I got home from the 10-day Vipassana course (not a retreat, by the way) on August 20, and have been at work since. I’m ready for you!
I’m still integrating the experience, but for now I can say that some of the presence, focus, and equanimity I began to experience about Day 5 has remained with me. And since I returned, we’ve had an eclipse, I got an emergency brake job on my car, and a tropical storm dumped over a foot of rain at my place. Nothing has been “normal” for long. Bravo for equanimity!
There’s really nothing else like being in silence, away from books, smart phones, computers, writing, plans, and responsibilities, being fed, having a comfortable private room, walking in nature, and meditating up to 10 hours a day to cultivate presence, focus, and equanimity.
The 10-day course is intended to give people with jobs, families, and responsibilities an experience of monastic life, so the rules are strict. The providers have experimented with the length of the course, learning from experience that it takes 10 full days for this kind of transformation to take place. The course I attended was at Dhamma Siri in Kaufman, Texas, southeast of Dallas, and was offered in Hindi and English, and at least half the attendees were Indian-Americans. Ages ranged from 18 to 70s. There were about 50 women and about 75 men (based on dorm capacity), but we were segregated by gender and began observing silence not long after arrival (and wow, did we chatter when allowed to on Day 10!).
People have asked me if I enjoyed the course. “Enjoyed” is not the right word since part of the experience is to get in touch with one’s own suffering.
“Benefitted” is a better word. There wasn’t a day or probably even an hour that I didn’t feel at least a little discomfort in my back or shoulders from sitting. But over time, I developed more and more equanimity.
Pain is a teacher. It gets our attention. We want it to go away — that’s aversion — or we want to feel pain-free — that’s attraction or craving. Equanimity is being neither attracted nor repelled.
It helps to think of pain as a small part of a vast range of sensation, and once you do that, it is remarkable how pain transforms into a multitude of qualities such as tingly, numb, throbbing, piercing, sharp, dull, achy, and many more descriptors. It’s also worth noting that by bringing my attention to an area feeling discomfort, I observe it changing. The boundaries change, the center changes, the intensity changes. So a lot of the learning is about paying attention to subtle sensations — a big part of my work.
I also found parallels between the Vipassana experience and the craniosacral biodynamics that I practice. I will write more about this later.