Sunday, August 1, 2010

Why I sit...

Part III (Progress in the 2nd and 3rd courses)

My sister's death, painful as it was, was still only part of the reason for my taking this path of Vipassana meditation. There was always a sense of disquiet within me... a yearning to make sense of this world, this life. There was a sense of unsatisfactoriness, a kind of emptiness. There were moments of great joy as well. And to many, I was leading a normal, happy life--I had a good husband and lovely daughters.

But as Thoreau said..."Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.." women too! Another gem of his echoes the sentiments I experienced at that time.

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

Yes, I wanted to live deliberately, to confront my inner self and what was going on in there....and learn if I could whatever lessons it offered.

Meditation was something I had come across when I read J. Krishnamurthy. However, he did not believe in teaching meditation and believed it to be an individual's personal journey. That didn't help much though his teachings in general did.

Then I briefly attended a class in Transcendental meditation but was disappointed with the instructors lack of seriousness of teaching it.

It was in Mumbai sometime in 1984 that I first heard of Vipassana Meditation. Raja, my husband brought home a sheet of paper on which was given the time-table of the 10 day course and the address of the center in Nashik. One look at the time-table and I felt like attending the course. Raja laughed at me and said I cannot stay silent for 10 minutes--leave alone 10 days! And in my immaturity I took offence at this and abandoned the idea.

Anyway, as I have described in Part I of this series of posts, I did my first course in October 1995. The immediate benefits of the course was reduced anger in my interactions with my family--I had greater patience dealing with my young children and discovered the magic of the breath. Whenever I was upset, bringing my awareness to my natural respiration helped me calm down. That was a very significant change in my life.

I tried to practice everyday.. but was not very successful and even when I did sit down occasionally, found it very difficult to do so for more than half-an-hour. I did not consider going back to do another course.. it was with great difficulty that I did the first one. However, I kept in constant touch with Sabrina, who was my mentor, guide and friend. She was and has always been a source of inspiration to me on this path.

It was not until we moved to Chennai from Hyderabad and I decided to enroll for my PhD program in Madras University, that the possibility of doing a second 10 day course came up. So impressed with the teaching I was, that I toyed with the idea of making Vipassana meditation, the subject of my research.

An invitation to assist in a Teenager's course at Chennai's Santhome School for Boys, became a subject of a research paper. It was a study on the role of meditation in the emotions ( anger and anxiety) of adolescent boys. It was after this publication that I went on to attend my second 10 day retreat.

In many ways it was a significant 10 day course...My parents weren't so angry this time--may be they decided there was just no point in it--in fact after I returned from the course and described it to them, they were pretty much inclined to try it themselves!--or so they said.

During the course I had a painful headache which lasted 2 days. I was forced to observe it --"observing" pain - and there were pains everywhere-- not only in my head. I struggled with it initially and then realized that the only way out was to accept it and experience it without resisting it. I experienced first hand that whenever we encounter something we do not like, our mind immediately shuts off, resists it or tries an escape route. Anything to avoid pain and experience pleasure! Here I was forced to face up to pain, experience it without reacting with aversion towards it.

It was also the first course where I could sit in addhitan ( sitting still without moving for one hour 3 times a day from the 4th day onwards). It was also the first course when I experienced a my body dissolve into wavelets.. albeit for a just about a minute--after which the experience never came back.

As I went through these significant experiences, the real test of any change I might have gone through, was to be observed only outside of the retreat. And sure enough there were many changes. First major change that I noticed was that I experienced greater comfort conversing with people. Prior to this I felt uncomfortable with strangers and could not really connect with many of my acquaintances. I could get along only with very few close friends. This course helped me knock out layers and layers of fear and people discomfort. This change helped me immensely in my interpersonal relationships. I felt a genuine warmth and liking for people and found it being reciprocated as well.

Another significant realization was that I could survive a headache without taking a headache-tablet. Although this did not sustain outside the course--I suffered unbearable, mild migraine type of headaches frequently-- first time I realized that I could overcome a headache without taking a pill. This helped me strengthen my resolve to stay on this path.

In addition there was a deeper and clearer understanding of anicca ( impermanence), which helped in dealing with my anger and other negative emotions.

Most importantly, I realized that this was the path for me... and all I had to do was to keep walking on it!

I will be elaborating these significant changes in my next post.


  1. wonderful posts radhi. thanks a bunch for sharing. it was very heartening to read about your sister and can't even imagine the pain you must have gone through. you have a lot of parmis that have supported you and you are acquiring them like crazy now :-)
    Good luck,

  2. Thank you, Ravi...there are more experiences to share in subsequent posts--please keep reading and let me know what you think.