"Meditation is taking you places" said a colleague and friend when I first went to US to take part in the Mind & Life Summer
Research Institute Conference in 2006. That seemed to become a convincing reality when I decided to go to New Zealand in 2009 for my 20 day course of Vipassana meditation. It was certainly taking me places in more ways than one!
New Zealand wasn't planned intentionally. That was the only center running a 20 day course in the time period convenient to me. I was looking for a breakthrough from my attachment to the Vipassana center in Hyderabad. Barring one 10day course in Chennai, all other courses that I attended were in Hyderabad. 20 day courses are less frequent compared to 10 day courses and the eligibility requirements are more stringent. New Zealand happened also because I wanted to know if I could survive on non-Indian food for 20 days. That year was very well planned in terms of work--I chose to teach only two semesters--Spring and Fall and so kept May to August free for Vipassana courses.
After some minor hurdles at the Quantas check-in desk at Singapore airport which refused to fly me as I did not have an Australian visa ( I had not known that Indian passport holders are required to have transit visa if they stop over anywhere in Austalia) I bought new tickets on SIA direct flight to New Zealand.
Auckland was cold in July, but something which I was prepared for. After checking into a hotel for a day, a van picked a bunch of us from different countries at the city center and we headed for Kaukapakkapa, a lovely valley, little away from Auckland.
We were a total of 16 people taking the course, 10 females and 6 males. All rules were the same as for a 10 day course, but with one major difference. We were given the freedom of choosing where we wanted to meditate--in the Dhamma Hall, or in our meditation rooms. The environment was serene, calm and beautiful in fact a haven! As one co-meditator remarked it was quiet even by western standards! We each had a room to stay in and an additional room for meditation. Normally, established centers have a pagoda with meditation cells in them for solitary practice, but as it is still in its planning stage we got an additional meditation room instead.
What a course it was! I loved the location, I loved my hot-water bag (to beat the chilly weather) I loved the continuous meditation practice, I loved the experience of it all.
7 days of Ananpana meditation (awareness of natural respiration) and 13 days of Vipassana meditation. The first few days my past came to me in torrents---long forgotten childhood memories--which I never knew existed, all came back to me, including painful memories of my sister's accident and death. I spoke to my teacher conducting the course, a kind gentleman, Mr. Ross, who advised me to just let go of the thoughts and get back to focusing on my respiration. With total silence around me, with just the instructions of Goenkaji in my head, I was gradually able to fully focus on my breath and progressed to remarkable stages of inner quiet.
A quiet stillness which was so peaceful, so tranquil and so harmonious descended on me. In this wonderful state, I started the practice of Vipassana. Then slowly trouble began-- first an excruciating pain in my right ankle as I sat in my normal meditation posture. At first, I took this to be a pain like others that come on the body from time to time--but no, this was here to stay for quite sometime. Just as I was learning to accept this as a part of my "dukkha" my old migraine-like headaches started. Now I didn't know which hurt more--my ankle or my head.
Well, after a few days I decided to change my posture so as to ease the pressure on my ankle when I sat cross-legged. It helped a lot and I continued my practice with balance of mind restored. My headaches wouldn't go--they continued unabated--and in this case there was no question of shifting positions! The pain was not as bad as the nausea accompanying it. Finally, I thought I should speak to the teacher and get myself a painkiller perhaps? With this thought and with perfect equanimity towards all that I was experiencing inside, outside, I sat for the 6 o'clock group sitting. Just an hour more and I will go and speak with the teacher and ask for a pain killer, I thought to myself.
The hour was gone, and so was my headache. Just like that...
Many things I learned on that course- An internal quiet and an ability to access that internal sanctuary at will.
"Make an island of yourself,
make yourself your refuge
there is no other refuge
Make truth your island
make truth your refuge
there is no other refuge"
This assumed a meaning and significance so clear, so distinct.
Additionally, a deep realization on how much energy I give towards likes and dislikes. The mind constantly keeps evaluating in terms of likes and dislikes. This was significant because I noticed that I would frequently get irritated with Raja whenever we had a conversation--this irritation stemmed from the fact that he could not hear/listen to me well ( does that sound a typical wifely complaint?). The course helped me awaken to the reality of the fact that he couldn't hear me--so why can't I accept that? why do I have to resist it?
That brought about a huge transformation in my day-to-day life even after I returned. There was a willingness to accept reality as it manifested itself. The tendency to engage in negative thinking greatly reduced, and has almost become non-existent.
I also became more and more aware in my interactions with people, suffusing it with warmth and genuineness which brought greater peace and harmony.
"Happiness is a function of acceptance of what is" This is no longer a quote to me--it is my reality.