While we most often hear of meditation practice resulting in reduced pain and mental stress, increased compassion and loving kindness, and other benefits, it’s less frequently mentioned as a way to resolve phobias. However, that’s my experience with a fear of the dark I’ve had since early childhood. It’s interesting to note that the more consistently I practice vipassana, the more fearless I find myself in unlit rooms and outside at night. Now I’m interested to try it as a way of coping with a life-long phobia of looking up at the tops of high buildings and towers during the daylight hours. Along the way, I've also learned that maintaining equanimity when confronting a phobia head on is without doubt one of the most important factors in its resolution.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
When we begin to practice meditation, we are often told that it’s important to dedicate an area in our home for that purpose. The instructions also say it should be quiet and not used for other activities. At first, the significance of these guidelines may not be readily apparent, but that changes over time, especially with practice. Transitions in a person’s meditation space may occur in many different ways; however, I can only tell you what has happened in ours.
It was a little over five years ago, when my wife and I moved into the house you see above, which is located in the countryside near Santa Cruz Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala, Mexico. We’d built it from the ground up, and after years of renting we were really enthusiastic about finally moving into our own home. Even though we’d always had a room or a space dedicated for meditation in our rental houses, we knew that we’d be moving on in few years. This time, however, we’d constructed the meditation room you see on top of our home with the notion that we’d likely use it for that purpose for the rest of our lives. Quite happily, that’s the way it’s been.
From the day we moved in, we began meditating in that space from one to three hours a day, including some longer periods for short retreats. Just as in the rental homes, with continued use the space began to pick up the vibrations similar to what we’d experienced in halls used for group meditation. Being accustomed to those feelings, we enjoyed the sensations of spending time in this dedicated area. Friends who came to meditate with us voluntarily said they felt a considerable difference there compared to the other rooms in our home. Then about six weeks ago the environment of the room changed.
At first, I noticed the room had taken on an added presence of being. It seemed to have become not only a place of meditation but also a place of refuge or sanctuary. Now, it’s in my thoughts more often than ever before, and I feel an urge to go there more frequently and for longer periods of time. Sitting periods have also increased as well as the comfort I feel in doing them. The information presented in the writings and spoken words of well-known teachers make more sense now than ever before.
Several weeks after I’d experienced this transition, I asked my wife if she’d felt anything similar. She said that she had and that it occurred at about the same time I’d noticed it. I was happy to hear this confirmation because it meant I wasn’t imagining something that wasn’t there.
Since that time, I’ve done some research on the subject. Interestingly, I’ve found little that goes much beyond saying that it’s important to reserve such a place in our homes. However, many years ago, when I was helping with a 10 day vipassana retreat led by one of S.R. Goenka’s teachers, Arthur Nichols, in a large room in a Catholic retreat setting in Tepotzlan, Mexico, I heard him say, after about three days, that it was finally beginning to feel like a meditation space. Somehow, I’ve never forgotten his observation nor my sense of the change in that environment.
While I’ve used the words refuge and sanctuary to describe our meditation room, I don’t mean to infer that it’s a place gone to out of fear. Rather, it’s a space in which to take a break from conventional living and contemplate the real source of refuge, just as it states in the Dhammapada 188-192. Practicing in such a place is as Sarah Fletcher, Quiet Mind Meditation, states, “it is like sitting with an old friend, imbuing our meditation with a special sense of reverence.” I’ve also found that our space definitely helps to draw my awareness inward and get closer to what’s in my heart. As time goes on, the area becomes more precious, taking on an ever increasing aura of sacredness.
Like I’ve stated above, I can only tell you what has happened in our meditation room. We built it a little over five years ago, began using it daily, noticed a shift in its presence about six weeks ago, and now it’s so much more than what it was in the beginning. What I experience there encourages me to keep on sharing through my blogs. The feelings of tranquility and refuge I associate with that space accompany me throughout daily life. I highly recommend that whoever reads this article would set aside a place for meditation or just being quiet. Or if someone already has an area like this, then to know that continued practice may help it to change into a very precious, even sacred, area of his or her home.