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.
I’m talking about the feeling of energy that radiates throughout the body and in the space around it when meditating, doing qigong, or giving a biodynamic session in my work. I don’t know what this energy is exactly, but it is palpable, and it feels good.
I’ve read the theory that it is electromagnetic energy, and that the fluids in our bodies somehow manifest it, or perhaps electromagnetism or something else somehow manifests the fluids, or maybe it works both ways, because it does seem like this is a non-dual experience. If being somewhat fluid is a prerequisite for this energy, then I guess all of Earth’s life must have this energy, because water is part of every living thing, right? Perhaps this energy is the life force.
When I measure my heart rate variability (through HeartMath, using a sensor that clips to my ear lobe, and an app, Inner Balance), the stronger I sense this energy field as radiance emanating from my body, the higher my heart rate variability (HRV) is. HRV is an indicator of well-being. It measures the resilience of the autonomic nervous system, from what I understand.
In that sense, feeling this energy is the opposite of feeling stress. I feel relaxed yet aware in a state of higher HRV, and I’m training myself to maintain it at higher and higher levels. I can sometimes feel it in others too. Once I did 10 minutes of biodynamics on a client after a 90-minute integrative massage, and his energy field felt so dense and potent, I wondered if I dropped a quarter several feet above him if it would bounce off his field! (Having about 50 years of experience as a martial artist probably contributed to that.)
I notice that when I engage in words, either talking to someone or engaging in internal dialogue, my HRV goes down. When I focus my attention on sensing my body or on this surrounding energy field, it rises. Sensations occur in the present moment (unless we’re remembering or imagining vividly). Talking and internal dialogue are less present. Thinking and words are involved. My mind loves thinking, and my awareness loves silence and sensing. Sometimes they compete for dominance, which at this point in my evolution, is a bit entertaining, at least when it’s not annoying. Awareness is winning, more and more!
I started taking qigong classes this year, and in the third class, after learning the moves, I noticed this energy. Qigong is about gathering and cultivating energy. In qigong energy anatomy, we have three dan tiens (energy centers), lower middle, and upper, as shown at right.
These are also the second, fourth, and sixth chakras in yoga anatomy, which adds a few other energy centers so there are a total of seven physical chakras in most schools. I’m more used to tuning into my chakras, having lived in the yoga world for over 30 years, but my dan tien cultivation is coming along nicely.
In the Gurdjieffian model of energy anatomy, humans have the thinking center in the head, the feeling/emotional center in the heart, and the instinctive/moving center in the pelvis.
This head/heart/gut recognition of energy centers could easily be fairly universal in those subcultures and practices in which energy is considered important (i.e., not in modern Western culture). There’s something archetypal about it, based on our structure, our bones, our containers.
Energy is also a key component when giving biodynamic sessions. It has qualities such as rhythms, pressure, temperature, and density. One of the metaphors in biodynamics is the sensation of sitting on the bottom the sea, feeling slowly moving currents and tides swirling around and through one.
I once had a dream in which I was in a living room on the sea floor. The water around me was body temperature, and breathing was not a problem. It felt very comfortable. The living room, which didn’t have any walls but just faded into darkness, was furnished with an easy chair, an end table, a lamp, a rug atop the sandy ocean floor, perhaps some book shelves, a refrigerator — and a tiger casually walked past me in that beautiful way tigers walk, just going about its business! I marveled during and after this dream. I could not take my eyes off the tiger and felt graced by its presence.
This was before I had taken any biodynamics classes. I had felt the sensations of sitting at the bottom of the sea surrounded and penetrated by currents before in meditation, and thought of them as a by-product of prolonged stillness. To me, it felt wondrous and healing. I felt held in place, surrendered, without will, content.
When I finally grokked that the sensations of this meditation experience were what’s called the tides in biodynamics, it was an aha moment! Later I remembered the dream and connected it with biodynamics. The tiger was a symbol I could understand for potency (a biodynamic term for strong energy), and with hindsight, it was as if my dream life was predicted my outer life, as has occasionally happened. Sometimes my conscious mind needs help connecting the dots and understanding my path.
