Article – Enlightenment

Flirting With Enlightenment
by LiYana Silver

July 2007

Some folks contented themselves with barbeques and bike rides this summer, but among four other intensive weekend workshops, I’ve designed my summer vacation to include a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat.

If you don’t yet think I’m either crazy or a masochist, let me acquaint you with the schedule.  4:00am, first gong, wake up.  2 hours meditation.  Breakfast, then 3 hours meditation.  Lunch, then 4 hours meditation.  Tea and fruit – that’s right, no dinner, then  3 hours meditation including a discourse by the meditation teacher.  This is my favorite part of the day, besides lunch.  In bed at 9:00pm, no protest there!  We’ve taken a vow of silence, including eye contact and gesture.  This part I love.   Otherwise I vacillate between excruciating pain and bliss.  And it’s only day 2…

I haven’t come here to become enlightened, although if one followed this path, it might just lead there.  I’ve come here because even though I’ve got a sweet and loving inner dialogue, I find there’s often a lot of clutter and noise in my mind, and I began to wonder if my mind could do with the equivalent of push-ups.   I mean, I take really good care of my body, and my mind’s been feeling a little flabby these days.  I am sure you can relate:  in an unchecked mind, the
voices can be self-defeating, and deafening.

Nirvana is a Sanskrit word that literally means "to cease blowing,” as when a candle flame ceases to flicker.  I like this version of enlightenment or heaven: a still, sweet center, which remains intact, no matter how the storms rage around you.  It’s not about getting the winds to be silent, but to find the space in you that never moves.

So I am learning the practice of Dhamma: the non-secterian (not religious) pure technique that the Buddha taught.  It is a direct experience of the idea that mind and body are one.  What I appreciate about it, as much as it is NOT easy, is that it is insistent on your own direct experience.  Part one of really learning something is to believe in it and to have faith it in; part two is to run it by your intellect and make sure it makes rational sense; and part three is your direct experience that the theory/idea is true for you, in your own experience.  Often we leave out this third part, but it is the clincher.  And I love anything that is based on somatic integration, meaning my body learns it along with my mind.

So what else am I learning, these 10 hours a day?  I am learning to sharpen the awareness of my mind by observing subtler and subtler sensations of the body.  And I am practicing observing the impermanence of the sensations. This pain in my leg?  It too shall pass.  All sensation, good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, arise only to pass away.  Nothing lasts forever, not the pain we wish would go sooner, nor the pleasure we wish would last longer.  During the more intense meditations, where we don’t move a bit, no matter how much the mind or body protests, I learn to remove judgment and reaction from sensation.  Sensation becomes simply sensation.  I get really good at observing what is happening now, not what I wish was happening now.

The teacher checks in with us from time to time, if we are able to feel this level of sensation or that level.  Yes, making excellent progress!   But when she asks if my mind remains equanimous, I say, “Look, I don’t know what to tell you.  I mean, my leg falls asleep and my back is in pain, and it hurts.  My mind assesses that there is pain and assigns judgment to the pain.  My mind wanders a lot.  It would prefer to be doing something else.  Doesn’t seem so equanimous to me.”

But she sets me straight:  No, the point of equanimity is not to have the reactions, wanderings or judgments cease.  It is not to have the wind and rain and storms stop, it is to keep bringing it back to the center, even as the storms rage.  It is like being the eye of the storm.  The storm rages around, good storms and bad, but there you are, the unmoving center.  Not, “You worthless meditator, your wandered again!”  But, “Ah, you wandered, come back to center.”  Simply, sweetly.  With kindness.  Over and over again.

It’s kind of like taming a wild animal. You’d expect a wild animal to snort and protest and charge up against the containing walls.  But if you were an animal tamer worth your salt, over and over again, you’d extend your hand with the kindness and effort of training.

And it indeed got easier and easier to tame the beast of my mind.  I didn’t develop hard-willed discipline, I developed loving kindness toward myself, on a bodily-integrated level. I got to experience, directly, what it is like to come back to my center, with loving kindness, amid the raging storms of my mind, amid the sweet and intelligent wanderings of my mind, amid the very real pains and panics of my body.  When the storms rage, I can be sweet peace for myself.  I had the direct experience of not abandoning myself when the going gets tough, no matter the weather, no matter what life, my mind or my body throws my way.

As I got more prowess with the practice, I realized how much I love and respect my mind and body.  I trust my mind to create amazing plans and thoughts, and it wanders to really great places. I realize I deeply trust myself to wander as well as self-correct.  And then I begin to really enjoy the process, regardless of the painful hours.  I feel like I am flirting silently with body and mind, with no witness but myself.

The most important piece to the technique is called Metta, which we learned on day 9.  Metta translates as loving kindness, and we learned the technique of how to radiate it and pass it on to all beings.

So, you might ask, were the 10 days worth it?  Have I felt more compassionate, sweet and peaceful internally?  Absolutely.  Have I felt loving kindness toward others? 100%.

The point has always been for me not live and act LIKE an enlightened person would live and act, but have the direct enlightening experiences and then live and act as that instructs.  It’s all about my direct experience.

My mind is toned, on its way to being buff, actually.  I notice more space, less clutter internally.  More enjoyment of me and of life around me.  There is quiet, there is space.  I enjoy what is placed in front of me.

I recall this great quote:

"Your enjoyment is your blessing on God's creation."
– Vic Baranco

And so I find myself after these 10 days – even more than usual – glowing with enjoyment.

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