Vipassana: Brainsurgery without anaesthetics

About four months ago I completed a 10-Day Vipassana course at the Dhamma Medini Meditation Centre, just north of Auckland in New Zealand.  I am not sure if and how much I should share with you about the course by writing this article. However, I read a lot of Vipassana reviews and stories myself and still had a completely different experience than I was expecting.  Haha, so it probably does not really matter what I write as you would probably interpret everything based on your own life experience anyway. Moreover, the beauty of the whole experience stood out for me and it really touched my heart. Therefore I could not just leave things unspoken and I hope that my story and information inspires you to go out there and see for yourself.

What is Vipassana?

That is 10 days of meditation in the meditation hall or in your private room. Wake up bell is at 4 am and the last meditation session ends at 9 pm. Breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea are provided and there is some time to rest or have a walk on the property. However, exercise in any form is not allowed. The food is completely vegetarian as no (involvement in) killing of any being is allowed. Other rules to keep the mind free from impurities are to abstain from stealing, from telling lies, from all sexual activity and from all intoxicants.

To help with these rules men and women are separated and you spend the days maintaining noble silence. That means no physical, verbal or even eye-contact with fellow meditators and servers. The only human contact you have is with the teacher during question and answer periods twice a day.  Before starting the course you have to commit to fulfilling the complete 10 days. Sounds awesome right!? I mean, who does not want to commit to an isolated 10 day meditation prison.

And what is the idea behind all this? 

In the end the goal is to become a Buddha or in other words to become ‘awake’ or to reach ‘enlightenment’.  This Dhamma, the way to liberation, was first taught by Gautama the Buddha and eventually by Mr. Goenka who spread the teachings around the world. Although Buddhists based their religion on the teachings of Gautama, it doesn’t mean that you will have to become a Buddhist to practice this technique. Gautama never intended to create a following of people separate or “more developed” than the rest of humanity. The technique he taught is universal and thus transcends all religions, sects, races, sexuality and so on.

Vipassana literally means to see things as the really are.  The theory is very simple and scientific. It all starts and ends with anicca, the universal law of nature. This law states that all things are impermanent and constantly changing. Instead of just accepting this, we tend to hold on to pleasant things and run away from unpleasant things. Through this process we create our own suffering; we crave for things we do not have and feel averted towards things we do not want to have. This reaction pattern is so deeply rooted into our minds and to change it we have to work deep within ourselves. Therefore Vipassana works at the experiential level, the level of body sensations.

The course is split into two parts. During the first 3 days of the course you work with Anapana meditation. Anapana is simply directing your attention towards the natural rhythm of your breath and the accompanying sensations. This practice has a couple of benefits and lessons for us. Since the breath is controlled by voluntary and as well as involuntary processes it functions as bridge between consciousness and unconsciousness.

Becoming conscious of an unconscious process helps you to become more aware of what is actually going on for you and your body in the present moment. You become aware of more and more subtle body sensations and of the mind-body connection.

That is, by observing the natural rhythm of the breath you realize how it is affected by impurities of the mind such as lust, fear, anger, envy or greed. Also, by trying to focus the attention on the breath you start realizing the tendency of the mind to pull you into the past or future. In short, Anapana trains the mind to be calmer and more focussed on the present reality so you can adequately practice Vipassana.

Vipassana is the real deal and it starts on the 4th day of the course. Vipassana can be seen as a very thorough and analytical study of the body. With a calm and concentrated mind you start scanning the body from top to toe and from toe to top. While scanning, the goal is to remain equanimeous. That is, observing what is without generating feelings of craving and aversion. If one manages to remain completely equanimeous while observing body sensations, no more feelings of craving of aversion are being generated.

