I’m writing for this post for almost three weeks now. There are so many details I would add, but I will do it in the future posts about the practice…
I wanted to experience a sitting in one of the oldest places in Europe where vipassana is practiced, so I set my intention for my next 10 day course (10DC) sitting to be in Dhamma Dipa, UK.
I also wanted to have my annual vipassana retreat.
The center is at least 25 years old. Also, the only long-course center in Europe is located right next door to Dipa – Dhamma Padhana. One more reason to be in the place where even more serious and deep practice is taken place.
In fact, my true deepest intention was this: I was not able to practice. I was already after my four (in Dumbrava center) + two (in Goenka’s centers) + one serving (in Goenka) 10 day-courses and I could not practice vipassana. There was a disappointment in me – doubting sometimes that I will ever get it.
Yet, there was also the wanting to get it and the knowing that I can – so I told myself: “Ok, I go ONE MORE TIME (yeah, the drama in me again :P) to a 10 day-course and that will be the LAST time.” 🙂 I smile inside at this now :)… after the experience in Dipa and as I write this…
Application for the course
I booked the WizzAir flight for UK sometimes in November 2018, knowing that I need to be on time, on the website, when the opening of the registration for the course will start. The registration is open sometimes three months upfront the course is schedule, at 7pm UK time (in winter), the date was 22nd of December 2018.
In the specific date and time the application was open for the course, I was driving from Cluj to home. My reminder on the phone went on and somehow I didn’t hear it.
It was 21:09 (the registration started at 21:00 RO time) when I remembered about it. I was on the road, I stopped the car somewhere on top pf Apahida hill and went online on my phone to register for the course. Registration went good – submitted my application around 21:18 – and I continued my way home, trusting that it will be exactly how I needed it to be (to go or not).
The next day I found the email in my mailbox confirming the registration and telling me that I need to wait other two weeks for my application to be processed and they will let me know if I have a place to sit. New students have priority in 10 day-courses, yet I knew I want to sit. Moreover, the women lists are usually filling so fast after registration is opened.
I was optimistic and patiently trusting whatever would have to come.
Before the course – my mind state
The summertime of 2018 was busy and agitated for me. I got again into so much doing. A lot of ideas, projects. doing… doing, more than being. Yet, working with the Course in Miracles helped a lot in having a daily practice of awareness, at least at some gross, apparent level. And more than anything there was a trust in me, a faith… in the process, not felt and experienced before.
The exercises in the course focused my attention and daily practice.
I didn’t practice vipassana itself for a long time already – I couldn’t make the practice working. The only thing I was going was anapana and even that, not totally correct (I know now, or I thing I know better :P).
In November and December I had a pretty constant practice – up to 30 mintes, sometimes both morning and evening. Then, before the course, I got so agitated again. My mind could not focus and there was still some of the blame and doubt in me. “I am not worthy”, “I cannot do this”, etc… The course in miracles kept me on the track.
The love and compassion I am reminded each time I open it or practice each moment kept me on the track and filled me with faith. Lately, this faith grew… there is a more and more knowing in me. That I am home…
In the last weeks I didn’t practice anything: not anapana, not ACIM lessons, nothing… looking at this agitation with patience and looking forward for the 10DC. In these moments I prayed. My prayers were short yet often and kept me sane… I remember now as I write a burst of emotions and tears – in this moment it feels soooo long ago and not even remember what it was about.
My praise were… sometimes just one thought like…
I want to remember of Your love towards me and my love for You…
May I free myself from ignorance…
May I be free from envy, jealousy, anger, doubt, ill-will, lasyness, fear…
May I get established in a good and correct practice…
May I persevere and be patient in the practice…
They kept me sane…
I received the registration confirmation one week after application letting me know I have a sitting place in the course. I felt at peace – I kind of knew I will go.
In the back of my mind there were mixed thoughts of trust, excitement, looking forward, doubt that I will go again and “not get it”, looking forward to make a serious attempt to make it work, decision to work hard in the course and take as many impurities out of this mind & body.
