Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ah, Enlightenment...

...well, maybe ten days is a little hasty to expect enlightenment, but I would say my meditation course was definitely an enlightening experience. The course was ten days long and taught the Vipassana meditation technique developed 2500 years ago by the Buddha Gotema.

Upon entering the course we agreed to abide by a number of regulations. For instance: no speaking until the 10th day except to the assistant teachers to ask questions, no physical contact, or even eye contact with fellow mediators, no books/music/writing, no vigorous physical exercise (walking only), no intoxicants, etc. I thought the not speaking would be difficult, but it was really easy, and not just for me, everyone said it was. It was strange to be around 50 some people for 9 days without ever speaking to them or even knowing most of their names (I really enjoyed talking to people once the Noble Silence was lifted). The not reading was hard. There were a few points where I felt like I needed to got out of my own head in order to stay there and I was bored, I was so tempted to get one of my books. However, I realized that the not speaking/reading, etc did have a very good point, those add to the distractions and thoughts in your head and defeat the purpose of trying to keep a clear mind, so eventually I was grateful for those rules.

We also agreed to stick closely to the daily timetable.

A typical day went like this:

4am wake up
430-630 meditate
630-8 breakfast/rest, I always had to take a nap after breakfast
8-9 group meditation
9-11 mediate
11-12 lunch
12-100 rest, this was when I got to walk in circles, had to do something to burn off a little energy
100-230 meditate
230-330 group mediation
330-5 meditate
5-6 tea break, new students could eat fruit, old students couldn't eat after noon
6-7 group mediation
7-830 video discourse on the philosophy of the technique by the man who spread these centers across the world
830-9 meditate
930 sleep!

So, the days were long and for just sitting all day, very full. The technique worked in a progression, adding new elements each day. The first 3.5 days we did Anapana mediation where we just focused on our natural breath. This is meant to help quite the mind and gain control over it, also to make you be in the present moment. The firs two days were really tough, my head was going crazy with thoughts jumping all over the place. The second day was worst then the first and I was frustrated, even wanted to leave. However, I told myself I had to at least give it four days trial. By the third day my mind calmed down, I was still very distracted, but at least could think fluidly and have full, clear thoughts.

On the fourth day we began Vipassana mediation. Here we started to mentally pass over every part of out bodies to feel the sensations present. The idea behind this is that if you can gain awareness of your sensations and remain objective to them, you can be in control of your reactions and be rid of your miseries.

Each evening we watched discourses on the philosophy. I really enjoyed these and the days that I struggled with most, they were what kept me there. The ideas are all based on Dhamma, the universal rule of nature-that everything changes. By learning to accept this law, not only intellectually, but through experience of the ever-changing sensations in your body, then you can free yourself from the causes of all misery: craving, aversion, and ignorance. The ideas are all based upon fact, experience, and nature, they're non-sectarian and have nothing to do with any God. It's a beautiful philosophy, simplistic and all about love and compassion for all beings. The three big stages are morality, control of the mind, and purity of the mind, once all of these have been mastered, along with a number of smaller everyday life things, you can reach enlightenment.

I know this is a very quick, and maybe not so clear overview of what Vipassana is and the experience was like, but I just had to get something out. Although I struggled with the course at many times, I was so happy to have finished it and am working on incorporating it into my life. I've kept up mediating twice daily so far, we'll see if I can make it last. If anyone is interested in going to one of these centers, they have them all over the world, and wants to know more, I'd be happy to explain better. I definitely encourage anyone to give it a try!

Inside the women's dorm. The gong that woke us up, told us when to mediate, and eat.

A view of the mediation center. The mediation hall is straight ahead, the men's dorm on the left, kitchen/dining areas on the right.
Here is the website if you'd like to find out more:

Leaving the mediation, I felt more at peace then I've ever felt, it was such a fabulous feeling! Although it's been cold, it did feel good to ride again, though I've been taking it a little slow, making shorter days as my legs definitely feel ten days of inactivity. Nothing of great interest to report for the most part. Camping has been great, good, safe spots.

Business cards on the toilet of a gas station bathroom, that's just wrong.

Lots of swampy areas.
I arrived in Texarkana yesterday and crossed into Arkansas! Although I really enjoyed my time in Texas, it felt great to cross into another state; I'd been in Texas since the end of November!

Yay, finally crossed out of Texas!
Riding into Arkansas, I was obviously in a different place. The towns that I've ridden through so far have been some of the poorest, most run-down I've ever seen. It's strange how just crossing a boarder things can change so much. The riding has been fine, very flat but I've had a head-wind which has been slowing me down the last few days.
As I was looking for water and a place to camp last night, I rode longer then expected and finally came to a gas station in Mineral Springs. Inside were two gentlemen that I talked with for a while, very nice but made me a little nervous. The conversation went something like this: "You're not riding alone are you?" "Yeah, I am." "Do you know where you are? You're in Arkansas. Things change when you get into Arkansas. You'd better at least have a gun." Now, I've had countless conversations similar to this throughout the country, but for some reason, this time was different, this time I did get a little nervous. I'm in the south, in Arkansas, in a very red-neck area that I don't have a clue about. I'm sure it will be fine, I'm just going to be a little extra aware.

Hard to see, but all the trees are covered in some sort of vine, making even them look run-down, Arkansas seems to be a rough place so far.
It rained all last night, it supposed to rain all day today and most of tomorrow. Yeah, great fun. At least I have something to look forward to. In a few days I'll be at the Heifer International ranch in Perryville, AR to visit my good friend Felicia! In giving me directions to her place she wrote, "keep going straight, past the camels and bulls, ...past the water buffalos," not too many places can you give directions like that. I'm pretty excited!

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