Monday, April 15, 2019

To My Self!

It feels so weird to finally write again, after so many delays as I want perfection for what I'm about to write. But as the wise owl once said: the best writing is the finished one, I must drop the superb standard I'd apply for myself, and just start! It'll be such outdated story if I keep procrastinating. But this is actually quite outdated already...

So, on January 23rd this year, I joined Vipassana Meditation Course in the dhamma Java center for ten days. Long story short before I tell the looong version (lol), it was sooo amazing experience.

Now we go for the loooong version.

My life trajectory has been going superb fast on the subject of "self journey" these recent years, particularly since 2016. Perhaps it's just the period for it, just like one baby learns to walk - and perhaps not also. Either way is fine. The way I explore my self is also not strictly on one path - it's like an eclectic of many theories and experiences from practicing those theories. From Psychology to Astrology, from yoga to reinventing deeper meanings of my daily prayers (and of those other "doctrines" I received since childhood), from theories to practices, from writing and reading to running away not producing anything...

(mba, mba, gitu banget jadi anak sok lapangan, wkwk)

My recent conclusion is that the journey of this self is never ending one. There could be many things happening to conscious part of me, but lacking the ability to understand the subconscious one, to me, will result in confused self lacking of awareness - even the awareness of being confused itself. The answer that the conscious (of every part of life) provides (about everything) is not satisfying. It could be that the subconscious that holds everything. Exploring its mysteriousness, as many questions can't be answered by this "banal" conscious life, to me, is a must. I mean, why even the hell we need to eat? Why not just sleep all day???

(lol, bare with me, the main stories will come asap!)

"I just joined this meditation retreat for 10 days in Bogor, no phone, no books, no talking, just meditate. They provided superb vegan foods, you will like it very much!!!", a bastard friend chatted me one day in the mid of 2018. I was like, okay I tried routinely meditating before but it only lasted for 30 minutes tops, I don't know how to deal with the sleepiness that always occurs, and it was quite a "fail" experience - I might have practiced the wrong technique. But when that friend told me his experience, to be honest, it wasn't the long series of meditating and no outer-world contact that fascinated me about the retreat, it was because they would give all the services for free. FOR FREE. Free room to stay. Free water to drink. Free food to eat (hint: just give me free food, I'll be your servant - exactly, I'm that cheap!). Haha. It's actually donation based only for those who have experienced the benefit of the course. So I planned to apply asap. I planned to register in October or November, but this  girl had to go for fieldwork. GAH.

The quite-exhausting 4 consecutive fieldwork, the feeling of not being at home as I must stay in Jakarta (which was quite killing me in the end, perhaps because of boredom), and other personal situations during that stay (with re-occurrences of recent traumas), resulted in so fkn insecure self in December and earlier of 2019. I almost lost myself again. Though, I had many things in my head to do. I wanted this and that and this and that. But then I reminded myself that the retreat is priority. Period. So I cancelled all this and that and this and that and registered to the center. With my insecurities at that time, the program of no-phone zone and no contact from outer world for the whole ten days sounded perfect. I need real cave. I need to escape.

(exactly, my emoji stock is limited!)

To apply for the course, they needed thorough information first about candidate's personal experience of meditation (any techniques), and also their mental state, and some agreement to not mix with other techniques. The center claimed that they are not mental hospital or such as in they will provide treatment for the patients. They just introduce the technique called Vipassana to meditate. Any positive outcome will be felt by the students only if they want to work with and by themselves. This warning to me was kind of a clue that there were people attending the course to cure their specific problem. So I filled the information, and answered their follow-up questions. And when I was immersed with the workloads, they sent me email that I was accepted for the course. Best feeling ever.

My bastard friend also told me that I can't do any religious rituals not even the 5 times prayers during the retreat. This was also underlined in the form when registering. The reason is because the students need to give fair opportunity to the technique as the result can only be felt if the students only practice the technique, not by mixing it with others. I felt like, heck, what can 10 days do to my belief (that's been not that belief belief anymore anyway, lol.)? Teach me whatever mantras you have. I'll enjoy it very much... (njir, nantang)

The drama before going to Bogor was also real. My 80 year-old grandma in other town was taken to hospital due to complication - most of my big family came to visit including my mom, so my mind was kind of busy having scenarios what if this and that in the future. But I kept reminding myself that I needed the retreat very much, so I just gave my mom the emergency number should there be anything happened. Then on D day, I missed my train, so I had to buy another ticket. Lol, Javanese will see this as a sign to not going. But I'm too stubborn for such myth. Nah, not really, actually...

