December 12, 2014, 8:25 pm
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Vipassana, second time around. This time in the tradition of Goenka, the most common tradition practiced in the West.

Wow. I knew it would be challenging, but it’s so difficult to comprehend what challenges one will face. The first couple of days the physical pain was unbearable. Intense pain, no escaping. Just loads of resistance. So on the evening of day two I asked the teacher what to do. The answer was rather unsophisticated: “Endure a little more. Keep on with the practice as it has been taught.”

And I did. I kept sitting. I did my best to really put in all my efforts, really make the most out of each sitting. But it is fucking difficult. 10.5 hours of sitting meditation each day plus another 90 minutes of lecture (sitting down..). By day 4-5 my mind was really quiet and the physical pain was bearable, only to allow more space for boredom. Without a wandering mind, the boredom was excruciating. But, one breath at a time, one minute at a time, one sitting at a time, the days went by.

Interestingly, I only realised after completing this retreat, that I had asked the exact same question (regarding knee pain) at my previous retreat, four years ago. That retreat was in the Theravada tradition, and hence the answer was different: the teacher turned back to me. “So you have pain in your knee? Can you feel compassion with every one who don’t even have a knee? Can you feel gratitude for actually having two knees?” That’s fucking profound! I remember how I could actually apply that in practice. When the pain was getting unbearable, I would remember and feel “Wow! I have pain! I have knees!” making it much easier to endure a little more. This teaching can obviously be applied to anything, at any time. For instance, let’s say you’re late for work (Yay! I have a job!) or you get a flat tire while the rain is pouring down (Wow! I have a car! I live in the 21st C and can travel far beyond my home town!).

I bring some stuff from this retreat too. One important lesson is that the equanimity of the mind is always there, underneath all the turmoil. This became evermore obvious to me, especially on the one two-hour sitting I sat without moving feet, knees or hands (I N T E N S E pain! – However, equanimity was always available, I just had to tap in to it. It became clear to me that equanimity is always available, regardless of the circumstances.)

Another really valuable experience for me personally was to observe that there was not much shit from the past (or the future, for that matter) surfacing or creating suffering. The past 15 months have been so intense – moving back to Sweden, in a near-to-fatal accident, moving in with my lady and her son, starting psychotherapy, getting my wife pregnant, and so on – and I have not had the ability or discipline to really check in with myself to feel how I’m doing. Bless, during the Vipassana, without the distractions of daily life, I realised that I’m doing quite well. Rested in myself and with a deep feeling of trust that everything will be ok.

November is a dark month in Sweden. Cold, grey and dark. On the very first day I saw the sun raise in the distance, only to disappear quite soon. From then, the sun constantly hid behind the clouds. The weather Gods treated us to every shade of grey that week. Misty, wet, soft rainy, hard rainy, gently windy, harshly windy, snowy, frosty, dry, mild, cold… Interestingly, on day 11, on the morning of our departure, the sun came back. A very clear message that this too shall pass.

November sun. (In Stockholm there was only five hours of sun during the entire month)

November sunrise.

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