A few weeks ago I finished my second Vipassana retreat. Ten days of silence. Every day we meditated for 10 hours, from 4:30 a.m. until 9 p.m.
I heard people say about Vipassana: "I can't do it... to be alone with my mind for 10 days? I will go crazy." What they don't understand is that they are alone with their mind all the time. And when they will get to observe what they are thinking about most of the time they will realize they are already crazy. That's what happened to me.
When I tried in the beginning to practice the technique like they guided me to, I couldn't. People think the hard part about Vipassana is the silence, but for me it was the meditation. In my first days there, I constantly lost my focus and got carried away by my thoughts.
After a few days of hearing my thoughts over and over, I started observing them. I observed my thoughts coming again and again, the same obsessive ones. It felt like I am putting a DVD in my mind so I'll have entertainment. I noticed that only a small percentage of what I think goes to things I really want to think about.
I noticed how much of my thoughts go to what other people think, problems that might show up, direct and immediate short term opportunities, things that happened in the past. Only a small percentage of my thoughts is reserved for long-term opportunities, the present moment, what I want to do now -- all the things that really matter.
And then I thought, if I don't dedicate a lot of time to THINK about what really matters, how can I expect to dedicate sufficient time to ACT upon what really matters -- hence, how can I expect a LIFE that really matters? I understood this is an opportunity to change it, change habit patterns I have adopted.
Luckily, after a few days I got so tired of my thoughts, that I just let them go and surrendered to the technique.
The technique is based on the fact that as human beings, our senses are constantly perceiving information from the outside world. First there is the cognition part, that signals the body that something happened. For example, there is a noise outside. Then there is the recognition that interprets what happened and determines if it's good or bad. For example, we experience a pleasant noise. According to the recognition -- good (pleasant) or bad (unpleasant) -- we experience a sensation in the body that is pleasant or unpleasant. According to the sensation, the habit pattern of the mind is such that we react to a pleasant sensation with craving -- we want more of that, and an unpleasant sensation with abortion -- we want it to stop right away.
This habit pattern of the mind is the reason for all of our suffering, all our addictions, depressions, reliance on the outside world's feedback. It is all a game of reacting to the pleasant and unpleasant sensations. Wanting more and more of the pleasant, and less and less of unpleasant, we lose the balance of our mind, dependent in what happens in the outside of us.
The body sensations will always be there. When someone speaks bad words toward us, we will feel unpleasant sensations. But we can change the mental reaction. We can train our subconscious mind to remain balanced, even after he feels an unpleasant sensation. This doesn't mean to become passive or numb. Exactly the opposite. When you are balanced you have the privilege to react in a sane and smart way to every situation.
Once you become established in the technique, you can practice being the master of your own life -- you get to choose how to react to your body sensations. And this has a benefit not only when you are sitting calmly on the beach, but also when you are in a stressful situation. You can take the Vipassana technique with you wherever you go.
For three years now I've been exploring different meditation techniques. My friends used to criticize me for going for all of the different meditation retreats that exist out there, but when coming back to the normal mundane life I would get upset by the usual stuff.
The main problem I would face every time I would come back from a silence retreat, or a meditation course, was okay, now what? It is one thing to change yourself in an ashram. It is a totally different thing to change yourself in life. Daily life. With people, activities and problems.
A good meditation technique is one that helps you practically when you are in the middle of the city, or in a fight, or in a hard time in work. It is a technique that suits the mundane life of this planet. It is one that gives you answers for the need to embody what you have learned in your life and the necessity to maintain it.
The only technique that ever gave me an answer to these questions was Vipassana. "Vipassana is the art of living. Not the art of escaping." -- S.N. Goenka.
Vipassana is universal and not based on any religion. Everyone can practice it. And when I write everyone, I mean it. Especially because it's for free. For 10 days you get three meals, guidance in meditation and a place to stay all based on the contribution of others.
Nowadays, more then a month after I finished the course, when things happen to me, I still get upset, but I notice a huge difference. I feel the sensations in my body every time something unpleasant happens, and it reminds me this will pass to. That everything changes all the time.
It reminds me that it's not about who said what, or what did or didn't happen -- rather, the simple reality that I am experiencing an unpleasant sensation in my body now, and the best thing to do before I react from my unbalanced mind is to observe. After I observe (a matter of a few seconds) I act. Instead of reacting. And the results are amazing.
Yes, of course I'm not Buddha, and I still fall back on my patterns, but everything passes faster. It makes life practically so much easier.
It might sound hard to pay attention to your sensations, and to be aware of your thoughts and taking responsibility for everything that happen to you. But in this dynamic life when everything keeps changing, and nothing is fixed -- it's much harder not to.
Sooner or later, we all sadly realize that we can't change other people.
Even if we dedicate our whole life to completely changing all the people around us, who said someone else wouldn't come and upset us? Can we change all the people in the world? Certainly not.
The only thing we can change is ourselves. And it takes a lot of work. Most of us don't even know where to begin.
Now, I have a strong tool, which I can take with me wherever I go, and I am very grateful for that.
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