My 10-Day Vipassana Experience – Part II
We all suffer.
We all experience disappointment, hurt, and pain. It’s part of being human. So what are the 2 sole contributors to our miseries?
Vipassana is a technique that aims to eradicate (or at least mitigate) our craving and aversion. When we yearn for something we don’t have, we suffer. When we desire a bigger house, flashier car, thinner body, different spouse, holiday, better job, etc., we are craving that which does not exist, thus we suffer. If we do eventually get what we so desire (move into that larger home, get promoted, etc.), the craving and clinging doesn’t stop there. We continuously crave more and more, bigger and bigger.
The same goes for things in our lives that we don’t want. When we dislike the rainy weather, the gap between our teeth, the city we live in… Or we just want that lower back pain or annoying next-door neighbor to move out, again we suffer.
The egoic tendency of humans is to become attached to these cravings and aversions. We shape and form our identity and concept of who we are based on the things that we own, possess, or want. We equally attach ourselves to disappointments, negativities, and even things we hate about ourselves or within our lives. This is MY job. MY boyfriend. MY intelligence. MY disease.
However, if one is able to circumvent this thinking and start to view an object, situation, or person objectivity (that is neither positively or negatively), then one is able to remove all attachments to this particular thing.
The other major concept taught through Vipassana surrounds the notion of “Anicca” – everything is impermanent.
Deep suffering arises because we attach to things that are dynamic, in a constant flux, always changing, and never, ever the same.
I liked one example given by Goenka. Say you are given a watch – a beautiful, high quality watch. It’s from a foreign country and very difficult to replace parts and get it fixed where you live. You love this watch. You love wearing it because it is so unique and when people see it they assume you have a lot of money and status. Then one day, you drop the watch on the floor and it smashes to bits… you become extremely upset! YOUR watch is broken and can’t be fixed! Then you come across a friend who has the exact same watch – same make/model/style. When he drops his watch on the floor and it smashes… you feel nothing! Well that’s not MY watch.
We suffer because we attach ourselves to things that are impermanent.
Sooner or later… every single object, experience, or living being eventually breaks, transforms, ends, wears down, changes, disappears, moves, or dies.
Vipassana does not teach to have a pessimistic view of everything. It is a technique designed to train your mind to fight craving and aversion through the acceptance and realization of impermanence. It is experiencing an ever-changing environment (your body) first hand.
For the first 3 days of the course, you are instructed to focus on the sensations around your nose and upper lip – that’s it. For 11 hours or more, simply watch what is occurring and what sensations are felt on that small area on the body. It’s drawing your attention to the outer rim of the nostrils, inside the nose, and upper lip area. Do you feel a tingling or tickling sensation? Is there an itch? What is the temperature of the air moving in an out of the nose?
This may seem like a simple task, but it’s very difficult. You try extremely hard to focus on your breath and the sensations around the nose, but somehow you catch yourself in a completely random thought or memory. “When did I start thinking about 10th grade beer pong? Weird. Ok… back to the breath.”
On the 4th day, after honing your mind and awareness to the small triangular area below your nose, you begin to learn the full Vipassana technique.
The practice itself is basic. The ultimate goal, however, is nearly celestial!
Essentially, you bring your awareness to the top of your head then slowly, piece-by-piece, focus on each part of your body down to your toes. While mentally scanning body parts, you try to become acutely aware of the sensations you feel. Is it tickly, prickly, vibrating, pulsating, hot, cold, itchy, electric, painful, or pleasant? Once you’ve reached your toes, you move back up through your entire body towards the top of the head. Toes, foot, calf, thigh, butt, tummy, back, chest, fingers, arm, shoulder, neck, face, and scalp – up and down. For the entire hour to hour and a half meditation, you are just sitting there, eyes closed, scanning and feeling every possible sensation in order from head to toe.
Oh. And don’t move a muscle.
First, your foot begins to fall asleep and that uncomfortable sensation starts creeping up your entire leg. That old soccer knee injury starts pulsating with hot, attentive spurts of pain. Your perfect posture back begins twitching with aching muscles you didn’t even know existed. Your bladder is reminding you of the 3 cups of tea you consumed after lunch. Don’t move.
Whether you feel a pleasant tingling sensation or it feels as if there is an iron hot steel rod burning through your left labia lip (true story!), attempt to view every sensation objectively and know that it is merely temporary.
After some time, body part sensations begin to ‘merge’. You find that your fingers, hands, arm, and shoulder feel a uniform tingling sensation. Then your entire upper torso begins vibrating all at once.
This is when shit gets trippy.
You are cognizant that you are sitting on a pillow in a room full of people. Your mind is fully present and aware. Yet, after some time, you reach a stage where your entire body is tingling and vibrating all together. You can’t feel your hands in your lap, you don’t feel the mat under your legs, your arms seem to dissolve into the surrounding air, your face feels as if it’s being pushed and pulled all at once.
It’s sort of like a pseudo body high received from taking a hallucinogenic drug, yet your mind is completely aware and present. You feel like your body has become as light as a feather and could lift off the ground at any moment. In my head I was saying things like, “Holy shit. This is cool!”
When your body reaches this phase, it’s called “Dissolution” – the sensations and vibrations inside and surrounding your body melt and merge into one. There is no inside or outside. You feel like an egg-shaped ball of electricity radiating into the surrounding area. You continue to scan through your body parts, but the flow becomes quicker and more seamless, as if you are sweeping through your entire body vs. stopping at each body part to analyze.
I know this sounds like crazy talk. Hippy dippy alien encounter shit.
But it’s SO real. It’s such an incredibly powerful experience that can be reached just by sitting and closing your eyes! It is amazing what our bodies and minds are truly capable of!
I’ll be sharing my personal experience in Part III!
*Note: This explanation of the Vipassana technique is based on my limited knowledge and understanding, thus please take with a grain of salt! Here’s another good description.