(Portland Vipassana meditation Centre - Dhamma Pasada)
On the 2nd of November, I surrendered my phone, car keys and voice as I began a 10 Day Vipassana Meditation Course. Vipassana is a meditation technique that (from my understanding of the practice) can be define as a practice of observation whilst maintaining equanimity. The observance of Dhamma - the truth or law of nature. The observance of the focal truth or natural law of anicca (a-ni-cha); everything in the universe arises and passes away, arises, and passes away. This technique is to train the mind to maintain equanimity in any situation that arises in life. This enables one to become ‘non-reactive’ and in time, be liberated from all suffering - by not to reacting with craving or aversion.
This teaching explains that suffering occurs when we either crave or avert from what IS, in the moment. The question is then asked… What is it that we are craving or wanting to avert from? The answer is… Pleasant or un-pleasant sensations. These can be physical, mental, or emotionally triggered sensations experienced in the body. It is not the object, event or situation we are craving or averting from… it’s the sensations we experience that are triggered by such. E.g. A smoker does not crave a cigarette, a smoker craves the sensations from smoking.
When practising Vippassana, you are strengthening your understanding of Dhamma on not just an intellectual level but an experiential level to completely re-program habits of the mind. Through mentally scanning the body and observing sensations whilst maintaining perfect equanimity by not reacting to the sensation you are observing (e.g. craving to experience more of the “good” sensations or labelling sensations as pleasant. Or, averting from “bad” sensations and labelling/wanting painful/unpleasant sensations to subside). The technique asks to simply observe the sensation for what it is in that moment and by not reacting to what you are observing, you allow time to experience the sensations or lack off sensations change and shift as they arise and pass away… with no expectation of the time in which it takes to do so.
The law of anicca is a universal law and fact that everything in the universe, no matter if it seems to be solidified or not is energy moving. Billions of atoms experiencing chemical, electrical (and all the other types… excuse my lazy science in this paragraph) reactions all constantly in motion… arising and passing away. Every second we are in a new body, every moment is full of potential to change. Always anicca, anicca, anicca. Expansion and contraction, arising and passing away.
I think many confuse a 10 day meditation experience as some kind of relaxing retreat… But Vipassanna is all about being there to “work”. You work from 4am to 9pm, a strict timetable of sleep, meditate, breakfast, meditate, lunch, meditate, tea break, meditate, evening discourse from S.N Goenka explaining the technique, meditate and repeat. All whilst maintaining noble silence and remaining in complete solitude. Equalling to just over 10 hours seated in meditation per day. What on earth did I just do!?
It is such a bizzare experience to reflect on. I feel like it didn’t even happen, like it was a dream or like I was only there for one day… as though all 10 days just merged into one. I loved and hated it all at once.
Days 1-3… begins with a preparative meditation technique to help prepare and sharpen the mind for the practice of Vipassana. This technique is called Anapana. Anapana meditation is the observance of natural breath as it arises and passes away, focusing on sensation only on the triangular area from nostrils to the upper lip. Tedious, I know, 10 plus hours a day, sitting trying to call your mind back like a puppy to sit and stay at the tip of your nose.
I’ve been told many times from other clairvoyants that I have been clairvoyant since I was a child. This I did not really understand. To me, clairvoyance was like being a fortune teller. You should see scenes playing out before your eyes clear as day like on a movie screen. I thought you should be like what you see in the movies, holding a crystal ball or the scenes of someone in conversation then the whole world pauses and the person getting visions freezes in time… turns out this supernatural sense isn’t necessarily like that. Every human has access to their inner sight, some are just more open and have greater access to their clairvoyance. I just thought I was a really good day dreamer. However, I’m not always the one creating the day dream… I just watch it play out.
