Equanimity

Today’s Independent (a UK broadsheet) has a very nice article describing a 10-day Vipassana retreat.

The retreat was run by the Goenka Foundation; this is the same movement whose retreats I’ve attended on two occasions, both times at the Dhamma Kamala centre in Thailand.

The article describes the course in a way that mirrors my own experience:

Prolonged and uninterrupted self-observation has an interesting effect. As intended, knots of unhappiness or disquiet are soon revealed; if you’re lucky, and if you don’t shy away from them, over the hours and days they can slowly start to loosen, and perhaps even begin to unravel completely. It’s far from easy though.

and:

The second day will be tough; the mind will rebel at such sudden curtailment. The sixth day too will be difficult.

That was how I found it! It was on the sixth day that I had a real breakthrough on my first course, which the article also describes:

Prolonged and uninterrupted self-observation has an interesting effect. As intended, knots of unhappiness or disquiet are soon revealed; if you’re lucky, and if you don’t shy away from them, over the hours and days they can slowly start to loosen, and perhaps even begin to unravel completely.

That’s the great thing about these courses – they don’t ask you to take anything for granted, or to have faith in anything. They simply teach techniques, tell you what will happen if you try them, and invite you to have a go. If it doesn’t work, you haven’t lsot anything, because you’re not required to pay. I found that the techniques produced exactly the results that had been described, and it did totally change my life. As the article says:

Some of the students I talk to describe the feeling as having undergone a deep cleansing, a re-evaluation of their priorities, even a rebooting of the system.

I haven’t maintained my discipline of daily sitting meditation – but I do try to incorporate the awareness of what’s happening right now, particularly the focus on breathing, in my everyday life.

I’m glad to see articles like this in the mainstream press. As the author mentions, there’s a tremendous ignorance and suspicion of meditation in British culture, which is a huge pity. I hope this article is widely read! Here’s the link again.

Update

One of the comments on the Independent’s site says

As a Buddhist and someone who practices meditation every day, Tom Darling’s experience seems to me to be a bit like learning to swim by jumping overboard. Some may make it, many will drown. Not the best approach really.

Well, perhaps. When I first attended one of these 10-day retreats, I’d never practiced meditation before. In fact, that was the whole purpose of going on retreat. Perhaps I was one of the lucky ones, but I had a very profound experience which I think was totally due to the intensity of the course; if I had begun by attending two hours a week I would never have achieved the insights that I did. So the retreat totally worked for me.

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