In the previous installment of this series, I discussed the first part of the course. In this fourth installment of this series on the Vipassana 10-day Mediation course, I will describe the remainder of serious meditation time along with one of the key concepts learned in the course; the law of Anicca.
The Law of Anicca
The previous post may make it sound like the course is all about pain. Actually, it is about feeling the pain, but not creating suffering because of it. Typically, when we experience pain, either mental or physical, we want it to go away. We attempt to stuff it down, push it away or run away from it. We take some form of intoxicant, take medication or involve ourselves in some form of self-destructive behavior that just creates more pain in a different form. Things like alcoholism, drug addiction, retail therapy (shopping), extramarital affairs and treating others badly all come to mind as potential attempts at covering up our own pain.
What the course teaches is that pain is just another sensation. Just as pleasure is just another sensation. We should recognize them, but become attached to neither because this attachment only creates more suffering.
According to the Buddha, there are really only two things that create all human suffering; craving and aversion. We crave for what we want and don’t have and have aversions for things we have and don’t want. (I wrote more about this in a separate post). Either way we are creating suffering for ourselves because we are not accepting what is.
We feel pain and we fight against it. The pain is not creating our suffering; it is our fighting against it that creates the suffering. We feel pleasure and we become attached to it, which leads to suffering when the pleasurable experience has ended. We long for it to return and when it does not we crave for it and do all sort of crazy things to get it back.
Everything in life follows the law of anicca (pronounced aneecha) which means that everything is impermanent. All things rise and fall, come and go, enter and leave and there is nothing that we can do to control it.
Everything that we experience in life is like waves on the ocean. The waves swell and wane according to the will of the ocean, not our own. Fighting against the law of annica is like treading water in the middle of the ocean and trying to stop the wave that is coming towards you or begging the one that passed by to come back or getting angry with the wave that is off in the distance that will not come near you. Such behavior would be seen as true madness. Yet we all behave in such a manner every day.
The Rise and Fall of Past Experiences
Without the old monkey chatter material, the mind starts to dig up the old material that we stored away from past experiences. During the first few days of using the Vipassana technique, I started to notice something strange. It hit me one morning as I was walking to the bathhouse to get a shower. As I walked, I noticed memories from the past coming out of nowhere. Some of them I had not thought about in years.
As these memories arose, I noticed that they all had some emotional charge behind them. As one rose, I though “hmm, that usually makes me mad when I think about it.” When another one rose, I thought “hmm, that one usually makes me jealous when I think about it.” The strange thing was that I was not feeling those typical reactions. I was just noticing them and then they would pass away without my mood changing.
“Is the technique causing this to happen?” I wondered and later that night asked the teacher.
“Oh yes, that is a normal part of the technique. Your old emotionally charged memories will come to you. If you don’t react to them like you are learning to do with the physical sensations that arise during meditation, then they will pass away and lose their power”.
Essentially, by not reacting to them, I am removing the burdens of past experiences that I had been dragging around with me. I was lightening my emotional load.
This was my third life changing epiphany that came to me during this course. I now realized how much of an emotional drag I was creating for myself by holding onto these old memories and continuing to give them power. Now following the law of anicca, I could let them rise, notice them and then let them go.
Day 6 – Hitting Bottom Again
With all of these impactful life lessons that I was learning, you would think that things would have been going great for me in the course and I would be riding high. I was until day 6.
Every evening at about 8pm we would watch a video, called a discourse, of S.N. Goenka discussing the teachings of the course and explaining the technique and its history. In one of the videos shown towards the end of the course, he described how in days 4 and 6 most people experienced turmoil. I was right in line with that statistic. Day 4 was the day that I wrote about in the last post where I almost quit. Day 6 strangely enough had me feeling that strong tug to get out of this place and go back home.
I was tired, I was losing my ability to hold a meditation posture through the entire hour sessions, I was again homesick, and I was experiencing this rollercoaster ride of past experiences coming to the surface constantly. It was emotionally, physically, and mentally draining.
After the last meditation session on day 6 I went back to my bunk frustrated, angry, and tired. I pushed my alarm clock to the side without setting it for its normal 4am wake call. I slept until about 6am missing the morning meditation session, the wake up gongs that went off every morning and the commotion of my roommates getting up in the morning.
When I awoke, I felt refreshed and renewed. I noticed that some of my cabin mates must have been going through the same thing because several of them were still in bed as well.
I had successfully overcome my third bout of a strong desire to run away. Somehow, I had survived. The announcement to come in day 7’s evening discourse video would bring even more charge back into my desire to finish this course.
Day 7 – What do you mean it’s almost be over?
In the day seven evening discourse, Goinka announced that days 8 and 9 were the last two days of serious meditation and on day 10 noble silence would be lifted and serious meditation would be over.
Everyday up to that point, I had been counting the days and wanting the days to move faster so that I could get to the end. Now with that announcement, I felt sad and concerned. “I am not done with learning the technique. I am not ready for this to be over. I need more time to get better at this.”
Isn’t that the way the mind works? When you are in a situation, the mind claims to want to be in a different situation. When you finally get to the new situation, the mind harkens back to the good times that it misses in the old situation.
This is one of the tricks that the mind plays on you to keep you out of the present moment. The mind is either reliving memories from the past or thinking about things in the future. The mind never wants to just be.
Now that I was past day 6 and feeling back on track, I was back with a “strong determination” for completing this course. I was once again maintaining my posture for the hour mediation sessions and feeling the life changing effects of the tools I was learning.
In the next and final installment of this series, I will describe the completion of the course and the return to society.