It has been 4 years since I have been on this journey of self-healing. Exactly why I undertook this journey warrants for a book in itself for the reason itself has been uncovered layer by layer over the years. Recently it boiled down to just one thing – inner peace – real peace that remains undisturbed by anything external. After seeing your own emotional dramas unfold before you, kicking up a storm, drowning you in their depths, and then leave you feeling empty there is one more step – the mind. Towards the past 2 months I had done everything to calm this hyperactive mind of mine – intensive yoga until it had become impossible to rise from my bed in the morning for work, some NLP exercises for detachment, Byron Katie’s “The Work”, affirmations, switchwords, et al. But the more I did, something was missing. It seemed there was a black hole somewhere within my mind which was generating a lot of waste, but I couldn’t reach it through any of these techniques.
My two biggest spiritual influences, one whom I fondly call my maitreyi guru, and another who I have mentioned several times in my posts, Nithya Shanti, come from the school of Vipassana. In fact that is the biggest difference that struck me once I was in the 10 day course – it is like enrolling into a school. It is a school of life.
To introduce the course briefly, Vipassana is a 10-day silence course – here silence means all form of bodily silence – eye contact to a minimum, no talking to anyone except the volunteers who are there to help you in case of emergencies (definitely no idle talk), no plucking/smelling the wonderful flowers in the place where you undertake the course, no picking up fallen flowers as well, no communication with the world – something strictly adhered to as your cellphones, etc. are deposited in a locker at the beginning of the course, no humming/singing/listening to music, no writing and lastly celibacy. Hence, all one does is meditate the Vipassana way from morning 4.30am to 9pm, with breaks for breakfast/bathing, lunch and tea (no dinner). In fact the more one adheres to all these rules, the higher the rate of ‘success’. The whole course is run by donation – pay it forward.
My personal experience was that I could finally touch upon the black hole of my mind through this course. Vipassana is the ultimate mind purification but needless to say, the mind is the toughest to heal. Though I have personally undergone intense experiences through various healing workshops, most of it was emotional healing, which at that time was the most important requirement for me. But over the course of time, emotions become easier to understand and heal. A cessation occurs where they appear like waves and pass away. But it is the primal creation – thought – that is the basis of each of them. Through Vipassana I understood how mind-body are one entity, something I had erroneously mistaken as 2 different things inspite of my strong inclination to eastern science which has said so numerous times. Seeing this in practice is different than reading about it, and Vipassana is an excellent way to see it in your very own body-mind.
Some lessons from Vipassana –
When Gautama Buddha started observing suffering, he was not content with just the intellectual explanation of it – which is that suffering is caused by attachment to sense objects coming from the 5 sense doors. But when he went to observing at the bodily level, he comprehended that the nature of any experience is either pain or pleasure, and at the bodily level, this is further decomposed into sensation. He therefore set upon observing the nature of sensation and realised that there is just one truth in sensation –it too shall pass. Vipassana is the application of the same ancient observation technique applied by Gautama Buddha which leads to the recognition of this truth. Sankhaara (in Pali), known by the Sanskrit term, sanskaara, is the clinging to sensation. Hence, there is no such thing as having good sanskaara or bad sanskaara as has improperly been contorted over the centuries for indicating cultured.
During the course of it as I came across deep, dark thoughts in the silence, I could observe finally, that all they did was generate a sensation…and that most of these sensations have already passed, but the mind has held onto them. As a Zen saying goes, the snake has bitten and gone but the victim is still howling and cursing the snake.
* Observation / suffering
When an external event occurs, it enters our consciousness through the 5 sense doors. This creates a sensation in the body – either pleasure or pain. This can trigger either of the 2 possibilities for our mind – it can either trigger a reaction of clinging to the sensation, which is the beginning of suffering, or it can trigger a state of pure observation – which usually happens in case of a near death experience, or when one becomes trained in Vipassana.
At the end of each day, there was a discourse by Goenkaji, the founder of Vipassana movement, who would remind us to stop having the attitude of a victim and instead cultivate the attitude of an alert observer towards all sensations – in body and in life in general. This was the beginning of an active 24-hour practice of cultivating this attitude for me. Hence, Vipassana ceased being a technique, and has now transcended into a way of life.
