The Vipassana Meditation Technique
Updated: Apr 7, 2020
In this post I would like to talk about another meditation technique called Vipassana that can be used to break through the illusion in which you find yourself into.
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.”
“It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways.”
In these years, during my journey, I came to know many different techniques to be able to answer the most compelling question for me: "Who Am I?". Answering to this question has been the main concern for many people through different cultures and time periods. It was interesting to discover that each tradition has developed its own technique to be able to tackle this question and that the answer for all of them was the same. No matter which path you are going to choose, it will lead to the same realization because reality is One and so are you.
According to your life style, personality and interests you might be more eager to master one or two of these techniques to be able to break the spell. Some people are more suitable to self-inquiry, other to meditation or to contemplation, mantra chanting, Kryia yoga, psychedelics, dark rooms. There are tens of different ways to approach this question and no one is absolutely better than another. You just need to go through them and pick up the one that is more close to your way of being. Of course each technique have its own way of guiding you toward your nature and it is important to be aware about the features of each one. Both a Ferrari and a Panda are cars able to take you to the desired destination but one might be too much for you to take. Choose wisely your own vehicle.
The common feature of these techniques is that they will challenge your most intimate believe system, your existential assumptions about who you are and this is going to be threatening for everyone willing to deal with its own shit. Fear is going to be the most predominant emotion along this journey because fear is the main guardian to keep you away from the realization of your true Self. Fear opposes to Love.
Last week I have talked about the "Do-Nothing" technique and today I would like to talk about another quite similar approach to be able to realize how much your mind is responsible for creating your own reality and for what we think we are. Unlike contemplation ("Contemplation - Am I The Body?") that tries to use the mind to tackle existential questions through self-inquiry and active questioning, meditation is mostly meant to quiet mind, to calm down the constant inner dialogue that is happening in your head in order to realize that which is aware of all these movements ("No- Self: The First Step Towards You", "Look Within You"). Meditation simply invites you to self-observation.
Two years ago I have attended a 10 days Vipassana silent retreat in Italy that helped me enormously to become aware of many of my weaknesses and limitations imposed by the mind. Here I would like to describe you what a Vipassana retreat is about to encourage you in taking active steps towards this journey.
What is a Vipassana retreat?
It is a meditation retreat where your job is simply observing any bodily sensations arising in your body. At the beginning of this retreat you need to commit yourself in following some simply rules that are meant to help you focusing on your task of observing yourself. Among them you are asked to:
Not talk for the entire retreat with anyone (best even not to yourself)
You are not allowed to read or write anything down
You cannot use any device to communicate outside
You cannot kill any living organism
You have to retain yourself from any sexual pleasure
You cannot smoke or assume any drug
You must follow a vegetarian diet
I want to stress the fact that these rules have nothing to do with morality but they simply aim to remove possible distractions that might prevent you to have important insights. Even more importantly, they represent the best way to piss your mind off and by doing so you are going to become more aware how your mind rules you as a puppet. Mind is always looking for something to do and by removing most of the activities is used to be busy with, it is going to fight back hard. Really hard, trust me. Only in this way, mind can be exposed and tamed.
Man and female are lodged in different buildings and during the meditation session they are gathered back together in the same room but on different sides. During the retreat some volunteers will cook and serve the food for you and they will clean the common spaces. The retreat has zero costs: the food, the shared bedrooms and all the facilities are for free. Anyway, at the end of the week you will be asked to make an offer according to your possibilities to allow other people to attend this retreat.
During the day there are several sessions of meditation, each during around 1 hour. Keeping the position and the attention for so much time might be a huge obstacle for many people that are used to occupy their life with plenty of activities. At the beginning of the third day you are going to be asked to apply "The principle of strong determination", that, is, a commitment to not open your eyes or move your body for the whole session no matter how painful is going to be. You simply need to observe whatever sensation arises within you.
The aim of this technique is to purify your mind and observe any bodily sensations and emotion arising in your body. Initially the technique focuses on observing the normal breath and the area under the nose trying to sharp your awareness by perceiving subtle sensations arising in this area without any mental or physical reaction. Then the attention shifts gradually to the entire body, from head to feet, back and forth, in a symmetric way. The technique, when done for a certain amount of time and diligence, will allow you to perceive not only gross sensations like muscle pain or headache, but also more subtle sensations that are usually unnoticed. The mind of most people is so active that most of our bodily sensation cannot be detected. With time the mind will get quieter and you will be able to perceive sensations that you were never aware of.
