We are all gathered here in this world to get through this thing called life. As there are no specific instructions on how to do this, we must go by feel a lot of the time, and when we do, we realize that all we really want is to suffer less and be more happy. But it is not always enough to know this, and most of us are not always happy even though we want to be.
Vipassana meditation is a way of practicing being more happy and deal with suffering more skillfully.
We are all trying to condition our lives in order to feel better; this urge to feel good drives us to go to work, start a family, care about our health and many more wonderful things. But no matter how skilled we are in setting up our lives around us, we are still bound to go through some hard times that may cause us suffering. Vipassana is for these times.
Some of us are doing very well at the moment, staying clear of the hard times (for the moment at least) and progressing in setting up the conditions for our lives; we are good at our jobs, we have what we need and we may even have more. Yet, for some of us, this doesn’t mean that we are free from worries and full of joy. Perhaps we are even irritated and restless from time to time. Vipassana is for those of us.
For some others, it seems that no matter how hard they try, life does not go the way they want it to. Maybe they are struggling just to stay alive. Vipassana is for those of us too.
The thing is that when we are only focused on the conditions of our lives, we can never be completely free, because we depend on these conditions to make us happy. Everything is bound to change – this can be considered a law of nature! And when the things we depend on start changing, we are at risk of suffering. All it takes, is that whatever change takes place is one which we do not like. Also, even if we may like the change; changes are always hard anyway!
Vipassana meditation is a way of practicing becoming more independent of the changing conditions of our lives. This means that when something bad happens, which we know we cannot completely avoid, a skilled Vipassana meditator can still remain with a calm, clear and balanced mind and accept that this bad thing that happened is simply part of our natural life.
When our mind is calm and accepting, joy can flourish even in times of trouble.
(When I find myself in times of trouble, my meditation skills comes to me: Speaking words of wisdom, let it be! I couldn’t resist…)
One may initially think, that if we start to decondition our minds so that we will not react as strongly when bad things happen, we will not be able to react with joy when good conditions are present. But we must then look closer at what our happiness and joy really is: It is a very natural state we are in when we are relaxed, content and accepting of where we are in the here and now. Before we have become skilled Vipassana meditators we are relaxed, content and present whenever things go “our way”, and so we can be happy. But when things go “against us”, we lose our cool. The skilled Vipassana meditator does not. (Just have a look at the guy in the photo above! He is the one that I learned Vipassana from. He lives with his son, has practically no possesions and he works hard every day for no pay to share his cool-skills – and look how friggin happy he is!!)
Normally, our mind has a strong tendency to follow whichever feelings that are present in our body, and react according to these. This is the conditioning. For instance, if we see someone we don’t like, we may start to get upset and angry. But seeing this person is really just a visual sensory experience produced in our brain, if you really try to stick to the hard facts of the observation. But our mind follows along with emotions of contempt and aversion, because it has been conditioned to do so as a default response to this visual impression. The visual impression of this person starts a chain reaction of memories and old feelings and things may just take off from there…
A condition like this takes effort to change, but even if we are not Vipassana meditators we know that this is possible! Because sometimes people we dislike end up becoming our friends. Or the other way around. This shift is merely a reflection of a change in the conditions of our minds: Same sight of a person, different emotions – perhaps emotions of love and affection this time around.
There are thousands, if not millions, of conditions of our minds. Whenever we perceive any sensory experience of taste, touch, smell, sound and sight, our mind reacts with certain emotions in accordance with how the mind is conditioned. This happens very automatically most lot of the time, for instance we do not have to think twice about reacting with anger if someone steps on our toes on purpose – it happens very naturally!
These conditions are necessary for us to live our lives like we do, as humans. They are therefore not something that we should condemn, but rather appreciate. However, if we do not attend to this conditioning of our minds and just let it happen entirely on its own, the conditions that are created in our minds, may not be the ones that make us the most happy. We can do better if we take part responsibility at least..or even better: Full responsibility! Which is what the Vipassana meditator aims to do.
So, another key point to what Vipassana meditation is:
In Vipassana meditation, we attend to the conditioning of our minds. By sensing as many sensory impressions in the body as possible, while practicing ‘non-reaction’ to any of them, old habitual reacting patterns are slowly being replaced. Replaced with what, exactly? A focused mind, which calmly watches the sensory impression taking place. From that point on, we can get involved with whichever reaction we wish should follow – it could be the same as before, who knows? But the Vipassana meditator has a choice!
Furthermore, observing rather than reacting blindly, calms the mind, and thus better mental conditions for joy are present!
By practicing like this, the Vipassana meditator becomes very skilled in sensing all the parts of the body, even parts of the intestines, heart and inside the skull. When this skill is developed sufficiently, the whole body feels like a loud buzz of vibrations of many different kinds. This may sound uncomfortable, but it is actually very comfortable.
