Here are my impressions of my second time silence and seated Vipassana meditation from August 2016. Getting up early at 4 am every day in order to sit, meditate and gain insight to who we are:
“I have to admit that I had forgotten how uncomfortable and difficult the first days of sitting are! Not to talk about trying to concentrate the mind. Also getting used to the silence and total non-communication and getting up so early.
I had done my first 10day-Vipassana-course two years ago and since then just in the first months after the course maintained the practice of sitting twice a day for an hour. Writing my thesis the year before and finishing the Master degree in spring, travelling every now and then … disturbed my mind quite a lot. Even though I was practicing yoga every day.
Most of you know me as a rather happy and optimistic person – which of course has not changed at all – but most of my life I have been very strict with myself. My yoga practice has helped me enormously in the past 4 years to be a nicer person towards myself and others but at the depth of my mind I couldn’t get rid of the thought pattern that has been operating for most of my life.
Having studied psychology and teaching yoga deepened my understanding of how my mind (and other minds) work, how the mind affects the physical level and yet I couldn’t help but still be haunted by – more or less – the same thoughts again and again.
Soon I realized in order to change something I needed to work practically on my issue not on an intellectual level, no books, no intellectualization would help. So I decided to sit again. Pushing the reset button in my head and getting rid of all the negativity inside.
Has it helped? – I feel so. It is of course again just an impulse, a place to start from.
Which insights have I gained? – There are 3 major answers that have become clear to me in this time:
(1) Awareness of the body and awareness of respiration is essential – ALWAYS.
That means awareness when one practices yoga or meditates is not enough. Awareness of body and breath at any time, every single moment of one’s life is the key to accessing the deeper level of the mind. One should stay connected to the present moment, the only reality that exists all the time, not just when one feels bad and needs to fix a problem.
Why is that so?
I guess because all our thoughts, emotions and actions are connected to breath and bodily sensations. Whenever I am crying, angry, anxious, surprised, happy or lovestruck, the velocity of the breath changes and there will be different sensations on different parts of the body. In simplified terms: Observe and feel your body and you know what is going to happen before it actually happens!
Indeed not an easy thing but definitely possible. And by feeling the body I mean an inner awareness of the body. This requires a razor sharp mind that is capable of taking notice of all the sensations, from the very gross, very apparent ones to the subtlest ones. For example the feeling of the heart beating, the feeling of the touch of the clothes on the skin or the touch of the air around you and many things more. Usually we only notice only pains or unpleasant changes on the body.
Suddenly feeling the throat from inside when we have a cold or only feeling the toes when someone has stepped on them. But the capability of feeling the body on every single part of it, is there all the time. It is just a protective mechanism of the mind to ignore all these sensations and impressions that also come from outside though the eyes, ears, nose and the skin.
This helps prevent an overload of information. The brain filters the facts that we perceive without us even noticing it. But we can certainly train ourselves to raise the awareness for these things again (as for sure in childhood we were much more sensitive).
(2) Equanimity of the mind as the life-jacket which will keep one up also in bad times in life
… if you will ever think again that bad times exist.
In my words, equanimity is the quality of the mind when it is balanced; when it only observes the things outside and inside without interpreting, judging or thinking – only perceiving. Nothing else.
Sounds simple and easy but it is not. As soon as something happens in life that one does not like or something does not happen which one likes or high expectations which keep being not satisfied because the yardstick goes always higher and higher as one achieves one or the other thing – the mind comes out of balance.
Either is craving for things that are not there or rejects things that are there. And another pattern of the mind: Jumping always from past to future, future to past. Being very little in the present moment. So after having observed the body, sensations and breath, in meditation and also in everyday life the awareness of the thought patterns is needed.
Unfortunately 99% of all our thoughts are recycled ones, only 1% new thoughts that we haven’t had before arise in our minds.
But it seems as if we keep on liking going after old thoughts of doubts and worries or past fights and struggles – doing everything but not being simply in the present moment. Not even noticing anymore that these thoughts are there.