I understand feeling doubtful about this energy stuff. I did, for a long time, even though I’d had a major crown chakra opening in my 30s. The culture around me didn’t exactly support it, and I had other things on my mind.
You can feel this energy by placing your palms a few inches apart, facing each other. Move them closer and farther away, and see if you don’t feel a magnetic attraction between them! It’s real, it’s palpable, it’s just not visible — to most people. You can develop it into healing energy. I find it fascinating and want to explore more.
I started studying craniosacral biodynamics in early 2013, after a friend asked me why I wasn’t a craniosacral therapist, which was the right question to get me into a Biodynamics workshop three days later! I found some of it over my head (I’d only had my massage license for seven months then), and a lot of it very intriguing. I wanted to know more.
Since then, I’ve taken every Biodynamics class Ryan Hallford teaches, twice. My understanding deepens with repetition. Biodynamics is a huge paradigm shift from technique-oriented massage and bodywork. It’s difficult to gain mastery of Biodynamics, taking years for most people.
Why does learning Biodynamics and offering it to my clients matter? Well, if I told you that some seasoned cranial osteopaths had stumbled onto the secrets of hands-on healing, and that others can learn this most basic form of healing, wouldn’t you want to know more? Even though it may take years to be able to get good results, I am interested! learning it keeps my life interesting and expanding, and receiving it improves my health. As a recipient, it amplifies one’s ability to heal from issues that may not respond to conventional treatment.
I love this work. It’s about presence and discovery. I have the privilege of being a teaching assistant for Ryan and Christian Current, my office mate and an experienced biodynamic therapist who is now co-teaching with Ryan. Things happen in the trainings when six or more of us are trading practice sessions at the same time! Ryan guides us through these sessions verbally and energetically, and because of his guidance and the group energy, we have breakthroughs that otherwise would not happen.
I’ve had breakthroughs at the two most recent trainings I’ve assisted with, and those breakthroughs have set me on fire to advance my skills! I’ve been using most of my spare time to work with a mentor, practice on people, read textbooks, listen to audio files and podcasts, watch DVDs, and orient toward various aspects of these healing forces in hours of meditation.
You may be wondering, what is Biodynamics?
An offshoot of cranial osteopathy, Biodynamics is based on finding the health in your system. You have an inherent healing ability, and we work with your body’s wisdom to heal from the inside out.
When you experience shocks in your life (accidents, injuries, traumas), your field intelligently compensates to protect you, yet sometimes these compensations linger much longer than they need to, affecting the flow of health.
Working with your inherent healing process with a little support from me (or any therapist working biodynamically), your body can release these compensations and align with optimal health.
“Seek health in your patients. Any fool can find the disease.” — A.T. Still, founder of osteopathy
How does a Biodynamics session work?
You’ll be fully clothed, lying comfortably on your back on a massage table, and I connect with light touch. We’ll talk before and after, but much of our session will be in silence and stillness. If you need to communicate anything, please do.
Meanwhile, I’m getting myself centered and grounded, deepening the relational field between us, sensing into larger supportive fields around us, listening deeply to your system, recognizing what I’m listening to, and conversing with your innate healing process silently. My work is mostly perceptive.
During the session, depending on your level of awareness and sensitivity, you may sense things happening in your body. These shifts are your innate healing ability working intelligently to return you to health. You may feel very relaxed and even dip into sleep.
After a session, your system may feel more coherent, balanced, and organized, less plagued by old injuries and conditions and wounds, renewed.
Clients report benefitting from their first session, and three or more sessions allow our relational field to strengthen and our sessions together to deepen. After three sessions we can evaluate whether and how continuing to work together can be helpful for your specific conditions.
What does it make possible? The world is full of suffering, and it is also full of overcoming. Biodynamics helps with the overcoming. It improves the quality of life of recipients and through the ripple effect, their families and associates benefit. It helps to make individuals and the world a better place.