Vipassana 10-day silent meditation retreat Part III: The sensations and your mind - the body-mind connection
23rd November 2018
Day 4 shall be a very important day we were told the night before. As on this day, we would be introduced to the actual Vipassana meditation technique. I was thrilled by the fact that wow, there is something exciting and totally new coming our way. I was getting very excited to explore this new technique. Day 4 came around and we were introduced to Vipassana. After the introduction I just sat there – pretty much disappointed – as Vipassana is a complete body scan from head to toe, observing every single part of your body bit by bit and observing your sensations for every single part as you move down slowly. I sat there, dumbstruck and thinking: ' This is a bloody body scan, just a bloody body scan!' I was expecting an amazing technique that no-one has ever heard about and here my expectations were brutally shattered by a mere body scan...Oh, how should I survive the next 6 days?! And if it would not be enough we had to sit for all 3 daily group sittings completely still und un-moving for the entire hour! Don't open your eyes, don't move your feet or hands for this hour. And don't change your posture! OMG, where have I come to?!
However, as the day went on and we practice observing our sensations as we did our body scans, it kind of dawned on me that everything is ever so changing in this world. Not just the nature with its trees, plants, and everything else, but even we are, with our body, our cells and sensations, constantly changing.
You start sitting there observing your sensations – there are gross sensations and hardly noticeable (subtle) sensations. The technique and task are to feel those sensations but not to react to them but only observe them. You feel an itch coming along on the upper part of your upper lip and you were not allowed to scratch it! Do you sometimes not enjoy the sensation of scratching an itch?! Do you know how wonderful and satisfying that feeling is to scratch an itch?! But here we were just to observe it. It wasn't easy but on the other side, it was very eye-opening to observe that every so little or gross sensation comes and fades away. Depending on how intense the sensation is – the stronger and more intense a sensation is the longer it takes for it to fade away. But you start observing and realize that EVERY sensation rises and fades away – a common universal characteristic. Nature's law of impermanence. Everything changes and you can apply this to universal issues and problems everywhere: Even this problem shall pass, even this feeling of pain and hurt will pass. If you apply this whenever you are confronted with any problem and keep applying and practising it, you will see that dealing with issues will get so much easier...
This wasn't actually that bad I thought later on in the day.
As the night drew closer and 9pm came around I noticed a couple of Possums sitting on the grass just outside of my room. If they were not a pest in this country I would probably take a Possum on as a pet! They are just so cuddly cute animals with those big dark button-eyes. There was a Mummy Possum with her little kid sitting and eating the grass. My animal loving sense came bubbling up to the surface and I stepped closer and closer to those two Possums. They didn't really move away from me but rather watched and looked at me with their big eyes. I was feeling joy and wanted to touch them, running after the little one that was confused, it seems, by this weird human trying to play with them. Because humans are bad, they only here to kill us. But no, not here, not in this place, this is a no-killing place and heaven for Possums. Eventually, they hopped away and I went to bed happy. I should hear news of Possums by Day 10 when we could talk again, that what I just did there with those two Possums could have ended in a bad and hurtful way, as Possums are apparently known for attacking when they feel danger or people coming too close. They can apparently jump in your face and scratch you badly with their big strong nails... Well, lucky me I thought then, I was not aware of this characteristic that Possums possess...
Half-time! I made it through to Day 5 with any major incidents or breakdowns. I was still waiting for a breakdown to occur to me as I always had this older gentleman's voice in my head on Day 0 when he said: Welcome to 'Sort our your life' …
We kept observing our body sensations objectively even for this day. We kept on fine-tuning the mind. Some realizations cropped up during the day while mediating and as well listening to the discourse at night:
By practising the body scan over and over again and observe every arising sensation with an objective observing mind you start noticing more and more subtle sensations, you tune in to your body more and more and bit by bit. First, there are sensations on the physical level, and then you start feeling sensations inside the body as well (I have not really had that experience quite yet though)
As you train your mind to just observe objectively, you will start changing the mind's drilled in habit pattern of reacting to everything. You, however, have to do the observation OBJECTIVELY, not like you want it to be or trying to change it. Take it as it is, observes it as it is.
You will realize that from the base of the mind, which is wholesome, will come the action of vocal and physical action: Mind over matter. You might have heard this saying before. It basically means: “The use of willpower to overcome physical problems”
There are sensations everywhere and constantly in your body. If you try and focus really hard you will notice it. The characteristics of sensations are, as mentioned one before, to be ever changing – rising and fading away. There is as well another characteristic: Sensations can't be changed, they can't be chosen or created by us. To then observe those sensations should be a choiceless observation. If you train your mind to observe objectively and equanimous and feel those sensations, and especially the most subtle ones, you will start your unconscious mind to become more and more conscious. The unconscious mind in its characteristic is always connected to the body where the conscious mind is not.
Sensations are created by contact with one or more of the 6 senses: hearing, taste, sight, touch, smell and sense/emotions (mind). When we feel sensations naturally we react to them by getting attached to them: You dislike or like what you hear, smell, touch, taste or see and sense/feel. The more we do react to those senses the more intense our feelings will get. We want something and if we do not get something that we really want, we want it even more. This could leave us feeling angry, sad etc. By observing our sensations objectively within our body when they come up WITHOUT reacting to them, we learn how to free ourselves from suffering as we understand by observing sensations, that they come and go again, rise and fade away again – never last forever. This applies to ever feeling we have.
But what actually means 'reacting to it'? When you react to something you start labeling this something or somebody, you are attaching yourself in some way to this something or somebody and identify yourself with it and build up a connection of some sorts. You must have heard of sentimental or emotional value I believe. Same thing. Once you have done this, you started the train: If something is not right or you lose this something or somebody or it or he or she goes away out of your life you feel sensations and feelings and you might get sad, angry, annoyed, hurt etc. That's when the whole process of problems start and where the root of your problems is buried.
