I didn’t shave my head, I’m not donning a muted-orange robe, and yet I’m a tad calmer and have a bit more insight.
I’ve always liked the small exposure I’ve had to meditation. From my simple “cat-time” in the morning to short experiences in Tae Kwon Do and yoga, I’ve always wanted more.
In Ecuador, I attended a wonderful yoga retreat. Four of the people at the retreat had attended numerous Vipassana Meditation trainings and my interest was piqued. They talked of a more balanced life, a happier life. Vipassana means seeing clearly and deeply and to see things as they are and not as we want to be or think we are. Almost instantly, I decided I was going to attend a training somewhere in the world as we traveled.
I found a training in Spain that coincided with our visit so I applied and was placed on a waiting list. A week before the training, I received an email telling me that I was in.
So without much time to think, I was off on an 11 day meditation adventure.
The training location was six hours by car. Hmm, How to get there? The website had a ride board and sure enough, two men were driving from Malaga, so Bob dropped me off, handed me over to two strangers and I was on my way. (BTW, Miguel and Paco are delightful.)
The drive was stunning, passing through the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Granada, with groves upon groves of olive trees covering the landscape..
I arrive at the meditation center, which is actually a rented rural camp surrounded by rolling hills– a perfect place for a meditation retreat. I’m excited, a bit nervous and very curious.
Let the Noble Silence begin: The Rules and The Routine
First of all, men and women were kept separate. Even our outside spaces were separate. We shared the meditation hall, but women were on one side and men on the other and we had different entrances.
Next, noble silence was required for nine days. No talking, no communicating of any kind. Basically you were told to act as if you are alone. You could talk to the teachers and the management, but this was to be kept to a minimum. The silence was necessary for “continuity of practice.” I went there to meditate and boy did I.
The first evening, I am shown to my 2X3 foot meditation spot where I would spend most of the next 10 days. They offered foam pillows to create a meditation cushion. Hmm, how to make this space comfortable for ten days? “Holy shit. Here for ten days.” I realize, “These foam pillows are shit. I can’t sit on these for 10 days.”
I’m a wreck. And it’s cold. My meditation shawl is too small and it’s not going to work. I remember I can ask the management, but who is the management? I figure it out, they help a little, but I realize that I’m alone for these 10 days. I meet with the teacher. She is kind, and love pours from her and I know that all is going to be fine. Two extra blankets and a loving yet brief conversation, and I’m on the path.
In general, from 4:30 am to 9:00 pm, I mediated. Of course we had breaks. The pattern was get up, meditate, eat, walk a bit, meditate, eat, walk a bit, meditate, eat, walk a bit, meditate. Brushing your teeth, taking a shower, and tidying up your bunk space all came after eating and between walking. Actually, the routine was very comforting in that you didn’t have to plan a day which allowed your mind to be calm and to go within.
Following this schedule seemed like a cross between prison, rehab, and the life of a monk or nun. Your schedule was not yours – no internet, no reading, no writing. You truly just meditated, ate, groomed, walked slowly and repeated.
It was 10 days of sitting on a 2X3 foot mat, closing my eyes, trying not to think and letting my mind clear. In the first three days, we were instructed to focus on the area between our nose and upper lip. Its purpose was to focus and sharpen the mind.
This sounds easy and a bit boring, but it’s neither. My mind would go any and everywhere except to the focus area. You’re told not to judge, to just notice and observe your thoughts and come back to the focus area. I guess this is why that’s what we did for the first three days. It takes a long time to calm an untrained brain. (Perhaps a life-time to tell the truth)
In the following six days, the instructions were to observe your body from head to toe and toe to head noticing and observing sensations. In observing these sensations,you again have no judgement. A sensation is not positive or negative, and it will always change. This is the root of the practice–equanimity and impermanence. The phrase, “this too shall pass” has a much deeper meaning for me now.
Ok, in theory I get it, but when you want to scream because your hip is burning, it can get a little negative. Oddly, the more I practiced, the more neutral the sensations became and the more I could observe sensations.
Each time I sat and then left a meditation session, I was a little tight, pulled my underwear from my butt, and immediately noticed the beauty of nature. Green was not just green, but so many shades of green rolling from the mountains, a soft breeze on my face, or a shining moon peaking through the clouds. It was as if I was seeing them for the first time. And this was every time I left a session. Powerful stuff!
Honestly, I loved it. It was one of them most intense, difficult, and profound things I have done in my life. I’ve discovered a wonderful gift in meditation and it’s my hope that this practice stays with me for many years to come.
I would recommend it to everyone.
(Sorry, no photos this time. It was recommended not to bring cameras)