* Focus on the sensation, not on the object
Far too often in several healing methodologies I would erroneously focus on the person / thing that triggered a reaction. By practicing Vipassana, I was able to rein my mind everytime I would focus on who or what triggered what. I realised that self-enquiry too went only upto a certain point. Beyond this point there is only sensation. One can keep changing the mirrors – the trigger points of these sensations, but the sensation is primary. This has been the most required change in my personal practice where 24-hours I actively am learning to bring back focus to the “inner world”, rather than who/what is the trigger.
* Upekkha – the practice of equanimity
I knew I had found my answer the evening when I heard Goenkaji saying that it is not only awareness one requires to practice, but also equanimity. The two go together, like the wings of a bird, and only when they are balanced, can one take the flight of liberation. I realised that this was the vital missing ingredient in my practice. I had heard about this quality, known as brahmavihaara, from Nithya Shanti. But I had always mistakenly assumed it to be a feeling. I realised English had got the better of me this time and all along I mistook it to be calmness. But through Vipassana I realised that upekkha is a practice – equanimity, like awareness, is a 24-hour practice. I realised that through the practice of anapanasati meditation – which is just one minor part of the Vipassana course – I had developed a great amount of awareness, but equanimity was missing. One situation and the mind went into a tizzy of thought cycles. To be non-reactive to mental action was still very difficult for me. But by practicing the Vipassana technique above the normal breath awareness was the only way to build the equanimity muscle of the mind. It is an absolute disciplining of the mind.
* Dhamma – the path of pure effortlessness
Through Vipassana I finally got a sense of what Gautama Buddha meant by dhamma (in Pali, dharma in Sanskrit) – a law of nature. Any avid trekker will know this from experience that when one treks in wilderness, one doesn’t start cutting through dense bushes, shrubbery, etc., but in fact finds the trails taken by wild animals. This is, in its most literal sense what dhamma is. When one surrenders one is automatically in the flow of nature. It carries us to the purpose we were designed for. But the moment one develops what is known as asakti, or stubbornness, for or against the situations that come to us through life, nature will see to it that we dissolve it by giving us less or more of that experience respectively. This is kamma (in Pali) or karma, in Sanskrit. This is the most basic, the highest of all laws and is absolutely universal and non-discriminatory in nature. When one stops resisting all and any of life, just focussing on the inner world of sensation and observing its transitory nature, with the mental discipline of detachment, one is automatically surrendered.
I realised that for a very long time I was mentally stressed over a job situation but in reality, it was me resisting my work at hand through all these thought cycles that created stress for me. The moment I dropped this resistance, surrendered with the trust that life knows what it is giving me, I realised that my only real job is to watch my own inner sensations, be non-reactive to them by practicing upekkha, and focus on the task at hand; there was no stress at all. This was a gift of understanding. It was simply about understanding that one has to turn the sails in the direction of the wind. And at this point, this whole concept of creating your own reality using the law of attraction appears to be nothing more than a superficial mind game. It feels more like dropping all the blocks to creation by giving in unconditionally.
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At the end of the course I realised vipassana was the gem I was seeking. Upekkha, reminding myself, “It’s just a sensation…it’s just a sensation…it’s just a sensation” alongwith observing sensation which in itself has restored the connection with my body beyond what I could fleetingly find with yoga and finally understanding dhamma, have been the most valuable teachings I have found through this entire year for which I am grateful to the universe and my teachers beyond measure.
Finally I could find peace beyond the sensations of the mind-body and there is a deep wonder about having discovered this first hand. I may not have emerged through this course with a silent, peaceful mind (something for which I had valiantly fought against it to achieve all along those 10 exhausting days), nor have I emerged having clarity about my life (which seems to have been the apparent result for some people who have attended the course), but I came out with the confidence that I can live with myself even as my mind is going crazy. And this in itself is a victory over death as I personally know it since it is the experience of passing through a black hole, never knowing the end of it, and yet emerging out of it finding an eternal part of you that is unaffected.
Dhamma is a way of life…not a concept. It is very nature itself that flows through each of us and the way in which we have ourselves been created. To experience it in action every moment of one’s life is the biggest blessing one could ever receive. Indeed, when one practices Vipassana, it becomes crystal clear that we are receivers primarily – right from birth to sensation to death, we are constantly receiving. The more we witness, inwardly silent, the more we open ourselves to receiving from life…and when Vipassana comes calling after suffering lifetime after lifetime, the clock has struck for liberation, and one must heed this calling.