My daily realizations made this course somewhat very interesting, mostly after the discourse sessions each night, when things got clearer, I could not wait to get to my room and jot down my thoughts.
Day 6 was the day of a half-breakdown, but not as you might think. It was again in the afternoon, those long afternoons with a lot of meditations sessions in a row. It hit me after we finished the 2nd group session of the day. I went out of the hall, walking towards my room, ever so much mumbling to myself: ”This is bullshit, this is total bollocks, get me out of here!” It just hit me. I wasn't going to mediate in my room after this group session, I was to sit in my room, tend to my already clean nails and listen to the birds. I had hit a little wall. I then went on a little walk on this (thought: *stupid*) bushwalk and tried to get myself back to normal and balanced out. It somehow worked. I made it through the day, looked forward to my banana for 'dinner' and to the discourse session where it hopefully will reveal that EVERYONE else would have a breakdown on Day 6!
3 more days to go.
I woke up happy and cheerful as if Day 6 has not happened. Day 7 shall be a good day for me.
For some reason, I remembered old German kids songs from my childhood and started humming and singing away in my room on this day. On Day 10 I shall know that my room neighbour heard me singing and said it was very nice to hear 'music' ;)
I also talked a lot to myself and at one stage I was wondering if I was even allowed to do that given the fact of obeying Nobel Silence. I never checked with the teachers in the end if we were allowed to do that.
As we kept learning and practising we got told that it does seem quite meaningless to have cravings or aversions and hang onto them as they are impermanent and ever-changing. Makes sense in some way, doesn't it?
Also, do not compare yourself with others and their sensations at all. If you start on that you create dislikes and likes which easily can turn into cravings or aversions, which again will bring you misery or suffering in the end. It is ok and normal to dislike or like something, however, if it goes that far that it turns into a craving or aversion you overstepped the line and are back in your old mind habit pattern of reacting.
This day I noticed a little pathway up the other side of the bush, where a sign said: “Way to Pagoda, only students assigned with a cell are allowed up”. I was getting more and more curious. What is this Pagoda? Where is it? And seeing the way up I figured that there might be a nice and different view from up there. I made a plan with myself that, when everybody goes to sleep I will take my little headlamp and walk up this path to check out what's up there. And so I did. As it got quieter and quieter I got myself ready to do this oh-so-forbidden-thing. I loved it. It breaks the normality of this monotonous daily life that I was living here and gave me some excitement. I went up the path in the night and making sure no one could see that little light wandering up higher and higher I held the lamp in the way so it only had a very dim shine on the path so I could see where I was actually going. I reached the end of the path and came to a clearing. What a beautiful sight! Clear starry night and this opening on top of this little hill. My little heart jumped. And there was the Pagoda. Not finished building yet but it had some cells on the ground already. I did not want to open one of the cell doors as it started looking creepy to me. I could see no windows or openings for light for these cells and I got a bit of goosebumps running down my spine. Who in the world would like to sit in a rectangle tiny room with no window or light whatsoever?! This was pure prison! I didn't like it and left the Pagoda to make my way down again. I saw enough. Back in my room I snuggled into my sleeping bag and fell asleep quite quickly.
There is a reason why we observe our sensation through our body with our mind continuously. It is to strengthen the mind to become more neutral and equanimous and objective towards sensations bubbling up. And less and less reactive.
It is ok to feel cravings and dislikes and likes and aversion, however, the point is, once again, to not give in to those sensations and attach yourself with them and to them. Do not cling to those sensations because in that way you keep feeding those sensations and they get stronger and stronger and pull you into feelings of anger, hurt, sadness etc. Always act from a place of love, compassion, understanding and phlegm towards the sensations, yourself and others.
Day 8 was a day that was alright, I totally disliked the afternoon again and got some funny feelings which I could not observe objectively for a period of time. It shall be an average day for me.
Last day of Nobel Silence! What joyful expectations I had and the strong sense of “I will make everything as they tell me to do today, I will not be naughty today and do how it should be done, I will enjoy this last day of silence fully.” Promises I made to myself for this day. I almost succeeded. Almost. I just failed, again, in doing my full meditation sessions in my room. I have realized that lying down-meditation is very nice for my back...but I also realized that doing this lying down-meditation doesn't really work right after breakfast or lunch. I felt myself slip away a few times during my meditation and nodding off, not remembering anymore that I ever got down to my little toes with the body scan... Oh well, if your body needs rest you shall give him rest sometimes. After all, your body tells you exactly what he needs. So I didn't fight it anymore and surrendered.
Apart from that, I was a good girl. I did enjoy the last day of silence but I got to the stage where I was building up so many cravings to finally leave this place and go out into the world and play again. Naughty, Vi, naughty. You shall not have any cravings! Nobody is perfect in this world though, are they?
What I learned in the last days in the centre was the following:
There are 5 friends of Vipassana practitioners:
Trust and devotion
Further realizations of Day 9:
When something comes in contact with your 6 senses (you hear sth, you feel sth, you smell or taste sth, your mind creates senses and emotions) your body reacts with certain sensations towards these 'contacts'. This could be that you suddenly get hot flushes in your face, or a racing beating heart, you start feeling sad or angry. Now the practice, skill and knowledge of objective observation will help you in this case as you will (hopefully) act equanimous and objective to those feelings and don't let those feelings get you.
If a 'contact' is a negative one, there are usually 2 distinct signs showing up:
The breathing becomes different (faster and harder)
Sensations, like heat, become apparent
So, when you get in contact with negativity, check on your breathing first and then on your sensations following. Observe those two.