Day 50: Strong Determination (adhiṭṭhāna)

I selected this stone specifically for my son, and took it to the meditation retreat. I held it in my hand for over 100 hours of intense meditation, and then sent it to him. May he also develop in adhiṭṭhāna

I returned from a ten-day meditation retreat on Sunday. From the fourth day to the tenth day of the retreat, three of the one-hour meditation sessions each day focused on developing adhiṭṭhāna, which is a pali word that means strong-determination.

During these hours, the students attempt not to move at all, or at least to move as little as possible. Ideally, the position of the arms, hands, legs, and feet don’t change, and the eyes are kept closed the whole time. The reason for this training is that being able to sit still is an important skill, which is necessary for more intense practice, and is ultimately required to attain complete liberation from suffering.

This being my third retreat, and having meditated for two hours per day over the past year, I found this practice less challenging than in previous retreats, and I decided to go beyond the prescription. I sat absolutely still during all of the one-hour adhiṭṭhāna sessions, on a few occasions staying still even through some breaks, for periods of up to 1.5 hours. I also attempted to stay absolutely still with my eyes closed for most of the other meditation sessions, a total of up to ten session per day, all but one of which last for an hour or more.

By really taking this adhiṭṭhāna practice seriously, I learned experientially the purpose and value of it. Having a calm and quiet mind is one the foundations for practicing vipassana meditation. However, it’s almost impossible to make your mind calm and quiet directly. However, it is possible to hold the body still using your willpower. When the body is completely still for while, the mind becomes still.

I found that over the period of an hour, while holding the body still, the mind became increasingly calm and quiet. For me, after somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes, I crossed a threshold where my body no longer even wanted to move. By the end of the one-hour sessions, I had to effortfully open my eyes, which naturally rested closed, and I then had to make a conscious and concerted effort to move my arms and legs, and to get up. I found that I could contentedly continue to sit, often in spite of intense unpleasant sensations (vedanā) in my body (which I was developing equanimity in relation to as part of the practice).

For the paññā (living wisdom / insight) practice of vipassana, holding the body still is also critical to enable the alert and attentive mind to scan and witness the microscopic details of the three-dimensional landscape of sensations (vedanā). The alert and attentive mind, by the way, is developed through the ānāpānasati (mindfulness of breath) practice.

I have returned from this retreat with a newfound appreciation for, and skill in, adhiṭṭhāna. Even though the teacher (Mr Goenka) prescribes that the meditation sessions at home will not be adhiṭṭhāna, I have chosen for myself to make them this way. This is a level of practice that is well within my competence, and which will serve me greatly in further deepening my awareness and equanimity of the sensations.

I also noticed that some other practices that I’ve been doing in my lifestyle challenge both develop and benefit from this practice of strong determination, including the ten-minute cold showers, and the plank holds. They also develop and benefit from the calm and equanimous (liberated) mind developed as paññā (living wisdom / insight).

Determination: you determine what you will achieve, and then you stick with that until it is completed, with unwavering resolve and determination.

Please join me in developing and enjoying your adhiṭṭhāna, your strong determination, and using it throughout your life to obtain and achieve everything you choose.