I myself have had a lot of these circular thoughts, a lot of automatic and unconscious thoughts. But the hours and hours of sitting throughout the last 10 days have helped me detecting them. And as I was practicing not to react to bodily sensations as feelings of itching, flies getting on my nerves or pains in legs when they were going numb and so on, I also trained my unconscious mind not to react immediately.
Not to these sensations and also not to these thoughts (as I previously was used to do). Being equanimous was key to this. But how to do it?
– Step one: Just observing! No judgements – no likes or dislikes.
– Step two: Letting it be. Accepting it. Maybe even acknowledging it.
– Step three: Having patience. Enduring whatever is there with a balanced mind until is ultimately passing away (ANICHAAA for the Vipassana people)
Explanations for that:
Step one is the hardest part as we are all so used to relying on our past memories and experiences which tell us very often if we like something or not in order to prevent past mistakes. But observing from a meta-level is so important. Taking another angle to see things, the angle from inside. Observing happens easier when we let go of the words ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’ – no more my pain, my problem or my possessions. This helps to see things as they are.
Mr. Goenka, the teacher of the Vipassana technique, gave a very helpful advice. He said imagine someone had a very beautiful and valuable watch and someone stole it – would you cry then or feel depressed? Certainly no. But if it is your friend’s watch you might feel compassion or a little bad, because it is your friend who is experiencing this. Some people might also not care in this case. But if YOU are concerned, your watch – so in your thoughts ‘my watch’ – gets stolen, you feel for sure something, maybe anger, sadness or even hatred towards the thieve. So this little word of I, me or mine makes you feel worse.
Now, if I experience pain (mentally or physically) in one or the other moment it helps me to imagine it is not my pain. It does not belong to me. As if it was happening to another person.
Seeing the pain as it is: A sensation, which is there and which is not to be neglected or denied.
A feeling that needs to be observed e.g. where it is located, what the sensation is like (maybe a feeling of pressure or heat…). This already involves step two, the acceptance part.
Letting things be as they are and not be in denial, not to close the eyes because you can’t or want to take a look at the painful things in life. For me this does not come by merely thinking about it or trying to accept it. I needed the physical experience of observing my bodily sensations, everything arising and passing away with time – step three, change as the law of nature.
Of course practicing first with easier things, observing the body to see what happens if I just let sensations be and also what happens if I fight against them (which makes the feeling usually a lot worse). Developing the wisdom that not only within the framework of the body but in the whole universe everything – positive or negative – passes ultimately away.
So why clinging to it or in case of a very unpleasant situation in life having fear that one would always be miserable?
(3) Taking responsibility for one’s life – every thought, word and action
As soon as a sense of equanimity was getting stronger, I could see with a little more distance that life had not been unfair – People or situations that I previously had accused of being the cause of me, feeling bad or experiencing pain, were not responsible for my suffering, not even 1%. Only the thoughts in my mind were making me feel bad (Sometimes a very unpleasant realization that comes with that was, not only I was unhappy and suffered, but I also made people around me suffer at times).
I found the German translation for equanimity very suitable: ‘Gelassenheit’ or ‘Gleichmut’. From the latter you can extract the word ‘gleich’ meaning same or equal and ‘mut’ meaning courage. And yes, it does take a lot of courage to take the responsibility again and apologize to yourself and/or to others for anything you have done wrong out of ignorance.
So I want to apologize to everyone – reading this or not doesn’t really matter- for knowingly or unknowingly hurting someone’s feelings, not being honest at times let’s say leaving out certain information (for whichever so called reason), taking more than is mine at times (things, time, energy…) or blaming anybody for making me feel miserable.
I am truly sorry and will try better in the future.
Lets all take responsibilty for how things go in life and more importantly make peace with ourselves. In order to really enjoy what is there NOW. This will prevent every one from regretting to not have enjoyed life more, forgetting that back then you also had problems and worries and fears.
So let go of the worries and all these things and enjoy life whenever you can – having manifested what you WANT or not – being content with what is and maybe realizing that you already have what you NEED.
Smile, feel and breathe.