What to bring to a vipassana course

Just got back home yesterday after taking my second 10-day vipassana course at Dhamma Siri, Kaufman, Texas. I reached new abilities to sense subtle sensations and found deeper stillness and inner silence. Reentry into the real world has been easier this time as well.

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Plus, I made eye contact with a bobcat. More about that later.

While it’s fresh, I want to put into writing what to bring next time. I am into avoiding unnecessary suffering for myself, and others. It doesn’t mean that I can’t sit with some discomfort and be equanimous — and discomfort is inevitable unless you already are sitting still for 12 hours a day, day after day. Your low back, mid-back, upper back, shoulders, hips, knees, feet — at least one area of your body is going to feel the strain — and this is an unavoidable part of the process.

The pain and discomfort are necessary to get the full vipassana experience. Meditation isn’t all about transcendence. It’s about learning to witness and accept the truth of what you are experiencing with equanimity. You become more familiar with your mind, craving what isn’t there and feeling aversion to what is there.

So…there’s pain at the 7-8 level, and pain at the 3-4 level.

I requested a chair for the meditation hall, and there was one for me in my pagoda cell as well. I believe these chairs are reserved for older people and those with injuries or disabilities. Due to a past injury and probably arthritis, my left hip gets sore and stiff from sitting for a long time, and I limp when I get up. Walking for a while gradually eases it. Sitting cross-legged on the floor for long causes my leg to fall asleep as well as pain.

Please note that I’ve been doing yoga for over 30 years and that this happens to youngsters as well. My ride-share friend was in her 20s, strong enough to carry a huge backpack, and she still suffered for the first several days.

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If your body can handle sitting on the floor, I still recommend bringing a stadium seat to support your back. This one is adjustable and folds flat for easier transport. The meditation center provides a large variety of cushions so you can make yourself more comfortable.

The discomfort eases up as the days pass. It’s better for everyone by day 7, from what I can tell. It’s sad that the very few people who leave the course early because they were unprepared miss out on the experience of equanimity and the revelations of the later discourses. I hope they will try it again with a better idea of what to expect.

Here’s what else I will bring:

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In my room, I meditated in the plastic chair the center provided, and I also used my crescent-shaped zafu (from Hugger Mugger; leave the zabuton at home if you have one — Dhamma Siri supplies them) and a new seiza bench that I topped with a bit of yoga mat to keep my butt from sliding off.

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Most days I managed to sit for 12 hours (including 10-15 minute breaks every hour), going from 4:30 am until 9 pm, not counting longer breaks for meals, walking on the trails, interviewing with a teacher, doing laundry, showering, etc.

Every day had its gifts. On day 3 in the middle of the day, women were exiting the meditation hall for a break. I was one of the first ones out. To my left, about 30 feet away, I saw a bobcat standing near the sidewalk leading to the pagoda.

I froze and crouched. Our eyes met. It was stunningly beautiful, with strong stocky forelegs, a beautiful spotted coat, those signature tufts of hair at the ear tips, a strong cat face. It was about twice the size of a large house cat.

As other women were walking behind me (some oblivious to the bobcat), the bobcat slowly, casually began to walk away from us. It was in no hurry.

Just then, a cottontail rabbit dashed between the meditation hall and the pagoda, and the bobcat took off running after it. Someone mentioned on day 10, when we could talk again, that they assumed the bobcat had caught the rabbit because they noticed vultures circling the field behind the pagoda, presumably to pick at whatever carrion the bobcat left behind.

Other gifts: feeling like there was a lava lamp inside me, feeling absolutely no will to move my forearms and hands, stillpoints, releasing of a series of sankaras on the inside of my cranium that were likely there from birth, suddenly noticing all kinds of animal trails in the woods, a flock of unknown-to-me orange breasted birds (not robins), male and female cardinals, hearing many species of bird calls at once, turtles sunning on warmer days, many times being breathed, face radiance with warm heart, struggle with something a teacher said, hearing a solitary frog croaking at twilight, hearing a well-hidden young male mockingbird singing its heart out in a bush, memories of past suffering arising and passing, compassion, a huge variety of clouds, constellations, a waxing moon, shreds of spider webs attached to the tips of low branches blowing like flags in a strong wind, viewing flocks of sunlit sparkles moving across the surface of the pond, deeper stillness and internal silence, inviting the facial radiance to move through my entire head.

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