It turns out, not everyone closes their eyes… and can experience scenes, not necessarily full of places and images you’ve seen before but playing out in story without you constantly choosing how the story goes. It’s just there. But often the story also doesn’t make sense. It’s a story in metaphor that you must intuitively translate. I never really speak of it, because it feels very normal and I still presume that everyone experiences life in their mind the same way. It’s nothing that’s ever interfered with my life, it’s just simply what I experience.
I was lucky enough to cross paths with an angel fairy of a human who worked with me on this sense. And to strengthen it, it really does take time and attention. For some time I did play with it but the past year, mostly out of laziness and being very much pre-occupied I haven’t really consciously thought about it/put effort in to utilising it. Until… you attempt to sit and focus on your breath for an extended period… you don’t really have a choice to ignore it.
You think you’re doing great until you realise, you’re back in primary school, having vivid experiences so strong you can feel the texture and heat of the bench seat bricks behind you and the taste of your sandwich as the sun beams down on you in your Grade One block. You can feel the struggle lifting the CD player through the grade 3/4 class room windows to make up dances at lunch time to Rhianna’s Pon de Replay… You can feel and see the compassion in your grade 3 teacher’s face as you hear your Mum explaining what’s going on at home and thinking “I wish he was my Dad”. Then… next minute, you’re at a fork in the road with symbols of crabs on yellow signs that should display arrows. To skinny dipping with your friend watching white horses line the banks of the swimming hole. To your baby… your large flourishing veg gardens… travels… friend’s weddings… the list goes on and on of the insights of past, present and future I received over this time. It was a beautiful, inspiring reminder to trust in this ability and that this ability is there when I choose to give time and open space for a clear channel.
I bring this up as going off in lala land, as fun and intriguing as it may be… it is not the practice of vipassana. I had to tell my guides to please tone down the visuals so I can focus on “working”. I was determined to experience the effects of the technique I went there to learn. As soon as I was aware I was receiving information, I would cut it short and go back to the practice… this did get much easier as the days went on.
Days 1-4… Seemed to go quite quickly. Everything was new and intriguing. And considering what each day was filled with, time did not feel slow nor necessarily fast. The whole experience really was replicating the essence of annicca. The time in meditation would arise then end and pass away. The time for lunch would arise then end and pass away. I started to stop craving for the breaks or averting being seated as I knew it was just an experience in the moment that would not last forever. What hit me the most throughout the first few days was that the noble silence did not affect me. It really hit home as to how much unintentional solitude I had been in for the last 4 months, that it kinda scarily… felt no different to any other day. Other than maybe the odd cashier exchange, some small talk or short conversations here and there and maybe a phone call… I was not speaking.
It brings tears to my eyes at how much time I’ve spent hanging with me and honestly, I am my new best friend. And what an incredibly lucky experience this it to have been able to go through. It saddens me that so many go through life never truly getting to know and observes themselves, completely alone. From seeing the most indescribable scenes that would be a picture-perfect moment to share with another to having to mentally hold yourself when you’re sobbing snuggled up with your bolster from lacking the necessity of a human hug from someone familiar. When theirs no-one else to rely on but you to problem solve the weirdest situations you find yourself in. To being your own human bodyguard, like you’re always subconsciously alert even when you’re sleeping. When ya just want to stop driving but you’re going no-where if you do. When you’re vomiting in gale force winds or emptying your bowels all night… you are the one to keep your spirits up and crawl from the bed to the slider door for air.
In all this time of solitude I did not however, feel completely alone. I felt the love from everyone at home always. I felt comforted by the sense of how truly good 99% of humans are that if I did desperately need help, it would not take me long to receive it. And living outdoors it is impossible to feel alone amongst the aliveness of nature. This whole time I have felt so supported and guided by a force sooo much greater than me that if I hadn’t felt that I’d probably have been a melted mess back in the middle of the desert somewhere. This experience has been so incredible tiny and certainly not rare compared to what other humans go through and have experienced. How incredible the spirit of the soul is when you surrender and allow it to be.
