to keep us active, or inactive accordingly until about 9:00 pm with 10 hours of sitting and meditation a day. Each day during the week of the 18th was over 100 degrees and all I had was one pair of pants since as I found out on the ride down that you aren’t allowed to wear shorts in the meditation hall. One day just to give my Lululemon sweats a break I wore my running shorts and wrapped a blanket around my waist, it was an awesome monkish look but apart from the one breeze I caught on a walk down to the lunch room and a couple tilted heads wondering if I was, in fact, wearing a bed sheet, it didn’t provide the fresh air movement I was hoping for. Luckily the meditation hall was nicely air-conditioned.
The first two days were about focusing on the natural Anapana breath coming in and out at the tips of the nostrils and then in day 3 and 4, we moved to practice the actual Vipassana technique where we matched the breath to the flowing sensations on the body. The beauty of this breathing technique is that it helps with accepting things as they are, by not trying to change or force the breath, the body, or the natural conditions and other people in the environment. After day 4, it was incredible to walk out of the meditation hall to see what was one of the most beautiful sunsets with a pink/purple lotus flower hue encompassing the golden-domed pagoda on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year where the sun is farthest from the earth and a day that is often associated with change, nature and new beginnings around the globe.
The animals were amongst us the whole time with the monks placing twigs to signal the ant paths to not step on their bustling ant highways, many friends found black widow spiders and I dealt with a scorpion above my bed but at no point were any animals harmed along the way. On day 7 many people got access to meditate in the pagoda, each person who qualified through persistent practice in the hall would be assigned a dark cell that was roughly a 5×7 pitch black room akin to solitary confinement where I enjoyed the silence, but it was not easy. The saying “going through the motions” is something that struck me as it took all of my mental fortitudes to prevent my monkey mind from cutting corners and I had the realization that I had been doing this in a number of important areas throughout my life. Day 8 was a huge breakthrough day for me after it got awfully loud and more creative than I ever could have imagined in that dark, silent cell. There was a time where I cried, where my heart felt like it was going to explode, and where I just wanted to keep sleeping or lay down, but I stuck with it and did the work and it was just what I needed to experience.
After several days of sitting and not being able to fully sit cross-legged, I literally experienced the metaphors that ring from generation to generation about having a strong backbone, staying grounded, and keeping a stiff upper lip.
I learned that sometimes doing less and stepping away from all the conditioning can help move everything forward with clarity. It was one of the most challenging and most rewarding experiences that I have ever had and I hope to continue the practice of self-improvement through learning and working hard on understanding myself.
Everything below is taken directly from the Vipassana marketing collateral.
Vipassana is one of India’s most ancient meditation techniques. Long lost to humanity, it was rediscovered by Gotama the Buddha more than 2500 years ago. Vipassana means seeing things as they really are. It is the process of self-purification by self-observation. One begins by observing the natural breath to concentrate the mind. With a sharpened awareness, one proceeds to observe the changing nature of body and mind and experiences the universal truths of impermanence, suffering, and egolessness. This truth-realization by direct experience is the process of purification. The entire path (Dhamma) is a universal remedy for universal problems and has nothing to do with any organized religion or sectarianism. For this reason, it can be practiced freely by everyone, at any time, in any place, without conflict due to race, community or religion, and it will prove equally beneficial to one and all.
What Vipassana is not:
- It is not a rite or ritual based on blind faith.
- It is neither an intellectual nor a philosophical entertainment.
- It is not a rest cure, a holiday, or an opportunity for socializing.
- It is not an escape from the trials and tribulation of everyday life.
What Vipassana is:
- It is a technique that will eradicate suffering.
- It is a method of mental purification which allows one to face life’s tensions and problems in a calm, balanced way.
- It is an art of living that one can use to make positive contributions to society.
Vipassana meditation aims at the highest spiritual goals of total liberation and full enlightenment; its purpose is never simply to cure physical disease. However, as a by-product of mental purification, many psychosomatic diseases are eradicated. In fact, Vipassana eliminates the three causes of all unhappiness: craving, aversion, and ignorance. It is a tool to help learn about myself. It helps overcome the psychosomatic and psychogenic symptoms which are physical illnesses that are believed to arise from emotional or mental stressors, or from psychological or psychiatric disorders. Whenever negativity arises in the mind just observe it, face it. Burying the negativity in the unconscious will not eradicate it, and allowing it to manifest as unwholesome physical or vocal actions will only create more problems. But if you just observe, then the defilement passes away and you are free of it. We stop reacting and multiplying our misery.
Learn More Here: https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/schedules/schmahavana
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