By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio
Many meditation techniques compare the workings of the mind to the behavior of a wild monkey. Our thoughts never stop; grasping for the next best branch, the ripest fruit, or the shiniest object. But besides being quick, our mind is also strong and persuasive, controlling our feelings and actions in a way that separates us from the reality that surrounds us, as well as from the reality within us. From being an anthropology student and subsequent zookeeper of primates, I continue to have interest in primate behavior and find this metaphor of the “monkey mind” really works.
Before I came across the practice of vipassana meditation, I had tried other forms of meditation to tame my own monkey mind. Like a playful primate, my mind continually jumped from one anxiety to another, occasionally resting on some obsession. Meditation techniques presented at weekend workshops or one-class lessons didn’t work for me—they merely provided another means of distraction. It takes time to calm an overactive monkey, taming it to allow training in a positive direction.
So, though it seems like a big commitment, the 10-day vipassana meditation retreat, in the tradition of Mr. S.N. Goenka, offers the tools and environment for quieting an overactive mind. Time, patience and willingness to do the required work are all elements of training an intelligent primate—and of training the mind. To learn vipassana—which translates as “to see things as they really are”—takes time and hands-on practice in a comfortable, non-distracting environment.
The Illinois Vipassana Meditaion Center in Pecatonica, Ill., provides this experience. During every 10-day course at every Vipassana Center around the globe, you are silent. There is no contact with others on or off site; no books, phones or other everyday practices are allowed to confuse or distract the already overactive mind. Of course, attempting to put some restriction on something as powerful as the mind is difficult in the beginning. The monkey fights back. The mind complains that the process isn’t useful. Just as it can convince us that we are fat or ugly or not good enough or smart enough, the mind can also convince us to be fearful of something that might put us on a more positive path.
Most minds like easier paths, shiny new toys. We look for immediate, short-term experiences that quiet the monkey temporarily. But when the ripe fruit is gone or the shiny thing becomes tarnished, we find ourselves in trouble again. The best tools for training are the ones time tested with guaranteed results.
The vipassana method, taught by Mr. S.N. Goenka, has been practiced for thousands of years and has helped millions around the world. Though traced to the enlightenment of the Buddha, the technique is not a Buddhist practice. It is taught in a scientific and non-sectarian manner, approachable to any person. By the end of the 10 days, you have learned to come face-to-face with your monkey mind and been given the time and the tools to teach it to be a little more present.
Dhamma Pakasa, the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center, will be having its annual Open House Sunday, May 1, from noon until 4 p.m. It is free and open to the public, and with tours of the property and snacks included, it is always a nice time to visit. If you are tired of your monkey mind ruling your life, continuously grasping without any rest, visit www.pakasa.dhamma.org for more information about the schedule and technique. And I’ll see you there!
For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit www.yogarockford.com or call (815) 968-9642.
From the April 27-May 3, 2011 issue