Vipassana


Traduced by Miljan Kontić

 

It was one Monday in the year 2010 when I had, for the first time, heard the word Vipassana. Buenos Aires, a misty night, and coincidently I met a Serbian girl sitting at a table on milonga night. We began chatting and laughing. Argentinean red wine got our cheeks red and the conversation sparkled. By the end of the evening the girl figured out I had been steering, like a motorcycle racer, into a spiritual curve, and she said: You should try Vipassana meditation. Why is that, I asked?

I’m quite convinced that you’ll love it. You are a bit hard, Vipassna is hard and I reckon the two of you will click immediately, she said and took another sip of the wine. Tell me more about Vipassana, I responded, all warmed up. Well… ten days of silence and fasting, eighty people meditating all day long… from four in the morning to nine in the evening, she said, when suddenly, a slick-haired tango dancer came and took her away, to dance. This had to be some kind of a sect, I thought to my-Christian-self, as I let my mind drift off into the void of the past.

It is the year 2013, cold July air in Buenos Aires, snapping as if from a gaping freezer. I have had heartburn the last two weeks. My right arm, slinging painfully off my shoulder, and a stabbing sensation in my worn out knee, won’t even let me go for a mind cooling walk. Sitting in my room alone, like a patient in a Soviet soul asylum, I started wondering about this and that… So, I turned on the computer, to surf the net a little, but ten minutes later my neighbour’s wireless signal faded. This is what the end must look like, I thought as I threw myself on the bed. Stretched like a starfish, I was staring at the ceiling, rolling a black-and-white film in my head, and then the word flew in from afar: Vipassana. I welcomed the thought without any reaction, and closed my eyes. I fell asleep.

In the morning I wake and the word Vipassana vibrates before my eyes. I cook some mate and sit at my computer. Neighbour finally fixed the wifi. I find the Vipassana website, fill in an application, and a week later the reply comes, saying I could come and attend a 10-day course.

On 20th October 2013, I left for Brandsen Vipassana centre with an open heart, although shitting my pants a little. Ten days in silence without fatty foods, this is no joke. I bought a chocolate bar at a petrol station along the way and devoured it in the car as if it would be my last one ever, and deceiving myself how I needed the reserve fat.

I parked on a gravel surface and walked into the Vipassana place built in the middle of nowhere; peace and tranquillity all around, with just a few barns unnaturally sticking out of surrounding green fields.

I stormed into the reception room looking like a debt collector – shaved head, huge body, shoulders slightly lifted. The volunteers stare at me in silence, smiling as they hand me a form to fill in. I do the formalities. They take away my wallet and mobile phone, pack them in a pink-blue bag, and lead me to a giant dormitory, resembling an army barracks. Colourful characters of all ages flood the room, smiling and enthusiastic as if they were just given free barbecue, beer, and pot. Right, I thought, we’re in for some trouble.

Later that evening they took us to a room where 40 of us males could exchange our last glances with the 40 females. The staff politely introduced themselves, and briefed us on the rules and code of discipline, which we all agreed to respect unconditionally. No big deal, you would say. A vow of silence and zero communication, no eye contact, no touching, no reading literature, no taking notes, no toxins, no eating food on the sly. Waking up at 04:00, meditating until 06:00, followed by breakfast and rest until 08:00, then meditation until 11:00, lunch break until 13:00, meditation until 17:00, a snack and rest until 18:00, more meditation and a talk with the teacher until 21:00. Whoever wishes may leave now, before the open surgery on their mental body begins, a tender looking volunteer said. Wait, stop! What surgery, what kind of a joke is this?

I thought about getting up and leaving, but a rush of pride slapped me in the face and ordered me to sit my peasant-self down!

I went to sleep, closed my eyes, and it seemed only a tiny few moments later that the sound of the gong reverberated through the room… I thought I was dreaming… but it was morning… rising time. We got our blankets together and whatever else we had, and went to the meditation room, an enormous shed paved with blue mats. Each of us was given a place which we would remain nailed to until the tenth day. The previous night, they taught us Anapassana, a subtle breathing observation method. Simple, nothing difficult, they said, just concentrate on the places where the air touches the inner side of your nostrils, like cold water spilling on a hot pan, such is the sensation, spoke Master Goenka.