Traveling to the center
The traveling to UK was smooth.
I was hitchhiking from Mociu to the airport, the flight was ok, arriving at my cousin in London went smooth. She lives in a quite street in Harrow, north-west of London.
I took a few days to be and visit London, as it was my first time there… to find out that I am… not a tourist anymore :). I walked St. James Park, went to Buckingham Wallace, visited Madame Tussauds. That’s it. Most of the time I enjoyed preparing some nice simple food for my relatives, walking in Harrow noticing people and myself in relationship with what was around… and preparing inside for the course to come. At times I was walking into an old cemetery neighboring my cousin’s place reflecting at the impermanence, at birth, life and death and the world that we’ve created outside. It was the quietest outside place to be in the midst of busy Harrow or London.
Tried to sit a few times… with no motivation as I was not having a working practice.
I found a direct ride from my cousin’s place directly to the meditation center (118 miles) – how cool was that! 🙂 Steven, a 53 man was going to have his first 10DC sitting in Dhamma Dipa. Good, smooth ride.
Sitting the 10 day course
I can write so much about this experience… in fact, in some of the sittings I was writing already, in my mind :))… instead of practicing!… movies in my head…
Awareness of the breath
This is the first course when I (finally :)? ) got the actual (experiential) difference between awareness of the flow of breath and awareness of the touch of the breath. The experience of distinct awareness of the flow… DOH, right?! :)). And this is one of the reasons I didn’t get the technique working up ’till now!
Also, there one thing (I cannot remember it right now…) that I heard for the first time, in the recording! Yeah… and this is the fourth time I hear Goenka’s recordings. I remember that in my second sitting in Dhamma Dhvara, I had the same with another specific detail.
I took the course somewhat 🙂 seriously, yet still in the most of the morning, lunch and afternoon breaks, mainly in the first half of the time, after eating I would have lay down to rest… and that is not helping the digestion, as we all know :). Yet, that was it was… In the second part, after the sessions, I would have go to eat then do a bit of walking just to get the food settled, then going to lay down to rest a bit and then, before the next session I would have got up and go out to walk again – getting fresh and active as preparation for next seating. All along the course the bed was trying to drag me to sleep as much as I can… I worked with this a lot… reminding myself constantly of the Rumi’s poem – Don’t go back to sleep.
I also realized in the first days of the course, that all along up to know, in all my previous courses, I was practicing incorrectly! I smile now… it took me three courses to somehow get the technique (+the other 4 in Dumbrava, where I learnt it incorrectly because there were no guidance and proper instructions and no real space to ask questions – I mean, to receive answers…; about this in another post…).
Day 0 was 20st of February. Course ended on the 3rd of May, morning. I left the center on the 6th morning.
Day 0 – In the evening before the course started, the center manager asked the room for a volunteer to ring the gong every morning, for the 10 days, at 4:00 and 4:20 am. Before even being able to think any thoughts, I found myself with a raised hand – no one else volunteered. I took a strong adhiṭṭhāna (Pali for EN: determination) to be fresh every morning for the 4:30 sitting and this was such a great opportunity. I needed to wake up, every morning at 3:45, to ring the gong at 4:00 and then a second round at 4:20. I served me so well!
Day 1 – as I was working with the awareness of breath and finally getting it… I could work. It felt like taking the course for the first time. I worked mainly with the instructions for the new students, even if my mind kept telling me that “you are an old student, you should get working as old students… this means you are not good” etc. I didn’t give these thought power. I kept working… letting them come and go away as they came.
