16 May Samantha Bennett – Vipassana
For my opening blog I thought it was only fitting that I share with you the experience of which was the catalyst for personal change, inspired Love Today Holistic Living and brought me ultimate health. Earlier this year I created a space in my life in order to attend a Vipassana. For those of you who are in the dark, a Vipassana is a ten day silent Buddhist meditation retreat. Yes, that’s right! For ten days I voluntarily chose to escape my life existing as a regular joe and do nothing but meditate for twelve hours a day, in complete silence, in the hills and let me tell you… the idea of it was bliss. No phones, writing or reading. It was just me and me.
The morning of the retreat I jumped into the car and as I drove the tears began to roll down my face, oh the relief! I was tired, very tired. I had just gone through a very traumatic relationship/breakup, was working three different jobs, was doing a placement as a Naturopathic intern, had just finished my second year of uni, had a health scare and had moved for the second time that year…Exhausted to say the least! Now for those of you who don’t know me personally, I am a social extrovert and for those of you who do know me, I am actually an introvert, so the idea of being silent for ten days had me sold! And so I drove.
When I arrived the location was like the garden of Eden. There were kangaroos and birds, waterfalls, forest, gardens and flowers for days. I was greeted by people who had that whole enlightened thing going on. You know the type, the people who’s skin glows, have blue eyes that you can lose yourself in, have a very calm and gentle presence and invite you into their space like you have finally come home? I thought, I had arrived!
So what brought me here? I had been inherently unhappy for as long as I could remember and the feeling of not belonging had become the place in which I had found comfort. I felt constantly misunderstood and dissatisfied with my environment. I longed to connect with myself. Since a very young age I have been intrigued by the spiritual journey and by self-awareness. I have tried many different spiritual practices, read much on philosophy and religion and practiced an array of health regimes. While I believe I was always growing and learning I still felt a sense of disapproval and emptiness.
All of a sudden like someone had woken me up from a dream the female manager says to me “Are you feeling ok about this? Have you done this before?”. My mind started spiralling as I realised the immensity of the situation and how I had managed to focus on the positives in order to even get myself here. I knew what she was implying… this was not a holiday, nor a retreat and it most definitely was not for the faint hearted. It had taken me six years to get here, to build the courage to face my own demons and the delusion of which I had created, named my life.
Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e., an Art of Living.
This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation. Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.
The scientific laws that operate one’s thoughts, feelings, judgements and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace.
The technique is taught at ten-day residential courses during which participants follow a prescribed Code of discipline, learn the basics of the method, and practice sufficiently to experience its beneficial results.
The course requires hard, serious work. There are three steps to the training. The first step is, for the period of the course, to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual activity, speaking falsely, and intoxicants. This simple code of moral conduct serves to calm the mind, which otherwise would be too agitated to perform the task of self-observation.
The next step is to develop some mastery over the mind by learning to fix one’s attention on the natural reality of the ever changing flow of breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils.
By the fourth day the mind is calmer and more focused, better able to undertake the practice of Vipassana itself: observing sensations throughout the body, understanding their nature, and developing equanimity by learning not to react to them.
Finally, on the last full day participants learn the meditation of loving kindness or goodwill towards all, in which the purity developed during the course is shared with all beings.
The entire practice is actually a mental training. Just as we use physical exercises to improve our bodily health, Vipassana can be used to develop a healthy mind.
Because it has been found to be genuinely helpful, great emphasis is put on preserving the technique in its original, authentic form. It is not taught commercially, but instead is offered freely. No person involved in its teaching receives any material renumeration.
There are no charges for the courses – not even to cover the cost of food and accommodation. All expenses are met by donations from people who, having completed a course and experienced the benefits of Vipassana and wish to give others the opportunity to benefit from it also.
Of course, the results come gradually through continued practice. It is unrealistic to expect all problems to be solved in ten days. Within that time, however, the essentials of Vipassana can be learned so that it can be applied in daily life. The more the technique is practiced, the greater the freedom from misery, and the closer the approach to the ultimate goal of full liberation. Even ten days can provide results which are vivid and obviously beneficial in everyday life.
In Lameman’s terms, this type of meditation much like body scanning, through a breathing technique, you can learn how to harness the physical responses you have to your emotions and your responses to the world around you. The goal? To eventually be like Buddha and not respond to the outside world and the experiences of others or, only responding with love. To have inner peace and a healthy mind.
Even after this explanation, don’t be fooled by the romantic notion that; learning some new breathing technique and not thinking for ten days is easy or will bring you spiritual enlightenment. It’s not and it won’t. Much like all healing and holistic health practices one must go through the healing crisis in order to come out the other side. You would not believe how much physical pain one can experience by sitting in the one spot, not moving, for twelve hours in one day, let alone for ten days straight. I also challenge you to sit for 5 minutes being fully present and not acknowledge the thoughts that enter your head or acknowledge the world around you. And then there is the emotional responses you have whilst learning not to respond to your physical responses. In the teachings it is likened to peeling off an onion. Layer by layer you work through the story that has become your life. I won’t go into what I personally experienced; everyone’s journey is different and sacred. But your demons come alive. I will however elaborate on the fact that you quite quickly work out that those so said demons is you. You have responded, reacted and believed your story to be true and no one truly has the power to influence that, only you can be held accountable for the pain and discomfort you experience in your life.
Ten days consisted of crying, sleeping or meditating and it was exhausting. I did have the odd giggle at the fact that 60 odd men and women that were walking around in silence not looking at each other and willingly delving through their own pain. Don’t get me wrong, it takes great strength and will to learn how to master your own mind and I respect anyone who is able to try.
All that said this turned out to be the greatest experience I have ever had. I learnt; that you are in complete control of your mind at all times and that everything that has become you and your life is a result of your choices, external objects/material possessions/money will not bring happiness, my health is in my own hands and that I always have a choice to be happy and true or not to.
Day ten and I finally got to speak with the people who I shared this experience with. I made many friends, that I learned, like me are on a holistic life path. I realised that I no longer needed to confide in a sense of not belonging but change the environment in which I had previously chosen to belong. That I no longer needed to experience discomfort and pain and that the peace and love I had longed for had been there all along…inside me!
The first thing that came from my mouth when we were finally allowed to speak again and in response to the question “so how was it for you?” was this… “I have been living a lie”! Not consciously, not with any ill intent but a lie none the less. You see I was living in a story I had created in order to survive amongst the only environment I knew how to be comfortable in. As humans we are born into an environment (our families) and grow up a part of a social environment (our community) and develop learnt behaviors along the way of which become us.
Day eleven and I was reluctant to leave. You don’t realise how noisy the outside world is until you are allowed the peace. But I was ready. I knew I could rely on myself to create the world of which I dreamt of and had always been inside me. I wanted to share the journey, the peace and the happiness with others. I knew what I needed to do. Which has brought me here today… full of love.
All of the problems of the world have not been fixed and situations will always present themselves that are not ideal, but I now have the knowledge that I can remain happy and respond with love regardless of what life presents to me.
I encourage everyone to be brave enough to face yourself. To seek not for answers from the outside world but seek yourself, your own truth and to always act with love and compassion. So I will end this blog like we ended the vipassana… Be Happy!
All sincere people are welcome to join a Vipassana course to see for themselves how the technique works and to measure the benefits. All those who try it will find Vipassana to be an invaluable tool with which to achieve and share real happiness with others.
Spotted on a forest walk at the vipassana. Love Today!