Rasham and I were planning to cycle out to North Fork on our way to Texas and sit and serve some courses at the oldest Vipassana center on the west coast, Dhamma Mahavana. Unfortunately I was enjoying a decaf americano in Starbucks on the morning of our departure and, like I would on any other bustling sunlit morning when the body is still a little stiff from sleep, I raised my arms above my head and gave my body a good yank upwards. Immediately I felt a localized collapse somewhere in my mid back and whatever had been holding my body up for the past 29 years suddenly disappeared and I was frozen, clinging helplessly to the soft fabric of my Starbucks chair in quiet agony while business continued as normal around me.
I spent the next few days in bed recovering and we found a ride out to the center and decided that the beginning of our bike trip would have to wait until we returned. Meanwhile Rasham and I would sit a 10-day course and then serve a 30-day course. It was our first experience with being involved with a longer course and it was expectantly much more serious, involved and difficult, even though we were serving.
My fourth 10-day sit was another difficult struggle, yet once again I feel I have made progress in further understanding equanimity. Development in this practice as time goes on reveals itself to truely be what it promises: a slow but sure path to liberation from suffering. What makes the path all the more mysterious and captivating are the unimaginable benefits and details of what liberation means on a practical level in day to day life. I feel as if I know this enormous secret, the key to what everyone is looking for, and yet, although I can direct people towards the secret, the secret cannot be told, but must be experienced through Vipassana Meditation.
In the beginning I did not understand that everyone is suffering. My life seemed pretty good, with some minor trials and tribulations but the more i practice Vipassana the more clearly I see a world dominated by ego and the pain that ego causes to the self and those around the self. As my practice develops, I can more clearly see the changes in myself, and my mind, dwelling less and less in fantasy and fear, but finding wonder and beautiful lessons in the present.
I was asked by a reader of the blog recently about why I continued to meditate when my time might be better spent helping the world in different ways. At first I responded with the idea that meditation is the greatest form of philanthropy because it changes the minds of people and thereby has a multiplicative effect on the actions of individuals and thus the state of the world. But I now understand that each person has a unique capacity to help the world in a certain way. Some people save whales, some take ice samples and spread awareness of global warming, some ride bicycles, feed the poor, council rape victims, pick up garbage, or teach children.
Although I view giving the gift of Vipassana meditaion to be the highest gift one can bestow upon a person I know that everyone cannot practice this technique. But serving Vipassana courses is one way I can help, because, like all the people I’ve mentioned above, how I want to help suits my understanding and ability.
The first three days I ate little and struggled hourly with finding almost no sensation under my nostrils during the period of anapana. As vipassana began my angst was eased a little. Writing down all the experiences that transpire on a 10-day course would by itself take a lifetime, but on every course there come significant moments realizations. One such moment happened on the seventh day I was sitting in my meditation cell of the new Pagoda that has just been built. For the past couple days I had been experiencing and pondering different states of equanimity, wondering exactly what it was and what it was not when I began to slip into period characterized by many subtle pleasant sensations throughout the entire body. Reaching this place many times before, I sat there calmly without any change in my equanimity. As the subtle sensations spread, with an increasing feeling of completeness in feeling my entire body, ignoring and pushing away thought, I fell into a particularly deep state of concentration and suddenly felt awash with a state of supreme confidence. Less than a second later, all of the pleasant sensations seemed to divide themselves into ten pieces with equally smaller and greater numbers of vibration. Sensation was everywhere, but quiet and subtle, barely noticeable, almost a feeling of emptiness. The complete experience was a grand awareness of the component of confidence within equanimity accompanied by a marked change in the character of subtle sensations. As I dwelled in this new space I began to feel as if this was a purer equanimity than I had ever experienced before. Equanimity is calmness, yes, balance of mind, yes, but also confidence, silent joy and rapture, because without complete faith in the practice, a slight hesitancy will be there, and complete acceptance of the present moment cannot be achieved. One cannot be doubting the practice and experiencing an equanimous mind.
Despite the grand revelation I was overcome with excitement and self indulgent satisfaction. Although I recognized the trap immediately for what it was, my mind was two immature to escape it. As I walked outside, awash in supreme confidence, I felt like a god amongst men. My body floated and my vision was piercing. When I woke up the next morning the sensations and confidence were gone and I spent the next twenty-four hours unequanimous, craving for the feeling to return.
After the sit Rasham and I hitchhiked a few miles up the road to Bass Lake and spent a few nights in the forest before returning to serve our first 30-day course.
Our 30-day service was populated with 16 different people of 9 different nationalities. Burmese, Cambodian, Iranian, Israeli, Vietnamese, Spanish, Mexican, American and Indian all working together to make meals for the students. Rasham and I both found this longer service to challenging but also the most rewarding, as we got to meditate 4-6 hours a day for so many days in a row as well as work through stresses and challenges in the kitchen.
During the middle of the service an exciting shipment arrived from Thailand of all the decorations for the pagoda so we got to take a break from the kitchen and help unload the container.
We are finally leaving tomorrow from Berkeley on our bikes to start cycling across the country with a stop in Kaufman, TX at Dhamma Siri for another 30-day service.
Many posts of our journey will be soon to follow!