Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Vipassana Retreat, Installment 3

MONDAY, JULY 6, 2009, 11:20 am

“Originally derived from the Theravada school of Buddhism, vipassana can be practiced by followers of any (or no) religion as a useful mental skill set. Removed from its cultural and doctrinal trappings, vipassana meditation (usually under the name of mindfulness) is finding clinical application in the fields of pain management, stress management, compulsions and as an adjunct to psychotherapy” (taken from the VSI (Vipassan Support Institute) home page at www.shinzen.org)

            Students at the retreat are classified as “First Timers” and “Continuing Students”. I have been placed in the former category, since I haven’t done a retreat within the last 3 years.

  Shinzen Young, the head teacher and main guru, has just finished giving a talk to the entire retreat; now he is addressing the assembly of First Timers, about 25 in all.
Shinzen says:
“As humans, we have 3 basic jobs:
            1) To appreciate our world
            2) To see beyond our world
            3) To improve our world
“There are 2 ways to appreciate the world:
1)    In terms of ordinary experience.
2)    In terms of special “restful states”.
“To “improve” the world, we “focus on positive” (refers to a specific meditation technique)
“Meditation is akin to working out at the gym; Systematic training gives one greater endurance, strength and flexibility as one goes out into the world. Think of a musician practicing scales—the point is to eventually play music, not practice scales. The same is true of meditation; the point isn’t to sit on a cushion, it’s to be better prepared to deal with broader world. The person on the path learns 3 core skills: “Concentration”, “Clarity” and “Equanimity”.

The goal of the retreat is to learn at least ONE good technique that the student can take out into the world.

Pleasant Restful States (Sham Ta)
2 meditation techniques:
1)    “EASY REST”: Say the mental label “relaxed” whenever you find or create relaxation anywhere in the body, then concentrate on it intensely. Refocus, re-label every few seconds. This is a technique of ‘NOTING’. The label stream should be paced fast enough to prevent spacing out, but slow enough not to be frenetic. Labeling promotes sensory clarity, though one doesn’t have to label in order to note. “ACKNOWLEDGE”, then “FOCUS’, alternating back and forth.
2)    “BLANK”: Having closed one’s eyes, conjure one’s internal mental screen, either immediately in front or behind the eyes. Memories, images, abstract color forms may play out on this screen. Initially, in order to develop FOCUS ON REST, one ignores images on mental screen. If one doesn’t focus on form or color, what’s left is a general level of grayish luminosity. One can achieve relaxation by focusing on this blank expanse.

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