Vipassana is not cool. It’s confrontational
“Vipassana is like surgery for the mind.”S.N. Goenka
Vipassana is the meditation technique to reach enlightenment. It was discovered and taught by the Buddha about 2500 years ago.
Sounds like cool stuff, right?! Well, yes and no. It is important to understand that Vipassana Meditation is not mysterious, or mystical, or relaxing! Not at all.
On the contrary, it is confrontational, sometimes boring, and usually pretty frustrating. The goal of the practice is to finally reach a point where, when difficult emotions arise, they have absolutely no effect on your well-being. Yes, that’s a good thing.
When you know that there is dysfunction in the mind, whether it’s stress, anger, jealousy, hate, or other strong emotions that seem to boil up and overflow beyond control, these feelings are preventing you from being free.
They cause suffering, and as humans in the dance of life, we start to believe that suffering is just part of the package. I used to think so, too. But, what the Buddha taught, and what Vipassana is all about, is that suffering is only a thing that the mind creates and that we allow to happen. Either because we are not willing to do the work to stop it, or we haven’t yet been shown the way to end it.
The Buddha is a Doctor
In the first two of the 4 Noble Truths, he diagnosed the problem (suffering) and identified its cause. The 3rd Noble Truth is the realization that there is a cure. The 4th Noble Truth, in which the Buddha set out the Eightfold Path, is the prescription, the way to achieve a release from suffering.
If you know that sometimes you let little things ruin your day, or you let other people’s words and actions put you in a funk or make you incredibly angry, then you are suffering, unnecessarily.
On the flip side, if you are only truly happy when you receive compliments, love, or validation from others, you are suffering, too. People’s opinions and feelings about you will invariably change leaving you miserable and searching for a new external source of happiness once the love faucet starts to go cold.
As a metaphor, we can look at this suffering like a disease. When you know that disease is present in the body, and it is affecting your well-being in a negative way, you have to do the hard, scary task of going in and removing it from the source. In the same way that a surgeon identifies a tumor and must go in to remove it, we can do the same with our “mind tumors” through the practice of meditation.
“Anicca” is my new favorite word
My New Favorite Word is “Anicca”. It is prronounced like ‘uh-knee-chuh’, and it means “everything changes”, “everything is in a flux”.
“Whatever arises passes away; observe this through Vipassana. What a pure path of happiness! Not a trace of suffering remains!”– GoenkaS.N. Goenka
I’m sure you know, as I also knew before Vipassana, that everything changes. That the seasons change, that people change, that circumstances, relationships, jobs, everything changes. Yes, we know this on both a theoretical as well as physical level, as we watch lines slowly crevice our faces. As grey hairs pop up out of nowhere. As climate change proves to be more than an abstract idea. We know that change is the law of nature.
Still – it’s so easy to get irrationally emotional when people change, when life changes, when things don’t end up the way we thought they would. Oftentimes we live our lives in a state of low-grade chaos, feeling like we’re not in control of our own happiness. Because we can’t control the changes!
So, instead of controlling the changes, we can learn how to prevent them from disturbing our peace. Every sensation, whether good or bad, beautiful or ugly, desirable or deplorable, comes and goes.
The Unbearable Itch
For example, when you sit in silence and stillness for an hour, you might notice a little itch on your leg. You bring your awareness to the itch, and the natural result of the awareness of the itch, is to relieve the suffering – you itch it.
But Vipassana asks you NOT to scratch. Oh my god, have you ever not scratched an itch?? It seems IMPOSSIBLE. It absorbs all of your energy, churns up crazy hailstorms of anger and anticipation and fear that if you don’t DO SOMETHING, the unpleasant sensation will never go away!
And then, the most magical thing happens…the itch stops. All by itself. You go back to your breath, and a few seconds later, it’s as if it never existed at all. Poof!
But then another few seconds later, there is a pain in your knee. And it swells, and torrents of electrical curses tear up and down your leg. You think if you don’t change your position, you will definitely do some permanent damage. You start tiptoeing into this horrible fantasy, where you are unable to use your leg from this moment on, your yoga career goes up in flames, and a knee replacement is definitely in your foreseeable future. And this whole nightmare would be resolved if you could only just move! Just an inch, that’s all…!
And the story goes on and on, the pain floods in and swells, and the more you panic, the worse it feels. Until….magically….the pain subsides. You bring your awareness to your toes, and can still feel a pulse. You mentally scan the entire leg and notice that no joints have exploded, no tendons have torn, and your knee is the very same knee it always was. All of the drama for nothing.
What Vipassana Teaches Us
Vipassana is here to teach us, in a very nails-on-the-chalkboard kind of way, that ALL sensations come and go. No matter what, and with no exceptions. Both pleasant and unpleasant.