Day 2 – I continue persevering in keeping the attention on the body. Worked mainly with the sensations in the smaller area above for upper lip, adapting it depending on the state of my mind. The main point of this day was a moment when I was in my cell feeling so sleepy. I think it was the first morning sitting, from 4:30-6:30. I felt so sleepy, I could not old my head up, even if I thought that waking up early and making the rounds for the gong ringing will woke me up and get me fresh. It was not the case. As soon as I was sited, sleep come to me. Heavy sensations on the forehead and in the front side of my brain. Even if I tried to pay attention to these sensation, I didn’t went away :). Seemed so permanent. And Seems that I could not work in that session. i many times subsided to this “state of things”, giving up trying anything… I was so determined to do whatever it takes to wake myself up! I followed Goenka’s instructions and used all the means to get my attention awake. I stood up in my cell. I got a bit dizzy… strange sensation standing with eyes closed. I was practicing anapana with slightly heavy breathing to be able to get the attention focused on the area below the nostrils. I was firm and ready to also go outside, get fresh air and get awaken by the cold sensations on my cheeks, palms… I was ready and determined to work the whole 2 hours os this session for this… it was not the case. After standing I found I got my attention and awareness focused, I sat back down and I could work. WOW! It was the first time in 8 course (and anytime in this lifetime!) when I “defeated” sleepiness in non-reactive way, which is one of “the best of my enemies” :)) (don’t go back to sleep). I felt more grounded and trusting the process. I felt my mind is getting sharper, I felt my adhiṭṭhāna improving. I knew sleep will come again sometimes, but I knew now that I could be with it and it would go away, as any other sensation, if I am with it, with equanimity. Another taste of anicca.
Day 3 – was the most “difficult” of all my days in all courses up to now. From morning 4:30 till the last session 9:30-11:00 I could not work at all. I could not feel the flow or the touch of the breath at all and the “worst” thing it was that I could not keep my attention on the body… so erratic it was! and instead of being aware of “this is the current state of the mind and it will change too” I strongly reacted. I blamed myself. The blame, doubt, the unworthiness… everything came together. I felt like I am the most stupid person that I could not get such a simple thing… I felt like having multiple personalities: one day working OK, one day not being able to feel the touch of the breath. I remember the other course when it was the same. I felt like loosing my mind. I burst into tears (around 10:40) in my cell, then got out to cry in the lobby, to not disturbed my fellow colleges, then getting out in the fresh air. In that moment is was cloudy, crying ad thinking I should really go home because I am wasting my time, the time and resources of this center, not getting anything, this is not for me… It was the first time in my courses when the thought of giving up was really there. Even in those moments, I knew I was not serious about it. I could have never left the course. I would have never took that action. I was also seeing all these thoughts and emotions along this episode, knowing that my mind is really agitated. As I was still crying, I felt the Sun rays on my cheeks suddenly remembering of the Light. I felt it like a reminder of the Gottama’s story of the type of people who are heading towards Light. Even if I am in darkness, I remember I am heading towards the Light. And I am there exactly for that! That felt peaceful, even if my mind was so agitated.
I took some deep breaths feeling the fresh air on the inside of my nostrils and on my cheeks and headed back to my cell. It took time to calm my mind, I knew I wanted to be there and work seriously to get the technique right.
The gong rang at 11:00 for the lunch break. I wanted to stay longer in my cell to work on the calmness of the mind. A few minutes after 11:00 someone came into the cell areas and started hoovering :). When she realized I am still there she stopped. After a while one of the course managers came to my cell, gently calling me out and apologizing that we cannot sit longer in this break because the household team is having a cleaning time in that space. So I left my cell yet my mind was not calm, yet knowing that I will work this out for good.
In the break some of the thoughts were still there. It was like someone playing a movie that I didn’t want to see, yet knowing that i can change the movie. I prayed again… in fact I prayed many times. For the sanity of this mind. For the suffering I inflict on myself, other in this lifetime and all my lifetimes.
In the afternoon I brought my mind to work well. In that day afternoon, I worked with the equanimity… Reminding myself tht “this is the current state of this mind, and it will pass”. Whenever I had my attention gone, I reminded myself this. Even when it was working… paying attention to not react with craving for this “mind to work like this all the time”. I knew I was training my mind-muscle. This day helped me realized even more the anicca (Pali for EN: changing) nature of the mind, at the experiential level – not only of the sensations on the body. This strengthen my determination to continue… to “start again”, as Goenkaji says, again and again… every session, every moment wen I noticed my mind was away or agitated.
