Vipassana

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” Gautama Buddha

 

After completing my first 10 day silent Vipassana meditation course recently, a series of three dominating thoughts came to mind. First and foremost, ‘Why don’t more people talk about this?’ followed by, ‘This is here and available to everyone, yet so few have heard of it… I must write about this!’, finally deciding, ‘I will write about it, but I need to make sure I write in such a way, I do it justice and leave it open to the individual to make their own inner journey and interpretation as they see fit.’

You will not be hearing about my own personal journey with Vipassana beyond the absolute appreciation and gratitude I have for being open enough to receive this wonderful technique and consequently, employing the practice into my everyday life. Vipassana is not a well-kept secret designed only for an exclusive few, but every person’s experience, as already mentioned, is truly unique and individual.

True to Buddhist beliefs, the technique and the meditation practice as a whole, is available to everyone, remaining entirely universal and non-sectarian. In fact, so much so, it runs entirely on a donation basis, without expectation for return. Below you will find a brief introduction on the course, taken from New Zealand’s own Vipassana Meditation Centre, The Dhamma Medina www.medini.dhamma.org

“Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was taught in India more than 2500 years ago as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e., an Art of Living.

The technique of Vipassana Meditation is taught at ten-day residential courses during which participants learn the basics of the method, and practice sufficiently to experience its beneficial results. There are no charges for the courses – not even to cover the cost of food and accommodation. All expenses are met by donations from people who, having completed a course and experienced the benefits of Vipassana, wish to give others the opportunity to also benefit.”

The Vipassana technique for meditation means to gain insight into the true nature of reality. Also used as a path towards self-realization, which is the fulfilment of one’s own potential.

You will need to take your own 10 day course with a Buddhist Vipassana centre in order to understand, learn and adopt the technique for your own practice at home. It is a very serious undertaking that should not be taken lightly, nor attempted on your own. In saying this, I hope not to discourage anyone from sitting for Vipassana and experiencing this truly unique and blessed gift.

It is something anyone can do, given a little self-will and discipline, and, just like anything you take on in your lifetime, you will get out of it just as much as you put in. Do not expect miracles. Most of it is exceptionally tough work. You are, after all, dealing with the many layers of accumulative ‘stuff’ of your psyche from the many years and experiences gone by.

You may find it easier if you already have a regular meditation practice, as you should already be comfortable sitting for longer periods at a time, this could also mean that you have already started the process of ‘weeding’ out all those deep roots (negative thought patterns, ideas, self-doubt, etc.) planted so long ago. I use ‘may’ and ‘could’ cautiously as there are a number of meditation techniques out there using different processes to achieve different results. No one technique should ever be deemed ‘better’ than another and Vipassana certainly doesn’t claim to be the only path, merely, one of the options for you to try when you are ready.

Keep in mind, however, that even if you already have an existing meditation practice, this does not necessarily mean you have the upper hand on the technique or the experience and anyone, with or without an existing practice, should always enter into the technique with an open mind free of expectations.

Now you may find yourself asking, “Okay Annie, if there are so many techniques available, why should I sit in silence for a 10 day Vipassana you’ve just described as ‘exceptionally tough work’?

Vipassana does not focus on anything external to get you to the place most meditators seek, instead relying on your own unique experience through will power and self-discipline, to go deeper, to get to the core, the essence, of your very being. It will implore you to tap into your own potential, using your own strength, your own capacity to empower yourself. Vipassana focuses on within.

“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” – Gautama Buddha

Anyone who’s ever spoken with me, taken one of my classes, read one of my posts, followed me on Instagram or liked my Facebook page knows just how strongly I feel about empowering oneself to make change and transformation for the betterment of your own, individual life. After all, the only way we can expect to see any change in our external world; is to cultivate it organically from within.

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Vipassana will challenge you to go to the deepest roots of your own self-placed limitations and obstacles. It will take you to places you never even knew existed, perhaps even to places long forgotten, thought insignificant or placed in the ‘too difficult to handle’ pile. It will call you to account for your own journey and subsequent paths, and, if not already, life now becomes monumentally vital and important.

Life becomes significant.

When you think about it, 10 days really is a small fraction of a life time. 10 days to bring you a few steps closer to liberation. 10 days to ‘gift’ you this amazing technique for self-transformation, for self-realization. 10 days to experience life without all the excessive buzz of our modern day society. 10 days to work on and discipline the self, to gain more confidence, more clarity, more awareness, compassion and love; not just for self, but for others too.