In other words, no more conditioned responses (called saṅkhāras) are being created or reinforced. Moreover, remaining equanimeous actually provides the opportunity for old saṅkhāras dissolve. These are felt in the body as gross sensations, for example as painful, numb or throbbing sensations. Conclusively, Vipassana meditation is about developing your equanimity to dissolve all (even past-life) conditioned responses and eventually live a life free of suffering. By relieving one’s suffering, one notices that deep feelings of gratitude, love and compassion towards all of life arise naturally.

My experience.

Overall, the 10-day course was one of the most beautiful, insightful and healing things I have done in my life so far. It was also a challenge and there were times that I felt quite horrible and really dreaded the coming meditation sessions. However, in my journey, I have realised that healing and personal growth is never completely comfortable. Taking steps towards a more fulfilled, joyful and peaceful life is often quite scary and/or painful. In the Vipassana course, it was especially the physical pain that stood out for me as it was unlike anything I had ever experienced before.  On the other side the course did leave me with a more calm, present and positive mind and I can honestly say that the pain was well worth the gain. Therefore I titled this article: Vipassana: Brainsurgery without anaesthetics.

My biggest insight/transformation was regarding my aversion to pain. When we started the Vipassana meditation, I experienced an intense pain in my lower back. In spite of the pain, I managed to sit through the first three determinations sessions. In these sessions you try to meditate for one hour straight without changing your posture. Although I barely moved, the pain did not dissolve and it actually got worse.

I started experiencing feelings of despair and failure: No matter how hard I try, this backpain of mine just won’t budge.

Then, a sudden realization came to me: This is me, working hard and yielding nothing but disappointment and it is happening everywhere in my life; from striving to impress my dad so he would come back to be with me to trying anything and everything to cure my nasal polyps. However, all without result… A short mental conversation followed:

” So I guess I will just have to observe the pain, is that right?”
” Yeah man, just watch the pain, sit with it instead of through it.”
” Ah, I really do not want to.”
” Why?”
” Because it really hurts.”

Man, I cried my pants off. How obvious it became how I just never truly accepted my father not being there. How I never accepted my nasal polyp being there. I absolutely hated the pain. Absolutely hated how sad it made me feel. I had made the connection intellectually before but at that moment I was able to really sit with it. I was able to really watch the sadness for what it was, at the experiential level of body sensations. Since I was finally just observing, I gave the opportunity for the pain to dissolve. Now, I can’t say (yet) that I am completely free of suffering but I am fighting pain and hurt less thereby enabling myself to better observe, let go and move on. I even feel as if my nasal polyps are clearing up hooray. I shouldn’t get to excited though…Stay equanimeous.

This correspondence of patterns at the sensational, physical/health and social levels reminded me of a documentary called inner worlds and outer worlds (http://www.innerworldsmovie.com), where they explain that the smallest particle contains the complete pattern of the whole. For example, the same pattern might occur in the very cells and atoms of my body. And on the other side, I might actually be a dysfunctional cell of a massive organ that we call the Milkyway. To me this shows how important it is to make changes within as we actually influence everything around us. As a person who was always quite focussed on helping and wanting to change other people that was quite a relief. It created more responsibility for my own thoughts and feelings and gave me the freedom to work more on myself.

I was really impressed by the amount of progress one can make in 10 days and I improved in ways I never thought possible. In the beginning, I could barely concentrate on my breathing for a couple of seconds and it was quite interesting to see to what crazy, creative and often destructive pasts or futures my mind would take me. However, in the end I was able to concentrate on breathing and sensations for long stretches and forget everything around me. On the last day we watched a documentary and there was literally no background noise in my head and I was seeing and hearing like I’d never done before.

Furthermore, I was able to notice subtler and subtler sensations as we kept on practicing and eventually became so aware that I started to wonder if the sub- or unconscious mind actually exists. Maybe it is just a matter of “not being aware of the present”? Mr. Goenka says: “The mind is a strong wild beast, however, imagine if we could actually tame it and make it work alongside us.” I say we would be present to our needs and those of others and we could fulfil all our dreams without being distracted and with limitless creativity. Although my mind now is not as calm and present as it was on the last day of the course, it has definitely helped me become more present and to “catch and reset” myself when I am drifting of in vicious thought patterns.

