I just got back from ten days at a meditation retreat. Vipassana is the style. The idea is, you observe your physical sensations very carefully, going over each part of the body, hour after hour, day after day.
No matter what sensations you experience, pleasant, unpleasant, hellish, sensual, short, fast, hard, soft, you maintain perfect equanimity. That is, you tell your mind to chill out no matter what it encounters. In theory you’ll reprogram yourself to stop developing “cravings and aversions” – the twin devils of Buddhism – thereby liberating yourself and enjoying a life (or lifetimes) of profound happiness.
There I am, sitting, squatting, kneeling, trying all different manner of posture, to trace all my body's bits. I experience the usual sensations, e.g. back pain, itches, eye twitching and cold feet, but then another phenomenon appears: a buzzing energy around my scalp. Then around my neck. Then large swaths of my body. Feels like a million billion tiny particles jumping on my skin.
I get excited. You’re not supposed to get excited, the assistant teacher reminds me during a check in. You’re supposed to remain equanimous. Well, I’m excited anyway, and I tell him that we shouldn’t tell ourselves how to feel. To which he responds, oh so simply, “Come back to the sensations. Remember your equanimity.”
I feel this buzz over my whole body. Not just around my body, but within it, too. Inside my legs, my arms, my chest. On the last day, on the last mediation, it happens: my body dissolves, top to bottom.
I’m nothing but vibrations. Just vibrations. No I to speak of, actually.
I pass my awareness, an awareness that seems beyond me, over this mass of particles that once was my body. All the way down, all the way up. I feel so damn blissed out. I confess my bliss to the teacher. He says, calmly, “Bring it back to the breath. Doesn’t sound like you were able to maintain your equanimity.”
But didn’t I just get enlightened? I mean, I experienced an awareness that wasn’t mine flushing through my non-existent body.
Isn’t that awesome?
In my mind, as I write this, I can hear the teacher saying, “The only yardstick of progress is equanimity.” I need to get over myself, even if there’s no I to get over. In the words of the master, venerable SN Goenka, whose death five years ago did not prevent him from presiding over the course via video: