Day four was the day we started learning the Vipassana meditation technique. Seeing things as they really are. This means learning the awareness of how the senses meet the mind and matter (body). Observing the changes that are happening in our bodies, nano second after nano second. Learning how to stay equanimous and not react to sensations.
Intellectually we understand the body is in constant change, you only need to look at a photograph of yourself or someone else taken five years ago to see that change occurs. However to experience my own body changing at an experiential level, at a sub-nucleic level, through observing my own sensations…unique to each individual…was truly amazing and mind-blowing. This is what we learned.
Awareness, Observation and Equanimity
We were taught to become more aware and to observe, also how to stay equanimous through our own unique experience.
What were we observing you may ask?
We were observing our own sensations. Our senses, give us a sensation e.g. something we feel as hot when we touch through our skin or we hear words through our ears. All sensation is neutral but then our minds come in and take it over. We have conditioned the mind to put a positive or negative reaction to the sensation. Whatever our mind tells us about this sensation, we as robots react to that sensation. This is where mind meets matter and the sensations are the bridge. We must become fully aware of all our sensations in our body and remain equanimous towards those sensations.
Unfortunately we have allowed the mind to rule us and we just react, react, react to the sensations and this is where we are ignorant. We maybe intelligent but we can also be ignorant. If what you have just read here, is pushing your buttons then you are reacting right now with aversion, to your sensation rather than understanding this as neutral. The only reaction that you can control is your own reactions, no-one else’s reaction and most of the time we can’t even control our own reactions!
Let me give you an example, I see this happening a lot on social media.
You see a post with your eyes, the picture of a beach and sun, you read the words. All of this is just an image and words delivered by our eyes…neutral.
However when this image and words reach our mind, it then interprets whether this is nice or not nice. So you go to craving if it’s nice and aversion if it is not nice.
The majority of the time, we don’t really stop to think, we just react!
This is what I see around me all the time, people reacting to sensations. This is what we all do all the time, unless we’ve learned how to stop reacting.
Oh and don’t misunderstand not reacting with saying or doing nothing. That is far from the teachings of Vipassana or Dhamma. It’s about not reacting but being considered, compassionate and loving. The only way you can do that is when you are liberated from the ignorance of reacting. That’s why Vipassana is practiced daily.
On day three I had challenged myself three times through that day to sit still for an hour, just to see if I could. I did, but it wasn’t easy. On Vipassana day we were all asked to sit still for 1hr without movement and not leave the meditation hall. This was now to happen 3 times a day! With the knowledge that I had achieved this three times already, I didn’t need to fight my ego.
So you can imagine for some people this was sheer hell! You see, we were going through our own experiences and for some they were physical, mental and emotional. On top of that we could only speak to the teacher at allotted times about the technique and only speak to the manager for any practical things we needed. Everything else we needed to process through the technique or in our rest time.
Awareness – Laughing At My Mirror
In the last blog I mentioned Anapana the observation of breath that we practiced for three days to concentrate the mind. I also mentioned that we breathed normally, unless our minds had strayed. To help us refocus we could take a few sharp breaths to bring us back. Well in
the meditation hall there was one particular man who everyone could hear deep breathing to bring himself back. He was VERY loud. It was a little distracting at first and then it became funny for me, as you could tell every time he was wandering off…😁 Over time and concentrating on my own observations I forgot all about him.
On this day I could feel my neighbour struggling at times, crying and in obvious distress. I knew this would be one of the hardest things for me to deal with, as I could not reach out to comfort, but had to concentrate on my own shite! As we all exited the hall for our 5 mins break my neighbour rushed right up to the manager, who was right in front of me, saying loudly “you need to stop him, your need to say something and stop him!” The manager looked perplexed and asked in a very quiet, soft and compassionate voice, “What is the matter?” “Him; the man in there breathing so loudly…he needs to be stopped! I can’t concentrate because of him, you need to stop him!!”
At this point I turned my back and walked away from them both, I was trying not to laugh out loud. I wasn’t laughing at my neighbour so much as laughing at my mirror. How many times had I reacted just like this? Lashing out at whoever I could, because I couldn’t face myself. Having to blame anyone or everyone for me being unable or unwilling to face me and take full responsibility. With a very big smile on my face, I laughed at this situation and my reflection. This was all ego. The mind reacting in ignorance and I was blessed to have this pushed right in my face at that very moment. This was a lesson for me! As always the people who we bring into our lives are our lessons and if we take the time to look in the mirror we see our reflection. That is awareness!
The Awareness of Sensations and Impermanence
Each time we sat in meditations we were now observing our own body’s sensations. Some were itches, others painful, some zaps, a few tingles and many others I couldn’t put a name to, as I’d never felt them before. I was astounded at the amount of different sensations going through my body when I sat still and silent for an hour at a time.
The most amazing experience is seeing that your mind is in constant reaction. You feel pain, you want to get rid of that pain – aversion, trying to avoid. If you have a tingle you want more of that lovely sensation – craving and clinging, trying to hang onto it. This is such an ignorant reaction because intellectually we know that everything changes and is impermanent – Anicca. At every moment subatomic particles, which the body is composed of, arise and pass away as S.N. Goenka says. Yet we try and hold onto impermanence!!
If we just learn to be in the moment, knowing it shall pass and not cling, or try to avoid, by just observing, we free ourselves of ignorance and suffering.
At the end of each day we had discourse. This is the explanation/the teaching of the meditation in parables, funny stories, to help us understand, as taught to us by S.N. Goenka, born in Myanmar (Burma) in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin. He was responsible for initiating the building of centres around the world, to help spreading this Vipassana technique in its purist form.
This is where we learned the science of Vipassana; the non sectarian, liberation of all suffering through equanimity (balance) of the mind, transforming our misery into happiness, purifying the mind and finding liberation from ignorance to enlightenment, also finding peace and harmony within. All this through our own body’s unique experiential journey. The teaching is of Dhamma – the art of living, the law of nature, the law of liberation, not anything religious just a method to “know thy self” and give of self to others – service.
For me Dhamma is that law of nature that we all rise to when we find tragedy and adversity in life. We hear and see people reaching out and helping others in amazing ways when tragedy strikes. It is our nature, our way of being as human beings, the natural way, to be of service to others without thought! It’s just that we forget all about that when we allowed the mind to take over those sensations and override them with aversion or cravings. So to live a life of Dhamma we follow a moral code of nature/the cosmos!
I loved these sessions at the end of the day, as my enquiring, thirsting for knowledge mind, was always ready for the explanation of what I had experienced that day. He was a great teacher. Unfortunately Mr Geonka (1924-2013) is now departed from this earthly plain but forever mortal in the teachings…thanks to recordings and video!
I was really starting to fully understand not just intellectually but through my own experience, just how ignorant I have been and for so long. I didn’t want to be ignorant any longer, which motivated me to practice and learn and grow. The idea of Vipassana being a new way of life was becoming even stronger.
Vipassana (insight – seeing things as they really are) is a different experience for every individual, as we are all so unique and interpret the world around us and within us so differently. We have also had our own experiences in life that are unique to us. So this article is all about Mags Bell’s experience and self discovery through Vipassana.