So there I went with the head ready for any emergency call from Mom. I didn't really read about the course that much - just so-general information about the weather, the rule, etc., provided by the center, not the details about what they'd serve for breakfast, or how the bed would be, or how the sitting would feel, which I could google. But I believed I'd be good student. I'd been always be a good one. Lol.

When I heard that there would be a regulation for noble silence, i.e. no talking, no music, no books, and no any form of contact among students, I imagined that there would be so amazing quietness. But once the course was started, this head started to go crazy and so crowded. It talked a loooot (as usual). It displayed scenes from past, or things hadn't happened in the future (as usual). It played music repeatedly (as usual). I felt like, seriously? Cave has always been my life, but I never imagined that this head would act the same in this purposive cave. The meditation was supposedly to calm this head as well - to make it more present. But I never had any session without this head going nowhere and just focus meditating. Some people turned out was able to do it. I asked the teacher about it (every day there was a session scheduled for interviewing the teacher), and she said that I din't need to repress the thoughts - "just back to your breath, or to your body..."

So yes indeed, the meditation was about this body. And by this retreat, I found that there are maaany kinds of meditation (perhaps Islamic praying is also kind of meditation, imo - it has similar effect to my feeling). Remember I mentioned "mantra" before? I expected that they would teach me mantras to chant. But instead, the school had their own critic to such method. They don't use mantras. They don't use visualizations. They don't use words or numbers to count. They don't use chanting. They don't even use controlled breath. These are not real/genuine, so if these things gone, the meditation fails as the tools are gone. The technique only uses, again, the body. They claim that the body is not a made-up one, and it will still be there, even though the owner (me) really likes leaving it to hang around there and there and there and there...

(Ha! Finally other emoji!)

The very first idea is that it believes that everything happened to this self, is manifested through the chemical reactions on the body. I really like this logic, because it sounds so science - meaning that there is opportunity open to observe the self (science is so about observing). I like the subject of hormones and other stuff regulating this body, so to me it's a solid argument. And indeed, it is the body that the technique wants the students to observe. So every feeling, every mental state, everything is manifested in the body. The challenge is now to sharpen the mind in order to be able to feel these sensations - to feel your self. We're too busy with grandiose outer world that we can no longer feel our selves, so the mind becomes dull to feel, let alone to feel the slightest chemical reaction in the body.

How was it going then?

To help sharpen the mind, the first three days they taught to observe the nasal area when normal/natural inhaling/exhaling (not the controlled respiration). Putting the attention only to such small area for hours, I got booooored so much - accompanied also by the wandering mind. I had my head "banged" all the time. I knew how to sleep while at sitting position! Oh, exactly at that time did I realize that there is actually real struggle in every long sitting. It's not just "okay let's meditate one two three I'm in the zone already". Naaahhhhhh. I know it sounded so easy, but whaaat, focusing this mind to just nose? I used to use this mind for mega jumbo thoughts like how to save this earth and humanity! GAAAAHHHHH. Bahahah. Fkn lame.

So obviously I was a bad student. I thought the sleepiness all the time is due to the fact that I'm a decent muslim - on ritual (meh, what to brag you infidel!). Lol. I mean, Islamic rituals always use prayers and arabic words, when praying, reciting quran, etc. (except fasting per se), so the absent of mantras led me to go deep to dream state. Also, I had this habit already to try to focus on my breath to fall asleep easily as dark nights haunted me a lot. Breath in, breath out, and.. gone asleep, so it's actually such an easy task to focus my attention to my breath.. only that.. it's to fall asleep.

They provided coffee, luckily. Even though I still had some hadbangs, it wasn't too often anymore on day four, when the Vipassana lesson to observe the body began, and I guess on day 8 when I had this feeling like a caterpillar with goosebumps, I finally didn't fall asleep while sitting. CLAPS!!!

Then what's the point of observing the sensations on the body? Only to remain equanimous as those sensations, no matter how real they feel, it's just sensation: it keeps arising and passing away, arising and passing away, arising and passing away (repeated). No matter how amazing/unpleasant one sensation is, the only real character of it is its impermanence - it shall pass (and perhaps shall come back again). In the Pali language it's called anicca, and this word was repeated ooon and oooon (definitely like doctrine, lol) on the discourses and meditation guide by Goenka (the founding father, and teacher, of the organization) since the beginning of the course.

