***This is a follow-up post to a previous blog post called ‘Vipassana: one month later’. For context of Vipassana meditation, I would suggest you read the original post here.***
I attended my first Vipassana course from 20-31 October 2021 at the Dhamma Dipa Centre, Hereford. Over the course of 10 days, I attempted to learn the Vipassana meditation technique. Over the last year, I have observed how the spiritual teachings of S.N. Goenka have unfolded in my life. Here are my observations, one year later…
Silence is still my friend and in silence I am still
Spending 10 days in silence with myself and my thoughts has made me cognisant that the mind is a house that I have built. Everything that is stored in it has been placed there, from within or from without. But rest assured; everything that is stored there is there because I have decided to keep it. J Krishnamurti comments that “Each one of us is the storehouse of all the past” (Freedom from the Known, 1969). We are the storehouses, not only of our own pasts, but of the past history of our families, our communities, our nations and all of human history. Much like our tendency to declutter our physical space, becoming aware of the beliefs, stories, values, and repetitive thoughts makes it easier to filter the ones that are serving us and clear the ones that are not. Silence is not something that I fear but that I actively seek out. It is in silence that I am still and it’s in the stillness that I am present; connected to the past and forecasting to the future.
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Hamlet Act II, Scene 2,
Over the past year, I have lost track of the amount of times someone has asked me to be positive when I have approached them with emotions, such as anger, grief and sorrow. It is incredible how our society has attributed a value judgment to ‘good’ emotions, like happiness, joy, gratitude and wonder, and relegated the rest to the repression pit in the shadows. Through meditation I have come to recognise that the full spectrum of human feeling is a wondrous thing. Emotions can teach us if we have the courage to lean into them, allow ourselves to move through them and learn the wisdom that they offer. Emotion comes from the Latin, ‘emovere’ which means to move through. I want to move through this life with as much awareness as I can and my feelings direct me to certain points that I must pay attention to.
I am reminded of the Rumi poem, The Guest House, translation by Coleman Barks:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
I agree with Rumi when he invites us to welcome these feelings and entertain them all. They have so many stories to tell and in the telling is your truth.
Evolution is a painful process…but the pain is temporary
Letting go of old narratives that I held of myself has freed me to forge my identity in my own way. Along the path, I have undergone intensive deconditioning of feminine and heteronormative ideals, that were forcefed to me throughout my childhood in same-sex Catholic schools. Through meditation and intensive yoga, I have aligned my feminine and masculine energies and come out to myself and the world as non-binary. To reflect these changes, I have renamed myself from Karen to Kay. This evolution was not some light-bulb moment and it wasn’t always clear even to myself, but the regular time spent in meditation has endowed me with the confidence and the clarity to step into who I am becoming. In the process of telling family and friends, I have lost some close friendships – but also reignited friendships of old. Shedding the skin of who I once was has been painful but there has been so much beauty in living my authentic truth and being seen and supported by those who truly love me. Correlation is not causation; meditation did not make me non-binary. But it allowed me to investigate what parts of my identity had been given to me from without and what parts of my identity were always residing in me from within – but that I had not yet fully given expression. And that is freedom.
Continuity of practice is the only pathway to success
Whenever I meet other people who have attended a Vipassana course, we always imitate S.N. Goenka and his adage, “Continuity of practice is the secret to success!”. Since coming back from Vipassana I have taken up Heartfulness meditation again. In my role as a Heartfulness meditation teacher, I meet people who are interested in meditating but who don’t always approach the practice with the same commitment and rigor as they would other areas of their life. Meditation is considered as something nice to do, if there is time left in the day to do it. Through regular practice, I’ve realised that continuity of practice leads to mastery of practice, and mastery of practice leads to mastery of self. I try to maintain a daily morning and evening practice. Of course, there are exceptions and days that I miss but I notice the difference when I haven’t made it a priority.
The body is a vehicle for the work
Vipassana is a form of meditative awareness through the breath, and body scanning. Post Vipassana, I noticed that I was more sensitive and embodied and was able to locate emotions within my body in a more pointed way. In a world which elevates the body for its aesthetic value, Vipassana helped to ground me in my body and to accept it for all of its glory as well as all of its ‘faults’. The ability to break the trance of reactivity, where we are constantly caught in the loop of craving pleasurable sensations and denying painful ones, is a lesson that I could only have learned through the Vipassana system. In this way, I feel that I have transcended the physical form and regard the body as the vehicle in which the spiritual work is performed.
Accepting the reality as it is becomes easier with time
It seems so simple but things go ‘wrong’ all the time and it takes quite a while to stop attributing a value judgment to different events and instead accept them as they are. It’s in the acceptance that I am free to concentrate my energies on other more pressing matters, or explore options of changing my situation. If I cannot change the situation, accepting it and accepting it quickly, safeguards me from discontent. I accept my reality as it is – not the reality that I wish had been – and in doing so, I am content.
To look after self, look after other
In my previous blogpost, I noted that it is possible that the self, or atma, dissolves into everything, such that I felt completely connected to universal consciousness. Coming back from Vipassana, I would like to think that I have become less selfish and more selfless. My father always says to me that to look after self, look after other. It is in the act of looking after others – as we would the self – that we can strengthen community and increase wellbeing.
As I have trained as a teacher in a different form of meditation, I can only do one course of Vipassana but other practitioners can go as many times as they want. I would really recommend it to anyone who is searching for a more disciplined spiritual practice.