As I sat on the floor in my (failed) lotus position struggling to keep my back straight, my thoughts began to play their habitual game. It was time to focus my mind solely on the sensation above my upper lip and below the nostrils. Of course my mind, with its tendency to delve in to the distant past and far into the mystical future, would rather focus on random thoughts. It is of course a clever habit, successful at creating strong emotions that in turn have me believe the very thought conjured up is absolute truth. I couldn’t blame it of course; here I was trying to deny it of its very conditioning. Twenty seven years of being allowed to run riot whilst an apparent ‘self’ had trusted in its every vision. Now, sat here in a quiet room of 40 wannabe Buddha’s, it was time to quiet this monkey mind. It was time to surrender to a 25 century old non-sectarian, universal technique known as Vipassana.
By day five this word Anicca – an ancient Pali word meaning impermanence – begins to resonate with me. I’d got through the worst; adjusting to the 04:30am starts, sitting for 10 hours a day and had stopped resisting the uncomfortable silence. Uncomfortable purely because it shed light on how manic my internal reality is. Now, I’d learnt to focus on the body’s sensations. Because as my teacher said, the sensations have always been there, we’re just not attuned to feel them.
Observing is the key. To train the mind to accept the reality as it really is, not as I want it to be. Each sensation has the same characteristic; to rise and pass away. With constant reminder, I told myself to remain equanimous. If a painful sensation is impermanent, why react? Similarly, why crave a pleasant sensation when its very nature is to disappear?
My physical body became a tool. By focusing the mind on different sensations and observing with perfect equanimity, I lifted myself from suffering. Three times a day for one hour periods I participated in Adhittana – a strong determination to sit completely still. The burning pain in my knee soon became broken pieces of sensation. Minutes felt like hours, aversive thoughts attempted to overpower and my neighbour caved. But it became easier. I had stepped upon the path of Dharma and experienced incredible benefits.
Stripped of all my worldly possessions was easy. Maintaining Noble Silence grew on me. Expected to observe ‘within’ for 17 hours a day however, was (at times) torture. Of course it was only I to blame for imprisoning myself for 10 days thanks to my unrelenting curiosity in life. And you know what, in the end my companions with no name and I agreed it must be the best prison on earth.
Until the next retreat I’ve been inspired to do two things. Number one of course is practising Vipassana meditation every day. The second will prove to be a little trickier. When life throws difficult or wonderful moments my way, I will take a moment to look inside, observe the sensation manifesting and remind myself of the universal law of impermanence. To see things as they really are, not as I want them to be.
Anicca, anicca, anicca.