On the tenth day we were allowed to speak to each other again. This was the best experience of the whole course as well as the most confronting. I noted that not being distracted by my own troubles and stories at that time really enabled me to connect with other people.  I felt so much love and gratitude for seeing how beautiful and unique everyone was. On the other side, it was really confronting to realize that I always thought I knew what was going on for everyone and especially of how negative they thought about me.

There were so many stories, opinions and expectations I had made up around my fellow meditators. Thankfully, they didn’t make any sense at all. Sometimes I would not even know that I’d already made up a story about a person until they started talking and I would suddenly be surprised that he was actually very kind or, for example, had a really high pitched voice. Knowing this now helps me to better connect with the actual person instead of with the person I think they are. Furthermore, I am starting to see that most people are actually way more supportive and accepting than I always believed they were.

Finally, the great thing of the course is that you can actually experience everything you just read for yourself. For me, that was awesome. Especially since I was often (sometimes still am) looking for answers outside of myself.  I spent hours on internet searching for my best diet, for what yoga and breathing techniques I should use for nasal congestion and what movies I would definitely like according to IMDB. All very useful information but very dangerous if you actually never ask yourself and your own body what works for you. In my opinion, modern life unfortunately works like that. From the day we are born we are told what to do and what to believe. Amazingly, the Buddha does not want you to believe but invites you to come and see.

Oke, what now?
If you are interested in doing a course I would refer you to the Vipassana website: https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/index. There are a lot of countries where the courses are being given. Note that you often have to book a couple of months in advance as the courses are quite popular. If you want more information feel free to ask any questions or watch the documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkxSyv5R1sg.

Furthermore, a friend of mine has some explanatory videos about Vipassana on his YouTube channel. (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9o_6dH1fbdHvglkU5AqHaw). If you don’t want to do a course, that is also perfect. If you are worried about the physical pain please note this: Everything always happens within the limits of you and your body and friendly Mr. Goenka will be there every evening to treat your wounds: “Patiently and persistently, you are bound to be successful.”

Written by Ramon.

HSP: live from your core and inner strength

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As a highly sensitive person we are characterized by traits such as kindness, good-natured, helpful, attentive, conscious, creative and with strongly developed senses for nature, the emotional side of human beings, babies, animals and spirituality. Based on these characteristics I am convinced that highly sensitive people naturally live more from their heart’s calling. I am not saying that they all have the perfect jobs and that their whole lives revolves around every heart’s desire they have. Some highly sensitive people are still wandering and stuck in a job which holds them back. Jobs which are able to drain them in such a way that they feel waisted and super tired from a day’s work.

Let’s get back to a highly sensitive person’s calling and the possibility of leading a live which suits you best in many ways. I would like to get your attention for a person’s calling in a sense which resonates completely with one’s soul. What makes your soul happy? Have you every wondered what it might be? How would it be like to live from your core and inner strength? I can imagine it’s not a daily life question. My experience is that this question mainly pops up when a person finds himself stuck in the life that they are currently leading. A life which doesn’t provide the deep pleasure and satisfaction which automatically puts a smile on your face.

That feeling of being stuck can occur when you are not happy at your current job, because of a business culture in which people are only thinking of themselves, getting higher up at cost of their colleagues. Perhaps even at cost of your performance. Or you are looking for a job, but the only thing that comes your way are rejections. No, you don’t fit the job, because you’re too highly qualified or your ambitions are too high. That feeling of being stuck can also be an indescribable feeling, a feeling unknown to you, because you were the person who was always positive-minded and pro-active when it came to your life. And that’s where I as a Life Coach come in.

