Here now and now here or nowhere

The title of this blog comes from a play on words that "now here" is also the same letters as "nowhere" just with a space added in the middle. I am always trying to get better at being in the here and now, and I've always been a bit of a joker so that is why I chose this name.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

In Perfect Equanimity... Or Working Towards

I have just returned from my first 10 Day Goenke Vipassana retreat.  I feel as if I just climbed this giant mountain, got through the clouds to reach the top and once arriving here I can see it's just a plateau and I'm actually just at the base hills of the true mountains peak.  A long long way to go, but on the journey none-the-less.  This is something I've been meaning to do for a while but the timing never seemed to work. Of course timing usually doesn't seem to work for most things unless we really WANT things to happen.

A little info here for those unfamiliar. There are retreat centers all around the world that hold 10 day (and longer) retreats for people to learn Vipassana meditation. Vipassana translates to "Insight" or looking in on ones self. It is a system of internal viewing and cleansing developed as part of a bigger system by Siddharta Gotama, who later became known as "Buddha."  But these courses are by no means Buddhist or religious, anyone of any religious system can do them and incorporate them into their life and into whatever their religious lifestyle is if they choose.  The courses have many talks on DVD and CD/MP3's from a man named Goenke, a former Indian Burmese business man who found this ancient technique in his birth land of Burma, and was able to cure his medically incurable disease in his body.  Yes, it may sound new age or mystical but it has worked for thousands of thousands of people so maybe there is something there. (Note, this is not to say that if you have a disease, this will cure you. Just a small note of how he came to find this system)

The retreats are designed to help you live as a renunciate for the time of the course, as it is believed without these responsibilities weighing you down, it can help in the process.  So this means the cost is ZERO, it is funded on donations from former students who have found and love the process as it works for them.  The food is cooked by local people and former students who come to help and offerer their services to the new students as a repayment, a donation of their time, energy and care.  It's vegetarian and delicious (note: food changes per location and what is grown and eaten in those areas.)  The quarters are sparse and simple built on donations from others; why do you need much when your days consist of sitting, learning and meditating?  A bed, mosquito net, toilet, shower. Simple and perfect.

During the process I felt that I wasn't a "good" student. What is a good student though? It's perception based and one usually has harsher views of themselves than others have of them. (How many times has someone told you how great a job you did, and you think to yourself.."Me? Really? I was ok but not great.")  I had a hard time understanding the concepts at the time, and I would ask my assistant teacher there questions on what I was supposed to be doing because I didn't feel the things spoken about.  Because I didn't feel them, I was hard on myself. "I'm not doing it right. I'm not good at this. This doesn't work for me, I should do something else." How hard and judging we are on ourselves, and how quick to abandon ship.  I also wasn't silent the whole time.  There was another student who had told us all how this was not his first time doing one of these courses, but we found out on the last day that actually it was his first time doing this technique. On the second day he passed me a note. I didn't want to read it at first, but then I thought, "Oh, he is a return student so if he is doing this, it must be ok."  There was also a monk there who would sometimes speak a little with me, and if a monk at a meditation training is talking, then it must be ok.   Of course, I was the one talking and taking part of this, so I don't blame others but myself for not fully following the rules, but it aided in me not being a great student. I know for next time how to do things better. And that's fine. Many things, for me, in life have to be done over and over again till I really understand them.  I'm actually usually not the best student the first time, but second and third I'm much better.  I seem to learn more from my mistakes than from the traditional teachings.

