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Page history last edited by rsb 5 years, 12 months ago

** Doubt


Back in with Michael for consultation, I began:


"So, Mike, I'm still not sure I'm supposed to be feeling this much pain.  After a while I just check out.  I grit my teeth and clench my fists and deal with it.  But I'm not able to feel much sensation.  I'm not able to employ the technique.  And remember that time when I told you I held my position for two hours?"

"Yeah.  Rich.  Don't do that.  We only ask you to do it for an hour at a time.  I can gaurantee you that you will not hurt yourself if you meditate without moving for an hour at a time.  But two hours is too much."

"Ok...I thought so.  You know, I thought I was crazy for a minute there.  I mean, no rational person does that.  So I'm not crazy, and I'm not going to get hurt, right?"

"Thousands of people have done this, millions!, and many have doubted their rationality for doing it.  You don't know what the outcome will be until you experience it.  None of them were crazy for doing it.  And yes, just don't try this for two hours at a time at first.  I would never do that.  I never meditate for two hours at a time.  That's way too much for me!"

"Whew.  Man.  That's a relief.", I said, "You don't even know.  I thought I was nuts."

"No.  You're fine.  And you're doing fine.  You're doing well."

"Oh, man.  Thank you."


I left and walked the walking path.  About 3/4 of the way down the path I was so happy I couldn't hold it in.  This joy rose up in my chest and I raised my head and arms to the sky and smiled as I walked for a few paces.  I dropped my arms to try to control it, but I didn't care.  I just lifted it all to the sky and laughed out loud for a good 20 seconds.  I laughed as if I had just heard the funniest thing I had ever heard in my life.  As I lowered my arms and head I saw another meditator walking towards me, alone, of course, along the path winding around the trees.  He was one of those young people with a huge toothy smile that made you want to laugh, and my smile was contagious. I shut up quick, but we shared a smile as he walked past.


Knowing why I was going through the pain helped.  Knowing that it was a skill to make it through the not-knowing helped me even more.


At the next opportunity to meditate, I made it through the hour without moving.  


When I got close to losing my calm, I remembered my experience on day 1.  Almost anything in my experience, is better than that.  I realized on a very deep level that, no matter how bad the pain becomes, calm is better than disquiet.  And that improved everything.  


If I had not experienced how extreme this pain can get, I would have followed my old intuitive reaction to pain.  I would have gone back to the grit your teeth and clench fists method.  Your mind must have the experience in order to make that calculation.  Now that I valued calm appropriately, I was on the road to the Vipassana method.  


I experienced the pain in a calm way, and my mind took that experience in as well, to be used in future calculations.  We were taught new components of the technique about every other day, approximately when we were expected to be ready for them.  The tradition is not to teach anything until we have experienced the truth of the last teaching for ourselves.  Experience must always go hand in hand with teaching.  I'll paraphrase Goenka, "Don't believe what I say, believe just what you experience in reality.  If you experience something with your senses, then it's real." 


You are probably wondering what the technique is by now.  The basic technique is to observe your sensations, only what is real, no imagery, no visualization, etc. and to treat each sensation in exactly the same way, equanimously. This requires a calm mind, so step zero is to calm your mind down and not freak out.  Step one is to observe sensation, step two is to NOT react with craving, aversion, fear, doubt, or uncertainty.  Don't react at all.  Just treat all sensations the same way.  


On the first day, you start by focusing on the three square inches of skin below your nose, then you graduate to observeing sensation on the entire surface of your body, a few inches at a time, stopping at each section for a short time.  Then you graduate to symmetrically opposed sections of the surface simultaneously, constantly but slowly cycling through all surfaces.  That's the basic technique.  But there is a theory that goes along with it.


The theory is that if you treat each sensation equanimously, whether it's a painful or pleasurable sensation, and you do not react, then you will remove a lifetime of harmful programming in your mind.  Your mind is programmed to react to pain by building aversions, to pleasure by building cravings.  Cravings and aversions cause you misery down the road; they are bad mental programming.  The Pali word for a layer of bad programming is "sankara".  You are removing sankaras.  


At this point in human evolution, controlling your mind is more important than having a highly reactive mind (roughly, slow thinking is more important than fast thinking if you have been reading Kahneman).  And it's a hell of a lot less miserable.  Unfortunately it's really, really hard to reprogram.  There is no way around the difficulty.


Mr. Goenka made a logical argument that you can't buy your way out of misery.  He is more eloquent than I, but it goes like this.  There is no limit to what you can crave.  You can always want more.  There is no limit to the misery you can endure from unsatisfied cravings.  There is no sustainable way to escape that misery without difficult reprogramming.  One of the benefits of Vipassana.


Next: Fear 



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