Not all travel has to be to a physical destination, some travel can be within.
The first time I went to India in 2005 I saw this book called Holy Cow in a marketplace in Delhi. I picked it up and it’s an amazing, very funny read that depicts life in India in all its chaotic glory. In this book the author attends a Vipassana retreat and she doesn’t go too in depth about the experience itself, but, she does describe one moment when she was looking at a droplet of water in the sunlight on a windowpane and she felt a connection to the water and the universe. Because of the description of that one moment in time, I said that some day at some time in my life, I would go to a Vipassana retreat.
Other than that read I really knew nothing about Vipassana, really nothing. I am the kind of person that when I say I will do something I do it, so it doesn’t really matter what people say about it or the deep specifics. I will figure it out for myself when I do it. Well, I figured it out…
Simply put, Vipassana is just a form of meditation. There are several different methods, a couple examples: Transcendental is one in which a person sits for ~20 minutes and mentally repeats a mantra, the goal is inner peace; Mindful Meditation is one you can do pretty much anywhere for any length of time and you are present with your thoughts but react without judgment, the goal is to be calmer in the face of life’s challenges. In Vipassana you sit for an hour (yup, an hour) and perform a constant body scan noticing any and all (and I mean all) sensations- good or bad (they will be mostly bad, probably) in your body and view them with equanimity (meaning detachment) and the goal is self-transformation.
The Buddha, said that life is misery and suffering and we live in a constant state of unbalance. What??? I will explain. Our minds are in a constant state of craving or aversion, we are hoping for something in the future or we are fixating on something that happened in the past. Wanting things or worrying. Constantly replaying something that happened or coveting some thing that will make you happy. We are never here, now, in this moment, enjoying Life. We cannot change anything that happened, so why waste our time thinking about it? And when you want something and then you get it, you just start craving something else! We are never satisfied. So, we have to stop these thought patterns, be here-now, and by being here now and stop craving and averting our minds will be balanced.
A couple of examples for clarity:
Craving: Let’s say I want a new car, I want a new car. I cannot wait until I get my car. I want stick. I want a convertible. I want Bluetooth and all the latest technology. I want to play my Pandora and iTunes connectivity. I will never pay for gas again. I want a car. I can’t wait, it is going to be amazing.
I get my car. Then…
I want a vespa. I want a vespa. I cannot f*^%ing wait until I have a vespa. I am going to scoot all over the place. I will never have to fight for parking again. I will be the cutest thing that hit this planet. A vespa will free my soul from the schackles of life, yadayadayadayada.
or Aversion: I cannot believe that I said that to my boss, she said “—” and I said “…” and that was so inappropriate, I wish that I thought before I spoke. I need to think, think, think before I open my mouth. I always do this. This is why I never get the good projects and why I am stuck in this position. I need to use a filter, filter, filter! … and on and on and on.
These patterns of thought of Craving and Aversion create Samsaras, which are “blockages” in your chi or in more psychological terms, they form the patterns by which we respond to life. This craving and averting becomes Clinging and Resisting which are the blueprints to how we respond to our life’s experiences. Michael Singer describes it as when “emotions stay in one place long enough to become the building blocks of your psyche.” in the Untethered Soul.
Clinging: Let’s say you went horse-back riding and had the day of your life. This was the best experience you ever had. You now get obsessed by horse-back riding. You put pictures up all over your house, you watch all sorts of stuff on horse-back riding, you are hooked on it. You turn 80 and you are sitting at home doing puzzles of horse-riding. This is clinging. The reason why this is negative is because you are holding onto something so tightly that you block any new experiences from coming to you. Maybe you would love something else too or even more! But, you are too busy holding onto that experience.
Resisting: to use Singer’s example, let’s say you somehow get a thorn stuck in your hip and it hurts like bloody blue hell. It hurts so much that you are scared to touch it, you are scared to think of it because the thought even hurts that thing hurts so much. So, you leave it there. You should take it out, just yank it. But, because you are so scared of how much it hurts you avoid dealing with it. Instead, you start wearing clothing that don’t irritate it. You avoid bumping into things. You can hardly sleep because you are scared you will roll onto it, you create an entire life based on not irritating this thorn more than it already hurts. That pain dictates your life. You are resisting dealing with this pain. Whereas, if you just faced it and released yourself from this pain you would be free to live your life and grow.
The only way to free yourself of these patterns is to clear your mind of its suffering by removing cravings and aversions from your present thoughts and clear your chi or life-force of Samsaras so that you can evolve and not continuously repeat patterns. Simple, right?
How do you liberate yourself? You do this, by sitting, with your body, for hours at a time, aware of every little sensation you feel, because every sensation represents a blockage to be released. You literally sit in misery and suffering and you have to be present in it (meaning you can’t daydream to escape the pain in your knees or your butt) you have to face it. (The Buddha really meant what he said literally) And, by facing each and every sensation, both positive and negative, with equanimity you break your response patterns and are able to accept and release them. Because, face it, our ailments are caused psychosomatically so if you look at them without judgment and let them go, you are also releasing your mind of those same ailments. Really, it’s like a year of good therapy in 10-days.
I sat with my self and tried to face as much as possible. The release happens naturally. You don’t have to think about anything. You don’t need to really focus on anything in particular other than just sitting in Vipassana, scanning your body with equanimity and awareness and the rest will follow. I followed the instructions of the Teacher to the best of my ability. And, I had breakthroughs. I cried my heart out, when I really never thought that it would happen. It just did, of its own natural accord. It was pretty incredible actually. I will not pretend to say that I was 100%. There was some pain that I just couldn’t bear and I avoided facing head-on. Now, I understand that whatever that pain is hiding is really going to hurt to let go of. But, I will face it. Because I do want to be open to life and all the experiences it has to offer. And if this is the path to liberation, then I will follow it to where it leads.
May all Beings be Happy
May all Beings have Peace
And May all Beings be Liberated
- “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer (highly recommended)
- “Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure” by Sara Macdonald
- “The Art of Living” by S.N. Goenka