I turned off my car. I took out my phone. I took out my wallet.
I handed my keys, my phone and wallet to the gentleman with a backwards baseball cap. He smiled, took my belongings, and said nothing. In that instance, my day-to-day lifelines were gone and they would not be returned to me for 10 days.
There would be no talking, no eye contact, no gestures, no reading, no writing and no physical contact. This would be my first Vipaasna Meditation Course.
I had set my intention to take a course nearly three years ago, and, at the perfect time, the stars aligned for me to take the most ridiculous roller coaster I have ever experienced: my mind.
For the next 10 days, I would begin meditating at 4:30AM and finish at 9:00PM. I would have a breakfast break, a lunch break and a break for tea in the evening.
For the first time in my life, I was forced to face my thoughts, feelings and emotions. I could not hide behind a phone call, a text message, a movie, a nap, a quick snack and any other distraction I have conjured up for myself over the years. I had to simply sit and face the storm within — mind and body!
If I was feeling furious, I was feeling furious and I couldn’t run away: I couldn’t distract myself. I had to experience what it means to be furious. If I was feeling sad, I was feeling sad and had to experience every ounce of feeling sad. And vise versa, if I was feeling happy, I was feeling happy and had to fully experience it.
I was more consciouslly aware of my human experience in those 10 days than I have ever been in my life. It is as though all the thoughts, memories and dreams were compressed. In removing all the external distractions, I glimpsed all that it is me — good and bad.
Nearly 2,500 years ago, Siddartha Guatuma, left all of his worldy possessions (a kingdom, a palace, a beautiful wife, a beautiful son, and all the riches you could imagine) to seek enlightenment. For years, he practiced everything India had to offer and eventually he realized nothing would alleviate suffering. So, he sat in front of a pipal tree (later known as the Bodhi Tree) and committed himself to sit down and not get up until he found truth. 49 days of meditation later, he experienced enlightenment — he found truth.
Today, or 2,500 years later, S.N. Goenka began teaching the meditation technique as the Buddha taught it. Dhamma, the organization Goenkaji started, has been teaching the Vipaasna Meditation technique as an act of service in its purest form. The teachings are original to what the Buddha taught; and, the course is an act of service. Everyone — the cooks, the management, etc. — do not receive any compensation. The whole course free — a gift from those who came before.
Mind and Body Connection:
Vipaasna is the teaching and technique that the Buddha found for himself. At the core of it, the Buddha realized the following: the mind and body are completely connected — every thought is intertwined with a sensation on your body.
For example, if you are hungry, you think to yourself, “I am hungry” and you feel a sensation in your stomach. If you are tired, you think ” I am tired” and your eyes feel droopy. The same goes for every single thought and sensation in your body.
There is a conscious mind (i.e. thoughts, memories, etc.) and sub-conscious mind (i.e. The part of mind that controls or your sympathetic nervous system (sensations in your body). Or, the part of mind that controls the feeling of butterflies in your stomach when you are falling in love or when your stomach drops because a 800 lb grizzle bear is chasing you!
As the conscious mind and sub-conscious mind are completely intertwined, so are the thoughts and sensations on our body.
I often hate the word “suffering” because I do not want to admit that everything leads to suffering. But, it seems like it is the case. We have two ways to lead to suffering:
Option 1: Cravings lead to clinging; clinging leads to suffering.
In fifth grade, I had a big crush on this girl, Jessica. She was sweet and laughed at the silly things I would say (make voices like cartoon characters) and do (perform magic tricks).
I was very happy and enjoying all the freeing butterflies in my stomach. But, then, the unthinkable happened: the bully of the class began telling everyone, “Krishan likes Jessica!!!”
Without thinking, I yelled back, “No, I hate Jessica! She is &*&*$” Why I would say such a horrible thing still gives me a sinking and horrible feeling in my stomach and chest, but nonetheless I did. 10 year old me was embarrassed and angry and did not like being made fun of. Not only was a I clinging to desire to feel validated in the eyes of my peers, but I was also clinging to the butterfly feelings.
Option 2: Aversion leads to hatred; hatred leads to suffering.