Thus, I sat down and tried to focus on my breathing. Piece of cake, just as they said, but this was only during the first few breaths, because immediately after that, the grinding began: Where was I? What will be? What is mother cooking in Belgrade, and is Fabiana sunbathing on Ipanema? Thus I killed the first hour and a half, and at meditation after breakfast they told us how concentrating on our breathing would help sharpen our mental knives for the brain surgery due in three days. What? I wanted to ask the first guy next to me if these people were crazy, but then I remembered the vow. On this day the torture began. I tried to concentrate on my breathing, and every time, after just a few minutes, my mind would buzz off uncontrollably. I focused my attention to the breathing in the base of my nostrils, now pierced by an imaginary, rusty nose ring for a cow, but to no avail. I feel anxious as the other students around me seem to pull off the breathing technique. I am pressed by a feeling of incompetence. I curse silently and see other dumbfounded students across the room, looking at each other for support.

In the front row next to the lecturer, sitting motionless like bronze statues, were the students who had been on these courses in the past. What was going on inside these young men’s heads while they sat so still, like creatures from another planet? I observed them for hours. Pillows beneath them, they sat in a lotus position, or kneeling down. No traces of life visible on their frozen bodies. It was like the scene from the film Alien, when the slimy creature nested its larvae in a frozen hangar.
That evening, I went to bed half-insane and brutally exhausted, only to get some extra Vipassana minutes later, this time from a 150-kg master of night breathing, snoring like every breath he drew was his last. People trying to sleep now get up, objecting, sighing deeply, pretending to cough just to wake him somehow, but the man just didn’t care and the wood sawing went on all night. I pretended to be asleep. The next morning I got out of bed, broken, but still eager to meditate. I assumed a miserable meditating position, bowed like a slave. It seemed easier that way, but my legs soon started hurting, my shoulders collapsing, and my spine bending like a twig under the heavy weight of the body. My goodness, another eight days of this? I took a chair, tried to get into position, but in vain. I then dragged my mat to the wall, sat in a lotus, and leaned my back against the wall. Minutes later I went into a shallow sleep in the manner of a street junkie on heroin. This was my solution to overcoming the eight days or centuries to freedom.

I survived that day snoozing away in the meditation room. Later in the evening, Master Goenka, with the most endearing voice ever, announced the Vipassana technique over a TV screen. We would begin with it tomorrow.

Here is how I understood it:
Master Goenka, blessed be every step he takes, says there are universal laws and feelings in all-encompassing existence: love, hate, pain, anger, empathy, and so on and so forth, these are the feelings which all the people on this planet feel, regardless of colour of skin and practicing faith. Okay, I agreed with him. In the Universe, he went on, there is one thing universal to the whole visible and invisible existence: Everything that manifests itself has a lifespan, and will definitely vanish at some point. The universal law, that everything is in constant motion, in its own rhythm, is confirmed by the rivers, mountains, fires, bodies, air, space, words, sentences, pain, happiness, love, the lives, and also by the new countries springing up on the foundations of old ones. Okay, I thought, this too is true.

In nature there is an invisible subatomic particle, Master Goenka (may His words live eternally) went on to say, which vibrates at a rate of a trillion on-and-offs per second. At a given moment the subatomic particle is visible, but the next moment, it disappears into what quantum physicists, unable to determine the dimension where the particle went, have sinisterly termed, dark matter. Okay, I agree with this, too. Although I have never witnessed such experiments, I see different scientists from all around the world agreeing with the theory. I have read much about quantum physics myself and have seen various scientific documentaries on the subject, and I remember one of these films, depicting, in a perfectly simple animation, a lab experiment with scientists trying to record the behaviour of the subatomic particles in order to prove the theory, but once they set up the recording equipment, the particles started behaving in a completely different manner than before the equipment was installed. It was as if the particles could feel that they were being watched!