Day 4 (vipassana day).and 5. My attentions was not firm yet… but even like this I could finally (!) get it working. It took about 1,5 hours to complete a full round of the body. Too long still. I was working like that day 4 and 5. Then I asked the teacher some clarification. She told me, again (! as all the other teachers in the first two courses 🙂 ), to adapt the technique to the current reality of the mind (to WHAT IS, not to what I would like it to be!). Of course, I knew the answer, still I was asking it… And finally, as I was applying the recommendation, I got it working better. There was one session in day 5 when I made two rounds, awakening to the sensations on the whole body. Also, the attention also increased in keeping the focus on the body.
Also, there was one session when I was working with the free flow of sensations throughout the body.
Of course I could notice I felt happy and optimistic :)… also being aware and sending loving compassion thoughts to my future moments when this will not be the case and I will react again :). I knew this will also change. Of course, it did :)), in the next days…
Day 6 and 7 – clouds or ignorance
These were the best and worse days of all my courses :)… drama again :)). After the previous days when “it worked”, these days I got back to “clouds”. Literally, clouds… Besides the area of the head and arms (not sure of legs too) the whole trunk was “covered” in clouds. I could not “see” the sensations on my body. Of course, the first tendency was to react to it. And I almost did… until I realized this ARE clouds… I could even sense the sensations behind the “clouds”. It felt like a thick curtain that covered my body. I remembered by first Goenka course, when the teacher told me that means that is the sensation of ignorance… OH, ignorance :). Whatever that might be… I worked with my mind to work with it… as it IS – yatha bhuta – this was a main theme of my course from this moment on. To set myself to remember to be in the moment – to work with what is – not what I would like it to be. Of course, this is a theme of this lifetime… and, of course, it was repeated by Goenkaji in all the sessions :)). Yet, in these days I got to really work with it… in practice. It was hard work… the “clouds” was thick. My mind agitated many times because of this. Because “I cannot put my attention on the body”, “I cannot practice”… in fact the PRACTICE was about being with this and not reacting. I felt this as a milestone of my… life :)).
It’s not that from now on… I am with yatha-bhuta… but now I remember more often, I can move on to the next moment more fast and…” start again” :)). I praise and bow to Goenkaji every moment when I remember his voice from the recording: “start again…”! <3
Working like this, I got my trunk un-clogged, de-clouded… It seam to take an eternity to work like that. My mind was not equanimous, many times, yet remembering “yatha-bhuta” and “start again” kept me sane and not derailing… until… :)))
Day 9 – mind self-fucking again! In this day I forgot about what IS… and coming to many sessions when I could not, again, put my attention on the body. I felt like loosing my mind again.. a deja vu… “again, end of the course and I cannot practice”. Doubt and agitation at home :).
Day 10 – talking and not talking, continuation of practice…
Morning gong ringing
As I was saying above, I was the ringer of the morning gongs 4:00 am and 4:20 am. Every morning I got up around 3:45 to get ready for the gong. I need to make a round to also pick the key to also open the Dhamma Hall (female entrance, put lights on, open AT female entrance). Most of the mornings I woke up before the alarm of the clock rang. I took my 5 minutes to be aware of the sensations on the body. I woke up spaciously (one morning I found myself in a hurry, came back fast to a conscious spacious rhythm) and firm, ready to start a new day. I set a conscious intention like “May I work this day towards freeing myself from ignorance, may I work correctly and seriously”. As I was walking outside, I let the coolness of the air to caress my cheeks and palms… aware of sensations. The freshness woke me up.
As I has nearing the gong, I set the intentions and thoughts of love and compassion towards all of us in the center. “May this be the opening of a fruitful day for all of us, you here. May all of you work seriously and correctly, aware and equanimous, for our own benefit and other’s benefit.”