The only problem was that this word recalled my most recent (and probably also my biggest) trauma in my life (even now when typing this I still feel the weird sensations in my stomach). So once upon a time I met this Vipassana meditator mentioning a lot the word "anicca, impermanence, anicca, impermanence, anicca impermance", before I know what Vipassana is. It was toxic and traumatic. So the first days of the course was a real hell to me.. The first time I heard anicca, I was so angry, sad, etc., recalling the past events in my head. Anytime Goenka mentioned "aniccaa..." my heart answered "fuuuuuck..." "aniccaa...", "fuuuuuuck...", "anicca...", "fuuuuck". I cried before sleep on some nights, although probably it's more because of my hunger as there were only two-time meals in a day, and I used to have dinner in order to feel sleepy, lol..

But all students had been told since the very beginning, that the course is like surgery, only that it operates the mind (and soul?), and it will likely recall memories and traumas. What to do is just back observing the body - or back to the natural breath. I just didn't expect that my trauma arose that soon. Expectation does, yes indeed, Sir, matter..

As I tried to learn observing this body, I had to face the traumas that came up to surface. Back again to my body. For some times then, I intentionally recalled these traumas. I felt whatever sensations that appeared. Before my eyes teared, I found that there was something flowing in my right stomach, and there was kind of pain in my chest. There was also heat in my eyes before crying (and so the heartbeat and rapid breathing). I did this before bed, not in group sitting. Interestingly, I felt better. But then other past unpleasant memories from different stories started to come up. It was as if you're kind of done with current issues, you move to other issues. The body still remembered though, so sometimes it would recall again what I thought already clear - even 'till now, three months after the retreat, there are still issues coming up, like that aforementioned trauma.

Again, remaining equanimous is important. I found really helpful  guide about this, written by the team:
"Equanimity is a mind without craving or aversion. Not wanting unpleasant sensations to cease and not wanting the pleasant sensations to continue."

Anyway, even though the school stats that they are free from religion and sects, the teaching itself is based on Buddhist tradition (and the meditation technique is claimed to be the "real" Gautama way to be the Buddha - the liberated one), and it believes that everything is nothing. All is just phenomenon and keeps changing (fkn anicca, lol). Even this body. They said that if we keep observing and focusing our mind to the body, we will find that we are just meh, fkn shit: nothing. What I have believed though, all consists of single particles bound to each other, which resulted in certain forms with certain functions. I hate those arrogantly stating that human is the best creature on Earth (so that you can destroy everything?) Even though if it were true, this doesn't mean that we can forget the nothingness version of ours. Isn't it interesting should we be able to access the void? (MEH, ANOTHER WHAT-IF SCENARIOS!!!)

Islam also stated that this world is just fake (and many still confused what to do if this all is fake - just praying? but how to survive with this superb material world? just keep working to survive, but it's said to be fake?). I really like studying this enigma. I mean, even Buddhism and Islam, and other beliefs and religion are separated geographically and timeline, but there are same ideas found in them. Human evolution is always something!

What I like the most about the course (besides the meals, even though only twice a day :p) is that it gives the step-by-step of technique, and we practiced it all 10 days, and most importantly it also explains the philosophy behind the teachings and the technique. I never studied Buddhism before, so it was really fun for me to learn its philosophy. It's like a theories that meet its practice. Fkn praxis.

One of the theory is about the human reactions towards their wants/desire. We always react, even since baby. Baby will cry if the mother doesn't breastfeed it, and even if it seems satisfied after the breastfeeding, it will ask more. The pattern continues from childhood. No toys, we reacted: yelling, crying, sad. I like their concept of craving/aversion dualism, as recently my life itself is more towards these two instead of the act of letting go (should there be such thing, lol). When we don't get what we want, we hate, we get angry, we're mad, we're sad. Once we get what we want, we want even more - even when we already get this more, we still want more, and more. Nothing can satisfy this shit. This compilation of reactions is stored in the body, and called Sankara. This is human suffering, as Buddha said, because it will always chase something that never satisfying. Only by eradicating these Sankara stored in the body through Vipassana, and not creating other new Sankara (i.e. not craving/hating), a person can finally liberate from the suffering. So yes, "only" by meditating (Vipassana), we're supposed to be able to clear the sankara. Buddhism believes in the notion of reincarnation. And it believes that the food for the next life is the sankara we have created from this life, and from the past lives. Life is then, a cycle of suffering. Nirvana is said to be the state when there is no more Sankara - no more suffering: when the reincarnation finally stops (due to the eradication of sankara). So to stop the suffering, one must work really hard with her/his self.

This theory was quite jaw-dropping to me as it also takes into account the human behavior, and analyzes it, more or less like psychology theory is included here, and I was like picturing the sankara like all traumas of one person's since childhood that indeed, according to Psychology, are still brought to the adult/old life. Let's not take that reincarnation theory first, even though it could probably quite make sense. We can always take the story from this only life, meaning that Vipassana can help dealing with our traumas since childhood. Now please welcome the rival of psychoanalysis and maybe CBT? lol..