By the end, almost all of my confusions seemed cleared up. But again, still far to go on this process. People who go on these courses, and make it all the way through (some will last a few days and then quit, as it's a lot of time and energy to commit too.) will usually do two things after. The first is spread the word about it. When you find something that makes you happy, it's human nature to want everyone to do it.  How many of you started yoga, running, a new healthy food, whatever... that seemed to improve your life tenfold and immediately went out and told everyone about it.  We want to share our happiness with people (we also want to share our miseries, but that is another story).  So yes, this is just one of my sharing's with people about the course and why they should do it.  The second thing students do after completing it, is start to plan another one. Maybe a year later, maybe longer.. but there is the urge to go back.  Part of it is to go deeper, but part is also because during the 10 days, the lifestyle is set up for you.  It's easier to meditate deeper when you are removed from everything. When you have no phone, internet, work, people talking with you... etc.  When you have bells reminding you of what time it is and what you have to do at that time and where.  When you have a person leading you through these meditation sittings.  This is all easier and maybe a "better" place to go and be able to get deeper into your meditation.  So one who has completed these courses, who has seen the immediate improvement in their mental condition, they will want to go back and take part in another... and another.  They will maybe also want to go back and be a helper, to give back to countless others like the countless others who also have given back to them. For me, I can't wait to assist, as karma yoga has always been my area that I live in. Giving to others is something I truly feel at home in.

Buddhist teachings speak of "the middle way." Goenke would speak a lot about keeping a perfect equanimous mind, which I chose to understand as similar to the "middle way" that Buddha spoke of. Not too hot or too cold. Be happy, but not too happy as too happy leads to an eventual peak, at which sadness follows after. Instead, just be happy. Be equanimously happy.  It sounds obvious and easy, but I'd like to see you try this. There is also much talk about impermanence, which when understood with equanimity seems to go hand in hand. This may seem pessimistic, but actually it's the opposite.  When you realize truly that the sadness you are experiencing at that moment will change.. how can you be sad still? One holds on to sadness because they feel horrible, things will never get better... but as soon as you see they will, then you already start to change... eventually you are happy again. But maybe you become too happy, great! Only then you fall down again and are in the sad hole.  Many people, myself included, live on these emotional waves, up then down, then up, then down.  It may not be a huge rollercoaster like some people we know experience, but we seem to all have ups and downs.  Once you truly understand the idea of imperanace and keeping that middle mind to it, then you start to come out of the deeper and longer low waves. the waves become more central and even-keel.  and what does this mean exactly, well, you become more happier.  Ok, it may sound too simple or far fetched or maybe even crazy.  Fine, think that. I'm just a beginner on this and maybe I don't have it all figured out. Scratch that, I definitely don't... but I can tell you that after these 10days I'm a lot more confident in it all than I was when I began.  I'm still the same me as I was before... only am I?  I'm 13 days older now, that's a 13day older me than I was before I started. Tomorrow I'll be again different. The same mostly, but different. Nothing is permanent, not even ourselves. When things change on a minimal scale, we don't see it... but this doesn't mean they don't change. I found this concept truly helpful in life.  I remember coming back to my home town for the first time after living away for a while. "This is not my town! How it has changed. How horrible it now is.  No, when I was here, it was wonderful, perfect, but now... no way."  Of course I see now, the town changed, yes.. but I also changed. Everything changed. It wasn't horrible. It was as it was. But I wasn't keeping an even mind, I kept a clinging and attachment to the past, but the past was just that. Why worry and relive it, it's gone. And the future will just be the future, unknown and in the future, so why worry about what will be.. it's not here.  Now is here. Here is now. Living in the present is much harder to do, but seems to give better results.  This doesn't mean never think about the past or the future. We must have somewhat of a plan for the future, though not an attachment to the plan.  And we must look back on the the past to learn from mistakes, but not to live in the past as so many of us do.  Again, sorry if this seems to basic or new age, it's just how I see it right now and here (which of course is impermanent and may change at another point.)

So what now?  That's a good question. I've been given some tools and systems to start to make a change in myself. To fix the unhappy areas and increase the happy ones. To improve myself and the world around me.  But it's a process and by no means happens at the snap of a finger. These things take time. Without a start nothing can move, so I now begin this journey and hope it adds to increased value in my world and yours.

In metta (the cultivation of loving-kindness) to all