It is hard to put into words my experiences and ponderings that pertain to the last 14 days of my life, during and after the 10 day Vipassana meditation course I took at Dhamma Place, Dasmarenas City. I’ll do my best!
Before I went I knew it was something I really wanted to do, it just appealed to me and I’m not too sure why. I had had very limited experience with proper meditation techniques before and all I was really expecting was 10 difficult days that would get rid of all my problems of the past and maybe even alleviate my problems in the future. I felt like after 10 days my problems would be solved. What I got out of the course was nothing like I expected, I got it all wrong, yet the result is something I could never have comprehended.
The course was of of many that occur all over the world from prisons in India to the rolling hills of Hereford, and they are all the same (the website is http://www.dhamma.org/). It consisted of 10.5 hours of allocated meditating time each day with wake up at 4.30am and lights out at 9.30pm. There are many chances for breaks and the food is exclusively vegetarian. The food I had was exceptional; a diverse range of vitamins and all I needed to keep my body clean. Loads of fruit, fresh veg, tea, cereal grains, brown rice etc etc. So the body was kept well, although there was limited space for movement, just a small circular garden to walk round and round and round! Exercise is discouraged so nothing but light walking and limited amounts of stretching occurred.
With my body taken care of I had time to focus my mind.
All the time, whether we like to accept it or not we find ourselves expressing (internally or externally) anger, ego-centricity, greed or other such negative emotions. Some examples; A fly lands on your thigh and you immediately brush it off, it comes back and you brush it off again, a little irritated. You’re in the car with someone else driving and you find they don’t do something like you might, they use the windscreen wipers too much, or not enough, they honk too much etc etc, and it irritates you a little. A mosquito is buzzing around you and you get very irritated (I know I do) knowing that if it doesnt go away or you dont kill it it will bite you and then all the itchiness will be very bad for you so you’re hatred of the mosquito multiplies and multiplies. You desperately want to go to the cinema to see a specific film, but when you ask your two friends they both want to see a different film, so you go with them and watch their choice all the while feeling irritated you aren’t watchng the film you wanted to. There are a thousand examples of things like this, conditioned reactions in our minds of aversion or craving leading to hatred/anger/misery/general negativity. We roll things over in our minds, a good example for me is here in the Philippines, I was always getting frustrated with tricycle taxi’s, were they overcharging me? I could never tell, is it really 60 pesos or should it be 30? I take the ride, and then after I pay the 60 pesos but I mull it over afterwards, ‘I’m sure it should have been less. That guy was such a con. Double the price. It’s the principle, not the money’ etc etc. The journey is over, the money is spent, the past is past, yet the conditioning of the brain is such that we continually roll these things over multiplying the anger.
The theory of Vipassana suggests that all of our anger and hatred and craving comes from inside and can be stopped entirely. From our birth our brains work in such a way that we condition ourselves to think that bad things come from the outside. We don’t like someone because they speak too loudly and in a rude manner, it is therefore they who are bad, you get some feeling of hatred towards them. It is something on the outside that causes the anger, not the inside, that is our paradigm of thought. What Vipassana teaches is that nothing that causes negativity can come from the outside, everything we see, taste, touch, feel, think or smell is the result of external stimuli that cause a sensation inside; e.g. a nice food causes a smell sensation, a bee sting causes a pain sensation via touch. The result of these sensations are one of two things, either blind reaction (you thrash about wildly at the bee sting) or repression (you pretend the sensation did not affect you and mull it over inside with no external expression). Vipassana simply suggests a third choice, mere observation. You train your brain to just observe the situation equanimously (I had this word ‘Equanimous’ going around and around my head for days and days!). There is an itch, ‘ok just observe the itch in your minds eye, do nothing, just observe it’. The reason that this is suggested is because you are aware that all things change. Everything is changing all the time. A good example of this is a small child you haven’t seen in years who you eventually see again, 20 years later. The child is so different; tall, long hair, broad shoulders. There was not one day where the child woke up and was suddenly different, the change was occurring constantly, all the time, every nano second. We know from from modern physics everything is made of moving atoms, everything is moving, changing, fluxing, all the time, so you are aware the sensation will go away, it will change, so why is there any need to generate anger or hatred towards it?
So through Vipassana you meditate and just observe you’re body. There is pain in your legs because you have been sitting from 45 minutes without moving, instead of reacting you train your brain to not react, to observe the pain aware that it will change. You are changing the habit pattern of your mind from blind reaction which causes anger and frustration and negativity, to observing the sensation, content in the fact that it will, as all things do, change, sooner or later.
I was astonished at the results. I worked hard, very hard during my ten days. By the last day I was comfortably able to sit for 1hour without moving at all, although the pain was still there it was not a problem. It is very hard to explain this but it comes down to the central theme of Vipassana. That you must not just understand the principles intellectually, you must experience it yourself. If you dont work hard you will not get any results. Simple enough. A simple thing like observing the pain in your legs and not reacting blindly can be extrapolated to more intense vicissitudes, changes, that occur in your life.
In the days since the course I have noticed a big change in my reactions to things. Not getting annoyed or anxious about things I would normally. The feeling in my mind is like I have been given a trebor mint for the brain. So many weights are lifted during the ten days. It involved no pondering over past mistakes or thinking of bad things. It involves only focussing on the present moment, the now, and over time all of these deep rooted angers and regrets of the past naturally come to the surface (from a deep level) and manifest themselves as sensations which you can observe and then move on. So much weight gets lifted off.
I used to say the one creature I would be happy to see eradicated from the planet was the whiny, buzzy little critter, our dear friend Mr. and Mrs.mosquito. I can honestly say that now I have no big problem with them. I still react to them, I do still shoo them away occasionally, I still scratch the bites occassionally too, but the difference is huge. Knowing they are around doesn’t really bother me, certainly not the way it used to, and with more Vipassana practice I know the anger towards them will go away entirely. Why get angry at them every time they appear, yes protect against malaria etc, but they are always going to keep coming back and then going away. Change, change.
The beauty of Vipassana is that it is universal, it doesnt matter if you are of any religion or of none, you can still practice it. The courses ask only for donations and only from those who complete the course. No money, no sect, no religion, no business, no magic answer, no secret, no other worldly being to solve all your problems. Just a scientific technique of viewing yourself. Just observe and work very hard, and continue to. The teacher, S. N. Goenka suggests if it helps you and it helps others, great, keep it up, if it doesn’t then don’t keep it up, it’s all down to you, no one else.
All my problems are nowhere near gone, that 10 days is just the start of the journey. It is a total paradigm shift in the way I view the world. I feel like before I just wasnt aware, it seems so simple, too simple, ‘just observe’, yet, for me it has worked. I feel like I have found the path and have taken the first step. It is a very very long path, but you gotta take 1 step before you take any others.
Phew, that was long!