The meditator focuses all attention on each little part of the body, one at a time, and meanwhile many different emotions arise in the mind. These emotions seem to arise all by them selves, without us having to do anything. They arise as a consequence of the conditioning of our mind and the sensory impressions that are present. It is the meditators practice to choose not to react at all instead of automatically getting carried away with the emotions that are encountered.
When observing each little sensory experience that arise in each little place on our body for a long time, eventually all that can be felt in each point will have been felt. And accordingly, all the old conditioning will have been replaced with a new one: A more observant, aware and intelligently responsive one! When this has happened, then everything we encounter in life, is then felt in our bodies as sensory experiences, and we will then not get carried away with any of it. We therefore can live life more on whichever terms we chose.
Observing all these sensory experiences that make up our lives, are truly blissful when we are not getting lost in them.
When we do not react automatically to what happens around us, we are more in charge of how we want to act. When automatic conditions of our minds produce strong emotions in our bodies, often we are not in full control (if any!) of what we may do when we are in this ill mental state. For instance, if our natural reaction to some thing that happens to us, is to become angry, we may speak back in a hard tone, perhaps even shout back, to the ones we love. Or we may do things that we would have done differently, if we were more sober, so to say. Anger, as an example, can really intoxicate us. Just like fear can paralyze us and desire can make us chase ghosts indefinitely.
It is important to remember, that by reconditioning ourselves like this, we are not making ourselves less happy. Some may think, that by doing this we become like robots or even vegetables. This is actually the number one thing people always respond with! (It is their left brain hemisphere, perhaps, which always has to interpret everything around us in accordance with our establish logic/belief system. More on cognitive neuroscience later, stay tuned!)
But this idea is far from the truth. A skilled Vipassana meditator is always content in the present moment, and can therefore enjoy life to the fullest. Spontaneous laughter and joy is what comes out of this mental state, as there are no barriers to hinder it; no restlessness, anger, irritation, frustration! Just acceptance of the here and now.
And please note: “Acceptance of all in the here and now” does by no measure mean “stand back and never respond in any intelligent way to life”! It rather means that if the skilled Vipassana meditator faces unwanted situations, he has a damn clear mind to get those situations under control. Whereas other people, normal people, may be grumpy, frustrated or perhaps even lay down and whine about it!
And after all, it is not the practice of the meditator to stop enjoying life, in fact the whole point of this practice is to become more joyful. And also: We all want to suffer less and be more happy, don’t we? Vipassana meditator or not, that sh*t’s common to all!
Furthermore, this presence is something all the people in the lives of the meditator will benefit from. Because this skilled artist of life is so very content here and now, it is possible for him to be there for all loved ones without any distractions.
Also, some may think that this skilled meditator would give up on all of his ambitions in life, because it would seem that he would just prefer sitting on his butt, doing nothing. Being a happy bum-hole. But this is not true at all. Just because the meditator has freed himself from the turbulent ride of emotions that the old, conditioned mind dragged him through, does not mean that the meditator stops having fun – on the contrary!
One great example of this is, again, the person that I learned Vipassana from. He used to be a business man, very successful, although not truly happy or fulfilled. He started practicing Vipassana meditation and discovered that he started becoming more joyful, and furthermore, the migraine he had had for years, went away.
After 14 years of perfecting his practice, he left the business life in order to teach this skill to others full time. He ended up establishing 170+ meditation centers all over the world. Over a period of nearly 45 years, hundreds of thousands of people have attended his courses. He never charged anything for giving out these lessons, as he was taught by his own teacher, that this type of wisdom should be taught to others out of compassion, and compassion alone. All the courses offered on these 170 sites are therefore run solely on donations, and the staff that are required to arrange all these courses, are all volunteers. – A true testimony of thousands of people that this stuff works!
Vipassana is no religion! It is a hardcore get-to-know-thyself technique, that you practice and you practice hard! If you just believe in something, you don’t get squat for it! Faith and devotion can be fine, but going around in circles around a statue or closing your hands together in a prayer can only get you so far. It sure as hell ain’t gonna do squat for the conditioning of your mind. Vipassana is!
Vipassana is not for the bliss-junkies who like to sit cross legged all day and get a buzz on (which you can with certain, different techniques). No, screw the friggin buzz! It may come or it may not – who the heck cares if you’re gonna go frantic as soon as it goes away?! Then you would just be like a junkie.. The only thing that can stay is the condition of your mind, and that surely has a real effect on you every moment of your life!
That should essentially sum up what Vipassana is as a brief introduction. Remember, I have written none about the way one actually has to do Vipassana meditation yet. So as intellectually stimulating as this post has been, it has not taught a thing about the practice of Vipassana. Therefore, if you read this and go “Arh, this makes sense, kindof. I think I get it!”, then remember, that you still have to actually learn this. And you cannot read your way to it. You have to practice the technique!
But more on that later…