As Goenkaji says, right from the time we are are born, we are encouraged to be extroverted. We are taught to speak, respond to people and interact with them. In contrast to this, the 10-day courses helps us learn to connect with ourselves and understand our innate tendencies towards behaving in certain ways.
A typical 10-day course has 3 parts to it : Sila, samadhi and pannya:
Sila or moral code involves taking the following 5 vows (also called precepts):
1. Abstain from stealing
2. Abstain from killing
3. Abstain from speaking lies, harsh words, back biting etc.
4. Abstain from taking intoxicants
5. Abstain from sexual misconduct
These vows are taken because to engage in any one of theses actions creates a lot of negativity or disturbance in the mind. For instance, it is impossible to kill without generating anger and hatred; it is impossible to speak lies without generating greed of some sort or jealousy or similar negative emotion. As the objective is to investigate the mind, these actions are abstained from, in order to set the stage for deep exploration of the mind.
Samadhi--concentration of mind:
Exploration of the mind is quite a difficult task in itself but there is a way out of this. Observing the natural respiration is one way; that is. the breath, as it enters and leaves the nostrils. There are many reasons for choosing the breath to explore the mind, make it an object of meditation.
1. It serves as a link between the mind and body--whenever the mind becomes disturbed--as when we are angry or sad, the breath loses its natural rhythm--we begin to breathe rapidly or very slowly, disrupting the oxygen flow into our body. Focusing on the breath helps to set imbalances at rest, as by doing so we breathe evenly and normally.
2. It is the truth at any given moment. The fact that one is alive, one is breathing--this is truth--it is not an imagination or a visualization, or a belief, it is the truth of the moment.
3. Lastly, it is always there with us--you don't have to remember a mantra or carry an object of meditation.
Focusing on the natural respiration--the breath as it comes through the nostrils and as it goes out sounds very simple but it is in fact quite a challenge. This is because our attention does not remain there, it keeps rolling away in thoughts especially about the past, the future. Whenever one notices his/her attention rolling off into other directions, one patiently brings it back to the entrance of the nostrils. With time and sustained practice, the attention wanders less and less and stays for longer duration at the nostrils. The mind thus becomes more and more focused, and one-pointed as it is also called.
Vipassana--purification of mind:
When the mind is thus reasonable attentive, after 3 days of persistent, continuous practice, one is instructed in the practice of Vipassana. This means getting this concentrated mind to survey the entire body, beginning at the top of the head and slowly and gradually scanning the entire body, to the tips of the toes. While doing so, one learns to develop equanimity towards all sensations experienced. Equanimity is observing the sensations as objectively as possible--not identifying with any of them, but just taking note of them.
Generally speaking there are usually 3 broad classification of sensations--pleasant sensations, unpleasant sensations and sensations which are neither pleasant or unpleasant--the so-called neutral sensations. In the initial courses it is the unpleasant sensations that seem to dominate, especially as one sits in the same position for long periods of time. Noting these sensations, without reacting to them is again a huge challenge as the normal instinctual tendency is to shift one's position in the hope that the unpleasantness may decrease. One slowly understands that the only way to deal with the unpleasantness, the pain, is to experience it without judging it as bad, without wishing it would go away. In fact, I even learned to 'experience' the pain by observing it part by part, dividing and dissecting separately noting sense of pressure, solidity, heat etc. This helps to observe the sensation in an objective manner, thus developing the faculty of equanimity.
Gradually one realizes that these sensations which were so intense, change and cease to exist, go away on their own even without having to move one's seating position. This is true not only for painful sensations but whatever kind of sensation that experienced as one scans the body. This is one of the important truths that is experienced and understood--the phenomenon of annicca or impermanence.
This practice goes on up to day 9. Experiences may differ from person to person, but by this day one gets a general idea of the teaching, and some insights into one's dominant behavioral tendencies. The 10th day, is a special day as the meditators are taught to radiate the peace they experience into the outside world along with unconditional love and harmony to all beings. This day is also a day when the silence comes to an end--a relief to many!
While the courses help us explore deep into our minds, training it to be less reactive and impulsive, this can be sustained only with regular daily practice outside of these courses. I will be writing about this in my next post.