Every year I partake in a Vipassana Meditation Course. Normally the courses run for 10 days but being 8 months pregnant I was invited to do just 4 days. Thrilled by the opportunity, considering it may be my last for some time, I packed my bags and set off to Worri Yallock, Victoria.
No reading, no writting, no talking, no eye contact, no yoga, no mantra, no pranayama, no reiki, no yoga nidra, no distractions ... just sitting with me, my thoughts and Guru (the name of our baby in the womb)!
Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation. It was taught in India more than 2500 years ago as a universal remedy for universal ills, an Art of Living. There are centers all over the globe, I've been fortunate to stay at 3 of them. The main teacher, S.N. Goenka, who has now passed, explains the practice through audio and video recordings, while the course itself is run by an assistant teacher who you are able to ask questions about your practice if you are having difficulties.
For me, this course was quite different to others I've sat. Obviously being pregnant, I knew my experience would differ but I was surprised by the variance.
Firstly I was given dinner, this was such a blessing, generally old students aren't to eat after midday and new students are offered 2 pieces of fruit. Having a warm scrumptious vegetarian meal (left overs from lunch) was very comforting and satisfied my desire to overeat at lunch. I think Guru was impressed by the food too!
Next came the sitting itself. As Guru's head is already engaged, and has been for the past 6 weeks, there is a load of pressure on my pelvis. So much so that it actually feels like I'm being stabbed in the pelvis with a sharp knife! There is a name for this, symphysis pubis dysfunction, and it's quite common for those who are quite flexible already. When the hormone relaxin, which softens your ligaments in order to help your baby pass through your pelvis, is produced in the body, it furthers the flexibility of the ligaments. The baby's head is pushing on these joints and connectivity of the pelvis creating pain.
Instead of being able to sit cross-legged in my normal meditation posture I needed to sit in Vadrasana. The issue with this was the fluid retention in my legs which ached with the added pressure.
To give you an idea of what the daily schedule looks like -
4:00 am Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
11:00-12:00 noon Lunch break
12noon-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher’s instructions
5:00-6:00 pm Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm Teacher’s Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall
9:30 pm Retire to your own room–Lights out
As you can see there's about ten hours of meditation throughout the day, which is a long time to sit in discomfort!
In a usual 10 day course on day 4 one is introduced the practice of “strong determination.” In three of the one-hour meditation sessions students are to adopt the attitude of “strong determination,” which means meditating without moving, without opening one’s eyes, one’s hands or one’s legs. Sitting still and steady, like a stone, impassive, perfectly “equanimous”, to use Goenka’s favourite term.
Since my course was only 4 days, I was invited to begin this practice on day 2 and as usual profound Realizations were made.
Often when pain presents itself in the body on unconsciously makes effort to remove the pain. Naturally, when you are itchy, you scratch, if you get pins and needles in your foot, you shake it, if your back is sore, you shift to relieve it. Adversely, rather than reacting to the mind, in this practice one is to sit and allow the sensation to be - 'as it is, not as you'd like it to be.'
Why? You may wonder?!
As we yogi's know, our body and mind are so connected. Vipasana works on the premise that every experience of craving or aversion we’ve ever had – liking or disliking, pleasure or pain from our mind — gets stored as a sensation in our bodies, in our cells. When we stop producing new cravings or aversions, the old cravings or aversions, collectively known as sånkhāras (impressions/mental conditioning), start to surface and dissipate. Remembering this when my legs were throbbing was very helpful. To think that the discomfort arose from the fears, aversions and all the negative reactions I’ve had, coming to the surface to be experienced and released, gives much more purpose and ease to the somewhat unpleasant situation.
The lesson one learns through the experience of deep meditation is this: attaching a judgement to an experience – like/dislike, love/hate, right/wrong – results in misery. The answer is to give up judgement, to just observe the experience without judgement. This is what I love about the practice. The pain or discomfort may not go away but my tolerance to it increases and funniliy enough when I exlopre the sensations for what they are, instead of putting a judgement on them, there is nothing really that bad! (I hope to remember this in labor!)
In conclusion, the universal law of nature is that everything is changing, arising and passing, arising and passing, and that pain and pleasure are arising and passing like everything else. Accepting what is allows us to experience real peace, real harmony, real love.
Anicca, Anicca, Anicca*
May all beings be happy.
* Change, change, change.