My specialty is to guide people in a way they are enabled to see clearly through the emotions they are feeling. Some emotions have a blinding effect, such as fear, anger, sadness and guilt. It’s quite easy to get stuck in these emotions whilst thinking you are stuck in life. Life moves on, but life can be much more fun and a place where you want to be, when you are happy and calm from within. And let’s take a moment for mourning; this is a deep-rooted raw emotion which can tear someone apart. Our society doesn’t allow us the time to mourn in detail. This means it’s up to us to take the time to mourn.

And what does this emotion-talk have to do with getting to know your soul’s mission? Well, it has everything to do with your soul’s mission. One is unable to feel and act upon the soul’s mission if the soul is still covered with fear, anxiety, anger, sadness and guilt. Your soul needs you to be kind, attentive and loving to yourself. As a highly sensitive person we are more likely to be attentive to others, to act upon the needs of others. Well, it’s about time you stand up for yourself. Heal the thoughts you are having, heal the wound that you are carrying around. It’s time to feel and act upon your inner strength. From the first step you will take you will notice the joy from within. Are you ready for real change?

Are you interested in a session? Click here to read more about the introduction session! 

Life Coaching: let start breathing consciously

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Can you imagine how relaxed you feel after having breathed consciously for ten minutes? No? Well, than I recommend you to start breathing. It will result in a happier and mindful you. But to think of it, it would be much more efficient if we would breath consciously all the time. How we breath is the result of how mindful we live. When we are doing head-work or busy organizing things you could notice your breathing being superficial and short. At the other hand, when we are cycling, walking in nature or doing some type of other sports we notice a deeper and longer breathing. We feel energized by the amount of oxygen entering our system. So let start breathing consciously!

My path to coaching highly sensitive people

As you might have read in the blog ‘HSP: Let the pain surface so joy can replace the freed space’, in 2011 I decided to put myself forward as a coach for highly sensitive people. This change made my work flow like crazy. It took me 11 years to realise this fully.

In the year 2000 I read the book ‘The Highly Sensitive Child’ written by Elaine N. Aron. I was captured by the contents and was reading it with a pencil underlining everything I recognised in myself. After having read the book I put it away and focus on my twenty something priorities such as studies, working, exercising and having fun.

My focus was especially on my studies and on how I could become a skilled life coach. This path took me to my first experience in being life coached by an American whom I got to know through a dear friend of mine. My twenties were awesome. It was full of adventure, travel and being surrounded by gifted people who guided me on my path. And all this time I wasn’t conscious of being an highly sensitive person. I simply lived life as it came, the ups and the downs.

Up until the moment I wrote two articles about being highly sensitive in 2009. These were published on a Dutch life style and health website. While I was doing research for the articles I was putting one and one together. The people who sought my guidance in the past years, from 2004 onwards, were pretty much like me; caring, creative, intuitive and with soft and loving souls. We were the highly sensitive people I was reading about. After having written these articles life started growing within me. I got pregnant.

The most life changing event which was the last step in realising I’m a highly sensitive person was giving birth to my firstborn, a daughter. During the first year of her life I realised how sensitive we all are and that we loose most of our sensitivity when we grow up. So this brings me back to 2011, the year I chose to focus my coaching practice on helping highly sensitive people grow emotionally, embracing all they are in order to live the life and have relationships they long for.

Warm regards,
Chungmei Cheng

Education: Hackschooling makes me Happy

Visual poem: Have you found your own line?

climbing

Revelation, a Visual Poem. from sebastien montaz-rosset on Vimeo.

The Green Beautiful

La Belle Verte is a philosophical, anti-conformist, ecological, feminist, humanist and pacifist fable filled with humour. This film is absolutely worth your time.

