Tuesday, August 3, 2010

"Why I sit...

Part IV (Satipattana)

Sometimes the gains that I claim I had after the courses may sound exaggerated. Did I suddenly change? Did I become a different person? It may seem dramatic and unbelievable.

Maybe the word "change" is not appropriate--was I not ok before? Was there something undesirable in me that needed change? The answer is no. However, there was that feeling of unsatisfactoriness about life in general which I mentioned earlier. I had a lot of resentment accumulated over the years, a tendency towards depression, and my mood mildly melancholic. Compared to an average person I was less depressed, resentful and melancholic--but personally it was not what I wanted to be. I felt I wasn't living fully, I felt I could do better if I had my anger, sadness, anxiety under control and in better physical health as well.

It was in these directions that I changed gradually, each course providing for some incremental change. There were times when I felt I was becoming worse too. I particularly remember the Satipattana course in the summer of 2000. This is a course one could take after a minimum of 3 ten-day courses.

Satipattana means establishment in awareness, a very important part of The Buddha's teaching. This course is similar to the 10-day course with respect to the time-table and the meditation instructions but different from the chantings in the morning and the discourse in the evenings. Needless to say, it is meant for serious students who have decided that this is the path they want to follow. The morning chantings are from the Maha Satipattana Sutta and the evening discourses are an explanation of the same chantings. We were a few students --about 5-6 females doing the course. I did it with all seriousness but around the middle of the course started feeling very restless--a feeling that I might be called back home for some reason. In fact, when the dhamma sevika came to the hall one morning during our 8 am meditation hour and whispered into the teacher's ear, I was quite sure it was a call for me to get back home. Later, I found out that the unfortunate call was for my roommate, who had to leave the course--I had no means to find out the reason.

The course being done, I left for home on the last day to be greeted by an unusual reception at my parent's place. My husband had taken ill with vertigo during my absence and had to be hospitalised in Chennai. Unfortunately his close relatives chose to view the incident as being due to my negligence towards him and my family and a pre-occupation with my own interests. A lot of unkind and things were said about me and my parents. I was told that my mother was urged to call me back from the course (coincidently on the same day that I felt uneasy and restless during the course) while my father stopped her from doing so and instead decided to ascertain the facts from my husband himself first. I am extremely grateful for his thoughtful decision without which I may not have been able to complete the course.

It's about 10 years since this happened, but I remember it very distinctly because I struggled to learn to forgive the person who said nasty unkind things about me and my parents. I wanted to say a lot of unkind things to this person too--but was stopped by my friend and guide, Sabrina who tried to teach me to forgive. For many months I struggled with this incident unwilling to forgive, to let go. Those were the times when the path seemed very difficult--it was a challenge to practice what I learned in the course. It took me years--4 or 5 until my 5th course in 2005 to let go and learn to forgive.

Yes, forgiving people who have harmed you or said unkind things about you is difficult. But the entire incident helped me understand suffering and the way out of suffering. When I posted on my facebook wall recently, something on forgiveness, one friend said it was better to keep enemies away from you rather than forgive them, befriend them and find that they harm you as a friend. Another person said she agreed that forgiveness heals but it takes a long time to learn to forgive. Quite true. Most things in life which are worth learning takes time, takes patience.

As Viktor Frankl said in his book--Man's Search for Meaning, "When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves"

But how does this change come about? What the subsequent intense courses taught me was that when such an incident (like the one above) occurred there was a pattern---the person (in this case the relative) said those words and the incident was over. However, I kept replaying the incident again and again in my mind, re-calling every hurting word and emotion. To this I would create an imagined response I should have given the person or may give if another opportunity arose in future. In short, I was creating a mental drama of an incident and replaying it ever so often in the stage of my mind. The incident was painful the first time it occurred and yet here I was replaying it in my mind hurting myself again and again adding a number of dialogues and counter dialogues.

Each time I recalled the incident there was a fresh wave of unpleasantness. Examining this thread bare in each of my courses, closely observing my sensations each time these thoughts came to my mind, with the understanding of impermanence (annicca) as taught by my teacher, I was able to comprehend what I was doing to myself and the way to let go, to forgive. Every thought that arises in the mind is linked to a sensation in the body. These sensations are impermanent by nature--they arise and pass away. During meditation we train ourselves to observe this reality that happens within the framework of our body. In our ignorance of the impermanent nature of the sensations we keep blindly reacting to them in everyday life, just as I was doing earlier with that painful incident. With practice I learned to observe the sensation that came up along with the thought, learned to be equanimous with the painful sensation it brought along with it and then could free myself from the negative emotions associated with it.

This requires training. Therefore sitting on the cushion motionless for about an hour was not just a test in physical endurance but in fact a training of the mind. Training to understand that what arises in the mind ( or any other part of the body) is linked to sensations experienced on the body. Additionally, learning to develop equanimity towards the sensation with the understanding of its impermanent nature-I gradually learned that all sensations I experienced were characterized by impermanence.

Ignorance of this truth of sensations causes our suffering. This realization I started applying in my day to day life. It became easier to forgive some people. When I was able to do that, it increased my confidence in interacting with people--because afterall it is the fear of hurt which becomes a barrier at times in our interactions with people.

By the time I completed my 5th 10day course in end December 2005, there was a huge leap in my understanding of what was going on within me in various situations I faced in life--particularly in my interactions with people. I was able to now regulate my emotions in a better manner, understand myself better and become more content.

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