Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Vipassana: thoughts before

Today I start a Vipassana course: ten days of silent meditation at a retreat centre outside of Medellin, Colombia. And I have to admit, I´m nervous.

The application form, with its sombre tone and detailed code of practice, made it clear that the course was neither a holiday, an opportunity to socialise nor even a rest cure from the trials of life. It would ´suit only those willing to work seriously and observe the discipline´.

Discipline is an appropriate word. Here is the daily timetable:

4:00 a.m.---------------------Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 a.m.----------------Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 a.m.----------------Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 a.m.----------------Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 a.m.---------------Meditate in the hall or in your room
according to the teacher's instructions
11:00-12:00 noon--------------Lunch break
12noon-1:00 p.m.--------------Rest, and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 p.m.----------------Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 p.m.----------------Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 p.m.----------------Meditate in the hall or in your room
according to the teacher's instructions
5:00-6:00 p.m.----------------Tea break
6:00-7:00 p.m.----------------Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 p.m.----------------Teacher's Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 p.m.----------------Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 p.m.----------------Question time in the hall
9:30 p.m.---------------------Retire to your room; lights out

We will be observing the Noble Silence, a ´silence of body, speech and mind´, which means suspension of all forms of communication with other attendees, taking care not to disturb others or to be disturbed by others. Nearly ten hours of meditation a day. One hundred hours in total. That´s a lot of time with only your own thoughts for company.

That´s the point. Vipassana is, according to the dhamma.org foundation, "the process of self-purification by self-observation". ´Vi-passana´- seeing deeply.

Do I need purified? Do I want to look so deeply into my own soul? Will I be able to sit with myself for 100 hours without loosing it?

I will find out soon enough and share some thoughts on this blog.

Be still and know
I may be a little nervous but I have wanted to do a course like this for a while. I grew up in the Christian tradition, with it´s own history of retreats, fasts and ´days in the wilderness´. How many prophets, teachers and followers from all traditions have had their time of solitude? For me this is one of the principle reasons for travelling: I have the chance to get to know myself better and space to discern what comes next. To some extent the course will be a concentrated form of my whole journey.

At the same time it will be very different. A friend, Steve, who took the course in April in Guatemala said that was surprised by what a physical challenge it was. Perhaps my early church days gave me an unintended inkling: sat on a wooden pew in my smart little suit (so itchy), shirt and tie (so tight) wondering when the minister would ever finish, desperate to run or jump or anything.

Steve also used the words ´mental static´ and I expect to come face to face with the whiring, buzzing, clicking, jostling bull race of thoughts that we all live with minute by minute.

My limited experience of meditation has given me a taste of this, what it is like to stand back and observe our frenetic thoughs: like stepping out of a river in flood, where you had been fighting to keep your foothold; or like sinking below the water in a crowded holiday swimming pool, the door shutting on the kids shreaks and hubbub and the world sealing round you into your ears, the sound of your heart beating and muffled noises through the water.

There is much truth in the saying that "you cannot see your reflection in moving water". I have learnt over the past few years to love and cherish stillness. Of course not always (silent Salsa! no thanks) but as an essential resourse. It is one we seem to be strip mining away in our teched up, cosmopolitan lifestyles. Bars with TVs at every table, buses with radio blairing, the TV on just for company.

The generation never unplugged. Always an ipod. Always an MP3 scratching out from the cellphone.

Perhaps we are afraid of the silence and what we might find there?


Vipassana courses are available worldwide and are free.
For more information and course details visit dhamma.org

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave a comment. Makes me happy.