Who would have ever thought, the most difficult person to ever be with is actually me? You will realize that when you are enduring 10 days of absolute silence with no form of external stimulus, where you have to simply be with yourself. I was making through life continuously living outside of myself, finding happiness in positive external situations; and in equal portion finding grief and agony in unfavorable ones.
Almost all of us are living in only two fundamental states of mind: (i) an attachment and craving for all pleasant experiences (ii) an aversion and resentment of all unpleasant experiences. If you closely observe, our entire life is predominantly a dance between these two states of mind, with varying levels of intensity. For most of us, this is the obvious way of life. How could you possibly be happy through a 4-hour flight delay waiting in a crowded airport? Or how could you have the most amazing first-time date, and not crave for more? The need (conscious and unconscious) to bring more positive experiences in life, and a constant attachment of “happiness” to these experiences is, quite ironically, the basis of suffering, discovered Goutama Buddha.
Buddha reached the state of enlightenment through Vipassana meditation, a long lost technique of self-awareness that was revived and made popular by S.N Goenka in India. Simply put, the word Vipassana means seeing things the way they are. The goal of Vipassana is absolute self-observation, a practical pursuit to understand the nature of the self and its connection to the world to ultimately liberate oneself from suffering. Feels like something we have heard from eons across religious scriptures and spiritual preachings, but have never quite found a way to begin? I was in the same place.
I have been dabbling with different forms of meditation for a long time. Each of which I found helped me move closer to a goal I set for that meditation practice- better concentration, relieving stress, feeling grounded, feeling gratitude, etc. There was always a goal; another place to go to using the meditation practice- a better, more tranquil place. Never did I actually set an intention to set myself free from the demands of my mind, to want liberation from being prey to my own trappings of suffering. For one- I didn’t know how I was in a trap in the first place! I experience suffering, and happiness but just assumed there is no way out. And two- I was secretly not ready to give up my own needs and aspirations in exchange for the concept of liberation that was seemingly asking me to make too many changes to myself. Simply put, the pursuit of liberation certainly didn’t top the charts in the long priority list of work, relationship, family, etc.
I signed up for the program, for the kicks, because it made it into my bucket list of things to do. I knew little about it, but trusted the feedback from some friends that it would be life-changing. I attended the 10-day program at Dhamma Arunachalam, near the beautiful Arunachalam hill, from Oct 31- Nov 11, 2019.
The most appropriate description for the experience, as used by Dr. S.N Goenka himself, is that it is a deep surgical operation. An exercise of understanding the root cause of suffering and exercising a disciplined operation to root it out. I must absolutely warn, that the Vipassana experience can seem quite drastic if not prepared for it mentally. For me, the least concerning was the silence, it was the physical challenge of being able to sit down and meditate for 11 hrs a day, the strict eating regimen, the absolute lack of any external stimulus for your mind had me rebelling the first couple of days. So much so that on day 2, I almost gave up. It didn’t help that we were already seeing students drop out.
But let me tell you what I gained, and why I think it is worth enduring the initial discomfort.
- Learn to stay in the moment: the first few days, my mind was constantly running to places in my head to take me away from the uninteresting present. In the absence of any form of basic entertainment, my mind stepped up as the core entertainment provider. Give it a few hours, and it automatically slows down; and after a few days, it runs out of juice. This is when the magic happens. When the need to always race to another place slows; when you are experiencing being rather than doing.
- It’s just a sensation! The practice of Vipassana dives into how we create the traps of suffering; why we form likes and dislikes? We all perceive the external world through our five main senses, and thoughts as the sixth input. When we taste food, the mind immediately categorizes the taste into good, or bad; each of these classifications is attached to a sensation in our body which either makes us feel good or unpleasant. The ultimate attachment we create is to the sensation and how it makes us feel, not the actual object in question. The core of the Vipassana practice is to become very sensitive to the myriad of feelings we feel, and how we react to the sensation. It’s this intense observation that allows us to realize that after all what we attach to is a sensation and that this sensation is transitionary.
- Observe, not engage: Through continuous practice, you will observe multiple sensations arising in reaction to the thoughts in your mind, or your physical pain of sitting, or your sensation to the morning alarm. You are hypersensitive to the sensations, and your immediate reactions. Did you feel “uggggg” when the alarm rings? You immediately become cognisant that you are resisting the situation, and can quickly take a more observing stance rather than engage in the irritation of waking up in the morning. With consistent practice of observation, you will start to surrender, you will know that these sensations will pass and there is no need to either crave them or resist them. It is almost as if you have divided yourself from your mind, and observing it from the outside. This simple shift, is so profound. It is the quality that helps us swim in the mad currents of life.
- Wanting nothing is as delusional as wanting everything: Most of us have a general misconception that pursuing a spiritual life is to give up material enjoyment. This conditioning has gotten many of us in a fix; where we either forcefully give up something, but deep down crave it. We think giving up is progress. It isn’t. A truly evolved person will realize the wisdom lies in enjoying the things that drift in and letting go of things that drift out. As we practice this, we are slowly releasing ourselves from the bonds of attachment, one step at a time.
If you have ever questioned that there is more to life than our current understanding of it; that there is a better way to live than we have limited ourselves to; then Vipassana will point you to ways to find those answers.
Previously published on “Change Becomes You”, a Medium publication.
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