From July 1 to July 12, I did a 10 day Vipassana course at Dhamma Korea.
As soon as I hit the cushion, my back started hurting. It doesn’t hurt at home. On Day 2, I started thinking about that scene from “The Odd Couple” where Felix Unger (Jack Lemmon) tries to commit suicide, but when he goes to open the window, his back goes out and he starts, “Oh my back! My Back! T’hoh my back! Ahhh! Ahhhh!” I laughed quietly to myself. That scene got me through a couple days.
At a Goenka course, one sits in meditation for 10.5 hours a day. The schedule goes as follows:
4:00 am – Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am – Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am – Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am – Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am – Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
11:00 am-12:00 noon – Lunch break
12:00 noon-1:00 pm – Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm – Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm – Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm – Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
5:00-6:00 pm – Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm – Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm – Teacher’s discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm – Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm – Question time in the hall
9:30 pm – Retire to your own room — lights out
From Day 1 – Day 6, I did all 10 1/2 hours.
Day 1 – 3, you do anapana, just focusing on the breath coming in and out of your nose – the nasal triangle. The morning of Day 4, you just focus on the area between your nostrils and upper lip. In the afternoon of Day 4, you do your first Vipassana body scan. That was a real trip. After that one, all I could do was go outside and sit on a chair and stare at the mountains for a few minutes.
Days 5-6, the pain in back, especially on the left, started spreading into my chest. I even had shortness of breath. By Day 7, I felt physically exhausted, so I skipped the 4:30 and 1pm meditations, and went back to my room when the teacher gave us the option to do so at the 9am session. Despite the ban on doing any other practices, I did some yoga stretches every morning and throughout the day. On the afternoon of Day 7, I laid on my back on the floor and just stretched with my arms over my head for about 20 minutes. That helped for about 2 days. On Day 8, I realized that during body scans, I could feel all of my chakras except my heart chakra. That realization reduced my pain by about 40%, at least for that sitting, and a little bit for subsequent sessions.
At one point, I had a vision of an old grandmother shaman, perhaps an ancestor, sweeping in front of me.
The people I met-
Tina is a very smart person; graduated from Seoul University-now works and travels, making movies, writing, public speaking-the tattoo on her front right shoulder “Lumin in Cielo” – a light in heaven; has travelled to Thailand, Nepal, Hawaii. her goal is to live life with less.
Met Fajin, a Zen Buddhist monk – he lives at monastery in Seoul.He usually does his Vipassana in Dandong, China. Apparently, the head teacher of Northeast Asia is there. He’s going to start Vipassana classes at his monastery. He feels that Korea needs a Buddhist revolution. For many, it has just become empty prayers and bowing. As with anything, daily practice is the most important thing. He is getting a PhD in early Buddhist history.
Connor from Massachusetts teaches music in Incheon – this was his 3rd course.
Yumi from Japan had long dreadlocks, and gave the whole thing a lovely hippy vibe, which is so rare in conservative Korea. She lives in Australia, and also worked for a company in Texas. She helped me find the place on day 1!
Ahn’s cushion was in front of mine. The way he sat so straight all the time, and his shaved head, I thought he was training to be a monk, or maybe a soldier. Neither was true. When he was in middle school, he decided he didn’t like the Korean educational system, so he applied to study in Canada. The only school that had an opening was a small town in Nova Scotia. He was surprised to see a moose! He went to high school in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He hadn’t finished Korean college.
Yu Jin also dropped out of college. This was her 2nd course and she was volunteering as a server. She had been working as a baker, then quit her job and came to the Vipassana course.
Jae Jae had worked at a hospital in Nepal for 7 years.
I met some of the smartest people I’ve met in Korea at the course.
Songs I had in my head:
Cascades by Siouxsie and the Banshees
Fame by Irene Cara