Within this small time frame of your life, you will also experience wonderful gifts of generous food and service from previous Vipassana students, peace and solitude from others, teachers on hand for more direct guidance, and a beautiful, quiet and serene environment. Free from distractions and completely focused on calming, and restoring the modern monkey-mind of today’s must-have-now, must-do-now society.

By day 5 I had already decided to go back within the next 6 months to sit another 10 days, as well as returning again in 2017 to serve on one of the courses. I have stayed strong with my decision, through the hard times during and after the course. No matter what has been brought to the surface upstairs in that that monkey mind of mine, I have no doubt that the technique works and will only be as effective as the time I give in ‘service’ to myself; to make sure there is no time lost, no time wasted on thoughts, things and behaviours which no longer serve me, or those around me, well.

For others, they may never sit another one again. However, there are some like myself, who will repeatedly return for the course, and continue the practice at home. By sitting the 10 days, you are not bound by the technique, nor by the 10 day length, but I encourage you to stay, even through the hardest of times. After which, if it did not resonate with you at all, you are free to leave it in the past and move on to try something else.

I can only say from my own personal experience, that I now know how logical and practical the teaching is and feel it can be something for everybody, if only you might just give it a fair trial? 10 days of a lifetime is not too much to ask for liberation of the soul!

Just as I say about my yoga practice, it doesn’t take time, it gives time. It lives and breathes new, fresh and focused energy. It allows more time for sharpness, single pointed clarity and decisiveness, and enables the meditator to use these gifts wisely in order to cut through all the B.S. so we can concentrate on the things that really matter. Giving them our full attention and devotion, with absolute love and compassion for the experience of that one moment.

For the experience of living life.

I could write so much more, but the experience can only ever be yours for the taking…

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

 Live. Love. Give. Yoga.

Annie x

www.dhamma.org

Vipassana is an ancient Buddhist technique taught by Gautama Buddha in India at around 580 B.C for self-realization. After some time, the technique suffered under the weight of religious sects (Buddhism is non-sectarian) and other influences, diminishing in education and finding refuge in a minority of teachers and students in Burma (Myanmar) for centuries before its re-emergence to India through the late Mr. Goenka in 1969.

Over a period of almost 45 years, Mr. Goenka and the teachers appointed by him taught hundreds of thousands of people in courses in India and other countries, East and West. Today, meditation centres established under his guidance are operating in Asia, Europe, the Americas, Africa and Australasia.

 

 

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Strength

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” ~ Ryunosuke Satoro

A little over a year ago I made a solid decision to change the path of my working life to align more with the path of my spiritual life.

Best. Decision. Ever.

Some say, the hardest part, is in knowing what that is and making the decision. As soon as that decision has been made you can start to let go of overwhelming thoughts about your future, sharpen your focus and, in theory, start laying down the building blocks of foundation, to allow further, stable growth during your progression.

I am so grateful to have taken the time to build those foundations when I did, as my progression into a full immersion of ‘everything yoga’ happened swiftly, full of momentum and excitement of what was to come.

There was a small moment of apprehension when it all felt ‘too good’ however this soon passed when I realized my prayers had been answered and I was being granted an amazing opportunity to actually live a life conducive to my beliefs, my practice and my devotion to spiritual growth and understanding oneness.

It has been almost 6 months of absolute immersion. I have sacrificed a lot of my previous life in order to do this, but the rewards have been abundant and generous and what I have gained has given me so much more than I ever expected or intended. I am not talking about money, fame or acclaim. I’m not talking contracts, sponsorship or anything physical that might result in material items or worth.

I’m talking about strength, confidence, and discernment.

Compassion, expression, and tenderness.

Release, understanding and peace.

Support, friendships and community.

Love. For self and, naturally, as a result, for others.

All of these things have transformed a life I was already feeling blessed to be a part of, into something even greater, bigger and more expansive then just me alone.

There have been learning curves, still and always as I not only now fill my role as teacher, but also the eternal student, the forever student. Learning from those around me whilst also imparting my own knowledge has been a beautiful experience. It reminds me of a continuous circle, a constant flow, of infinity.

It reminds me that while it is important to find your own inner strength and cultivate a strong self-foundation; the energy, support and strength we find with one another is so, so very important and fundamental for further growth.

Using discernment to choose ‘right association’ is detrimental in developing healthy relationships, whether it be a friend, lover, colleague or other. By encouraging those who support, nurture and ground you, allows both parties to feel secure in the relationship, without fear of manipulation, deceitful behaviour or misappropriated action on behalf of the other.

