Attending a meditation course was always on my mind since 2 years ago, I guess it was when I read a lot from Zenhabits and I actually attended some meditation sessions when I was in Singapore, once a week for an hour (I did it with Grace, I think I wrote about it here in my old post). I do not think my 8-month trip would be completed without attending these 2 retreats that changed me tremendously.
I got to know about Vipassana meditation from my yoga teacher, Stewart Cameron at Wellington, NZ whom I spent 3 weeks practicing with. He gave me the flyer and told me I could find Vipassana meditation centre all over the world and I should be able to find it in Malaysia too. I took the flyer with me but I did not really read through or check about it. I heard about Vipassana again when I was travelling at India, a few friends I met told me they attended the retreat and shared the experience with me, and encouraged me to try it. As I was travelling in Dharamsala, India, I heard about the well-known meditation course at Tushita Meditation centre, they offer meditation retreats, and the most attended should be the 10 days silent meditation course under the name of ‘Introduction to Buddhism’. I decided to give it a go. At that moment, a contemplative period was what I needed the most as I had been thinking too much, talked too much, my mind was constantly being restless. The 10 days of silence gave me a chance to bring things inward, my busy mind and my restlessness got their time to rest. Hours of meditations per day was not easy task, for many times I felt that it consumed more energy than my usual days when I move a lot more and I still do not know why. However, I was not tired, my mind and body were refreshed after each meditation session, though my body parts sore (even with 10 big and small pillows to support my knees, my ankles, my palms, they did not help much, the body parts got into numbness after an hour of non-movement).
For Tushita meditation course, since it was a course with name ‘Introduction to Buddhism’ , we had talks or lessons from a teacher, a monk who lives at Tushita. We did not get to talk except during Q&A session but those lessons for me were so interesting, even just just listening to the talk, I learned a lot and I even found some answers for my questions in me for long time. In Tushita meditation course, we also got the chance to discuss in a group on what we all had learned from the lesson, for an hour a day. We shared our thought and our own stories which I was another highlight of the course. The Dharma hall was impressive big and beautiful, it is never boring to sit and meditate inside it, the hand drawings on the wall in the hall was as if an art gallery to me. We also got the best vegetarian food everyday (3 meals) with great teas. We also got to read books, write notes, practice yoga during our course, which was very flexible and easy. We were recommended to write down how we felt during the each day course, as my first experience to long silence, things were overwhelming for me, I wrote everyday to express feelings in me. The library in Tushita has so many books which we could borrow for reading. During the last day of the course, we all got to finally talk to the over 100 people we met and saw almost every day but never spoke a word with, we all became friends from strangers. I remember many of us met after the course at the restaurant at Dharamkort and talked until so late that I had no taxi to get back to the hotel at Mcleod Ganj, luckily I met a kid, literally a 12 or 13 years old boy riding a motorbike, I waved so hard to get his help to give me a ride down or I would have to walk down in a total darkness for 40 minutes walk. I remember after the course, I had my ‘alone’ time for few days before I moved back to Rishikesh. I contacted a friend of mine, who I had not been contacting for last 8 years, he used to be my best friend in secondary school but we had a big disagreement and we did not talk to each other anymore. I texted him to tell him that I forgave him and it was a chance to forgive myself too. He returned my message almost instantly and we were then back in contact. I met him for a catch up after my trip ended and got back to Malaysia. The impact from the course was so huge that I only feel grateful that I attended it and that I did not give up half way from the 10 days period.
Vipassana was rather different experience from Tushita meditation course, especially I took it at the branch very near to my hometown. It was much smaller scale, and it is much intense than what I experienced in Tushita. Despite more than 10 hours of meditation per day, we were not supposed to read, to write, or to do any exercise except walking around in a designated area. For me, Vipassana was like 10 times more challenging than Tushita, but having to say so, to be able to complete the course was very fulfilling. Getting ourselves separated from all the unnesasary attention or distraction gave us no other option but to focus on what we attended the course for, meditation. Although I still broke the rules a little, I secretly stretched on my bed with some yoga poses (Yin Yoga) and also jotted down the meditation method I learned daily (no choice, I am a ‘note’ person). The meditation method was said passed down to students of Buddha, which students will be taught not only to stay focus or aware (by Anapana meditation method), also called Samadhi, but also Panna, seeing things as impermanent, so we kept listening from the teaching that nothing is permanent, including all sensations be it good ones or bad ones (we will be hearing a lot of times Goenca mentioned : anicca, anicca, anicca which means impermanence during his teaching or guidance). All sensations share one same characteristic which is ‘they arise and they go away’, nothing stays, so if we keep hoping for sensations that make us happy to stay, we will be disappointed and be upset because they just will not be around forever; same goes to the sensations that does not bring good feeling to us, they are just another sensation which will go away sooner or later. Be equanimous and that is the only way to keep things easy. The teaching from Goenka or Vipassana course was very easy to be learned and understood. I was able to stay focus from the 4th day after Vipassana method was introduced to all of us, and that was when I knew I finally found the meditation method that works for me.
Fun thing to mention about the course was that I was so worried about the long hour meditation in sitting pose which will hurt my body parts especially my ankles and knees, that I took total of extra 10 pillows (Vipassana Dharma hall usually has pillows for more comfortable sitting). I think many were shocked when seeing my setting of pillows around my knees, under the hips, ankles. Funniest thing happened after 3 days of the course, I saw many around me did the same as I did, they took pillows with them and built their own ‘castle’…
Same thing happened during the last day of the course in Vipassan centre, when we got the chance to speak, we met each other and started to make friends. I was so surprised to see people from UK, Ukraine, France, Sweden, German, China came to such a small meditation centre in Kulim. Many were backpackers travelling around the world and attended the course by curiosity or being recommended by friends met along the travel.
After the course ended, I started the practice of meditation of twice a day, 45 minutes at the morning time and 30 minutes before I sleep. So far, it has been amazingly beneficial to me, though many times I could not even stay focused, staying still helps to calm me down and looked through what happened on the day.
I also started to organise a group free meditation session in my place, once a week hoping to gather meditators to be around and meditate together, which I believe will create a positive vibe and energy while meditating in group.
My yoga asana practice and improvement was a big thing for me, but it was the growth from inside, the spiritual side which I gained from meditation completed my journey.