Silence Speaks Loudly.
So there I was…coming down the steps of the eighth home I’ve lived in in as many months since moving to California, didgeridoo in one hand, computer in the other.
Then it hit me: what the hell am I doing right now carrying my didg’ and my laptop down the steps at the same time? My roommate Allan has been saying that I’m great at connecting to the world externally, but pretty much suck at remaining balanced and centered inside—and in that moment it all made sense.
When I go to Ecstatic Dance in Oakland, I catch myself leaving my own dance, my process, in order to look around at who’s on the floor that I can connect with. Sometimes it’s just what I need, but sometimes I catch myself doing it to avoid looking inside. I came out to California last October from New Jersey, (holla!) to get away and see myself in a new light and see what opens up out of plopping myself here.
A location astrologer told me I should move to Los Angeles, which I scoffed at and came to the Bay instead, but I’ve been flirting with L.A. since and am becoming more open to moving down here, where I’m at now writing this. So after living in all these short-term housing situations up in the Bay and still noticing the overly obsessive mind around where in California I should live, I’m starting to get really tired!
I’ve never really been good at sitting still. In second grade my teacher, Mrs. Keen, phoned my parents and said I would just get up and wander around the classroom. So a few weeks later there I was eating crushed up Ritalin in chocolate sauce. That didn’t last long but the wandering mind has. And while I love to use music, sound and movement as a way to get myself cleared out, I’m still heady about a lot of stuff. After talking to Allan, who has a regular meditation practice, I figured it was time to do something about it. I’m here in California and on the adventure, so it’s the perfect time.
Flash back to me walking down the steps that one afternoon, inspired to play my didgeridoo and go on the computer to do whatever, I caught myself being scattered. In that moment Vipassana entered my brain. For those of you who don’t know, Vipassana is a 10-day silent meditation that is offered worldwide at established centers, all by donation too.
Something else you should know is that I’ve been wanting to do this for a few years and had already registered three times but failed to make it every time. So naturally, being fully ready to look at myself in an even more authentic way at this point in my life I chose to hop on and register. Register I did, and a month later I was to head down to Twentynine Palms, a small town right next to Joshua Tree in the high deserts of Southeastern California. And this time I made sure I went.
I was scared on the drive over. Meandering through the desert hillside I had no idea what I was walking into, but I knew in my heart I was ready to get clear. Arriving at the SCVC (Southern California Vipassana Center) and walking onto the campus that I would call home for the next 10 days and 11 nights was a surreal experience.
The first night, which is called “Day 0”, we were allowed to talk until about eight pm when the first meditation started. After that we would carry “noble silence” all the way through “Day 10.” I made some chit-chat with my roommate and some guys in the dining hall during dinner, but got the feeling most of us didn’t want to talk. People were ready to be silent and go deep.
I coasted into Day 1, 2, 3 and into Day 4 with little hardship, learning “Anapana“ meditation, which was meant to sharpen our mind’s concentration on the small area above the upper lip to the nostrils. The only part that was difficult was getting used to sitting. We had three mandatory group sits for 1-hour every day. The rest of the time was for us to be in the Meditation Hall at our own leisure, and later diligence, to get what we each came for. I sat at other times and would walk the paths a lot during the day, making rock sculptures of fish and comets.
I watched the animals meander around the desert floor, the birds play sing-songfully to each other and the ants working tirelessly, also in silence and in complete cooperation. I learned a lot by watching nature. After a few days that’s all I could really do to pass time. Everything slowed down. There weren’t a lot of thoughts entering my mind like there usually were pre-Vipassana.
My senses heightened. I heard animals and sort of embodied one as I would patiently sit in the desert watching, listening and learning about how an animal just is what it is. How a tree just is, a mountain just is, and all have no trouble just being what they are. Why is being human so difficult sometimes? When someone sneezed in the meditation hall, I felt the sound wave ripple through my ear into my head. I smelled breakfast coming out of my pee in the morning and I felt more at peace and gratitude than I have in a long time.
On the 4th day we learned Vipassana, and in one two-hour meditation block scanned the body of sensations and thoughts that arose with them. At the end my body was humming and vibrating loudly with so much sensation. My legs probably fell asleep, my arms were made of granite, my chest was pounding thunderously. I felt a spinning wheel in my solar plexus, I got nauseous and I was scared.
I backed away not knowing what was happening to me and observed myself shaking in front of my eyes. For 30 minutes I shook until at tea I pulled the bag out of my cup and the seizing stopped literally as I my fingers touched water. I still can’t explain it but I feel I touched my pain center.
Vipassana is the practice of purifying the mind, the ancient technique taught by Gautama Buddha. It’s an art form used to observe sensations arising and passing away in the body – constant sensations, constant thoughts, constant constants. Everything is impermanent, Anicca, always rising and passing away.
