Equanimity just looks on and observes, while calmly settled in composed neutrality. It is manifested as the quieting of both resentment and approval. Gautham Buddha
I am back from my Vipassana retreat in Alliston, Ontario where nestled in the wilderness of Canadian conifers is Dhamma Torana, the Centre where I strengthened my meditation practice while observing ten days of noble silence. This could have been the lower Himalayas in the winter, so pristine the snow and serene the beauty of the land. The only sounds I heard till we broke the silence on day 10 was that of the gong to herald wake up, meditation and meal times. With 60 other enthusiastic meditators I trekked from the women’s dorm to the meditation hall and the dinner hall in a cozy triangle, between the hours of 4:00 am and 9:00 pm never otherwise venturing much outside. The days consisted of long hours of observing my breath and sensations in complete silence, in the large Dhamma Hall or in my individual cell. The first two days were challenging with aches from sitting cross-legged on a meditation cushion for 11 hours. However, except for a few rocky moments from emotional upheavals brought on by the intensity of the practice, on days 4 and 6, it was an extremely comfortable and natural state for me to be in. The quiet of the winter just deepened the inner silence I was able to scale.
Besides the sheer experience of de-linking from all sensory stimuli, there were some marvellous benefits that I enjoyed from this retreat. I main lined with the Buddha and my heart brimmed over with gratitude for his contribution to bring real peace and harmony with a non-sectarian practice that just involves observing breath and sensations to eliminate past conditioning and habit patterns. Pure Vedanta with “how to” instructions. I am committed to continue on this path to bring greater detachment, unravel old habit patterns and to live without the reactivity that comes when the mind and body are out of sync!
I met amazing young women who on day 10 just stunned me with their wisdom and purity. There is such a thing as an old soul. One 20 year old’s experiences on the spiritual path since age 17, simply floored me. Another young woman said she did not have any place to go to after the retreat, but that it had brought her the clarity to understand what she wanted to do. Her husband was there, of course segregated from us, and she told me, with unbelievable serenity, that he might decide to become a monk! I wondered how these women have such courage to be so detached and uncompromising in their life choices,
Another “benefit” came from deepening my practice by volunteering to clean up washrooms and public areas. These are the “privileges” that an old student can sign up for and I did.
A further benefit was re-learning how to live life by strict rules. In a world of silence, systems and adherence to rules is of paramount importance so you don’t get in people’s way while taking care of your own needs. There are those of us who are rule bound and others who keep shifting the lines. I have assessed myself as belonging to the second category. So such reinforcement was really useful for me! I am replicating some of it at home with instruction lists and weekly menus! Let’s see for how long this lasts!
We all know the benefits of meditation. Here is one of myriad scientific articles coming out on this topic. If you want to get established in a daily practice within an environment that is non-religious/sectarian, I highly recommend Vipassana. Also, if you are intimidated by the austerity, don’t be. There is so much love and compassion in the environment there that you are allowed the privilege of sitting on a chair if you cannot cross-legged on the floor, or if you wish to meditate in your room, rather than in the hall. You are also provided a meal in the evening if you cannot bear the thought of going to bed on a hungry stomach. Most amazing off are all the changes that you will see come over you and their positive impact on your relationships, productivity, focus and overall well-being.
If you are able to set aside 10 days, give it a try. It’s for everyone, the sceptic and the serious meditator alike. It is free and works based on the pay it forward principle! You will come away enriched and become part of a wonderful community of volunteers who run the Centres worldwide! Check out www.dhamma.org.