Sunday, January 27, 2008

Vipassana Meditation III

In my last post, I gave a day-by-day account of my Vipassana meditation course. Now that I've been back almost a week, I'm in good stead to talk a bit more about what I've taken away from the course and how it continues to impact my daily life.

First off, the course was not a Buddhist course, even though it originates from that tradition. So while I did eat only vegetarian meals while I was there (which were excellent by the way), the first place I stopped after the course was over was Burger King for a Double whopper ;-) I did have to go without caffeine through the whole course, and that is something I have continued. I did have a half-cup a few days after the course was over, but I am enjoying my first taste of caffeine-free living after about 18 years of daily coffee intake.

Of much more interest is how this impacted me as a widower. My personality is such that normally I'm always living in the near-future, with frequent jaunts to the past. I had read a great deal about how to live in the present, but that never really meant much to me. Sure, I understood intellectually about paying attention to the five senses, but it is a totally different thing to do nothing but pay attention to one's breath and skin sensations for 10 hours a day for 10 days. I get it now. And I have been making good use of this new faculty over the past week. It has proven to be very helpful.

Of deeper significance is the aspect of impermanence (Pali: anicca). I have lost track of the many times this week that I have been impacted by events in some way and I have simply stopped and observed the impermanence aspect of life. My first inclination is no longer to react mentally to thoughts and events. I am now trained to observe rather than react. Sure, my mind still begins to race and lead me down a bunch of different paths. But now, I can quiet my mind by simply observing the instantaneous change in my breathing and notice the biochemical sensations that begin in my body. And I find myself repeating, "things rise up and they pass away." Absolutely nothing here on this planet is permanent, yet I tended to get attached to them. That tendency is lessening every day now.

I also am really glad that I was able to get really close to "me." Not the guy who always has 5 projects on the go, people to call, books to read, places to go. The guy who breathes. That guy. The guy who can just be, nothing more. There's been a lot of stuff I have been cramming into my life, and I'd built up a fair bit of angst at trying to get it all done. That is dissolving now, albeit slowly. I'm still working out what I want to have in my life from my pre-Vipassana days. It is kind of fun to be starting over, at least as far as prioritizing my days.

And lastly, I'm viewing much more of life as one big experiment, and things that happen to me as other, smaller experiments. This view of life from the position of the observer has added a real sense of balance to my life that was not there before.

OK, enough theory, here's an example. I remember my son was talking about his mom earlier this week, and my mind shifted into high gear about what his life would be like if Deb was still here. Within a few seconds, I was observing how my breathing had changed and how my body was reacting to my thoughts. I could feel a tightness and heaviness in my gut as my body made real the mental aspects of loss. And yet I was now no longer simply reacting; rather, I was observing this instance of the mind-body phenomenon at work. I noted that I had been feeling fine, then my son spoke, ideas began to flood my mind, my breathing pattern changed, and muscles started tensing in my body. And I observed that this phenomenon had risen up, and I knew that it would pass away. And it did, soon enough. I kept the balance of my mind, and my gut tension eased and I continued to enjoy the day with my son. The days when I would have been thrown for a loop and miserable for hours are well behind me now.

Of course, this is just one instance, and there have been other moments this past week when simply observing was not enough. In those cases, I could begin a few minutes of Anapana meditation and simply observe my breath. It immediately caused my mind to slow down and it was like I was reinforcing to my mind, "you are a great tool, but you are not the driver of my life. We're not going down that road today." And I observed that my mind relaxed. This whole process took maybe three minutes, and I didn't have to close my eyes or go into some kind of trance or anything. Just a simple observation of my breath as I was walking, nothing more. How very practical. How very handy. How very helpful.

So, Vipassana has made a lasting impression on me and given me some very valuable skills, ones that I use daily. It has positively impacted many areas of my life. I'm not only better as a single man, but I'm also a better consultant, friend, and father. My sense of well-being has increased a great deal, and I am more at peace. Was all this worth 10 days cut off from the outside world? You bet.

If any of these past few posts has intrigued you, I highly recommend you check out the Vipassana website and consider attending a course yourself. It is free, and it is a great way to spend some time getting to know the person who doesn't have any problems - the real you. You'll be glad you did.


Craig said...

Hi VIc,
I just finished reading your 3 post about Vipassana Meditation. I actually just got back tonight form a 3-day old student course and was explaining to my friend Ori my experience and in the process we came across your story. He is excited to attend his first sit in March.

Your explanation is excellent of the technique and the story of your journey into meeting yourself is truly inspiring.

I feel grateful to you Vic because of the honesty before, during your sit, and your reflections after. It seems that so many people, even after sitting, still do not want to face themselves, and I want you and your son to know that I will be sending regular metta your way.

If you ever make it to Austin, hit me up at my blog, there is a great Vipassana community here and we hold regular weekly sits. You are always welcome brother.

With metta,

Vic said...

Hey Craig,

Thanks so much for the positive feedback on my Vipassana blog posts. It was good for me to go back and read them again.

I really appreciate that you found my journey story inspiring. It was flat amazing to me! :-)

Thanks for sending metta my way. I know I haven't updated my blog in a while, but I've since remarried, had another son, and I'm in the process of adopting my new wife's son.

The neat thing about how I met my new wife is, I had just finished my first Vipassana course the previous week and was sitting back in my chair at home thinking, "I have no problems." What a position of strength from which to build a new life partnership!

And I still feel that I have no problems. I'm simply observing as this fascinating life unfolds before me.

And thanks for the offer of sitting in Austin. I may just take you up on that one day ;-)