Here we come full circle again. So, how do you develop discernment within? Those that know me well, know I cut to the chase pretty quickly. I am soft by nature, but when it comes to strength and personal spiritual growth, I’m a no frills, cut the crap, give it to you honest kind of girl – there is no easy option here, you need to employ self-will and dedication, you need to put in the effort and stick with it, you need to know that it’s worth it. There is no exclusivity or any one particular method (price tag attached where applicable!) that will provide you with strength, liberation and love. You need to find your own self-realization through dedication, devotion and will power before you can progress on your life path spiritually.

So, let’s cut the crap and get to the baseline of our current existence – the material world.

Inner strength isn’t just about physical health and wellbeing, but it’s certainly an excellent place to start. In order to shift our focus inwards to the mental and spiritual sides of self, we first need to remove the distractions of the physical body. Exercise, discipline, rest and nutrition are key areas to address.

You only need 1 hour a day of reasonable exercise in order to start addressing previous ailments, injuries or concerns that might normally inhibit your ability to go inward. Add in a diet which is mindful, nutritious, healthy and sensible, and the two start to work together, organically restoring good health and vitality to your physical body.3a377JecxfpxnyWxj4MSc3dyKjaEzoaBDEcydzF6b6U

(I am not even going to delve more deeply into nutrition here, if anyone has any specific questions please feel free to email me separately)

Keep in mind that some previous occurrences of old ailments, injury and disease can take a long time to reverse, if it is at all possible. This will be largely contributed to the length of time the specific area/s of concern have been around.

I like putting discipline and rest together as a little package, which may sound ironic, however; knowing when to apply the pressure, and when to use the brake pad are extremely important tools to learn. Students in my classes are probably tired of always hearing me say, ‘honour your body, honour yourself’, but the words are said with a purpose to remind them to be present in their bodies and acknowledge when to take it a little bit further, or perhaps, when to lighten up a little, and back it off. Preventing illness or injury is far more effective and efficient then treating it.

In the earlier stages of employing a new healthier approach to your physical body, it’s not unusual to feel tired, fatigued and generally unwell, before you start to enjoy all this delicious goodness about to come your way. It’s just your physical body working hard to restore balance and releasing that which no longer serves it well, such as toxin build up in hard hitting areas like the pancreas or liver.

Start your new lifestyle with common sense and try not to overwhelm the body with an all or nothing approach. Otherwise it will inevitably lead to collapse and a tendency to go the other extreme, giving up your well-intentioned pursuit all together, jumping ship and abandoning the promise of a stronger you.

Once your physical body is starting to feel a little more ordered, healthy and strong, it makes sense that the next natural step is clearing out the distractions of the mind. This has already had a jump start by implementing those steps of the physical self, aiding the mind to become sharper through rest, exercise and good food.

The next step is creating awareness of thought, and using that awareness to prevent negativity or inappropriate thought patterns to reoccur. This is hard. Really hard. We are basically trying to retrain and reprogram our mind to disallow thoughts of things which no longer serve our growth and prevent us from experiencing our true, beautiful selves.

Much like the physical body, mental injury and dis-ease is carried with us long after a situation event or person has left our present world. It can take time to heal these wounds, and for some serious issues, I would highly recommend the help of a mental health professional over attempting to resolve these on your own. Take your time to find the right person to help you, someone that you resonate with. It’s important that you see them as someone who supports your progress to better health, physically, mentally and spiritually.

If you are lucky enough to be free of any serious mental distractions, we revisit our dedication to the path and continue to train the mind with positive thought, empowered will and love. Always, always choose love. If you have reached this stage of mind training and are ready to take it to the next level, guess what comes next… meditation!

I thought I had made some serious and impressive changes in my life over the last many number of years, however, it wasn’t until I got serious with meditation that things really started to S H I F T.

‘But I don’t know how.’

I hear this all the time, and once, used to say the same thing. I said it before, and I’ll say it again, cut out the crap, there is no need to employ methods or techniques that serve only to entertain and dance with your fantastical idea of what ‘spirituality’ actually is. Sit down, focus your attention on your breath and stay there. Whenever your mind wanders, bring it back, remind it where it needs to be.

Simple really. Just takes a lot of practice and a lot of dedication. Like anything we ‘learn’, it takes time, you have to apply yourself, you have to make time and you have to keep practicing in order to progress along the path.

