On arriving at Dhamma Dipa the Vipassana meditation centre nr Hereford I was greeted by a very charming ginger tom cat. Relief washed over me, I instantly relaxed, there is just something I find about a presence of an animal that makes me feel at home.
An hour later in our orientation meeting we were told to not “encourage” the wandering tom as he doesn’t actually belong to the centre and his owner is getting upset. This looked like it maybe my biggest challenge ahead!
Humphrey (I heard his owner calling him one afternoon from a near by field and guessed that must be for him) is such a character. Most days he shows up by the benches near the dining hall where everyone congregates to drink tea, with a peaceful, content smile on his face. Happy to receive strokes from anyone who dare to break the rule and happy not to, either way is just fine for him. Sometimes he just sat in the sun in the flower bed, grinning from ear to ear, happy in the moment as if meditating.
He embodies the peaceful energy of the centre, just being, no attachments to whether or not he gets any attention. He is not even aware that people have been told to ignore him, or maybe just are not cat lovers. Which got me thinking about how in life we can find ourselves attracted to people and when we don’t get the same attraction in return we can have some kind of reaction to that. We have no idea what is going on in their minds, maybe they have been told, or told themselves, to avoid someone like you, or maybe they are just not “cat people” and prefer dogs instead. We all have different preferences are are drawn to different qualities in others after all.
Humphrey did how ever break one of the 5 precepts of life at the centre; to abstain from killing any being. He was a natural hunter and over the last 3 days of the course he was seen with a mouse, a bird and finally a rabbit!
Vipassana is run entirely on donation, once you have experience the course you are invited to donate so that others can experience it too. It doesn’t have to be a huge donation, it could even be your time, but it’s the energy you give it with. The intention to be helping others be free from their unhappiness too. This is called Dana.
With Humphrey’s little offerings, by the benches where we sat, of a smaller animals body parts it became clear, he was just practising Dana!
Did I abstain from any contact with Humphrey? Of course not! One night I had to get up in the night to go to the toilet, everyone was a asleep and who should walk along but Humphrey. As I crouched down to stroke him, he climbed up and lay across my shoulders nuzzling my neck with his head.
I did notice though as the time went on there I was looking out for Humphrey less and when I did see him I only gave him a little stroke just to acknowledge him. My attachment to want contact with him lessened, even though I still could love him from afar.
Vipassana is an experience. It’s hard to find the right words to describe what kind of experience it is as it’s not a holiday, it’s not fun, and the days are long; you are required to “work” on your meditation for 10 hours at given slots between the hours of 4am – 9pm. By the time we finished at 9 I could not get into my bed fast enough.
There are 3 hour long “strong determination” sessions through out the day where your aim is not to move. The concept of the technique is that all of our suffering comes from attachment; either to aversion, wanting to do anything to avoid feeling something, or craving, wanting something so much that you don’t have in the moment right now. Usually when we feel a painful feeling we react to avoid it or if it’s something that makes us feel so good when it’s not there we crave it, which can also lead to unhappiness.
Through the Vipassana mediation technique you experience your body as a field of energy, and all the difference sensations that arise with in that moment by moment. Sometimes it’s blissful, my experience was like light flowing energy, sometimes with lights flowing up and down my entire being. Then the pain arises which I found could completely overwhelm every part of me, afterwards feeling like I’d been through a trauma. The idea is not to react to pleasure or pain, to just be with what is and know that it will pass.
As Goenka the teacher says it’s being in a state of “perfect equanimity” – where no experience disturbs the balance.
As I have written many times before after learning it in India, we are all organic beings constantly evolving. We are always changing, life is always changing, and this is what happens with the sensations in the body.
Those “strong determination” sittings of not moving no matter what (of course if it gets too much you can move, and the trick is not to get attached to that either, it’s just what is) really gave me insight to how determined I really am and also to embody the truth that everything is always evolving. Every time I felt intense pain I would just tell myself it will pass and just to be with what is, a great sense of calm would come over me even though it hurt like hell.
Reactions are called Sankara’s and every time we react we add to all the reactions we have had before that leads to our behaviour and thought patterns. By not reacting any more you begin to change your habits. By not creating any more new sankara’s your old ones begin to come to the surface through the meditation to be released. So you know whilst feeling the pain or lovely sensations you are healing from within.
If you feel drawn to doing Vipassana I suggest just giving it a go. It’s not easy, but I found it very powerful, a really effective meditation technique that you can then practise daily back home and the experience of silence for 10 days for me was bliss.
Coming out of silence was a shock to the system, as people left the meditation hall on the 1oth day and began to talk I could sense my energy shifting. As soon as I walked out into all the noise I felt completely overwhelmed, I didn’t even feel like I could talk if I wanted to! It’s a three days later now and everything still feels a little overwhelming, I am just taking things slow. We are surrounded by so much noise in our daily lives that creates so much energy, without us even being aware of it. It’s good to just stop every now and then to take a break from it.
So what is my intention at the moment…..to be EQUANIMOUS of course Just being with what is, in a balanced state of mind and of course very present. You have to be present to be able to notice when things start to get out of balance.
I was listening to Mooji this morning and he described it perfectly “it’s not that you don’t care, it’s more that you don’t mind how life is unfolding because you are in your true nature”.
There is so much more to say about it but I think I will leave it here for now.
If you’d like to ask me any questions about Vipassana, if you’re thinking of doing it, please do feel free to get in touch; [email protected]