I’ve recently returned from a ten-day Vipassana meditation course at the Dhamma Pataka Centre in Worcester. This is something I’ve been curious about doing since I was eighteen and I finally found a gap to go many moons down the line. I went with very little understanding of what Vipassana actually is, but found the idea of spending ten days in noble silence, observing myself intriguing. Of course, I was in for a surprise to discover that Vipassana is actually an ancient teaching from India, originally taught by the Buddha. But it is not a “buddhist” meditation – the teachings are universal and not connected to any religious or spiritual organisations and can be practised by anyone without causing conflict to existing beliefs. It is quite simply, an art of living.
So what does Vipassana mean, I hear you ask
Vipassana means “to see things as they really are” and is a technique in which the physical sensations of the body are observed objectively. Although this technique is initially taught while sitting in a meditation hall, the idea and hope is that this “equanimous observation” is carried out into all aspects of one’s life, so that one’s life becomes a conscious, living meditation. By learning to observe the sensations, the reactions and flow in one’s life without prejudice, one is able to cultivate greater peace and happiness. Without this kind of observation, most of us are on a constant emotional rollercoaster that keeps us miserable in either our focus on craving an experience or resisting that which is happening to us. Our minds run amok and control our experience of living.
If it’s about controlling the mind, why the focus on bodily sensations?
It is the answer to this question that makes Vipassana so appealing. Our bodies are with us all the time. We cannot leave them behind when we go on holiday or into a stressful meeting. Body sensations are a culturally neutral, always available, non-ideological, realistic focus. It’s simple. There is nothing one has to intellectualise or imagine. The body sensations simply are – and can be observed at any time, in any state, from anywhere.
It is in the observation of the constantly dynamic and ever changing sensations of the body, that wisdom starts to develop. But not the kind of wisdom which arises from intellectual thought, though. But rather a deep sub-conscious wisdom held in one’s body which starts to permeate the observation. We are our bodies as much as we are our minds, and the entire kaleidoscope of being is stored in our bodies. Trauma, pain and fear from past experiences are there but so is peace and calm. And when we allow our minds to objectively and sensitively travel the bodies sensations, insight develops.
How this translates in my personal experience
I had a miscarriage earlier this year that has been causing me incredible misery. After learning to practice the art of Vipassana, I now feel more accepting about it. I feel trust and peace when I think about having another child. But I cannot rationalise it, or tell you what conclusions I have come to. The observation over this period of the ever-changing sensations in my body has brought me closer to the knowing that nothing is permanent. Nothing can be held onto forever. Everything changes, all the time.
The course and this technique of meditation is not an escape. It requires commitment and dedication and honestly, it was one of the toughest experiences I have put myself through in this lifetime. I suffered from severe separation anxiety from my family in particular, and with nothing to distract myself from myself, I found my journey into experiencing greater presence, quite uncomfortable. But not without merit – it was totally worth it, and in truth, I feel so privileged to have been able to take ’10 days off from my life’ and I look forward to doing it again one day soon.
Practicing mindfulness and the art of observing the body isn’t limited to far away retreats completely removed from one’s everyday life. I treasure my daily meditation space at home and would encourage anyone to establish a quiet corner for themselves for cultivating more daily mindfulness.
These are some of my most-loved items, which I’ve carefully chosen to include in my personal meditation space and I would love to share them with you.
1. Violet Crescent Meditation Cushion
Although I don’t sit in a lotus posture, I still find the shape of this cushion supportive to sitting cross-legged.
2. Earth Organic Cotton Yoga Rug
Although I also use this for stretches, the rug works like a charm as a meditation matt too.
3. Himalayan Crystal Salt Lamp
I have a few Himalayan lamps in our home and find they really do cleanse the spaces they are in beautifully. I am particularly enjoying the lamp in my meditation area which also creates a very calm and soft light to meditate to.
4. Millie Marotta’s Animal Kingdom – Adult Colouring Book
Colouring is such a wonderful way to bring calm to the end of a busy day!
5. Wake Up and Dream Journal
I just adore my journal from Wake Up Dream. The craftsmanship is stunning; it is such a clever idea and it looks so classic and authentic. The intention printed in the journal is just beautiful – a really great find for my journaling. It makes for a gift that will always be treasured.
Here’s to finding more mindfulness in the coming months.