Day 5… Ya got to be kidding. On the afternoon of day 4 we were introduced to the technique of vipassana. Scanning the body from head to toe, inch by inch, not reacting and only observing the sensations we noticed. Observing them as energy constantly changing, annicca, annicca. From Day 5 you begin “Sits of determination” for 1 hour durations, 3 separate times of the day. Sits of determination involve sitting for the full hour not being allowed to move. Full statue buddha for an hour straight, as any movement is “reacting” to a sensation. The competitive person that I am, my determination was strong as I began my first sit of determination. I crossed my legs, propped my bum and knees with cushions and was feeling comfortable and ready to go. All wasn’t so bad until I estimate about 40 minutes in. Extremely sharp and intensified sensations began to release from my hips and travel down my legs. No dramas though… anicca, annicaa… it’ll pass… It did NOT pass. I have NEVER sat through so much pain without being able to react to it in my LIFE. Nausea flushed though me, heat, sweats… it felt like torture, every minute felt like another hour. Goenka’s chanting that signified the last 5 minutes of the hour sounded like the gates to heaven had opened when it began. As I physically unwrapped my legs and stood like a 150 year old human would do, the SHARP SOLIDIFIED SENSATIONS passed away. This teaching explains that every time we react with craving or aversion (causing misery), we create a new samskara (impression or imprint) in our subconscious mind. These samskaras/past miseries are stored and suppressed within the body energetically. So how do we undo them? We observe them as energy through sensation arising in the body, when they do arise, by not reacting we allow time and space for them to arise and dissolve… to pass away. Once no new samskaras are being created, and the past samskaras whether from this life or past lives) have been dissolved… one experiences a constant free flow of energy through the body. One becomes fully liberated = Free of misery.
My right glute hip and thigh are miserable. I am far from liberated.
What on earth have I signed up for. I never once wanted to leave. Although, if we were not learning about dhamma, I am unsure how I would have felt. Day 5 I was in a bit of a funk, that I knew would of course arise and pass away… I had a nice little cry for the grief that swelled inside me for my friends, fam and of course mango man as for once, I had nothing to distract me from it. I cried about sad things and happy things as the past visions came up and out and the future ones hovered.
Night 6&7… I fought off sleep paralysis. It’s something I experience every now and again but now it’s not just the feeling, it’s the out of or in body visuals I get with it that are intense! I felt my mind really starting to go deep. It was in a new space of mental exhaustion, extreme calmness, connectedness and clarity. We stayed in cabins which had separate rooms. I was in a cabin with two other women. The two women had their own bedrooms and my bed was in the loungeroom space curtained off. On day 5 one of the women left so I snagged the bedroom- YAY. However, it did feel a bit off and like I wasn’t the only energy in there. With my fresh bedding, some sprinkled essential oils and the window as wide as I could get it, I made it feel a little more homie and less like something was hiding in the cupboard…
It is incredible how well you do sleep considering you are sitting with your eyes closed for 10 plus hours of the day. The first few nights my head would hit the pillow then, I would hear the 4am gong go off feeling like the most well rested human on the planet.
Night 6 was a different experience. Just as I was about to nod off I could feel the vacuum like pull of my energy (the best way to describe it is a visual of the dementors in Harry Potter) and see my body sinking through the bed (normally I go up). With a stern mental universal “F-off” I went to sleep. Night 7 I felt a little eerie going to bed that night, although not concerned it would happen two nights in a row I started drifting off to sleep. But again… just as I felt my self sliding into sleep the dementors (ha) came. This time I saw my body get lifted and back flipped up towards the ceiling. So clear I could read Bonds on my undies. This time with a break of my noble silence… “F-OFF!!!” I landed back together and went to sleep. After those two experiences, in that final meditation before bed I would quickly do what my fairy angel friend would have told me to do and visually bombed that room with light and cleared it and barriered it from all the bad juju interrupting my thoroughly enjoyable sleeps I was experiencing prior. It seemed to do the job!
