I will be honest, following the 10 day Vipassana course last June I have really not kept up my meditation practice at all but have recently been really missing it, and although I have yet to make it to my cushion for a one hour stretch I have been trying to sneak in little sessions whenever I can. At home, on the TTC, when I am walking… It is not quite the same but I have actually really been craving it lately so I am hoping this will lead me to really renew my practice.
I have also been missing the wise words of S.N. Goenka, the current foremost teacher of Vipassana in the world. The Toronto Public Library only has one of his books, which is a collection of essays, interviews, and talks, all of which I have been devouring since getting the book last week. There is nothing in here that I did not hear during the 10-day course, but it has been a welcome refresher. Here is one part that I would like to share
Mind and matter are completely interrelated at the depth level, and they keep reacting to each other. When anger is generated, something starts happening at the physical level. A biochemical reaction starts. When you generate anger, there is a secretion of a particular type of biochemistry, which starts flowing with the stream of blood. And because of that particular biochemistry which has started flowing there is a very unpleasant sensation. That chemistry started because of anger. So naturally it is very unpleasant. And when this very unpleasant sensation is there, our deep unconscious mind starts reacting with more anger. A vicious circle has started. Vipassana helps us interrupt that vicious cycle. A biochemical reaction starts; Vipassana teaches us to observe it. Without reacting, we just observe. This is pure science. If people don’t want to call it Vipassana, they can call it by another name, we don’t mind. But we must work at the depth of the mind.
Goenka has always described Vipassana as a scientific approach. One that is completely divorced from any religious dogma. In fact this technique can be an incredible compliment to any spiritual/religious practice. It is universal. When you read his words, you really start to see what he means. The thinking basically is that when we are not aware of our emotions at a deep level we let them rule us and control us and they go unchecked. Negative emotions first punish us because, let’s face it, they don’t feel good, and secondly they punish those around us because of the negative energy, harsh words, or terrible attitude we give off. Vipassana is a way to stop this cycle through the observation of breath and bodily sensations. There is no chanting, worship, rites, or rituals. No visualizations, no artifacts, and no cost. It just takes training, discipline, and yourself.
I am constantly upset with myself for not keeping up the practice as I hoped I would. Not even because of the lack of discipline this represents, but because I am so curious to see what would happen if I really kept it up for a long period of time. Perhaps the time to find out is now. Time to pull out the cushion and get sittin’.
One last quote before I go. A poem that Goenka relates in the book
It is easy enough to be pleasant;
When life flows like a sweet song.
But the man worthwhile,
Is the one who can smile,
When things go dead wrong.
As soon as I read this I was reminded of a very beautiful song originally written by Joe “Red” Hayes and Jack Rhodes, but the cover I am most familiar with comes from none other than the incredible Jeff Buckley (surprise surprise – Jeff Buckley makes another appearance on the Shanty :) Although, Johnny Cash also does a great version so check that one out too.
I should also make it clear that it is not only negative emotions that can impact us in a negative way, according to Vipassana. It is not the emotions themselves that really create the problems it is the craving and the aversion that we create based on the emotions. There is nothing wrong with being happy, but when we create strong cravings towards these happy feelings we also create pain for ourselves. This is something that is quite tricky to understand and an aspect I have trouble with, but the best way I can think about it is to picture a boat floating on the water. The waves may come and go (emotions) but the boat is always relatively steady. Meditation teaches us to be that boat. We can experience the highs and lows but we are not being swept under by the lows, nor are we longing for the heights in their absence. We just are content to keep floating along and take things as they come. Much easier said than done.