I felt privileged to rand the gong every morning… to start each day in the vibration of the gong.
From the first day I was assigned a cell – no 11 for the first 5 days of the course. The cells are assigned only to old students and is a space where you can work more seriously, in a 1,5 x 1 m space. The cells were not separated small rooms (as they were in Dhamma Dvara, Germany) – they were boxes build into a larger common space. So I could still hear the noises of the other mediators.
Yet still there were about 10 cells in that space and not all of them were used by the students and those who were using them were more serious and more aware to not disturb the others.
I took a strong adhiṭṭhāna in the beginning of the course, that if I am going to receive a cell I am going to use it seriously. To work seriously in it.
It really helped, mainly in the first days of the course, in the first half. Every session I could (morning 4:30-6:30, the after-instruction part of the 9:30-11:00, 13:00-14:00, after-instructions 15:30-17:00) I was in the cell in the first days, until day 7 as I remember. In the first days my attention was so weak, I could not keep it on the body more then 1-3 seconds and every movement, noise in the Dhamma Hall (from my colleges) got my attention. I was really working to keep it focused. This is where the cell helped – not so much distractions and I could work to build attention and awareness.
Every time I entered the cell I set the intention to work seriously and use it well.
Also, in day 5 I asked the teacher to be able to use a cell, if available. It was, from day 6 to 10 I was assigned cell no. 16. I smile now… come a long way from the second course when I was quite afraid to enter the cell because of my lasy – sleepy mind that always wanted to sleep and wander when it was not in the Dhamma Hall with everyone :).
In the last part of the course, as my attention got more focused and I could keep it more on the body. Even if I could not get continuous attention for one while minute, starting with day 8 I was starting to let the cell behind. As I could keep my attention aware and on the body, not dragged away by noise or disturbance, I consciously choose to be the whole time in the Dhamma Hall, as the vibration was more intense there, even if not so may students were in the room (for the morning and longer sessions).
I noticed something in the course, about using a blanket to cover myself during te practice. I use it from forst Goenka course. Yet in the course I come to an not-absolute conclusion :)).
When I don’t use the blanket I get to notice the grosser sensations on the body… like the touch of the air or of the clothes on the skin. When I am using a blanket, I get to be aware of more sutler sensations on the body. So my observation was that I can really use the blaket as a tool: when I will be in the situation to not feel sensations all over the body… I will not use a blanket, so that I can help myself become aware of the more grosser sensations in the first place… and when I know that I can work with awareness of body sensations… and more sutler ones, I will use the blanket.
Another critical thing I realized in this course was that all along up to now I was using really effortful observation (of the breath or of the sensations). I noticed I was forcefully trying to get to awareness of breath /sensations… and this really deviated me from the main purpose. There were different indicators which helped me realized this. My head (forehead and above area) got heavy every time when I got the concentrate my attention. With the sensations I realized that I tried to impose a sensations in a certain part of the body. Dear God, how much incorrect effort I put! Even like that, sometimes in the past I remember I had some time of effortless observation. But this was another reason I could not get to practice correctly. During the course when I realized this, it was in the first two days, was like a revelation. Then, the entire course I was working also to check how my attentions was. I can recognize now when I am putting effort into it and can correct it most of the times. If I cannot and sometimes I am not sure of it, then I come back to anapana and get an effortless observation of the breath, which comes easy for me, then move back to awareness of the sensations.
OH, such a step forward this one… I am still on-guard about it! There is still the old tendency, yet I feel I build up towards a new tendency.
It really helps that when I start my practice start with this awareness, then from there continue to be aware of it from time to time.
Awareness of sensations
The sitting position
I had my (white) sitting block with me, brought it from home. During the course I discovered I needed a much higher support for my spine. Tried the big firm block they had in the center, was perfect for a good firm base for a straight back and neck.
In a moment when I was the last to go outside from the Dhamma Hall, looked around the hall… and smiled at some huge piles of pillows and blankets that people were trying to use to find a sitting position with no pain. :)) I remember my first sitting course in Dumbrava… where I also tried so many things to be able to not be in pain.
