1. I am the source of my own misery.
  2. Nothing is permanent.

These are two things I’ve realized during my first 10-day course of vipassana.

«Wow, what a discovery!» you may say. «Everyone knows that…» And so did I. Nevertheless, there was a trick—I realized it, and it made nothing but radical difference.

Imagine Bob. He is a smoker. He knows that smoking kills. Still do you see him trembling in fear? Now imagine Rob. He wakes up in the middle of a desert with a huge hairy tarantula on his face. Can you imagine him instantly coming up with the brilliant idea to make the removal of that spider a part of his New Year’s resolution? Or, let’s say, boldly claiming that he can throw it off whenever he wants, or even stating that tarantula calms him down?

This course helped me bridge the gap between knowing and realizing. Gradually. Step by step. Through practicing sheela, samma samadhi and panya.

Sheela is morality, which is achieved during the course through abstaining from:

  • killing any being (that is why all food is vegetarian)
  • stealing (all possessions are locked away)
  • sexual misconduct (men and women are separated)
  • telling lies (through practicing noble silence)
  • using intoxicants (such as alcohol, drugs, cigarettes).

The idea behind this is simple: you cannot meditate effectively if your morality isn’t strong.

When sheela is established, the next step is samma samadhi, which is a state of clear mind. This is gained through practicing anapana meditation. For 3 days the only thing you do is observing your breath—coming in and going out. Over and over again. Continuously.

This is the time when you face your own mind in its full megalomaniac insanity without a loophole of whatsoever character to escape this observation. I suddenly discovered that my mind is an agitated monkey with thousand arms stretching in all possible directions. Sometimes—simultaneously. It circled back and forth between the past and future occasionally taking me to some imaginary places. It tried to please me, upset me, make me feel good about myself, diminish me to complete nonentity, sexually arouse me and frighten me to death. It managed to do everything but one thing—remain in here and now. At some point I even wondered if all that chaotic and unquiet conglomeration of thoughts was actually me. Sooner or later though you realize that your mind wandered away and then you bring it back to observation of your breath. Coming in—going out. Over and over again. Continuously. And you keep it up until the next megalomaniac seizure takes your mind away to whatever direction.

Anapana is difficult. At least it appeared to me. But the more diligently you practice it, the clearer your mind becomes. By the end of day 3 you notice that your mind is less hectic and it takes less to realize it wandering away.

Once the mind is clear (more or less), you move to establishing in panya. Panya is wisdom. It is achieved through observation of slight sensations. Although these sensations are constantly present in the body, they are rarely registered. The reason is that our mind is not clear enough. This observation is called vipassana.

At first, you start small. You observe an area around your nose and upper lip. Thus whenever you stop feeling any sensations you can swiftly return to anapana without losing too much of concentration. On day 4, as vipassana commences, you are asked to move away from your nose and start observing sensations on the tip of the head and then slowly shift downwards to your occiput, temples, face, neck, upper limbs, trunk and lower limbs. Once you reach the toes, you move upwards in reverse order. This is basically all you do for the rest of the course. Every single day and on you equanimously, piece by piece, observe your body trying to overcome the threshold of gross sensations.

What are those sensations? They can be anything: itching, tingling, stabbing, warmth, cold, vibration, pain, etc. Half of them do not even have their own names. Sensitivity to sensations varies from person to person and from one body part to another.

At this point you may ask how exactly observation of sensations made me realize the following truths:

  1. I am the source of my own misery.
  2. Nothing is permanent.

The answer is simple though not as easy as it might seem.

The mind divides sensations into «pleasant» and «unpleasant» ones. I clearly saw how unpleasant sensations annoyed my mind while pleasant ones made it crave for them. But as soon as the pleasant sensation was gone, the mind got annoyed in a similar way! So I was utterly stuck in this loop circulating from bliss to frustration and back. Over and over again. And this is that very misery which felt like an endless experience. And the more I practiced, the clearer I was able to trace that miserable pattern. That’s how your panya becomes stronger and as a result you lessen your misery.

«Can’t I just find one pleasant sensation and stick to it eternally?» you may ask. Surely, you could—and here comes the second big question—if sensations were permanent. But you soon realize that they are not. No matter how pleasant this or that sensation is, it will pass. It is also true with the unpleasant ones. Scale these sensations up and you get emotions, compound feelings and behaviors. But the pattern remains the same.

So, the dilemma distills to this: «Is there really any point to suffer or crave over something that is impermanent?»

More info here.

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