Now my Vipassana meditation retreat course has come and gone I look back at the experience as both being a lesson in the practice of self discipline and a confirmation of the abiity that given the chance, the body has to self-regulate and heal.
I was relieved on arriving to be given a room of my own, as however much sitting in focused stillness may be thought as 'lazing about', all in all it was a pretty exhausting ten days. Sitting still for an hour or two, sometimes more, cross-legged with the intent not to move one's body in any way was incredibly hard. After three days of concentrated awareness on our breath we were told to divert our attention to focusing on the different parts of the body - not only those parts in pain but also the parts that had adapted to the position. This focus applied with the attitude of equanimity and concentration - from the top to bottom of the body and back again would eventually lead to all parts being comfortable. The fact that this worked is extraordinary. Sitting at home I would often get pins and needles after ten minutes - at Dhamma Dipa I did not get pins and needles once. As I try to recall the founder of Vipassana S E Goenka's reasoning behind this astonishing result, I can only remember that the focusing and non-judgemental acceptance and awareness of the sensations somehow released the agitation of the mind and consequently the discomfort of the body. At the time because of the terrific resolve one had to have to get through such sittings it only seemed fitting that one would be rewarded in such a way, but of course it is highly mysterious. The wise and wonderful teacher Hema Shivji was there to ask questions to at permitted times (the one time talking was allowed). The way she sat Buddha like throughout the hours we meditated only increased my respect for her.
The short breaks between meditation would find us milling about in an aimless fashion. The grounds consisted of walkways through a small wooded area and since silence was mandatory and eye contact prohibited, any outsider would have thought they had stumbled upon a zombie compound. As the days wore on and our appearance became more dishevelled we must have looked even more like extras from a film of the living dead as we roamed in circles, eyes downcast, which did make me laugh. But as is often the case in life, appearances can be deceptive. In actual fact it was a gift to have no communication, phone, reading material, computer or TV; if only because to find true peace and quiet these days is rare.
The video programmes of S E Goenka's discourses that we watched in the evenings, although some might find the chanting hard to listen too, were fundermentally wise and in my opinion came from the heart with no hint of commercial undertones. The vegetarian food was basic but good and although only fruit and hot and cold drinks were available after midday, surprisingly after the initial day I didn't feel hungry.
Vipassana isn't going to halt the onslaught of old age or cure every condition but it is an experience, if one can embrace the strangeness of it, I highly recommend.