A couple years back, I was working with a client that simply would not stop talking. This individual would ramble…on and on and on. I would be working with her until midnight for days in a row, and would get absolutely nothing done. I was tired, I was frustrated, and, I was losing my patience. At first, I had an aversion to these meetings, but in time it led to a hatred of these meetings. To say the least, it created suffering with my work.
Annicha, Annicha (Impermanence): Everything changes: good or bad.
In the morning, from 4:30 to 6:30AM, my meditation session was “blissful” — my knees didn’t hurt and my mind wasn’t going in a billion directions (just a million), and I could focus on the sensations going on in my body.
By mid-morning, around 9AM, my meditation session was full of anger and resentment — there was only tension, nothing was enjoyable and I simply wanted to get up.
By the afternoon, around 2PM, my meditation session was anything but blissful — I felt full, my stomach was warm and I was perspiring. I wanted to lay down and take a nap.
By the evening, around 6PM, my meditation session was blissful. Nothing had changed, but for some reason I was as joyous as I could be.
Everyday the waves of thoughts, feelings and emotions — good or bad — would rise and fall and there was nothing in the world I could do to stop them. Impermanence, indeed.
Habitual Thought Patterns:
Imagine for a moment that your mind is a garden. The seeds of anger, hatred, jealousy, embarassment and every other good or bad feeling is there. The water or sustenance for the seeds is the attention you give your thoughts and the corresponding sensations on your body. The more attention you give to thoughts and the corresponding sensations associated with anger, the more you water the seed of anger, and, the more it will show up in your life in many different shapes and forms.
When ever we cling to or have an aversion to our thoughts or emotions, we are watering whatever the related seed is. When we stop watering the seeds, we stop having the filters of what is “good” or “bad” or what “should be” or what “should not be.” When we remove these habitual thought patterns, we are able to be fully present to whatever may come our way.
The Technique: The wings of peace of mind are awareness and equanimity.
The technique was utterly simply and yet so challenging. Everyday, for 12 hours a day, we would bring our attention to the top of our head and we would scan the sensations on our body — part-by-part, piece-by-piece.
Sometimes the sensations on my body would an unbelievable itch on my nose that I would do anything in the world to scratch, and other times I would have excruciating pain in my knees. The practice was simply to observe these sensations with equanimity.
In doing this body scan for days-and-days, I began to experience and understand that everything — absolutely everything — good or bad passes. There was no excruciating pain that did not eventually pass nor was there a pleasant sensation that lasted.
Our thoughts and sensations on our bodies are completely interlinked. If you think something, there is a sensation in your body somewhere — it may be very gross or extremely subtle, but nonetheless thoughts lead to sensation on your body. Intuitively, this makes sense. If we are feeling afraid, our muscles tense and we automatically prepare for danger. If we are feeling happy, our muscles loosen up.
As I would be doing these scans of the sensations on my body, my mind would go in every direction: If I was feeling love, I would feel warm throughout my chest. I loved the feeling. If I was feeling compassionate, a warm sensation would raise from the middle of my chest and move upward. If I was feeling afraid, my stomach would feel warm and get tense. I hated the feeling. If I was restless, my stomach felt like it was swirling. I hated the feeling.
The only constant was change. I realized I could keep chasing the good thoughts and feelings or try avoiding the bad thoughts and feelings, but whatever I did they kept changing and the only real option was acceptance — complete and utter acceptance of whatever I was feeling. In doing so, my mind would calm and I could — for once — simply be.
At the end of this 10-day journey, I had never experienced more clarity, strength, confidence, integrity, fearlessness than ever in my life. At first, I thought about how disciplined I was to live this experience, but it dawned on me that it was a gift. Everything was a gift.
Someone prepared my food, served me, donated money, gave me a place to sleep, cleaned the bathrooms, taught me and gave me a peaceful environment to sit for me to have these experiences. In every single way, I finally began to understand that everything we have is a gift.
“A hundred times a day I remind myself that my inner and outer lives are based on the labors of other people, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure that I have received and am still receiving.” ~ Albert Einstein