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Experience #27 - Retreat in India – Vipassana

Do you want to know who you are? Breath and observe!

Among many plans of this journey, doing a retreat was fundamental to me. Especially in India, as I feel a different attraction for the energy there.

To tell about it, I started by the meaning of the word retreat. I like one that defines as a remote place away from conversation and social life to rest the mind. Perfect, only the distance from society and people can really rest us – quite ironic… – Then I looked for meanings of the word “meditate” and a nice way to explain it is a self-contemplation of the mind, of the meditator of course.

There is a meditation technique in particular that I’ve had heard before, but I’ve never practiced, that is called Vipassana, I knew it is more extreme, I just didn’t know how, but I was totally aware and willing to give myself to it. Really to me!

The intense of this method are the eleven hours a day of reflection, without any contact with the external world, not even reading, and also with no interaction at all with the remaining participants in the meditation centre. It’s prohibited to look, gesture and touch one another. Total silence also prevails. All these for ten days in a very simple place, hard bed, local vegetarian food and cold shower with nine degrees outside (the others were hot, as I understood the mugs).

I could try to explain the whole technique concept, but instead I’ll tell what I’ve learned these days together with other ideas that I believe.

What is the major cause of our unhappiness? I’d say the several kinds of psychological sufferings that we create. They are actually generated and multiplied by our thinking stimulated by infinite external forms. The root of it is always in the mind, as even any physical suffering is felt by the mind that creates reactions. They are externalities because today we are a body which is in constant contact with everything that is outside, like objects and others’ actions.

These external factors are absolutely out of your control and since the first day in this life you balance good and bad according to them. Examples: if the food has a flavour you enjoy, it’s good; if the environment is pleasant according to the standards you were taught, you like it; if the people around you are the kind of who pleases you, you feel good; and if you have the things you wanted, (for unknown motivations, most times) you are happy.

These externalities, objects and situations are captured by our Senses, vision + hearing + smelling + tasting + touching + feeling, which generate a Sensation that is interpreted by our mind (conscious) that generates a reaction and its respective Sentiment. Many S’s: sense, sensation and sentiment. In short, the external balanced by the body sensations and mind comprehension commands our acts and decisions in life, through the sentiment.

It’s quite simple, just think of any situation and you will feel them. (Try a remarkable one, as the feelings are more easily noticed). This reaction through acts is a key point, as it’s responsible for the decisions we take every second and dictate our route. It could be since wanting or not to drink water until wanting or not to buy a house.

The real risk of these sentiments that were generated is the two sides of life, the good and the bad. Every time something pleasant happens we have the natural tendency to like it, to want more of it and frequently need it to be feeling good. When something is unpleasant we don’t want anymore, we dislike it so it never happens again. This way, we condition our happiness to this dependency of craving for this something good always and to the aversion of never having this something bad.

So far so good? We are conditioned to the external to be happy.

It’s a harsh conclusion that demonstrates that we choose to ourselves to live in the misery of our mind, in that dilemma of wanting and not wanting. It’s freewill. But calm down, our mind is who we are, let’s never give up, who creates this disturbance are her thoughts which are fed by these factors. I’d say that here is the first big step, of accepting this reality that we live in. That’s how I did.

When we admit this absolute truth, we recognize that being the master of our mind is what controls our life. I know it sound like self-help, but what it means? Basically get to know yourself profoundly and ask yourself your whys. Do you believe in the purpose of your work? Do you know why you intend to watch that in the television? You really taste what you eat or eat to survive? It’s a matter of just wanting to understand yourself with wisdom, using your knowledge intelligently.

You can observe these thoughts in a simple exercise, when you stop thinking for five minutes. You will notice that trying to think about nothing is quite difficult, but sit in a quiet place and try. You can do it, of course, but every second different thoughts will come up and dominate your mind. They are pleasant or unpleasant, past or future. Notice then that each one of these thoughts that come to the mind are based on memories of what already happened or imaginations of what can happen. Each one of them carries its sentiments and sensations. Examples: a sad memory of a rude discussion can bring an anger feeling that accelerates your heart beat; a dream of future vacation in a beach can carry a joyful sentiment that relaxes the body and makes you smile.

In this simple practice you can feel that our present, your now, live in illusions, like delights of the past, future fears and eternal miseries. This way you are not enjoying the reality at this moment, you are not there in that situation, and you’re just living the unreal. Doesn’t it look basically stupid? I do this exercise frequently and laugh to myself when I realize that I’m suddenly thinking and thinking and don’t even notice it… Then I say “ok fool, now back to meditation”. It’s not a catastrophe to remind a memory or think about a plan to the next year, but it’s an unreality to be kept hostage of these thoughts all the time.

This is nothing but a reasoning to explain how I still see myself living. If you still think it’s too theoretic, take just a few minutes of silence to yourself and you will see. It’s natural that a turbulence of thoughts will arise. Since very simple things like “I can’t forget buying fruits tomorrow” or “what a marvellous shirt I won”, to more severe things like “which car I need to buy next year” or “how unfair that friend was with me”. Each one of these thoughts carries a turmoil of sensations. Imagine if you stop to analyze each one of them every time they come to the mind? You can have a lot of work to do (just kidding…), so try just getting back to silence. I confess I still try to understand them and stay in this cycle for a few minutes… It’s really not worth it.

A fundamental detail this exercise shows is that these sensations are all impermanent, they are in constant change. You will remember something, the sensation comes, then you remember something else with another sensation, and so successively. What means that they really are not part of that moment, they are illusions that come and go nonstop and evidence one more reason to purify.

Aaah, purify the mind, this is the major accomplishment of meditation. You, alone, unilaterally, by free and spontaneous will, you seek for getting to know yourself and clean all these miseries that condition happiness. But what all this effort is for? I think that a answer for that, despite how obvious it may look, is to live better.

This stimulates the consciousness and equanimity as key principles. Be aware of your mind and body with equilibrium in order to not react to these sensations. Independent of any definition this is an art of living. Besides the methodology to practice, there aren’t many specific rules, but as we are hostage of our own ignorance, it’s reminded that it’s worth following a few Buddhist precepts. This is because this technique was created by the most known Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, but it doesn’t approach the religion teachings. These precepts are quite basic and it’s sad to agree that we must recall them.

They are: to abstain from killing any being; from stealing; from sexual misconduct; from telling lies; from all intoxicants – So if you want to participate, you have to stop with those usual small lies as an evasion, no more killing flies and cut the beer. – I’ll assume the other precepts you already practice.

The truth is that, in my opinion, each one with his own beliefs and moments, but independently of the order, starting to practice only silence and meditating is a huge step for self-knowledge. This purity and peace of soul are certainly capable of eradicating the unreal suffering of each one of us and put us in the path to achieve fulfilment. I believe.

For those who believe in an universal force, like I do, it’s natural to think that with all individuals conscious and free from the miseries and ignorance of the mind, a perfect harmony would born for the world. The conduct of our social living would be correct and fair, we would forget the selfishness, the disrespect and the “I don’t care”. Imagine!

So, to get to know more about this or any other meditation technique you just need to go after it. Here I recommend a retreat I did in Nepal a few years, it’s called Kopan. It’s the same doctrine of the one that Gabi just did in India, the Tushita. Both also teach the Buddhism philosophy. The Vipassana that I did in Dharamsala has centres all around the world, also in Brazil, a few hours from São Paulo. And it’s for free, you just contribute however you can by the end. In this case, the self excuse that you don’t have money or time to travel by plane is not valid…

It’s your life and your choices! Give it in, to yourself!


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