If you can manage it, focus your attention to IT. I’m not going to label IT, because essentially, I open myself up to judgement based on the word I use to describe IT. IT is all powerful, all knowing, non-judgemental, all loving. IT is compassionate yet strong, and can create or destroy in the blink of an eye. IT is everything and nothing in oneness, representing infinity with no beginning and no end.

If that is too much for your mind to comprehend, then simply, just come back to your breath.Meditation

Whenever your thoughts wander, stray or distract you from your purpose, much as we do with the physical body, employ a degree of dedication and devotion to the task, employ will power and return to the breath. Or if you’ve managed to surrender all sense of ego and pride around the label, then return to IT.

Your goal is not to attain an everlasting moment of happiness, because that too will pass. The purpose is to apply yourself and stick with it. The purpose is to release those physical and mental binds that block your path and prevent you from seeing your beautiful, strong, illuminated light within.

Am I saying I have reached the pinnacle, the end, illumination or self-realization? That would be a seriously foolish thing to imply. I, like many others, have a long, long way to go on this path.

But, I am dedicated, I am devoted and I am always working on myself. I am not looking for the end because I know it doesn’t exist. I am constantly building strength, love, humility, compassion and all those other things you have heard me wax lyrical about only too many times already!

Work on the physical, mental and spiritual self is a CONSTANT work in progress. Every minute of every hour of every day of each week of all the years, you will be presented with situations that will tease and test your devotion to the task at hand.

Build strong foundations. Find inner strength. Build relationships through right association and discernment – for even someone as strong-willed and independent as myself knows that these people are my pillars of support, my strength in times of personal weakness, my inspiration, my joy, they hold my heart, they keep me sane, their smiles are infectious. They feed me when I have given up hope, they have lifted me when I was down, and they stuck around when I was at my worst.

Yes, I am independent, opinionated, strong and at times a little controversial. Yes, I go inward to recharge my batteries and escape the waxing and waning energies of those around me. Yes, I am living a life I love regardless of what others may be thinking.

But the peace I’ve found in knowing I have this amazing network of people supporting and nurturing me, is uplifting, inspiring and encouraging. They make me stronger, and I, in turn strengthen them. Together, united and supportive of one another, we represent a communal strength, a family; together we all abandon attainment for self and represent collective love, collective strength, unity. Wholeness. Oneness.

collective strength

What a strong, powerful and beautiful way to walk your path, knowing that even if each step is taken in silence and physically, on your own; there’s a whole world of strength we can tap into when needed, and that thought alone, gives me strength.

Thank you to my family, the friends who have stuck with me through the harder times, and the many new ones I’ve made through my travels in recent years; thank you to the people who left imprints on my heart if only for a brief moment; thank you to all the beautiful souls I find myself meeting every single day; thank you to those who open their hearts to me and believe in me, entertaining all of my wild and wacky ideas, who support my growth spiritually, and in taking the time to know me as a human Be-ing, know that I only want the best for you all.

Thank you for sharing your strength with me. I hope one day, I can repay you all.

Live. Love. Give. Yoga.

Annie x

I am Now.

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.” ~ William Blake

Today, not unlike any other, I took my asana practice to a deck overlooking the sea. I was flowing with my breath, making shapes with my body, and transitioning effortlessly from one pose to the next when I found myself coming to an abrupt stop and balancing on the palms of my hands to focus on one tiny little grain of sand that lay beneath the point of my two eyes.

In that moment, nothing else mattered. Not the pose, not my body, and most certainly not my mind. It was surrounded by many other grains of sand, but my eyes remained still, my focus sharp, time quite literally, just stopped and my world became this one, little grain of sand.

I have no recollection of why I stopped, nor what pose I was balancing in (Bakasana, Adho Mukha Vrksasana, Pincha Mayurasana?), I couldn’t tell you what I may have been thinking prior to that moment, or even how far I was into my practice. All I knew, was that, there, in that grain of sand, my world lay waiting. Still, in absolute peace, untainted, whole and perfect.

Rewind 6 years ago and I am walking up a mountain in Kodaikanal, Southern India. Tureya ashram, my home for almost 4 months, was off in the distance and I was walking slowly, deliberately, mala beads in hand, rolling one bead after the other and repeating my mantra. I look up briefly and see the lamppost. This particular post had become familiar to me and I would use it as a gauge on time and distance for my daily walks.

Many moments later, still stepping one foot after the other, still rolling the beads, still chanting, I look up again. The lamppost is still there.

