Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why I sit....(with apologies to Paul Fleischman, who wrote an essay with this title)

Part I (How it all started)

It's been 15 years of practice of Vipassana meditation as taught by Goenkaji. I have been taking a course almost every year or every other year. With every course there has been a significant gain, valuable insights and a gradual change in me as a person. In these posts I wish to record some of my experiences in each of the courses that I took. In this particular post I write about my very first course.

I clearly remember the day when I set out for my first 10 day course in Hyderabad. It was the 6th of October,1995. I was a lecturer in Psychology in St. Ann's College, Mehdipatnam, Hyderabad and we had a one week break for Dashera. This, I thought was the best time to do the course as I would only have to take 2 additional days of leave, the course ended on 16th of October. My children were 8years and 3years and I planned to leave them with my parents who were taking care of them when I went to work.

However, it wasn't as simple as I thought. My parents were horrified. Why would I want to leave my young family and go for a course in meditation? I was very determined--there was such a compelling pull towards attending the course. But it was painful to go against the wishes of my parents. At the suggestion of my friend, Sudha, I contacted Sabrina, a senior meditator and she invited me to join her as she was leaving for the Vipassana center to help in the registration of new students for the course.

Meeting Sabrina was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had. It was a joy to be in her company, and she allayed my fears, misgivings and doubts about attending the course--with simple straightforward answers to my questions. The most significant thing that she shared with me on that memorable drive to the Vipassana center was: " Whatever arises, is bound to pass away" and " When you have set out to do something good, nothing bad will ever come out of it". She had ( and still has) a presence in which I felt comforted.

Later that evening at the center she gave a group of us a preview of what we were to experience in the 10 day course---and I was and still am so grateful for that. She explained the 3 major steps --sila, samadhi and panya and gave us a heads up on important milestones we were to experience in the 10 days. Not only did I feel reassured by her explanations, I was quite sure that this was the path I was looking for.

The first course was difficult and I struggled through it. The first difficulty was maintaining silence--physical silence was not too difficult but silencing the mind was. In addition, we were asked not to maintain eye contact with anyone and walk with eyes downcast. However, I had come with the firm conviction that this was the path I really wanted to follow, braved all the displeasure of my parents, I had to make it good!

Somewhere on the 7th or 8th day I started wondering whether life had to be take so seriously? Till then I went about living life in the way I best understood, not really mindful of my actions, emotions or interactions with people. The daily routines of the meditation course--early morning rise at 4 am, meditating for about 10 hours a day--forced me to confront my life. I wasn't mindful before--but now I was given the opportunity to experience for myself what living mindfully, could result in. More over, I was forced to experience suffering and look at it as it was! Not escaping from it, not avoiding it but for the first time observing it objectively, dispassionately and probably with equanimity. Of course, I wasn't always successful, but traces of this (objectivity/equanimity)started penetrating my consciousness.

I hadn't yet grasped it fully but the possibility of getting different results from life was dawning on me. And it was precisely because I was unhappy with my experience of life thus far that I joined the course in the first place!

The few moments when I could clearly understand and follow the instructions, the few moments I could stay with my breath with undivided attention, the few moments that I could observe my sensations with equanimity, resulted in so many insights, so much of peace and tranquility and above all a joy of realizing that there is another way of living my life which held a promise of greater happiness and satisfaction.

The final day, Day 10, was Metta Day and it was a wonderful way of bringing a closure to what I had gone through the previous 9 days. These 9 days made me realize the suffering I was carrying with me so far was the reason for my rudeness and anger towards some people in my life. I learned now how to deal with this internal suffering and transform it and to the extent I was successful in doing it, I was freed from those toxic negative feelings and emotions that would earlier engulf me and almost consume me.

With this awareness (whatever, little it was in that first course) I could radiate happiness, peace and harmony towards all beings.

(I will be continuing on this theme, and discuss my progress in each of the subsequent courses that I took.)

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