Aunty Flow came to the party which is always a bonus when you are housed and near comfortable facilities. It also explained the extra mental depths and Day 5 struggles a little more. And I actually felt super cosy and bright in this solar eclipse time wrapped in solitude. Although it was pretty amazing to notice the change in my capacity of mental focus whilst bleeding. From this day the true count down began… I was getting excited as it wasn’t just a count down to be released from living in the same day everyday… but once I was out it would be only 3 weeks until Mango Man came to join the adventure party.
My favourite sits were the 4:30-6:30am schedules. Even though they were a full 2hour stretch, they only felt like one hour. You could sense the sun rising. The complete stillness and peace of the mornings filled your whole body and lushly your mind. I fell in love with my new favourite bird sound that I still can’t match the owner to but I’m excited to put two and two together one day as it has followed me every morning and hike since.
I think it were day 7 or 8 that I had my most profound experience during this morning sit. I was so deep in the technique, I don’t think I’d moved 1mm for a good hour and twenty minutes. My body was in a state of free flow vibrations as well as the sharp and intense ones. But I was soooo far away from them. I had the experience of my body being nothing but a shield from the outside world. The more aware I become of this phenomena, this shield zoomed further outwards. Nothing could touch who I was. Like a view from the seat of my soul, I was safe. I will always be safe here because nothing can actually touch the Self who was observing. For the yogis reading who are aware of the koshas, the best way I can explain it was like a seed like figure experience from the atman and every layer of my being was expanding outwards and all sensation and everything in my outside reality got so distant that it was as though I should never feel fear again. It was like diving under the ocean and hovering in the depths of that sound. Then I wigged out and of course those layers came back close like a rubber band and that seed snugged back deep inside but the feeling of you are safe here, nothing can touch you remained.
The last half of the course, mental boredom, another sensation to be observed, truly started to kick in. I felt like huffing and puffing like a child having to sit still on the classroom floor every time I began a sitting. My mind was bored of the technique and it was a fight to keep it focused. And the sits of determination… my beloved right hip and thigh was not passing away. Tiny observances in changes of sensation occurred sometimes and once an incredible bubbling/popping feeling of release… but this samskara has many levels. A slight moment of feeling a release gave way to a new level of intensity. At one moment I did think that if the experience happening in my thigh, were in my uterus, it just HAD to be what labour felt like. And of course, I’m sure it's much worse and I’m not here for it!
Even though I have been on what seems to be a big “holiday” my body has felt rested but my mind hadn’t been. It was in these last few days that I felt like I could truly breath for the first time in my life. My mind and body had never felt so completely rested. My physical body felt AMAZING. I truly did feel that simply through the mind, many tensions and miseries had been released. I you want to improve your posture, even out your skeletal system and relieve your back pain… sit on the floor for 10 days… Days 1-4 I was imagining booking into a massage as soon as I got out of there!! But by the tail end, such thoughts didn’t cross my mind. I felt so open and free. Even though the intense sensations of my hips and thigh were loud and clear towards the end of the hour sits, they had never felt so incredibly even and open throughout the rest of the day.
At our lunch break we were able to begin speaking again. To be surrounded by a group of women for 9 days and living with a couple of them knowing nothing about them but only how it felt to be in their presence, was a very rare and cool experience. Thinking I might have forgotten how to speak, it was surprisingly easy to start again and very hard to stop! I felt a little strained and croaky, but nothing too out of the blue.
After lunch we had free time to continue talking and only had to attend the sits of determination. Surprisingly it wasn’t my voice that felt strained but my eyes! After spending 9 full days with my eyes closed more than open, by the night of day 10 they felt super strained. They were shaking as I fell asleep.
Day 11 we watched the final discourse at 5am, completed an hour of service on the property, had breakfast and were free to leave.