To sit and learn Vipassana is the act of watching and observing these sensations without attaching a story line to them.
This one is good, ouch—uncomfortable—I wish that would go away, damn that annoys me, I like this feeling…Oohh, wow, my third-eye activating, I can feel the concentrated sensations on my forehead! I’m so spiritually connected!
Vipassana also is the experience of actualizing substance. Feeling, on a deep conscious and unconscious level, the mind. I think I read on a “Yogi Tea” label once that said “wisdom becomes knowledge through experience.” It’s one thing to be an academic, to be wise and knowing, but to experience our own mind and the power and learnedness inside of it, we can open up and be authentic with ourselves because you can’t fake it anymore. The ego has gone missing and the cosmic mirror is placed right in front of you.
But why do this? The Buddha taught that in our suffering as humans we are conditioned to feed the cravings, avoid the aversions and attach to feelings, often with malcontent. Why do we steal, lie, cheat, cut corners, hide truth, self sabotage, overindulge, be excessive and manipulate? We trained ourselves to. From childhood the mind has been making meaning and morphing its identity to avoid pain and get what it wants.
So, at the root level, we suffer. The rub is most of the time we aren’t aware that being these ways cuts us off from love and compassion, which makes us feel good and provides healing for ourselves and others. Vipassana is a way to go down and weed out the impurities so we may be loving, compassionate, peaceful and a contribution to the world. It’s to be of service, selflessly serving others so they may be at peace and be happy because we now have the tools of non-attachment.
Vipassana is also the practice in the art of living, and the art of dying. People who regularly meditate and are committed to living a transformed, peaceful life of service are happy on their death beds. Ready in that defining moment for what comes next, just like in life right now, moments arise and pass away, all is impermanent and there is nothing to hold onto.
Vipassana was also hilarious at times, at least for me who is always laughing at something. Oh, the things I observed, like this one man who every night before the six pm meditation would open the two small windows closest to his seat, only to watch them be closed by an elderly man who came in after him and sat in a chair directly underneath them. That alone was better than anything I could watch on TV.
Because at Vipassana, despite there pretty much being only meditation, walking, sleeping and eating that takes place (all in silence and without any body language or eye-contact, texting, phones, computers, ipods, pda’s, etc..) there really is a lot of content rich with color and vividness, and none of it can be discussed. And the content is rich considering the context of the situation you’re in.
When uncontrollable laughter broke out on the eighth day because someone farted, oh man, what a release and so joyful. I got in my bones, in the deepest part of my core that a fart will go down as the funniest sound that has ever been created and experienced by man. I don’t know what it is, but they are funny! But they’re only funny in groups. A lonely fart is just that, lonely, and they like an audience.
Beautiful and odd moments passed too: the sunrises and sunsets, the skies and clouds that were witnessed were moments of timeless silence shared by us all. It was like we were all in this dream, dreaming together and watching things happen for the first time.
Vipassana was the space where I taught myself how to live and how to die. I can remain balanced in the face of traffic and remain ‘equanimous’ by the pushes and pulls that happen in so many moments, or do my best at the very least. And you get that teaching downloaded all by sitting and watching your respiration, observing the sensations in the body that rise and pass away and learn not to hold onto them like they’re yours, because they’re not.
And of course the thoughts never go away. I just observe them and return to sensation and breath, the thoughts subside, slow down…and cease for a few precious moments hopefully ending years of conditioned thinking about pain and pleasure, and curing your need for anything outside of yourself. The ultimate goal is enlightenment—freedom from suffering.
It was weird the way moments of clarity came to me. It’s like I got clear by not thinking. Stuff would just come to me. Like moving to Los Angeles, practicing health counseling again and teaching yoga, the sound I want to create for my next didgeridoo album, the important relationships in my life and how to be a better brother!
It all rises and passes away, but knowing that doesn’t mean anything. Being that does. And yes, you really should do this at some point in your life, because you will die, but how is up to you.
Here’s the link.
Brandon Waloff is now settling in Oakland, CA after wandering for quite some time, hailing most recently from Jersey City, NJ and other areas Eastern. Brandon is a certified Holistic Health Counselor, YogAlign® Practitioner, avid dancer, natural food industry visionary, former Introduction Leader for Landmark Education and is currently and committedly working with didgeridoo as a sound healer finishing his debut album. He has worked with various natural food companies since 2002, created a dynamic cleansing program for his clients and currently works with small, grass-roots artisan food companies, helping them grow and have presence alongside the corporations in the market. Besides all of that, Brandon has been active in the conscious dance community in New York City and most currently in Oakland, CA, dancing Gabrielle Roth’s 5 Rhythms along with Contact Improvisation and Ecstatic Dance. His blog is brandonandon.blogspot.com if you would like to pay him a visit!