Last weekend I served at a 10-day Vipassana meditation course in Chestertown, MD. These courses are made possible entirely on a volunteer and donation basis so they rely on old students (people who have already completed a full 10-day sit) to volunteer their services each course. This was my first time serving and I have to admit even though I only served for 4 days, it was quite difficult. You wake up anywhere from 5-6AM and work all day until 10PM. In between, you are required to sit with the rest of the students for three 1 hour long sessions. Your goal is to "drench yourself in Metta" which is lovingkindness for the brave students who are participating.
I like this idea.
No. I love it.
Each night, the servers and the teachers would all sit together and do a Metta meditation. The recording of Goenka (the main Vipassana teacher) would say:
"I seek pardon from those who I may have hurt or harmed today."
"I give pardon to those who may have hurt or harmed me today."
"May all beings be at peace."
I found this meditation to be unbelievably humbling. It's sort of like simultaneously admitting that you are going to slip up on being compassionate and taking responsibility for it. It's letting your guard down. It evens the playing field. Every server realizes that they are capable of doing harm and that others are too so the best we can do is try to be full of compassion and love and forgive ourselves and others when we aren't.
However, it's difficult to serve from your heart all day, especially when you have your own emotional issues coming to the surface too. Vipassana does that. It brings reality to the forefront and because we are so unaccustomed to dealing with that reality, it can be uncomfortable to say the least. You can't hide when you are involved in Vipassana. At whatever course center you are at, whether you are a server or a sitter, you are more likely to be with truth and reality.
I know that's kind of loaded, seeing as how people have been arguing over what is true and what is real for god, like forever, but if you've done a Vipassana course you know what I mean. There is no material world to hide in, no substances to numb you, no distractions from the present moment. And I'm not going to get all philosophical here, but the best I have come up with for the definition of truth is this:
We are all one.
So when I say you are with truth and you are with reality at Vipassana course centers, I mean you are in a place where the awareness of our connectedness is not only encouraged but often more easily accessible and most definitely supported by everyone around you. And as far as reality goes, I guess in this scenario I mean that two-fold:
1. You aren't inundated with advertisements, substances, technology, noise, judgments, and materialism.
2. You are literally practicing being in the present moment, without a care for the past or the future, just an intense awareness of Now. In that space, all the frivolous things that we give entirely too much importance to so often, simply fall by the wayside.
To me, that's reality. I like to sometimes call it deathbed reality. What will you really care about when you are on your deathbed?
Will you wish you worried more? You stressed more?
Will you wish you met all those deadlines?
Will you wish you argued more? Complained more?
Proved more people wrong, more often?
Will you wish you made more money than others?
Will you wish you played it safe?
No. You won't.
You'll wish you did that thing, you know the one that made you come alive, but you ignored.
You'll wish you took your time more.
And that you said "I love you" more to the people you cared about.
You'll wish you took that leap instead meekly pacing the sidelines.
You'll wish you were nicer to yourself.
You'll wish you lived more, you breathed more, you laughed more, you gave more.
Vipassana just sort of takes you to the deathbed reality. The beer goggles come off and what is important slowly comes into focus little by little, bit by bit. So, at my first service my deepest insight after the goggles finally came off was this:
Each of us has to own our power and work relentlessly and persistently on getting to these ideas of truth and reality so that we can happily tap into our unique purpose and give and serve others. I believe we will someday live in a world where it is commonplace to know that we are all connected, seeking and giving pardon, grounded and free in the reality of the present moment.