So I arrived at around 10cm firm support in my sitting position.
The female AT was Snehlata Jain and male Patrick (not sure about his name).
I was smiling to my ego… when, for the few moments I looked at the Jain during the evening discourse… she (and also Patrick) was almost falling asleep. My mind was “See?! She is also sleepy!.. She should not be!… she / they are AT(s)!”… and like that :))).
I could write more about it – feeling disconnected in answering my questions, repeating the same answers, listening to her answer and appying them until finally I GOT IT… etc.
She was the first AT in my Goenka courses who opened the course with some introductory words, presenting how the course will be given (by Goenka, by recordings).
The continuation of the practice
During the course I consciously tried to keep the practice, to continue it during the breaks, while eating, doing laundry, laying down… anytime… In the last courses I also tried to do that but this time I feel I worked on it more seriously. During the breaks I used to walk on irregular pathways (on the grass, in the forest) to put other muscles into action and be aware of the sensations. I used the cold-ish weather to be aware of the sensations on the skin. I never took gloves or heat, even the wind coat, so I could be with the cold sensations and continue to practice awareness with equanimity. When I was laying down I could feel how the practice is working o my body. I could even feel sutler sensations from time to time.
Even in the nights after vipassana day (4), as usual, with no much sleep, I was aware of the sensations.
I was never tired during or after the course, even waking up at 3:45 and going to sleep at 22:00, sometimes having 2.5 hours of sleep only.
I also know I can practice even more seriously! Curious what will come out of that…
After-course days in the center
I was happy I could stay in the center to help with the after-course matters and preparation for the next course (that would have started next Wednesday, my day of leave). Our course ended on Sunday morning.
So there was three more days to be there. I was happy because I could still be in the center, sit three times a day (8:00, 14:30 and 18:00) and be in action. I was mostly in the kitchen, helping with food preparation for the servers and also for the course that was continuing in Dhamma Padhana (the cooking was done in Dipa’s kitchen). I could practice while active and this is the main reasons I chose to stay a few more days… so I can gradually step towards the life “outside”… the real world where I wanted to be in practice.
The kitchen manager was an active – agitated person. She was a gift to me. Every time I saw here I was reminded of the breath and at the same time I wished her that “May you become aware of your breath, may you be free of agitation, may you be happy…”. I saw in her the old me, that “me” which was over-controlling, agitated in the so-much-doing, wanting to be seen by others. She was a constant reminder of the present moment. ME and other fellow servers did express many time, to her, a reminder of the breath, sensations, equanimity… she heard us… didn’t listen.
I smiled inside many time at this situations, as I was seeing myself in her…
Good practice for me those days…
More than anything else, I could practice!
On the way back home
It was flowing and funny :). The ride to Gloucester with lovely Daphne, the ride to Cheltenham with the family woman who did her first generosity act of her life, the ride with the police man from highway to Cheltenham bus-station (and my failure to hitchhike all the way to London :)) ), the smooth and cheap bus ride to London, the metropolitan to my cousin’s place.
I took a (Romanian guy) taxi to the airport in the morning: from doorstep to the terminal.
From Cluj (post office, bus to Leroi Merlin) I got a ride to Mociu (in seconds from arriving at the place), then Andrei was right there when I arrived in the village, giving me a ride from the village to home.
After this experience
I am determined (again) to keep my morning and evening, every day practice – now that I CAN practice! 🙂 more on this in the following posts about the ongoing (my mind keeps saying “hopefully”) practice. :))
I am determined to have my annual 10 day sitting retreat (already looking for the next winter schedule), every year and also to serve at least one course at least every two years.
I set my intention to observe and work towards my 10 parami. 🙂 On this… another post(s).
I want to write about next course experiences and also about past ones, at least what I still remember.
The highlights of this course: effortless observation, work with yatha-bhuta – every moment, “start again…”, having a sense I don’t realy understant anicca.
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