by Debrah Kristine Harding
I first learned about Vipassana, like most people, by word of mouth. My friend Chris had taken several 10 day meditation courses, and had especially remembered the ones with S.N.Goenka. He told me they had changed his life and increased his consciousness in ways he couldnt begin to explain. I had to find out more.
On these courses, you meditate from 4:30 in the morning until 9:00 at night? I asked him, incredulous.
Yep, he said.
Well, how many hours of actual meditation do you do, aside from eating and resting? I asked.
About 10 hours he said.
And how many days did you say you spent observing the space above your upper lip? I asked.
Oh, he began to laugh. About 10 days.
Three years after my friend planted that seed about Vipassana, I was ready to try it. I had no idea what would happen to me in this adventure, as discipline had never been my strong point. But over Christmas of 1998, I knew I wanted a change in my life for the better, and I was ready to try. I encouraged myself with thoughts like it couldnt be all bad, because most people who try it seem to do these retreats more than once. So I persevered.
I had heard the first three days were the worst. You do a practice called Anapana, where you observe your breath at the base of your nostrils, above your upper lip. You focus your attention there entirely for three days before you learn the Vipassana technique. I was told if I got through those first 3 days, the rest would be easy.
Throughout day one, any confidence I had dwindled as lots of things came up for me: boredom, aches, pains, doubt, and self reproach for spending my Christmas holiday this way. Just sitting there for hours on end was enormously difficult. By day two, fantasies of leaving became dominant in my meditations. They got rather compli-cated and involved as I had carpooled an hour and a half in someone elses car. Never mindwith 10 hours to sit and think about it, I knew I could find a way to get home.
In between planning my escape, I tried to meditate. It felt like torture at times, but since I didnt get up and leave, the experience morphed into a mild dislike. Occasionally, it was even peaceful. But not long into it I became distracted, both from my escape fantasies and my nostrils, because my neck started having pains it had never had before. Over those first few days, the pain became intense and totally consuming. In the shower one morning I actually tried to give myself a neck adjustment which consisted of cranking my head to one side and repeatedly thrusting on it. No, it did not help. To make matters worse, at night, I couldnt sleep. Id been assigned to a bunk bed and the girl on the top bunk tossed and turned. Unfortunately her tossing and turning shook the whole structure. By day two, the assistant found me, together with all my bedding, asleep on the floor in the bathroom. They moved me to another bed straight away.
Despite, my toils, and because I did want to get some benefit out of all this, I stayed. Between bouts of mental and physical misery, I noticed my awareness of the space above my upper lip became quite profound. I could feel sensations there Id never felt before and I began to feel them all the time. By day three, I could focus much easier, with less mental wandering, and much less misery. Meditation sessions became easiermore peaceful, light, and clear.
I was just starting to feel successful at this practice when they changed instructions and began the actual practice of Vipassanaobserving sensation over the entire body. I discovered that after one hour of Vipassana meditation, my neck pain went away and didnt come back. I was impressed and continued to work at it. While the rest of the course remained difficult, I decided there were enough positives for me to stay and work through to the end.
By day 10, and afterwards, I experienced rich rewards. I felt more clear, focused, calm and happy than I had ever felt in my life. Over the 10 days my mind became razor sharp, not only with awareness of sensation and energy around my body but also with new ideas and insights for my life. Emotional healing also seemed to happen in this process. All in all, it was a life changing experi-ence and it did, as promised, greatly expand my consciousness.
I endeavor to continue the practice at home and have taken more courses since. Through this path of meditation I continue to find great benefits for myself.
Debrah Kristine Harding is an active meditator and Naturopathic Physician who resides in Portland, OR with her cat. For meditation questions or naturopathic visits she can be reached at (503) 421-7774.
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