I’ve recently emerged from the silent world of a 10-day Vipassana course. I was curious about it for a long time, having seen and heard many friends coming out of these 10 days with a transformed outlook about life and its challenges. It seemed to be the next step on my journey towards self-discovery and awakening, that started two years ago when I went on an ayahuasca retreat in Peru that made me quit my corporate job, become a yoga teacher, move to Thailand and live in the middle of the jungle for 10 months, teaching and learning from nature and people in equal measures. Anyway, I digress… back to the vipassana.
For those not familiar with it, vipassana is a meditation technique that basically consists in being constantly aware of the sensations in the body. The first three days of the course are spent concentrating in the sensation the breath produces within the small triangular area comprised of the nose and area above the upper lip. On the forth day we start to spread awareness on the sensations on the rest of the body, from the top of the head to the toes.
It seems quite trivial and in the beginning it is difficult to comprehend how focusing on the physical sensations can lead one to go deep into the mind and eventually achieve union with the universe. The explanation is rather simple: our state of mind (either happiness or misery) is caused by the reaction of our mind to the sensation a certain feeling or emotion causes in the body. If something good happens, the physical sensation we have is a good one, so we want to remain in that state forever, clinging to the sensation and therefore feeling sad (or angry, or depressed) when that sensation goes away. We then start craving for that sensation, not knowing when or if we will feel it again, it brings up feelings of anxiety, despondency and dissatisfaction. The same principle applies when negative feelings or emotions arise. The sensations they produce in our bodies can be extremely unpleasant, so we react by rejecting and creating aversion to these sensations, and sometimes, in a twisted way, also clinging to these sensations so we can play the victim. Wishing it to go away quickly seems to make it last longer, the same way that clinging to a pleasant sensation seems to make it go away quicker. So the trick with observing the sensations in our body is to train the mind to acknowledge the sensations without creating any attachment or aversion to them, and more important, to remember that whatever the sensation is, it is always impermanent. As the saying goes: “This too, shall pass”.
Regarding my personal experience: as the days went by, keeping this focus started to bring up many things that were hidden deep in my subconscious, things that I pushed down at the time because I didn’t want to deal with them, either because they were too painful or because I deemed them unimportant, perhaps to protect myself. One by one, memories came up, memories of things so random such as a childhood misbehave or something an ex said that maybe it was so hurtful that I left it hidden deep down under all the other rubbish. The breakthrough came around day 7: When these thoughts came up, I eventually could see them for what they really are: just thoughts. The acts have long gone and there is nothing I can do about them now, so what is the point of holding on to them, letting them define me, or either missing something that has gone or resenting something that happened so long ago. When I put them into perspective, I saw how insignificant they are in the grand scheme of things and how much weight I was carrying around unnecessarily. The realisation of how much we accumulate inside of us can be brutal. There were days I felt guilty and so angry at myself, days I felt miserable and questioned what was the point of everything I’ve done in my life so far.
But it’s not all just pain and suffering. There were also moments, albeit fleeting compared to the usual struggle, when I felt lighter. There was this pleasant, subtle wave of energy running through my body. The tingling sensation seemed to expand to a point where I didn’t know the boundaries between my skin and the space surrounding it. It was as if I had no body, or as if my body had expanded in such a way that it encompassed all that was around it. It was the elusive moment when myself and the world became one. It didn’t last long and it only happened a couple of times but that was enough. Enough to make all my worries become so unimportant, so small, compared to the feeling of bliss and connection those brief moments brought about. I saw what the most important thing was: love. The universal love that is inside us, that we look for outside of us for so long and with so much dedication that we forget that the source is actually within. Saying that you have to love yourself first to then be able to love and be loved by others is perhaps the most cliché sentence someone could say, but when you actually experience it, this self love that is huge, because then you realise that you are one with the universe, then you understand its veracity.