Here you can read about my impressions during my stay at Dhamma Malaya during a Vipassana Meditation retreat. If you’re interested in the previous three days, please click here.
Between two palm trees of the compound I notice the intricate structure of a spider’s web. I follow the threads in order to know where I am able to pass without destroying it. I walk over to my room in block T. Inside, I spot an ant crawling across the room and inspect it. I watch it and take note of the fact that the shadow of an ant is tiny, indeed. Entering the bathroom I see so many of them. They are all checkin de surf in the water basin every time I turn on the tap. Some are coming way too close to the waves I produce and after one or two are swept away into the abyss I refrain from using the basin, taking compassionate action by using water instead from a tap I find next to the shower.
The incessant chatterbox has calmed down. Quiet mind. Images arise from childhood memories to past relationships to future plans. Jumping from past events to future plans becomes so obvious. The workings of the monkey mind, so obvious. No reactivity. Samādhi is stable for about 5-15 minutes. Almost no pain when I sit for an hour. The body adjusts. It seems so, at least. In the morning I eat something even though I am not hungry.
After the Ecstasy, the Laundry
In the afternoon, Vipassana instructions are given. A humbling experience! All I feel is ‘kneedles’… thousands of them. After the stable experience of calmness due to mindfulness of breathing for four days, the judging mind emerges: “I am unable to sit still. Impossible to focus. Mind goes haywire. Is everywhere but here. Like iz my first time at such a retreat. I feel like a beginner again.” Making the mind crammed and narrow. Then again making it wide and spacious “Beginner’s mind, yes, but different: I know very well that it will pass. Remember: Anicca. Impermanence.”
Later on I remember that whenever I try to focus… and try and try… and exhaust myself in vain. It simply does not work. It is like trying to empty or control the mind. A big misunderstanding of how the mind works. Any attempt to control it only creates more misery.
The task at hand is to observe.
I remember yesterday when I was in pain, sweating profusely, and held still until the chanting, using the breath as a bridge between periods of intense pain. When I opened my eyes, I could see the back of my frontman. His T-shirt was soaked in sweat, too. Well, and today after that challenging group sitting in the afternoon I wonder, yes I wonder: “Am I feeling this body or am I also the impact of something I’d name ‘collective pain’?” If nothing else, it is an interesting concept: collective pain. Maybe you, dear reader, have experienced something similar: You go somewhere and people are tense and in pain or they are stressed out (and try not to show – even though these days it seems to be prestigious to be stressed and to be “sorry, don’t have time”) and you somehow get your share of stress as well, and you tend to get irritated easily. Of course, this is not to say that you’re not responsible for how you perceive the world each and every moment. Nor should this be taken as a way to evade your response-ability to a particular situation by blaming it on external circumstances. Rather, it is a chance to practice compassion in daily life. Wherever the pain might originate, and whatever the reasons might be of its arising: mindfulness acts like a shield.
How I love how the air smells after heavy rainfalls!! You know what I am talking about. Especially these monsun downpours at five pee emm after it has been building up humidity and heat for the last two hours or so. After the heat the world smells and feels so incredibly fresh, so alive and awake!!
As I have come to notice in the previous Goenka retreats, this is usually the day when breakfast and lunch become like a dance, a spontaneous choreography. We move in unison after having spent time in the same boat named ‘dukkha‘. This is the time when many a greenhorn comes across the term ‘equanimity’ for the first time in her/his life and learns its meaning in regards to physical sensations and their respective feeling tones (vedanā).
To sit still in the midst of pain and pleasure alike doesn’t make sense per se. And yet, as you might recall, it does, as soon as it changes what you think and who you are. The choreography during lunch time is made possible by that human ability to note, to know, and to let go. By feeling my own body so intimately I come to know how others are feeling, too. Mirror neurons? Could be. But as long as one keeps talking about theories one is unable to touch the inner well of peace.
“Even though your view may be right, if you cling to it you’re wrong.”
(Ajahn Fuang Jotiko)
Entanglement with thickets of views and words and thoughts comes so quickly. ‘Know thyself’, the sages of all eras have said. Equanimity is most important – at the beginning, and the middle, and the end of each and every endeavor.
Pain is a concept which can be used as an overly to hide actual feeling tones. The untamed untrained mind has been conditioned to avoid pain. During these ten days one is trained to observe instead what is actually happening. Instead of reacting to it one simply watches it.
By now, compassion and sympathy have come about. I see the faces of my fellow practitioners. There is pain, misery, sometimes desperation, and a flicker of hope. The question seems to be written in the long faces of new students: “What have I gotten myself into here?”
Insights arise. Many things become so clear once the sensibility is heightened, the awareness of sensations on and in the body. Eating, for example. I skip teatime every second day. At breakfast I sit and watch the spoon being lifted to that hole in my face. Then I go to the toilet and feel poo coming out of that hole in my lower back. Just facting. Not: Oh the first activity is so deli and the second is so disgusting. Having written this down, it sounds weird. But I can’t tell it any other way. (Or maybe I can…) One has to experience it. In society two extremes are followed: indulgence and binging on the one hand; fasting and abstaining on the other. It seems as if it’s hard to find a middle way in a society which is so accustomed to live im Überfluss which can lead to Überdruss.
It seems to me that it’s really quite simple: Don’t eat too little. Don’t eat too much. Listen to your body. Leave ¼ of the stomach empty, better even ⅓. Then there is no drowsiness. Instead, one is able to be awake and alert, laugh heartily, do sports, concentrate effortlessly, meditate, dream calm dreams. Of course, there are more factors than just eating habits and it is therefore important not to become obsessed about when and what and how to eat. Otherwise, worrying might have more detrimental effects on the overall health than the best quality superfood might have beneficial effects.
Another thing. When one smokes, the taste buds get desensitized, so one is led to eat more spicy food because of the craving for more intense sensations. The stomach will adjust after a while. The habit is formed. Hard to let go of wanting artificially flavored food as long as smoking continues. Of course, everyone knows that. Wir wissen alle Bescheid. But unfortschnittly, one lacks the experience to sensitize one’s taste buds by chewing long enough to notice what is actually going on inside that hole in one’s face.
The more resistance I develop to pain in the body, the more doubt comes up in the mind. Doubts about the practice, the teacher, doubts about my aptitude. Thoughts about why Goenkaji emphasizes hard work. What about Mooji? What about Tolle? They all state that their teaching provides a shortcut to nibbāna. The assistance teacher raises his eyebrows and asked incredulously: “You don’t believe in defilements?”
All that brainwashing about purifying the mind. When you state that the true nature of the mind is pure, and therefore, there is no need for all that hard hard work, then it is only a sign that you are deluded, ignorant, and that you are not observing yourself properly, that the fact you don’t see defilements is a defilement, namely ignorance (moha). For me at least it seems easier to grasp the term ‘conditioning of the mind’ and to call the process of vipassana ‘deconditioning’. In my humble opinion, that sounds more appropriate than the doctor-speak of impurities, operation etc. Yet again, Sayadaw U Tejaniya helps me out:
“Try to recognize that defilements are simply defilements; that they are not ‘your’ defilements. Every time you identify with them or reject them, you are only increasing the strength of the defilements.”