I believe that quantum physics is now stuck in this incredible fact and that the moment is perfect, in this insane era we live in, for self-absorbed science to finally admit to the existence of forces that science simply cannot explain. But, enough trying to be smart, let’s move on to Vipassana meditation based on experimenting with aforementioned, rules within the frame of the human body.
I have got to say, since I am unable to prove it, that the subatomic particles in my body, when in off-mode (dark matter) have nowhere else to go except the mental body, or the mind, whatever you want to call it. I have come to this through the simple assertion that I am aware of the mind’s existence, like any other mentally healthy human being, but am simply unable to touch it/her/him, nor can I find the area in my brain where the dreaded “I” dwells. Before diving into meditation, the most important Vipassana principle is to assume the correct meditating position, with a straight back, eyes closed, carefully observing the bodily sensations (pain, itching, coughing, saliva swallowing, tickling, various forms of subtle vibrations… and so on and so forth), while trying not to react to these, and neither see them as good nor bad, enjoyable or not. One should try to observe the whole process intelligently, objectively, patiently…

Why?

It is such a principle that starves the mind of its main food, which is dualism. To simplify matters, try to imagine the mind as a light bulb being turned on by an alternating current. Alternating current has two polarities, correct? The positive polarity and the negative polarity. The light bulb doesn’t care which of the two polarities will touch the switch. By merely observing the bodily sensations, we are not creating any bodily charges, neither plus nor minus, and thus we are not turning on the light of the mind. It’s about composure…
Let’s go…
Morning gong pounding in my ear, I woke up dead tired, because the snoring student managed to deliver another, all night’s subtle breathing class. I open up my eyes and go to the bathroom, wash my face, look at myself in the mirror and notice my impatience for more Vipassana. We go to the meditation room lined up like Soviet prisoners. I find my space in the dark, put a pillow under my heroic arse, straighten my back, shut my eyes and begin to sink. Five minutes later I feel pain in my knee… Okay, if the pain has manifested itself, it will last a while, and then it will have to disappear, at least this is what the universal rule states. The pain did not subside, and just as I thought that Vipasana was a joke, I remembered to introduce the observer into the story, so I shifted my attention to the painful spot, because it is the observer that has the power to change the motion of the subatomic particles… Fuck me! In an instance the pain went away.

Okay, a few minutes later a sensation in my back started creeping up my spine, causing me slight pain but nothing major… I do not react. I applied the observation method and started taking mental pictures of my spine… Moments later the sensation disappeared. Holy shit, this really works.

Then I was attacked by an itching ear, and my right eyelash started dancing. I tried to endure it for a while, but it wasn’t long before I moved my arm and scratched my earpiece. The mind just scored. I could hardly wait for the first set to end, to stretch out my leg. I thought my knee had snapped. I felt numbness in my kneecap mixed with pain, but a few minutes of massage made it go away. Anyway, I assumed the lotus position, which I found to be the hardest of all, but encouraged by my previous experience I sat down bravely, straightened my back, and closed my eyes. Just as my eyelids shut, a gruelling sensation from three different sides began – the knee, spine, and lower leg, pulsating as if they were about to burst at any second under the weight of my body. I clenched my teeth and immediately realized that this, too, was a sensation, so I loosened my grip and tried to overcome it. With my mental camera I scanned each of these, inflamed parts of the body. In a few instances the sensations vanished. I wanted to laugh, but laughter, too, is a sensation. I remain still. The spiritual stench starts to leave the body as a heavy sweat trickles down my back and stomach. I stink badly, but can endure it. The sensations then appeared in several places and I felt the vibrations above the top of my head. They weren’t painful, nor ticklish, it was simply the air above my head, trembling. The pain intensified, same as the vibrating above my head. The fear set into me and I heard a voice say, loosen up… or you’re screwed.
I get out of the position, slightly worried. I disentangle my legs, scratch my head, massage my ankles, and realize that my mind played tricks on me again. Wait, where were all these sensations coming from, because really, I was not feeling any pain? The mind was fucking me severely, I asserted as I assumed the position once more. This was the last time, you little! Like a Japanese geisha, I went on my knees, and stuffed a pillow between my legs and rear end, ready to take my last breath in this position. I shut my eyes, straightened up, and dove in. I didn’t feel any sensations, but this time the mind started working so fast, it forced me to open my eyelids… I was sure my eye-nerve would explode… Of course none of it was true… Wow… This is nothing to play with. I assumed the ironing pose again, but then came the breakfast gong. Fuckin’ shite, has it been an hour and a half already?
After breakfast I rushed to the dormitory to get some rest, not to sleep like I was doing the last few days. This time I crossed my arms under my head, like a pretzel, and stared at the ceiling, thinking Vipassana…
Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, my hunger for kneeling in various positions, enduring pain and other bodily sensations grew rapidly… One evening Master Goenka, blessed be His name, spoke again, saying how in the early stages students usually make the mistake of wishing for pain, when the only formula to fulfil one’s wishes was not to have any wishes! Wham!