The hardest part to me was perhaps the early morning (4AM) wake-up call, as I'm a nocturnal being. This can also explain my ongoing headbangs during the sittings. And also I found out that their so-discipline schedule and quite hierarchical aka. not equal relationship between student-teacher, also some eastern custom on the teaching method, don't fit my "rebel" preference. I heard there is different school based on the same tradition (Vipassana) which provides more room for individuality and more flexible schedule. But it's in England. Ha! But maybe there are differences in teaching methods in the western-country based dhamma centers, like those in EU and USA. If I have opportunity to stay in one of these countries, I definitely will join another course there.
OK, let me move to sitting timetable. In total, it was 3.5 hours a must group sitting in a day (divided into 1 hour each (3 times) plus half hour), plus other 7 hours sitting by individual preference, so more or less 10 hours in a day. The course was definitely also a journey of changing sitting position. Ah, I haven't mentioned this. I expected on the first days that they would teach me how to sit - the correct position of the body, the shoulder, back, and legs positions, how to put your arms, what to do with the fingers, etc. But meh, they just asked the students to sit whatever comfortable for them. Even I saw the monk that always attended the group sitting, using sooo mooodest sitting pose: crossed legged with the back and shoulder lowered, not straight up. Without mudra. At first I tried my "usual" meditation pose, looked even more "advanced" than the monk's pose! Lol. Then later on day two I realized that the position didn't matter that much. The goal is to remain equanimous with whatever sensations during the sitting. Then I tried some sitting poses for some days, and found that the crossed-legged one was somehow the best pose for me, even I could feel no more leg numbness with the pose!!

On day 4, the challenge of the group sitting became harder: the students were suggested to not change their sitting position (otherwise it'd break the continuity of the steps), and also must stay in the room - no one could leave before the bell rang. Hold your pee. Hold your cough (if you could). Feel that mosquito bites. Don't scratch. Keep your eyes shut. Hold that back pain and whatever unpleasant sensations you feel.

Sitting for one hour long without moving was already accomplishment for me. On day three, I challenged myself to not move for two hours. I never imagined I'd sit that long. But as it was like I forced myself, the next days I felt painful in my legs' joints. So it was unfortunate that when I really needed to tune in to my self, at the same time I had to feel the uncomfortable feeling from my leg. Lol. Though then I found that when I was in the zone (I think), I somehow didn't feel the pain anymore. Coffee also helped me a lot here in sharpening my mind as in to feel more the subtler sensations. I often smiled to myself with this coffee effect (as I couldn't smile to anyone else!).

So how's so far after the retreat?

First, my grandma is recovered, so my worry on the first days back in the center was not proven. Second, I felt that myself being so so sensitive in the first month after the course, as I'd just been trained to sharpen my mind. So my senses feel more than it sensed before. I can easily irritated as well due to this fact, i.e. before I could tolerate certain bad smells, but then it made me really uncomfortable. I had to do fieldwork a week after out from the course, so it was a little bit difficult as well working with still-super sensitive senses (especially in sanitation issue). 

To the meditation itself, I challenged myself to try the suggestion to meditate at least twice a day, an hour each. But it's quite hard to invest two hours of my day - even 5 times praying doesn't require this much time, so most of the time I could only do one session, or no session at all (particularly when working). I found that the continuation of the meditation in the retreat was kind of a privilege, because it's so hard to achieve what I've already experienced in the course. Right after the 10-days course, the feeling in my self was like the feeling that I feel after I focus only for the whole fasting month of Ramadan with all rituals that I used to do including the pages by pages of Qur'an recitals, night prayers (also the dzikr), and the fasting itself. Hmm.. interesting..

Also, the most important thing from the course is that it gives me better point of views towards this material world - towards my self. Most meditation techniques always try to bring someone to be more present, to be more aware (remember mindfulness?) Particularly with this Vipassana, there is this notion to back to my self by observing and feeling my own body. I never had experience to put such great amount of attention to my self and only my self before. I found that myself seemed more "selfish" right after the course, but it was because before I tended to give, and neglected my needs. I intend to give more opportunities to this technique, as I'm curious about the path that it offers, about the mysteriousness that it holds. Although, practicing this is kind of a commitment because there are core values of the teachings that I must follow - kind of the morals/philosophy behind the practices, otherwise, in my opinion, it's no use to practice the sitting. It's like also when you pray five times, but still intentionally hurting others. The most important thing is that the framework values of Vipassana doesn't violate the principles that I've practiced, even it is actually supporting and to some extent is providing me with new tools to explore my self more.

So, I guess now I have workloads to do. To my self! :)