Every Vippassana Course is run completely by volunteers and funded by donation. I then went on to serve for another 3 days on the next course as they were short on volunteers and well… I had the time! It was nice to transition out of the course in the same space, however this new nature attached girl was very ready for my next stop. After one last incredible lunch I finished serving and feeling free as bird took off in Daisy to the Blue Mountains.
The world takes the mind for granted. We have no idea how hard wired we are until we’re not. But to undo it takes so much patience, determination, and strength in the uncomfortableness of it. It also takes a lot to first have the awareness that our brains are going at 100 miles an hour, so much so I believe people get addicted to it. In all the craving and averting from past miseries, more miseries are unconsciously being created and we live lives in complete denial of our misery. We crave and avert through alcohol, cigarettes, food, sex, drugs, work, material items, caffeine, technology and so many other things that keep us stimulated and busy. Ignorance is Bliss is the falsest saying ever created. What I received from this course and continue to receive through daily practice has already enriched my life so much. Things I’d normal have a mental battle over do not phase my mind and decision making is easier. Cravings seem less and far between. My want to avert is met with a level of awareness that allows it to be… and the beauty of witnessing it pass confirms that everything will always end up okay, no matter how long it seems to stick around moment to moment. The most glorious thing I enjoyed most over those 10 days was not having a phone and technology in possession. 10 days made everything through that screen in our pockets seem like a world of crazy, pointless, wasteful, STUFF. To be present in your life and your life only feels so freeing and heart fulfilling. To not feel you must answer to anyone with a sense of urgency and constantly be available is something we never get to experience today. We are impatient needy little beings. The day society stops glorifying “HUSTLING” and giving ego gold medals for striving for more more more is going to be a great day. It’s a load of shit… to sum it up.
We can still be amazing and achieve incredible things without grinding ourselves into a pit of exhaustion, stress and harming ourselves and the world around us. If we all jumped off this hamster wheel society has created and started consciously living for the moment, there is no race to win. We can truly embrace the beauty of what is a miracle to be a human being not a human doing. I recommend to anyone who needs a good reminder of what truly matters and of what is truly important… rest your mind. What a different world it would be if we all slowed down and strengthened our self-awareness of mental habits through the practice of meditation.
As you have now read a summary of my brain in 4,000 words… I’m going to sum the next couple of weeks up here, which is hard because they have been a true highlight for me. Firstly, the Blue Mountains are INSANLEY BEAUTIFUL and could not have been a greater place to let my Vipassana experience transition into daily life. They are however, very cold. I did not put the general fact of Mountains = Colder Climate together after spending months amongst tropical ones! After Day one reaching a top of 8 degrees my week long plan to stay was turning into a two day one. However, each day I woke excited for a new hike and 6 days later I back tracked 4 hours north east to Seal Rocks. One morning I was hiking a Mountain and by that afternoon I was diving into the most beautiful waters I could have asked for.
Seal Rocks was a Bridie paradise and I spent my final solo week sunned and salty. After laughing with a friend who is also travelling camp style about the struggles of chicks having to pee in the wind… I unfortunately learnt on my last night here, the windiest night I’d experienced so far, that vomiting in the wind was in fact much harder… I was knocked out for 48 hours with what I could only guess to be another public facility bug!
I now sit safe and sound at Caves Beach in a sweetheart of a humans home I met at Vipassana. Feeling like Christmas Eve has come early. My brain can’t comprehend it that this solo adventure is coming to an end and it also can’t comprehend that Mango Man is going to be standing in front of me in PHYSICAL FORM in less than 24hours **CAN’T BREATHE**.
With thousands of more words to share with you but many life times to do so… I’m going to wish you a HUGE MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!! As I have a full day sail on the Spirit of Tas come January to continue this conversation and share the last of this unexplainable journey the best that I can.
So yesssss, it ain’t over yet and I am now getting the inckling it is just the beginning…
I love you very much and thank you for reading this far.
May all your wildest dreams and more come alive in 2023 xoxo.