I just returned from a 10 day meditation retreat in the rural farmland north of Auckland, NZ. The technique was in a style called vipassana, where a superconcentrated attention is passed through the body as a means to decondition the habitual patterns of the bodymind. The following consists of the ideas and lessons that I am learning through this technique and is both a way to process my experience and to share it.
Day 1-3 Awareness of Breath. Three days of nothing but observing the sensations of the breath passing in and out of the nostrils, making no attempt to control the breath whatsoever. Though many methods place a heavy emphasis on breath control and regulation, there is much to say about allowing the breath to occur naturally. Very quickly I noticed a lot of discomfort when asked not to control the breath. This is the latent psychophisical holding patterns coming to the surface. When we are trying to breathe in a certain way, we are asking the body to assume a new rhythm. However when we let go of the breath, the body’s deep subconscious patterning comes to the surface to express themselves. Both it seems are two sides of the same coin. As I practiced this I began to notice that as different parts of my body came to the forefront of attention a new rhythm of breathing–fast, slow, deep, or shallow–would expreess itself. Together it seemed as if different parts of the body were literally harmonizing through changes of breath.
Day 4 – Vipassan starts. Having spent well over 30 hours of meditaiton developing acute sensitivty to the sensasions in the nostrils, we were now asked to slowly sweep this attention through the body piece by piece. The mind is to remain equanimous, unchanging whether we expereinced pleasure or pain. At the same time we were asked not to move or change positions for three sessions (each 60min long) throughout the day–sittings of strong determination. Not moving the body in meditation gives one a unique understanding of pain. Take for example pain from sitting. I was in a kneeling position which put a lot of pressure on my knees. After the hour sits my knees would ache and walking would be difficult for a few minutes after I got up. You might dismiss me as crazy to sit that long! But soon things changed. As I scanned the discomfort I found that if I was more aware of the areas around the knee, the force of gravity could spread out and dissolve the pain.The pressure now was able to spread out down the shinbone to the toes and up from the knee towards the hip. My perspective shifted to an understanding that the pain was healing, what I was expereincing was the energy of the earth opeining energetic channels. As I continued to sit longer the force of the earth could travel further into my body and reveal new areas of blockage. The channels along my back became lines of fire, as did eventually the entire ribcage, shoulders and arms to the tips of the fingers. In comparison the legs felt like ice, dense and heavy. As new areas began to open, memories of old injuries and events began to surface, revealing a body-wide pattern a lifetime in the making. At times there would be temporary relief from these blocks with waves of pleasure streaming like champagne bubbles through the body. Eventually I could sit with relative ease for over two hours.
My experiences off the cushion were a bit more pleasant. The intensity of the expereince would lessen and I could devle deeper into the ordinary expereinces of life. Food became immensely pleasureable. Feeling a bit cold before my meal, after a few bites I could almost immediately feel warmth spreading throughout my body. Eventually I could follow the nourishment of the food through the whole meridian system. The sun was also extremely fascinating. I would sun my eyes, looking directly into the sun with eyes closed. I could feel the energy of the sun opening the channels of my face, sometimes extending furhter into the body. I saw my eyesight improve dramatically. Stories of yogis living off sunlight and breath seemed much more plausible. I have often heard my Qi Gong teachr Dr. Jackowicz lecture on Daoist numerology/cosmology accounting the division of primordial unity into two and three and four and five and six and on out into infinity. I was able to understand it intellectually but never had an intuitive understanding of it. But during meditation, as I learned to progressively relax the whole body simultenously, I began to grasp pieces of it. While relaxing my right hand, for example, I found that my left hand would also relax. Sometimes as my wrist relaxed so would my ankle. As I sunk deeper into my knees I felt my elbows open. As my shoulders dropped I felt the hip creases deepen. The connections between the joints are whats known as the “Liu He” or six harmonies. The Liu He Gong was one of the Qi Gong practices that I never really felt drawn to, but now has a new meaning to me. All the pieces of the body were assembling themselves back towards unity. Left and Right, Front and Back, Up and Down, Inside and Outside. I saw the way many of the bones of the body shared a similar connection. The body is a series of holographic reflections of a single pattern. At times I felt tantalizingly close to this singularity but there is still a ways to go.
One of the things I find that has always limited me is me desire to “have it now.” Whatever it might be… an ice ceram cone, a toy, or spiritual healing! On some level I am never really happy with how things are at the present. One way in which I got to experience this physically was in the area around the heart. I have had deep openeings of the heart before, and on this retreat as well. But I think what I am understanding more is that opening the heart is not a one time thing. It is not something you achieve and then move on. I would have a big opening and then go back to my meditation and feel more pain. I didn’t understand this at first. It seems to me though, that everything must pass through the heart, all expereince. It is never over. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that in many eastern languages, “heart” and “mind” are the same word. So for years I have been desiring to open the heart, wanting it now, not realizing that my very wanting was the barrier. I saw that my denial of feeling, the desire to have it now, and the physical contraction I felt around my ribs were one and the same. Equanimity is the name of the game it seems with vipassana (and maye Buddhism as a whole). A spaciousness of mind that can embrace everything and yet cling to nothing. Seems alot like love to me.
To learn more about Vipassana you can got to http://www.dhamma.org