The Beautiful Truth

A troubled 15-year-old boy attempting to cope with the recent death of his mother sets out to research Dr. Max Gerson’s claims of a diet that can cure cancer as his first assignment for home-schooling in this documentary from filmmaker Steve Kroschel (Avalanche, Dying to Have Known). Garrett is a boy who has always been close to nature. He lives on a reserve with a menagerie of orphaned animals, and over the years he’s become especially sensitive to the nutritional needs of the diet-sensitive animals he’s charged with caring for. When Garrett’s mother suffers a tragic and untimely death, the boy falls into a dangerous downward spiral and nearly flunks out of school. Increasingly concerned for Garrett’s well-being and determined to strengthen their bond despite the many challenges on the horizon, his father makes the decision to begin home-schooling the distressed teen. Garrett’s first assignment: study a controversial book written by Dr. Max Gerson, a physician who claims to have discovered a diet that’s capable of curing cancer. Is Dr. Gerson’s therapy truly the legitimate, alternative cure it appears to be? In order to find out the truth behind this long-suppressed treatment, Garrett interviews not only Dr. Gerson’s family members, but various doctors, skeptics, and cancer patients as well. His studies completed and his findings revelatory, Garrett now sets out to tell the entire world about The Gerson Miracle.

Emotions: perception of time

Time

Recently I did a session in between these high trees. It was wonderful; smelling the leaves, feeling the wind and the free space of nature. Almost as wonderful as doing a session at the port of Scheveningen which I did a while ago.

During this session the coachee was speaking from a deep-felt sadness. Over and over again sessions have proved that long hidden emotions have a lot to tell. The emotions have a lot to tell the coachee and to the ones who contributed to the existence of these emotions. For an hour I was standing there; guiding, listening and with the help of my internal clock I worked towards closing of the session.

Afterwards the coachee told me that it seemed only seven minutes of talking. Seven minutes?! There was a huge gap between our perception of time. To me it proves that long hidden deep-felt emotions are extremely alive! You could feel like a little kid again who was bullied in the past or the young adult who was fired for no good reason. When one allows these emotions come to the surface one will eventually feel freed from exhaustion, headache, anxiety and other fysical and mental blockages.

Like a butterfly spreading its wings

Bringing harmony in almost everything that surrounds me is something that makes me feel exhilarated and alive, it’s like I was born to do it.

Painting & drawing gets me in this relaxed yet focused mood, I prefer to paint positive things, as what I paint influences how I feel, it can alter my mood, when I have a bad day it cheers me up.

I like it when people discover painting as a way to express themselves and release their emotions. It gives a sense of harmony to complete a painting, just like a symphony, it all has to flow into oneness.

Sketching is also fun to do, I like to leave some lines on the paper, the roughness and dynamic of it is pleasing to the eye. It’s fun to make illustrations that relate to a certain topic, that way there is a deeper feeling added to a story.

Interior design is also one of my passions and I have helped a few friends in their decisions of completing their living room and bedroom. It’s in the planning to do this on a professional level.

Just to harmonize a room to a perfect picture, is important I think, as what you surround yourself with, influences your mood. I am always thinking of this, when I am in a restaurant or pub, I think of how I would handle the design.

I also feel great pleasure when I see people grow as a person and bloom into their fullest potential. With that I love to help people that seem in need, those that are in a difficult position and really could use some support. When I attended a lecture of the Dalai Lama in Copenhagen in April this year, that feeling grew even more, what a light and inspiration that man brings!

Walking in nature is something that always gives me peace of mind, and is harmony in its purest form. The flowing of clouds in the sky, wild flowers in a wheat field, a tiny bird in a blossom tree, its just perfect as it is. When I was on a Holiday on the Faroe Islands I was blown away by the refreshing ocean air and the impressive steep cliffs. Also the flow of a city, its total picture and ‘feel’, can make me smile.

The city I live in now, Odense, has a fairytale feel to it, as it is the place where H.C Andersen grew up.

All the above I’d like to combine somehow, and make Eco-friendly furniture and products in respect of ‘mother nature’. And also design products that could benefit those in need. As I am living in Denmark where design is a big aspect in life, and respect for nature is high on the list, I feel very much at place and on the right path here.

This is a process that is unfolding in my life right now, like a butterfly spreading its wings.

Writing & drawing by Annerie Meijers

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Write your own story, read the blog Win & Write: What makes you tick?