Dec 13, 2005 1:02 am
I got a lift home with Evil Chris and several other new-found friends (including Dewa, who couldn’t wait to get home so he could put his daughter’s bedroom door back on). We were still north of Nambour when the engine died and we were stranded on the side of the highway on a hot summer’s day — and Chris wasn’t covered for breakdowns. Ordinarily it would be quite frustrating, but it didn’t really faze any of us (as you would hope it wouldn’t). A solution would present itself. Sure enough, within two hours we were cruising down the highway in air-conditioned comfort at someone else’s expense.
I arrived home late afternoon to find a ticket to a rock concert sitting on my desk. I’d bought it knowing full well I would be coming back from 10 days of meditation. But now I wasn’t so sure I wanted to go. I decided caving in to an aversion wasn’t the most auspicious start to my return to the real world, so off I went.
It was a very strange night. I enjoyed the music immensely (Okkervil River) but was completely equanimous as well. The sensations were overwhelming, especially when I closed my eyes. My nose was on fire with intense tingling from the cigarette smoke, and my sunburn from earlier that day was radiating off the top of my head in waves. The only thing I can compare it too, and it is a bit melodramatic, is The Lord of the Rings movies when Frodo puts on the ring. Raw sensation assaulting my body. I appreciated what it might be like to be blind, and “see” sound and smell.
As I was sitting there against a wall, letting it all wash over me, a girl jumped on top of me and hugged me, completely unexpectedly. I didn’t react at all. Normally I would’ve flinched or pushed her away instinctively. Instead, I opened my eyes, smiled, and said: “Hello.” She drew back and stared at me for a few seconds. Then she said: “You’re not Greg.”
At the end of the course, the teacher Goenka suggested there were three tests by which we should measure the meditation technique we had been taught:
(1) Is it rational?
(2) Does it produce results?
(3) Does it harm oneself or others?
I went into the course to find some balance, to quieten my mind, and came out with my worldview deepened and expanded. Despite the best scepticism I could muster, I was forced to come to the following conclusions:
(1) Is it rational?
Yes. Terrifyingly rational. The most pitiless logic of anything I have ever experienced. Attachment to cravings and aversions leads inevitably to suffering. Becoming aware of your sensations and remaining equanimous with them is freedom from the tyranny of the self. This is not an intellectual argument I have come to agree with; it is my direct experience. I understand it on a level I never did before.
There were a few minor traces of ritual and myth draped over the technique, but not many. In any case, it would be silly for me to say a sports car doesn’t work because it has a few garish stripes down the side. The technique itself is pure psychology.
(2) Does it produce results?
Absolutely. I feel more at ease with myself. My attention span is longer. My senses are sharper. I am more accepting of change. I am less focused on the future and more aware of the passing moment. My days seem twice as long, in a good way — I feel like I’m in the zone more often. I am less judgemental. I am not as stressed; I can see the stress and tiredness in other people’s faces.
Now when someone directs negativity towards me, I don’t always do what I used to, which was to respond in kind, or suppress my emotion by distracting myself. Instead, I focus on the reactions in my body – my breathing, the slight increase in heart-rate. The simple act of observation brings them back to normal and I find I can respond in a much calmer way. They can keep their negativity to themselves. Of course, the test will be when someone really pisses me off…
(3) Does it harm oneself or other beings?
I only remember one direct quote from Goenka. Appropriate to my nature, it’s a general statement: “Any meditation based on bodily sensation is a meditation of liberation”. The meditation has really made me aware of my complete ignorance about my own body. I want to have a better understanding of my anatomy and physiology, to be able to know what the sensations within my body actually represent.
As you might’ve gathered, for me the course was painful, but rewarding. I can see now the reason it was both those things was entirely my own doing. Others have different experiences. To take just one example, all the memories I dealt with were from the last few years; other people went back to their childhood. One guy was remembering things that happened to him when he was 2 years old. My experience, while in many ways extraordinary, was not unusual. The other people on the course had experiences of similar intensity.
I am far from being free. There are deeper complexes, things that remained unexamined, in whole or in part. I have several major blind spots on my body, including my abdomen and an eye, in which I can’t feel subtle vibrations. But I don’t care. At the moment I feel like I’m sitting contentedly in air-conditioned comfort, surrounded by the low chatter of friendly voices, looking out through tinted glass to a hot and noisy world. Seeing as that’s what I do every day at work, I consider that a good thing.
I’m sure I’ve done something to my brain that cannot be undone. What that means in the long run, I have no idea.
P.S. Just so you don’t think I’ve become pious all of a sudden, I present…
The TOP 15 SIGNS of EXCESSIVE VIPASSANA MEDITATION
(best appreciated by those with bhavana-maya panna, the wisdom of experience)
1. You’ve almost perfected your Unique Cushion System for Perfectly Balanced and Cushiony Meditation (TM).
2. When you hear “Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam” at the end of hours of motionless meditation, you suppress the desire to leap to your feet, gyrate your hips, and pump your fists in the air to the Dr Alban dance classic “Sing Hallelujah”.
3. You have a recurring nightmare in which a slow, deep voice intones: “It could be enny sensation. Ennyting. It could be heat, or it could be cold. It could be a sensation of dryness, or a sensation of moist. It could be pressure, or pain. It could be tingling, tickling, itching…” You wake up screaming: “Ennyting! I GET IT!”
4. You develop cravings at 6am for boiled prunes. Damn: still another 30 minutes of dawn meditation.
5. You accidentally expose a bit of ankle, and feel a frisson of sexual excitement course through your body. You tart.
6. At the two-portions-of-fruit feast (commonly referred to in the West as “dinner”) you take a third piece of fruit when no one is looking. As you bite into juicy goodness you feel the entire universe cry out in pain. Oh the defilement.
7. You own t-shirts such as “I Am Sensational” and “Goenka is a Dude”.
8. You spot something nestled in the grass, and, kneeling down, you marvel at the exquisite beauty and perfection of form that is a piece of kangaroo poo.
9. You’re remixing Goenka’s chanting with samples from your old prog rock collection. The single “Anicca, anicca, anicca” will be playing on 4ZZZ any day now.
10. As you’re about to flush, you notice an ant which doesn’t know swim-ology. You consider saving it.
11. You are shocked to the core of your being when a member of the opposite sex looks you in the eye.
12. During a long day of meditation, you suddenly experience a sensation of moist which doesn’t change. You merely observe the feelings of acute shame and embarrassment. Equanimous, equanimous, equanimous…
13. While meditating you feel a vicious mosquito land on your closed eyelid and painfully pierce the skin, greedily sucking out your lifeblood. You smile gently and bless her babies.
14. You start wearing a superhero cape while meditating.
… and finally…
15. You feel a free flow of subtle vibrations inside your body and you struggle to maintain your composure as you begin moving to a higher state of being. Then you realise your mobile phone is on silent mode.