It was this sentence that performed some acupuncture on my brain and launched an incredible number of processes that had been sitting at the garbage heap of memory, buried in quadrillion tons of unnecessary newspaper and television information. The following morning, I woke up determined to finally and genuinely dive into myself, and start to observe the harsh and subtle sensations on my body without giving any significance to either.
It was the seventh day of Vipassana. I was as sleepy as a hungry soldier on a deathwatch, but the will inside me kept boiling like an active volcano. I went to the meditation room, sat in my geisha position, pillow between my heels and backside, straight back, eyes closed…
I dive into myself like the sand in an hourglass, and it isn’t long before the bodily sensations start to light up like a pinball machine during multiball… I do not react… The coughing comes taunting me first… I remove the sensation by observing my throat… Next, a burnt, dark thought charged with negative emotions from the past jumps out like a slice of bread from a toaster, vibrating, smiling, taunting me… I know… I observe… I softly separate the emotion from the thought, which, stripped of the weight of the emotion, then disappears into the air… The emotion dissolves itself and disappears… The pain in my knees gives me the sensation of having ceramic knees… The ceramic starts to break, shattering… I feel the cracking… I endure without reacting… A shower of sweat dripping off me… I lose the notion of time… My spine creaking from the pain… I observe and endure… Then the neck nerves come into play, sizzling like eggs on a hot pan… I focus my attention on them, and slowly they disappear… The exhaustion helps me forget… My hips, breaking as if made of glass… The pain becomes unbearable. I feel my nervous system vaporizing away… The vapours of pain climbing up my spine like smoke… Thoughts disappear… The physical pain grinding me in the barrel of the present moment… This is where I am… Present… My body and I… Observing the mind… I feel something pouring onto my skull… An invisible layer of the mind, peeled off like onion skin… Matter channelling itself into a coloured vibration…
My skin is no longer a boundary between myself and That…
The sensation of fear flies in… I observe… I do not react… I levitate in the infinity…
I feel love, but don’t want to make it
I feel power, but don’t want to rule
I feel knowledge, but don’t want to be smart
I enter the heart… where everything is…

