10 lessons from Vipassana
Updated: Nov 8, 2021
The literal translation of Vipassana is to 'see things as they really are'
Four years ago, I read The Art of Living and it introduced me to Vipassana, a meditation technique dating back to 2,500 years ago. The literal translation of Vipassana is to see things as they are and the technique is meant to enable us to focus our attention on the body's sensations so as to change the habit patterns of our mind.
Here are ten things I learnt during one of the most challenging experiences I have ever undertaken:
Craving and aversion are the roots of all misery. Whether we want something (which doesn't happen) or don't want something (which does happen), our pattern of reacting by constantly liking and disliking whatever it is we experience across all of our senses and thoughts, moves us deeper and deeper into habit patterns that make us miserable.
Equanimity is the solution to all misery. Vipassana is not a breathing technique or meant to relax our mind and body. Instead, it teaches us to a) sharpen our focus on the sensations we experience across our entire body, and b) to remain unmoved despite the presence or absence of any sensations.
The subconscious mind is accessible. There are those who believe that humans cannot access their subconscious mind, but this is simply not true. The subconscious mind is always in contact with our body. 24/7. By sharpening our focus (first on a very small area, such as our nose or nostrils, and then across our body) we begin to observe the same sensations which connect our body to our subconscious mind. The more we practice, the more we begin to recognise the direct path into our own subconscious.
Transitioning from the intellectual level to the experiential one is key. It's one thing to know a lot at the intellectual level, but it's a completely different thing to apply the knowledge. A lot of techniques focus on the theoretical aspects that are unique or beneficial. Similarly, we all take pride in all the things we know, at least at the intellectual level, but many of us struggle to apply what we know at the practical level. The technique of Vipassana (and those that teach it) are less concerned about theory because they realise that profound change occurs at the experiential level; that is, when we practice the technique, morning and evening, every single day for at least a couple of hours. Bottom line is that you've got to experience it for yourself!
Working patiently and persistently is a prerequisite. Anybody who has attended a ten day course will tell you that it is probably one of the most challenging experiences they have undertaken (irrespective of how many years they have been meditating). One of the key lessons I learnt was the importance of working hard but in a way that does not create resistance. When you have to meditate for a minimum of 8.5 hours a day (up to 10 hours on some days), you quickly realise that the only way to get through the day is to detach yourself from trying to feel certain sensations, trying to make progress fast, trying to hurry the process and/or take shortcuts.
Vipassana is applicable to all. Vipassana is an incredibly versatile technique in that it is applicable to all people from all walks of life. You can be a recluse or a householder, or anything else as a matter of fact, and the technique will surely transform your life.
Working correctly is just as important as working hard. The technique of Vipassana requires us to work hard, but it is equally important, to work correctly. Guided meditations are crucial to making sure we apply the teachings correctly after we have completed a retreat. Vipassana is not a game of sensations. You are not meant to look for pleasant sensations, to avoid unpleasant sensations or to expect some kind of magic. You are not meant to react to anything; just to observe.
Self-compassion will be your greatest friend. During the ten day course, you will find yourself reflecting about all areas of your life, often going back decades. A lot comes up, both good and bad. Not only are you meant to observe (without reacting), you will also quickly realise that showing compassion towards yourself while you go through the process of purifying the defilements that have been created due to past conditioning, is absolutely crucial.
Use what works. You may feel the urge to question, criticise, and/or try to point out things that don't make sense, don't feel right, don't look good etc., during the course and maybe even after it. My strong recommendation? Focus only on the technique itself. This is the only thing that truly matters.
Vipassana is not a religion, cult or sect. I've said this in a previous post, but it's very important to repeat it. We often have an aversion (one of the key proponents of misery) towards anything we do not really understand. Rest assured, nobody will try to convert you, change your beliefs, or make you do anything you don't want to (other than meditate, days on end).