The water in Lake County (the location of the retreat center) is a lot colder than it is in Marin County (where we live). I took a cold shower every day, and most days I got brain-freeze from running the water over my face to rinse the shampoo out of my beard; real brain-freeze, like you get from eating ice-cream. I also got ball-freeze; I’ll leave that one to your imagination.
So these Goenka-style meditation retreats have a schedule running from 4 am until about 9 pm, and involve 11 hours per day of sitting meditation. That’s pretty much most of what you do every day.
My biggest take-away from the retreat was that vipassana meditation is really all about developing equanimity for reality as it is, and that means equanimity for the sensations, both pleasant and unpleasant, in the body.
I saw some inner light, and I heard some “om” sounds, and I experienced some “dissolution,” but ultimately, I got much more deeply that none that is relevant or important. All that matters is that I am practicing watching reality as it is, as objectively and as attentively as possible within the framework of my body.
What this does: it provides an adaptive reference response to the unconscious mind. Instead of reacting with aversion (to unpleasant sensations) or craving (to pleasant sensations) — which is the default for all of us — we consciously demonstrate, during vipassana practice, that that there is a more adaptive, effective, and satisfying way to handle these ever-present, always changing sensations: observe them objectively and do not react. We consciously demonstrate equanimity, and then the unconscious mind learns and copies this.
This process of re-training the unconscious mind to be equanimous, rather than reactive, is the process of developing equanimity. If the myriad reactive patterns of the mind, our complexes, are the impurities of the mind, then equanimity if the opposite; equanimity is purity; equanimity is freedom. When our minds become perfectly and continuously equanimous, there are no more impurities to create more further impurities, no reactions that create more reactions. We then reach a state of endless and perfect equanimity, or mental purity and clarity. We are then liberated from suffering, and from the cycle of birth, death, sickness, old age and death.
The degree to which we have cultivated equanimity is the degree to which we are free from the impurities — the automatic reactive patterns of the mind — and the degree to which we are free from suffering.
I now understand at an even deeper level how the technique that Gotama Buddha discovered and taught works to alleviate suffering, and I am much more thoroughly established in this practice.
Please join me as I go forward with this lifestyle challenge.