My spine slowly starts bending again like that of an ancient reptile… My breath softly flowing through the alveolae into the thorax, in a perfect marriage of the heart and lungs…
Inhale a beat… Exhale a beat… Nice… I sit still…
Then I take off… Searching… Visiting friends… Entering their bodies… Looking at their organs… Entering their fields… I see the tears rolling down my cheeks.
Then I observe my own mind… It vibrates at the same frequency as matter… Two trains travelling at the same speed, next to each other… Uh-um… The observer on the train thinks they are not moving… The mind is turned off… The reality is turned on.
… I hear somebody’s knees cracking next to me… The fellow moves… Suddenly the thought appears that he might trip and fall on top of me… But that’s not possible… I am not even there… Somebody else is using my body and my name… Hahaha… If matter is a game of the mind, then why not this wonderful condition, too? Never mind…
I feel thirst… Shall I open an eye…? Don’t, just stay here… Open it, you’re thirsty… It is deceiving you again… Oh, no! I am just maintaining my bodily functions… I am thirsty… Of course you are not… I swallow my spit and with it, my consciousness… I feel the outer world building itself again… I observe my eye nerve signal… I raise the curtain and dive out… Outside the thoughts await… Projecting on me, like on a cinema screen… Uh-um… They don’t exist without me, and I am colourless without them! I open up my second eye, looking around me, human cocoons sitting motionless, staring into the inside of their eyelids… I observe my arms… My legs… I lose control over them… I switch on my mental camera and film the extremities. First the right arm switches on, then the left arm… I unlock my toes and touch my knees with my hands… I am slow as a turtle… A tiny fear of physical fractures manifests… Never mind… I know it’s a sensation… I slowly straighten my neck like a Galapagos lizard… The slow movements feel good… This is the real condition… This is the true knowledge.
I disentangle one leg, then the other, and still am unable to straighten up and stand. I patiently sit and wait. The numbness gradually disappears. I slowly raise one knee and put my foot down on the floor. Suddenly the sound of the gong, like the notes of a wonderful song…
Bones creaking, joints squeaking, I move slowly, as if through an oil reservoir… It takes me ages to walk to the exit door… I open the door… Outside, a red sun surfacing from a green field… Swords of light stab me in the eyes… I feel no pain… I watch the sun…
After an unknown amount of time, I look around, only to see the rest of the men, lined up like mongooses, staring at the sun in silence, thinking, could it be that the sun really doesn’t exist?
I can hardly wait to meditate again… I take the position… I close my eyes and dive in again… The perfect condition resumes… I don’t feel any pain… I do not mind… I surf the same buzz until the evening, taking steps in between breaks, smiling, and looking ahead of me… At night I went to sleep, when the subtle night breathing classes continued, the snoring shaking the whole dormitory… I kept smiling and woke up half an hour before the others, to go to the meditation room… Chasing yesterday’s rush like a junkie… The wish blew its own self away… Hahaha… I am walking into a trap… I have labelled yesterday’s sensation as pleasing… It did not appear any more, through the rest of my stay at the meditation centre… Never mind… At least I saw what “IT” looks like…

The second-last and the last day, they taught us metti… Meditating empathy and love toward all the visible and invisible entities in existence… Master Goenka chanted verses in his warm voice, saying: Let every being feel peace, love and goodness. I had heard the words before, but never in such a tone of voice. I sat in my lotus position, eyes shut, when I started crying… Like a sissy… Crying… Weeping… Mucus running down my nose… Falling on the ground… A sensation… I do not react… The weeping is suffocating… I do not react… And so it was, the whole last day… Same for most of the students.
On the tenth day they lifted the vow of silence. Males and females could mingle again. Clamour, chatter, tears, laughter… The noise annoys me… I go to the dormitory and stare at the ceiling, shed a few more tears, go to the bathroom, look at myself in the mirror and wash my face. The head was still the same, only the eyes shone differently…
On the morning of the last day, we had our breakfast, exchanged our addresses and telephone numbers… kissed and hugged each other… I cried again… Why so sissy? I would like to stay a few more days…
I start the car… Taking a few people back to Buenos Aires with me… Stopping at a petrol station to pour some fuel… Forgetting about the long line behind me… Staring into the distance… Car sirens honking… I don’t mind… A nervous gaucho steps out of his vehicle… Waving his arms and screaming… As if trying to inflict pain… I turn around and look at him… He changes direction and walks away…
I get back home… Everything seems as it was originally, just a shattered window from the storm… Shards of broken glass on the parquet floor and some chocolate smeared on a tin foil… pleasant, or unpleasant? I thought I started cursing… I observed the verbs of the curse words buzzing… I let them disappear… I clean my room, whistling a tune… Next, I sit down on my desk, turn on the computer, and type in THESE WORDS…

Buenos Aires
December 2013


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One thought on “Vipassana

  • Derrick Sheetz

    Incredible, Alex, very well written! Your words made me feel many things. Seriously, I am really moved by what you have wrote and shared here. I am honestly blown away just by hearing your experience. Thank you so much for sharing this with me!

    Really, I don’t know what to say, but what you say rings true with me.

    Wow,
    Namaste Alex
    Derrick