Well that was difficult. My fourth time in Vipassana, third time in Hereford for another ten day tangle. Maybe I went at it a bit hard. I think I understood a lot more this time. As far as I can tell, Vipassana is a meditation technique where you go round your body observing the sensations on the skin, and eventually observing internally as well remaining what Goinka (the guru) calls "equanimous"- Not getting off on the pleasant sensations or developing aversion to the painful ones. He believes this is the path to enlightenment. (Equanimity-wkipedia)
My brain was kicking and screaming the whole way through. I didn't realise how much Vipassana I have been doing over the years whilst riding my bike or walking cos I couldn't sit still on a cushion. Going back to Ana-pana, the technique he starts people on to build awareness, which is basically observing the feeling of the breath on the skin below the nostrils for three days just gave me a headache in the left frontal lobe and immense amount of frustration. I had one good day when we finally went on to Vipassana proper but the hard won "equanimity" I managed to muster was fairly much blown the next day.
I haven't blogged about it here cos it was maybe a bit too personal but a friend of mine did Vipassana maybe eight months ago and was in a secure psychiatric ward within a week. After a very long story I am not going to tell she is alright now and I didn't think it would come up for me this time, but when I saw a guy who looked as if he could have been her brother walking round talking to himself with a similar disturbing look in his eye I began to question the whole thing.
I told the teacher of my worries and he seemed a bit narked. So I told him the whole story the next day in no uncertain terms and questioned whether they had the facilities to cope with the fall out of what doing such extreme stuff might provoke in people. I deliberately told him the details up to the moment my friend was closed into a psychiatric ward to watch for his answer.
Being a bit of a rebel I always seem to end up testing the teacher at any of these guru things but I thought in the circumstances this test was pretty valid. I thought to myself that if he had asked how she was, that would have been the compassionate answer. If he just defended his precious technique, that would be wholly different. He failed the test quite conclusively and the rest of my meditation was fairly much shot to pieces by the anger I felt at this.
Looking back I suppose that I don't expect anyone to be the Buddha and when we broke the silence I did hear that he had been calling people to see him who had been seen talking to themselves but I do still worry, especially as the number of students accommodated in Hereford has tripled since last time I was there five or six years ago.
The last day I spent fairly much like the last day I was there before. I tried valiantly to be equanimous with the same pain in the same shoulder blade from the same accident sixteen years ago until such kidding of myself broke and my brain railed against believing an old guru that I could observe my pain and make myself happy. Further more I knew that it was the girl who had been damaged by this process who I would go to for a deep tissue massage to really sort it out afterwards!
When we broke the silence a very strange thing happened though. I spoke to a few new students about my dilemmas and didn't quite get the answers I thought I would. People were basically saying "You are angry- its working."
I spoke to an Australian psychologist who said he was dealing with pain management and encouraging his patients to focus their mind on the physical pain and feel the anger in order to heal it. The whole thing flipped for me in half an hour, and when we went back into the hall I was able to sit there, equanimous as fuck observing the pain in my shoulder, I could have done another ten days. Very weird.
Driving back with the people I came with found on the sites lift-share facility I was as usual on cloud nine, as was everyone in the car. I have crashed a bit as normality hits but I am still practising twice a day and at odd times during the day. Maybe I was expecting more of a change. Maybe its telling me there are more things I need to change myself.
The same things bothered me that always bother me about Vipassana, this ritual that isn't a ritual bowing, the personality led nature of the thing and the worry that it can seriously damage people regardless of what they say, but I will keep up my practice if I can and blog about any results over time hopefully.
Vipassana might not be for everyone, but it is growing steadily worldwide. The website is here.
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