The final aim of this technique is to experience a state of total physical dissolution where your all body vibrates. By having this experience you will directly become conscious that matter or physicality does not really exist and that it is only the result of a busy mind.
Though I could not experience the total dissolution of my body in this occasion, during the retreat I had time to realize many other aspects about how mind functions and how fear works in keeping you away from doing this work. Here are three insights I had during this retreat that I want to share with you.
1. Human reactions are not generated by the external world but by our self. We are responsible of our own actions. We react to the meaning that mind gives to any circumstance, not to the external event. Problems and suffering are not generated by others but are self-generated.
2. We do not desire or crave for a physical object or a physical person but for the emotions, sensations or the ideas associated to it. Once the desired object or person is obtained, sensations are satisfied and we will simply chase for something new. The physical object does not represent the real impulse that make us move in attaining it. The real urge comes from the personal and subjective desire and the sense of lack that makes us take action in order to fulfill the emptiness within us.
3. Bodily sensations are a fundamental tool at our disposal to recognize our limits, behavioral patterns, habits and to liberate our self from them if dysfunctional. Not by suppression or negation but by self-observation, non-reaction, and by realizing that everything is impermanent. Whenever a negative thought arises, you are invited to observe it appearing and disappearing without reacting, realizing that nothing will happen to you. Negative thoughts have such a power on us because we give power to them. By simply observing their movement of coming and going, you will realize that nothing bad can come out of it. We are so used to react to what our mind tells us to do that we miss the important fact that we, our self, are the thoughts-creator-machine and that therefore we should be in control of our own creations. By identifying our self (whatever we are) with the mind, we are bound to constantly move in the attempt of finding happiness outside us.
One thing that you will notice after the first day is that many personal issues and ego dramas will be amplified, to be almost unbearable to stand. Though this might be seen as not a pleasant experience to have (and it is not), it represents a real occasion to become aware of your most inner fears that limit your self in your daily life. The main problem of many of us is that we constantly suffer and most of the time we do not know why. We are totally unconscious of the reasons by which we end up suffering. Vipassana pushes you to suffer voluntarily, to be conscious of your own fear and only in this way you will be able to act and defeat your inner monsters. Consciousness is the light that has to be shed on your personal shadows and fears in order to transcend them.
Realizing that all our fears and obstacles are self-created and self-imagined gives you the power to destroy them. If suffering was caused by external causes we could not do much about it, right? But this technique will show you that it is not the case. You suffer? Blame yourself.
Doing nothing and getting bored is not an "activity" present in the mind agenda. Mind likes to do, to act, to move, to create, to invent, to accomplish and it will fight you with all its power in convincing you that you are losing your time. I remember vividly having these thoughts during my third day of doing nothing: “What are you doing here 10 days sitting!”, “You are wasting your time!”, “You should be out there getting a job!”. Once these intimidation did not work, my mind went to some dark place where violence, anger, sex where running like a movie without stopping. It was hell but worth it. My mind got quieter and I could focus more easily on my body sensations.
Even though it was the hardest day during the retreat, it was the most meaningful one. It taught to me that everything comes and goes and that nothing in nature is permanent. It taught to me that whatever my true nature was, I had the power of stopping victimizing myself and blaming others for the suffering I was experiencing and to take responsibility for the kind of thoughts I was creating in my life. It taught to me that non-reaction is a powerful tool to break the vicious circles of mind. It taught to me that choices based on mind are going to be self-centered and based on survival.
To recap the most important and powerful teaching of this meditation technique are:
Learn to self-observe your own emotions, feelings, mind movements and bodily sensations.
When arising do no react to them but witness their disappearance, realizing that you are not affect in any way by their coming and going. Your true self cannot be bothered by any experiences, emotions or feelings. You are that which witnesses all these movements without being affected. Only the mind, that is, what you are currently identifying with, will react using blaming, judging, labeling, lying, naming as tools to survive and to shed fear towards anything that might threaten its agenda.
Realize that everything is impermanent.
I definitely invite you to attend one of this retreat. Though there is also the possibility to attend a 3 days retreat, I will suggest you to go for the 10 days because in my personal experience and talking to other people it is after the 3rd day that you will get the best out of this experience. If you are a total new-baby on meditation consider that this retreat might be too much to handle.
Thanks for reading.