I stop dead in my tracks. I have already passed this lamppost, checked off my gauge, taken my token gaze over the ashram and moved on, up the mountain. Or had I?

These two mind blowing experiences are rare and divine and can only occur when you are absolutely, living in the moment. Completely present, empty in thought, devoid of attachment, of emotions and wherever you find yourself at the time, totally devoted to your practice, still or moving.

We talk about it often, and seldom experience it. But it need not be this way. The world with which we now live is extremely fast paced. The term ‘living life to the full’ has been blown completely out of proportion and appears to be more focused on experiences of quantity over quality.

It’s time we took back control of our lives. Constantly swinging from one thing to another, never really giving it the focus it deserves, will have you swept off your feet and back into drama before you know it. The more focus you give something, the greater it becomes.

This is how my grain of sand became a world.

If you, like many others, find yourself constantly hearing the words ‘too busy’ exiting your mouth; a) stop telling your friends this, the last thing they want to hear is that you don’t have time for them and b) you are really only inviting more busy in; more stress, more chaos, more drama, less time.

Ever heard the term, ‘Yoga doesn’t take time, it gives time’? Nothing could be more true. By taking the time in yoga, be it 10 minutes or an hour, you create more space to move into. Your world expands and everything becomes less, but more. Less busy, more mindful. Less anger, more love. Less rushed, more peace.

You can even apply it to your asana practice, ‘I inhale to expand and create space, I exhale to move into that space using effortless effort and releasing that which no longer serves me.’

I have been using this a lot recently in my classes.

‘That’ could be a tight muscle, or a problematic friend. ‘That’ might be an old injury, or a limiting pattern of thought. ‘That’ might be a blocked digestive tract, or writers block. ‘That’ could be a rigid spine, or a restrictive relationship.

I have made a conscious decision to change my life, physically and mentally so that I may live more and more in the present moment. And for those of you who think it has come without sacrifice, take another look, go deeper and you will see or maybe, one day, experience it yourself.

To be in the present moment also requires courage, but not the kind that sees you throwing yourself out of an air plane and plummeting at high speeds towards the ground. I’m sorry, no offense to those readers who have subjected themselves to the fantasy that this is the biggest leap they will ever take, but essentially, all you’ve done is thrown yourself out of a fast moving object, 14,000 miles above the earths surface with nothing but a flimsy bit of material to shield you from the firm hard surface below!

I’m talking about something that takes more then a few moments of spontaneous, action and mindlessness; I’m talking about something that requires strength of character, determined will and action with awareness.

I’m talking about courage to live your life without fear of judgement. Courage to step out of mainstream consumerism and materialism. Courage to live a life you believe in wholeheartedly. Courage to say, this is me, take it or leave it. Courage to dream and live that dream.

You will be met with opposition, and it will persist, even years later. It is not for you to fight against the opposition as much as it is for you to fight for you, every day building strength of will so that you may live your life intuitively, freely and without judgement from self. So that you may find yourself, completely without thought, without burdens or attachment to objects, ideas or people and entirely, in the moment, in your practice, living your yoga.

Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe

Does this mean that I have no thought of others, am self absorbed and removed from society as a whole? On the contrary, my world has expanded and is now filled with blissful moments and beautiful people. The connection I have with others goes deeper, and the appreciation I have for the smallest of things encourages me to embrace my inner child. Choosing to avoid status quo has actually found me within a society, a community, built with compassion, truth, love and acceptance. Non attachment has given me the freedom to see anger but not become the anger.

Of course, it is a constant state of practice and awareness. It hasn’t been an easy road, there have been many obstacles and there could very well be many more.

Yoga is not just a physical practice of poses, it clearly goes deeper and penetrates those layers of illusion we have built around us, shielding us from the very thing we need in order to understand and live our truth. Through asana practice, we start to gently, subtly, peel away those layers. Those layers which are preventing you from living in the present, from truly experiencing your right to live your life here, on this earth, being present, and truly in the moment.

The moment is there for everyone. It’s not selective or exclusive, nor does it come with a list of prerequisites to gain entry. It doesn’t judge you, and it will not hold you accountable. The moment is yours, and it’s there for you to experience whenever you are ready.

Yoga practice, Life practice, same, same. Breathe in the pose, to become the pose. Breathe in that moment of restlessness, to become the rest. Breathe now, to become now.

I am here, I am that. I am Now.

Live.Love.Give.Yoga.

Annie