In India, I was introduced to Vipassana meditation, a style of meditation rediscovered by Gothama Buddha more than 2,500 years ago. Vipassana means to see things as they really are and is "a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion." (from the website www.dhamma.org).
As soon as I arrived home, I researched the Dhamma.org website to find a centre near me and registered for the next available 10-day course. Vipassana courses are held in 'noble silence', which means, silence of body, speech and mind. Men and women are kept strictly segregated.
A 10 day silent meditation course is not easy, especially in the beginning when one is adjusting to the early rise at 4am and getting used to sitting in meditation for 11 or 12 hours a day. At first, I was fighting fatigue and would nod off during my morning meditation. I also came into the course with two difficult situations on my mind that were troubling me. One with a friend of mine and one relating to the move I was about to make and the fear of the uncertainty of what was lying ahead. I noticed that my mind would wander constantly in both those directions and I would conduct long conversations with people in preparation of anticipated confrontations. I wasn't sitting in meditation, but in conversation!
As the days went on, the edge of these conversations softened, then the mind became more quiet and finally the conversations ceased. On about day 5 or 6, it became so so clear that I was the one creating everything in my life. I saw the tendencies with which I had come into this world and how they were playing out in my life. I saw that my reactions to situations and people were creating either attachments or difficulties and I saw that I was the one allowing certain thoughts to take hold that were distorting reality. In that moment I clearly saw how I was the cause of everything in my life. Not that I was a bad person or that I felt regret or shame, but in that moment I fully owned it and could see it with dispassion and a neutrality as if I were observing an object in the palm of my hand.
In that moment, I also realized that I was completely willing to do the work in the course and beyond and do whatever it took to release those tendencies in order to finally be liberated from the misery that these tendencies caused in my life. I felt hopeful that this technique would be able to assist me with this intention and help me release that which was causing me pain and suffering in my life and my relationships with others.
From that day forward, my meditations became more juicy. I began to see the pain and discomfort that I was experiencing during my sit as opportunities to practice compassion and equanimity. I began to see the free flow of subtle vibrations, which I experienced occasionally, as moments of purification of the body and an opportunity to feel the expansiveness of my true divine being.
I began to observe the "conversations" I was having and began to understand the fear from which they originated. With this understanding, a feeling of compassion grew for the person I had become. I began to see the complexity, the beauty as well as the hot mess that was Annelise Sunanda.
People have asked me if it was difficult not to speak for 9 days or if the silence was difficult to handle. For me, and I heard for others as well, the silence was a gift. For me, the silence provided a cocoon that was protective of influences from the outside. I felt protected from being judged and from having to explain or justify myself. The silence provided space to be me and I felt safe to explore those tender parts, those fears and those complexities without being distracted by outside noises or influences. The silence also provided tranquility in the outside world and in this tranquility I could feel the support of Nature, the flow of life force that is all around us to support us in our process to rediscover our True Self.
On the last day, I cried because the experience was coming to an end and I had to leave the safety of this environment. It felt very similar to my experience in India. I did not want to leave the protective and supportive environment of the centre and return to a world where I would be bombarded with noise, expectations and negativity. I wanted to remain in meditation and protect the tender seed that was beginning to bud, but the time wasn't right. So I vowed that I would do more courses and spend longer times at Dhamma centres during my time in India.
Next: Family time