Living like a Monk for 10 days

Just yesterday I returned ‘home’ after spending 10 days on a Vipassana retreat in complete noble silence; that’s silence of speech, body and mind. You don’t need any knowledge of Vipassana to go on a retreat—just a strong determination that you will complete the course and follow the code of conduct—essentially you have to surrender to whatever happens. For a few years now I’ve found meditation yields instant results; calmer, happier, less reactive, able to gain new perspectives, to name just a few, but I had no real understanding of technique aside from what I’d picked up from friends, attending a few classes and the infinite information hub that is YouTube and the web.

Damma Dipa, where the course is held is located amidst rolling hills of patchwork farmland in Hereford, the nearest city being Gloucester. To me, the centre became both heaven and hell on earth at different times. Long periods of blissful equanimity pervading every ounce of my being would have me fixated on the beauty of the world within and then the most tortuous and emotional turmoil would arise completely shattering this peace and leaving me feeling imprisoned, angry and frustrated in these manicured grounds. But aren’t we all prisoners of our minds at times? Do we not all have negative behaviour patterns of the mind? Do we not all struggle to live a life that is in line with what we truly want, rather than being tripped up by our passions, desires, cravings and aversions?

We’re human. This is the human condition, but as I slowly began to experience the depths of Vipassana meditation, there is a way out of this miserable and reactive way of living that is determined by external conditions outside of our control. It’s through awareness by observing the breath and sensations in the body and through equanimity, the ability to remain in an observational and balanced state of mind no matter what; only then do we liberate ourselves from this bondage.

As a grounding and a foundation for this liberation there has to be absolute moral conduct at the surface level of the mind, that’s no killing, no lying, no stealing, no wrong speech and no intoxicants. The body has to be free from these negativities before it can even begin the deep surgical work of penetrating the layers and layers of complex emotions, experiences and memories that we’ve become masters of suppression and/or expression!

Vipassana is also all about sharing, serving and giving as a way of life. No remuneration could possibly be put on such an invaluable experience to individuals. The centre is run solely on donation (Dana) of past students who want many more people to experience Vipassana; for this is no intellectual philosophy, this is an experiential wisdom that only comes from the hard work you put into the practise itself when you’re there.

By the end of my stay at Dhamma Dipa the bees buzzing past fulfilling their duties sounded like I was standing next to the M25, the birds bounced on by like their feet were springs and the trees danced in the wind with the gentle yet strong sound of the breeze blowing through the glistening leaves of the sun. I would catch a fellow mediator smiling and it would light my heart with a warm, yearning sensation. I would eat my food like it was the last meal I was ever going to get and feel it warming up my body, fueling my body. I have never lived so fully, so completely, so tuned in, so aware, so attentive. Quite honestly I fell in love with life at Dhamma Dipa—even the shit bits.

The insight gained from meditation directly transfers across your whole life. So here, in the spirit of Dana I share with you some of what I learnt from this course by simply observing the breath and the sensations in the body with proper understanding.

  1. It is as it is. Not as you would like it to be! Not one single person on this planet ever gets things exactly as they want. Don’t get depressed, distressed, disappointed or defeated when things don’t go your way, stay equanimous or this will lead to aversion. Alternatively, be sure to remain equally equanimous when you do get what you want, if not this leads to craving. All craving and aversion leads to unhappiness.
  1. Defilements of the mind like anger, fear and frustration arise only when in a state of craving, aversion or ignorance. It’s the minds way of telling the world we are not happy, we do not accept, only, when we react in this way we multiply our misery.
  1. Work ardently, diligently, continuously, equanimously and with patience and persistence. If you do, you are sure to succeed.
  1. Work with a strong determination and with proper understanding. In Vipassana you have to sit for one hour without opening your eyes, hands or legs. This results in intense, unbearable agitation and tension in the mind and body as you itch and burn to break free of this rigid posture. And when you don’t, you become the master of your mind, not enslaved by your cravings or aversions.
  1. You are the master of your future and the mastery begins in the present moment. Stop running and escaping from reality. The past is gone; the future is not here yet. This moment, this reality you are experiencing right now is the only one you ever have to face – observe it fully.
  1. A wise person always makes best use of the time they have left. Too many people don’t know how precious time is. When you know the value of time, you hate wasting it on pointless, mind numbing bullshit.
  1. Observe your respiration and sensations in a non-judgmental way as much of the time as your awareness physically permits. This is your key to liberation rather than fuelling a perpetual cycle of… MISERY.
  1. The world is so very ephemeraleverything is arising to pass away. Why attach to it? Anicca, Anicca!
  1. Blind optimism won’t help you. Blind pessimism won’t help you. But optimism, with realism and workism is the Vipassana way! There is no secret here, just hard work. Get on with the practice morning and evening and remember it is all arising and passing.
  1. Permanence is an illusion. Like a candle that flickers or a bulb that emits light the illusion or delusion of permanence fools us into thinking that things last forever – they don’t. It’s all growing and decaying, growing and decaying.
  1. The only person you ever love is yourself. Selfish love. Ego love. Real love is pure, with no expectation, continuously giving.

Be happy!


Hartwig – Observer

Gloria Garcia – Smile it’s Friday

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