I had the opportunity to sit in Vipassana meditation last month over Thanksgiving. It had been three years since my last course which was during my pregnancy. Motherhood has been an amazing challenge and finding ways to meditate throughout the day has been difficult, so I was thrilled at the opportunity to revitalize my practice again.
These are the notes I made in the clarity after 3 days of meditating 12 hours a day, observing my breath, observing my physical sensations and observing all the roiling thoughts in my mind that were taking my attention from the present moment.
You are lost in thought again: your thoughts, the thoughts of others, thoughts started in the distant past, thoughts unfinished. Thoughts re-crafted over and over of what you might have done or what you didn’t do. Thoughts of the future, the distant future, the immediate future, thoughts of a possible future if only you act now. Thoughts of people, of circumstances of dreams and expectations. Thoughts of passion, of regret, of emptiness, thoughts of what might have happened if only you had done or said something different than what had happened.
These thoughts boil and churn, tumbling over one another again and again, perhaps with slight variations as you reinforce them with your creative mind. If only, of only, of only…..
These thoughts grip your mind, freezing it in a static stasis of immobility. If only, if only, if only. But…but…but…
Resist the temptation to reinforce the past you are trying to correct, it is impossible. Practice being aware of these thoughts without engaging them. Observe how they rise. Observe yourself engage them. Observe how your physical structure reacts to this process. And then observe yourself observing all this.
Be still. Observe awhile and eventually you will see the spaces between thoughts. Continue observing with attentive awareness and those spaces of clarity will expand. As you observe, you will see how thoughts arise into the spaces and you will observe yourself engaging those thoughts for awhile before letting them go and watching them fade away. Do not become elated at this fading away. Do not expect the momentary peaceful clarity to last. For, certainly, another thought will arise again.
We are not able to change our thinking by eliminating the thinking process. We can learn to not react to thoughts and by not reacting to them. It is inevitable that they will fade away as part of the nature of life which is always and unavoidably ever-changing. The law of nature is that all is ever changing.
In the first hours of Noble Speech once silence has been broken this past vipassana course, something that always comes up is the question of how it is that we have all come to vipassana as students. Despite the wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences, it is always interesting to learn that we each came to vipassana in response to an inner call to wholeness. My story is similar to many others: A friend was talking about her experience at her first vipassana course. Her description of the meditation schedule, though rigorous, struck me as exactly what I needed at the time.
My practice has waxed and waned of the subsequent 10 years through graduate school, business and child-rearing. At times the discipline was strong and I was able to weather intense times of change with easy breaths. At other times the responsibility to others overwhelmed me and I did not make time to practice and the challenges of life became intense struggles. But always the same call to wholeness resounded and I returned to find the lessons of attentive awareness once again.
After this past course, I noticed the difference between myself as an older student and the expectations of the newer students that I once shared. As an older student, now, I no longer expect to have a sudden change of life that will enable me to maintain this clarity. I don’t expect that I will be able to instantly be able to fulfill the directive to meditate for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. And I can accept that without judgement. I will do what I can do with gratitude for the moments of clarity that come as life keeps changing, changing, changing, ever-changing.
Karah Pino in meditation
Vipassana Courses are offered around the world through the teaching of SN Goenka who transcended life this past September. His recorded lessons teaching the technique and offering guidance to meditation ring true to new students and old students, young and old of all backgrounds and cultures. Vipassana Courses are offered freely and donation of funds, time or other service are accepted but not expected. To learn more, visit www.dhamma.org may all beings be happy.