It seems that this posture of lying down is great for people new to meditation. It allows them to skip the anguish of getting the body accustomed to sitting in what has become an unnatural posture for people in the West accustomed to couches and chairs, and to focus all the attention on inner discovery.”
by Nicko G.
For many people, the thought of doing a Buddhist meditation retreat (or even just meditating) is connected to hardship, austerities and even physical pain.
For me, just thinking about sitting up cross legged for way too many hours a day is enough to cause severe back pains.
We may be told that to meditate is a deep relaxation of our body and mind, but how to reconcile that with waking up before sunrise or going to bed without supper? Doesn't sound like a very loving thing to do to ourselves now does it?
Vipassana, literally meaning 'insight' or 'seeing things as they really are' is a meditation technique taught by the Buddha as a way of self-transformation through self-observation.
The aim of the practice is to bring full awareness of the mind, body and all sensations and be fully present, for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation.
If we go to the teachings of the Buddha we learn that he talked about meditating in all four natural postures - sitting, standing, walking and lying down.
Over the centuries, methods have been developed to allow meditators to delve deeply into themselves based on this teaching. These traditions have been handed down the generations and kept alive in Buddhist countries, especially those that have embraced Theravada Buddhism, like Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Sri Lanka.
In the last decades, these traditions have reached out to the world as part of the global coming together of spirituality that is 'the New Age.' In this melting and merging many new connections are being made, and while many still prefer to practice in the time-honored traditional ways, many different ways to explore the age-old teaching are immerging.
One beautiful such meeting of paths is a traveling band of Acharyas (spiritual teachers) called Open Dharma, consisting of Ajay, and Indian mystic, Jaya, a Harvard educated student of Non-Duality and teacher of Buddhist meditation, and Gemma, an ex-contemplative nun and social activist from Spain.
This group has become the gravitational center of a growing community of spiritual seekers from around the world.
In a recent retreat I participated in, daily 'classes' switched between direct translation and discussion of the songs of Meera and other Indian women mystics, to explorations of the spiritual path in everyday life, to stories of the lives of great Christian mystics like San Francesco.
The schedule itself reflected the 'openness' of this particular fragrance of Dharma, with meditative yoga classes in the morning, singing of mantras in the evening, and a lot of time for nature walking and just being with yourself.
But for me, the greatest revelation was the emphasis put on 'reclining' meditation.
In each meditation sitting, the meditators choose for themselves whether they prefer to sit or to lie down. In the first days many people lying down would fall asleep and this raised many objections like 'just sleeping in a retreat is a waste of my time.'
The teachers talked to us about the general lack of rest that is part of our lives in the West. This quickly surfaced given such a relaxing setting, but we were asked to trust and wait to see what will happen. We were also instructed to treat snoring as just another sound of nature.
It seems that this posture of lying down is great for people new to meditation. It allows them to skip the anguish of getting the body accustomed to sitting in what has become an unnatural posture for people in the West accustomed to couches and chairs, and to focus all the attention on inner discovery.
It is also filled with surprising benefits for experienced meditators, who have perhaps managed to master a degree of mind control and can sit in silent meditation without much effort, but the loss of control experienced in lying down meditation can open new doors of understanding and vision for them. As was promised by the teachers, as the retreat progressed and we were all more rested and relaxed something beautiful was happening. The energy in the meditation hall was so soft and quiet, even feminine. In this deep silence we each explored our lives, relationships, choices and whatever it is that is keeping us from being simply happy. Now.
With the loving guidance of the teachers and the warm embrace of the group, a lot of healing was received and a lot of love and understanding experienced.
In the closing talk we were told that to let this awareness grow we must all treat ourselves as pregnant women, taking loving care of ourselves and allowing the seed sown in us to develop and mature.
After ten days of silence, it was strange but lovely to go back to talking and to share with the others all the things we have been waiting so patiently to share.
Some of us parted with the group, while others stayed together to move on to the next retreat. But even after parting, the group stays in touch through email, schedules for retreats are sent to an electronic mailing list, and meditation instructions and teachings are posted on a comprehensive website - http://www.opendharma.org/.
Now, after years of traveling together like some spiritual band of gypsies, bringing light and understanding wherever they go, this mobile cyber-community is looking to settle down and build a home for itself in the lush forests of Spain.
It feels like the group is now collectively like a pregnant woman and not just individually, and this seed is growing and preparing to come out and see the light.