Greetings for 2018.....
Whilst you may have been celebrating the tide of leaving 2017 and welcoming the new year with a party or celebration i was curled up in bed spending time living what could only be described as the life of a buddhist monk.
I heard about Dhamma Dipa 10 day vipassana retreats approximately 4/5 years ago and never forgot the clarity and wisdom in the words shared with me about how it had changed this person's life who was communicating what it meant to them. It stayed with me ever since that day. Having completed the herbal medicine degree in 2017 i knew that now more than ever i wanted to go.
The organisation is non-profit and takes their buddhist teachings of vipassana from a lineage of monks. The course is run on 'pay what you feel' donations so no money was exchanged beforehand.
On the first day you are greeted by the welcome team and all electronic equipment is handed over for safekeeping. Men and women are split to different quarters and i ended up sharing a room with 4 other men. From day 1 you agree to abide by a strict set of rules:
No verbal or non-verbal communication of any kind
No sexual misconduct (Celibacy)
Only 1 small breakfast at 630am, 1 hot lunch at 11am and fruit at 5pm. Vegetarian/vegan.
No intoxicants or substance abuse
No exercise other than light walking during rest periods
No reading of books or literature
No electronic equipment to be used of any kind, Ipods, phones, laptops, music etc.
Wake up at 4am.....lights out at 930pm
The day contains 10 hours of meditation where you are given a mat and cushion designated for your use throughout the stay in the meditation hall. This is the only time you share space with the opposite sex. But even then, men were kept to the left and women kept to the right. Even in the food hall men and women do not get to see or speak to each other.
On day 1 you are given a very basic breathing technique which as the course develops everyday you are given another step towards the end goal.... total silent, purposeful and clear vipassana. So each day there are group sittings which you are obliged to attend, but other meditations you are allowed to go to your shared room and meditate there. But only in complete silence.
Within the first day i started to feel that very familiar tension i get whenever i put myself through something challenging that in my heart i know will be good for me. Just straight away on day 1, having done only a few hours meditation, and silence for half a day i was feeling this growing feeling i didn't want to be there. My frustrations only grew as i could feel all the men around me drop into a lower vibration, our faces were clearly not very happy.
So it begins, the inevitable process of craving and aversion. What the course teaches you is that for every moment there are sensations all throughout the body. Some of these sensations will develop words or stories attached to them. An out of control mind can fester stories for hours or days after an event. They also teach you that you and only you are the perpetrator of your own state of being. Whether or not people say or perform negative actions towards you, it is your ability to respond or react wisely or appropriately to such actions. Hence the reason why 5 people who are harmed by the actions of 1 person can all suffer variable consequences or states of mind. It is your own internal processes that are ultimately responsible for your craving, anger, aversion, hatred or stories that get created in your mind.
The vipassana technique is unveiled to you day by day as you drop deeper into your unconscious mind like a surgical operation. Each new day whenever the next vipassana stage was shared i would sometimes feel a huge expansive sense of joy or elation at what felt like a completely altered state of mind. This would sometimes be the complete opposite though and feelings of anxiety, stress or paranoia would arise. It was clear to me that each day there was a sense of awareness and focus on my mind and body that was developing through the technique.
Within the first 5 days i noticed that everyday i began to crave and crave more and more. It was literally eating my mind and body alive. It was easy to see how whenever i have painful experiences i tend to crave something to squash or pander to that feeling instead of actually dealing with the original feeling. The process of stripping away all ability to distract oneself makes sense when all you are now left with is breathing, silence, your mind and body. After 5 days of craving everything from food, to music, to exercise, to walking i finally gave way and spoke to the teacher. I complained at how my cravings were making me feel like i was going to explode. She gave me some simple advice about focusing my breath on a particular point on my body. Then all hell broke loose in my mind as i switched to an incredible rage that rippled through me that night. I became painfully angry at everything and everyone around me. I desperately wanted to leave but i knew deep down this was good for me.
My reasons for attending the course were bound in my sense of helplessness i have felt at certain addictions i have struggled with over the years. Why do i have them? Where do they come from? Why are some easier than others to drop? It felt like the answer was staring in me in the face on day 7/8 when upon walking in a little woodland around noon during rest period i found a holly tree.
Upon finding the holly tree i had a moment of feeling somebodies presence around me. It was the leader of my men's group in Manchester. I recognised his smile in my mind and stared helplessly at the holly tree as i realised how much i use holly as a flower remedy for repressed, unresolved anger. The presence of this dear brother was a revelation as i remembered all the times i have seen him guide the mens group through intense rituals and ceremonial offerings. His humility, humbleness and wisdom is deeply inspiring to me. I realised at that moment i had to find a fallen holly branch to make offerings at the side of my bed every day. With the holly branch in hand i walked back to bedroom and began the same ritual every morning and night. Folding everything neatly and placing this holly branch on top of my clothes and bag. It was a reminder that for all of my addictions the driving force has been an unrepenting, burning fire of anger inside me that i have never known how to deal with other than using substances or other addictive cravings.
It was these final days everything clicked in and although i was drained, exhausted and had barely slept for 10 days i found a deep sense of peace, love and sweet compassion for myself. My heart exploded on day 10 as were given permission to talk to others. It was like a huge cloud had lifted among the group and my heart expanded with pride at how much i had learned about myself.
I feel more empowered than ever to understand the stories or cravings and aversions my mind creates whenever i am faced with something i don't like or don't want. This was a deeply humbling experience and although it hasn't 'cured' me of my minds craziness, or ups and downs, i now have an ability to stop my mind running away like never before. I also feel a love for myself and my heart that feels very healing.
I would highly recommend this course to other therapists, healers and practitioners. It really is a sweet treasure to put yourself through something so difficult. This is by far the most challenging experience of my years of self development and one i hope to return to again next year to deepen the practice.
For more information on retreats which are open to anyone to apply for please visit: https://www.dhamma.org/en/
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National Institute of Medical Herbalists MNIMH
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