20 Aug 2015
It has been almost 3 months since I last completed my first Vipassana Meditation (VM) course on St. John’s Island, Singapore (13 – 24 May 2015). This entry will focus on my subjective experiences rather than providing information about VM course that you can easily read up on the official site, www.dharmma.org.
For individuals who are not familiar with any forms of meditation, the initial challenges will probably involve overcoming physical discomfort in maintaining an upright sitting position for prolonged duration, as well as the ability to stay focus on changes in bodily sensations (we started with observing breathing). I struggled to keep my mind from wondering, focusing on anything and everything except my breathing. The harder I tried to ignore the distracting thoughts, the more I was occupied with them. So what how can we overcome this challenge?
Just like, when instructed, “Do NOT think about a pink elephant.” The image of a pink elephant will come to our minds automatically. The strategy is to remain calm and accept our wondering thoughts and gently bring our focus back to our breathing. Each time my thoughts wondered, I just brought my focus back. No frustration, no disappoint, just calm acceptance. There is no shortcut. With practice, your ability to focus will improve 🙂
Managing physical discomfort requires a different strategy. As all sensations (both pleasant and unpleasant) do come and go, hence you will observe that even the intensity of pain will rise and fall (just like the sea waves). We were constantly reminded of the impermanence of these sensations. Hence, we should not cling on to pleasant sensations that will ultimately go away. Conversely, we should not fear unpleasant sensations that will also cease over time. With this awareness, we therefore learn the importance of remaining calm in the face of both pleasant and unpleasant sensations. Maintaining equanimity. With practice, the discomfort also became more bearable over time.
Through the practices (more than 10 hours a day), I experienced a greater sense of calmness over time. Being socially disconnected (i.e., no usage of mobiles, no tv and radio, no reading and writing, no interaction with fellow course mates – known as “noble silence”), coupled with two simple vegetarian meals a day had definitely removed distractions and helped me focus. Although this spartan environment is conducive for meditation, I was unsure to what extent the practice is sustainable when I leave the island.
It has been 3 months since I left St. John’s Island. So how do I fare back to reality with the constant influx of information from mobiles, mass media, books, people around me… Will share with you in the upcoming Vipassana Meditation – Part 2 post. Stay Tuned 🙂
Keep Maintaining Equanimity, SLC