Monday, January 30, 2012

About Vipassana (part 1)

Ah. Back to my empire of ego. Whew. Feels good. Vipassana meditation is not easy. Neither is learning to tie your shoe, how to ride the subway, or play a realistic flight simulator with all those terms like "yoke" and "yaw" and the fact that when you pull back on your mouse the nose of the plane goes up and when you want to turn you have to plan way in advance. Not that any of things are comparable to the meditation, but come to think of it, these are things I've had trouble with. I didn't learn to tie my shoes until middle school. My mom got me elastic shoe laces so I never had to untie them. I didn't learn to ride a bike until fifth grade. I still get lost on trains, sometimes, especially the New York ones (the BART not so much) and have no interest in ever playing a flight simulator again after summer afternoons with Adam and Matt, playing the Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer on their dad's super powered Mac.

Instead it's more like sitting still all day, or trying to. Lots of time to think, but eventually it becomes more interesting to pay attention to what's going on with the body. For me, this time, I didn't get to this point until the 8th day. In the last three and half years, this is the third time that I've done a ten day course and they haven't gotten any easier. I try to make it through an hour so I can make it to the next one. Then to breakfast. And then to the next hour, and then to the next one. Time passes really slowly but usually that phrase indicates a kind of boredom, which is not really the problem. The problem is more of a survival issue, trying to make it though each day. It feels like an enormously long time in part because I'm usually not focusing my attention as consistently and repeatedly as I do while there. Instead, at home, I'm doing one thing or another, reading a newspaper or watching a car go by. Mostly responding to external stimuli and letting my environment dictate where my mind wanders. When my attention is focused the day gets longer in a full way.

Over and over, even before the actual Vipassana meditation starts, we spend three and a half days focusing our mind, over and over, feeling "sensation" for as long as continuously possible on the patch of skin just above the lip. If we wander away we come back. All that to have a fighting chance to expand this area of sensation to other places on the body. So as, the body becomes a kind of landing pad for a continuous parade: a puff of air, an itch, a tingle, a warmth or a chill or whatever. There's a a lot ways our bodies hit the world and we're responding to these sensations whether we're aware of it or not. Regardless, once this kind of eyeball opens and begins to look around it turns out that there's a lot going on other than what we're thinking about. Why is this important? Because when we're looking at a thing, for example a back pain, instead of feeling the pain, we can instead hang out with it. Ask it questions. See how big it is, how long it will last, and eventually we see that it goes away. Or with bigger kinds of feelings: how long will this anger last? How big is it? What does it feel like and eventually, we see that it goes away.