Email 3, Part 4: Vipassana Summary

From email update March 30th:


I haven’t said a whole lot about what Vipassana actually entails. It’s not because I’m try’na be all mystical, but because I think there’s a danger of overanalyzing it. Personally, I spent years thinking about meditation, reading about meditation, wishing I were meditating, and never actually doing the damn thing, hehe. Much of the philosophy is so fascinating that it’s easy to neglect the application, the ‘swimology.’ But for the sake of transparency and non-cultishness, here’s my own quick personal take on what I do, exactly, in Vipassana.

Vipassana In Three Not-Always-So-Easy Steps:

Step 1: Cut a Hole In a Box…hehe. No, ok, Step 1 is morality. Don’t kill; don’t lie; don’t steal; don’t commit sexual misconduct; don’t use intoxicants. The last one isn’t because intoxicants are inherently bad, but because they tend to undermine the mental clarity necessary to follow through on all the others. What actually constitutes sexual misconduct…well, you’ll be shocked to know that i’m still asking myself that question. We’ll save that discussion for another email.

Step 2: Concentration. To strengthen calmness and concentration, we practice anapana meditation, or focusing on the breath as it enters and leaves the nose.

Step 3: Wisdom. To develop wisdom, we observe sensations in the body without reacting to them. The key here is paying very close attention to sensations without developing craving toward the pleasant ones or aversion toward the unpleasant ones. It’s ridiculously hard, because our minds are habituated to reacting with craving or aversion to every sensation in the body, and the body is constantly experiencing sensations, even when we don’t consciously notice. But slowly, we learn to remain aware and equanimous by understanding that each and every sensation reflects some change that is happening. There is constant change, constant flux, and every sensation is bound to end eventually. Don’t cling to the pleasant ones: they won’t last, and when they go, you’ll be unhappy. Don’t push away the unpleasant ones: they’re passing away, anyway, so why make things worse on yourself by creating fear or irritation in the mind?

Each of these steps is very useful in its own right, and in combination they can bolster each other in really interesting ways, too. Like, last week when the center manager told me I couldn’t use the Internet, and I couldn’t leave the campus on my day off to go the town library, it suddenly seemed like a very good time to ask her why, the day before, she’d taken prunes and dried apricots from the shelf marked “For Recipe Use Only.” But before I opened my mouth to ask, I used concentration to focus on my reaction, and I used wisdom to recognize that first my own defensiveness and greed needed to pass. (‘It’s not fair! Why is this place so hierarchical? I love dried apricots, but you don’t see me breakin the rules and takin em.’) Later, I could inquire about the fruit without feeling all vengeful about it. So I waited. And sure enough, once my mind was calm, I found a quiet moment to ask her what was up. She had her own reactions and told me, wide-eyed, that she hadn’t seen any sign, but that if there was indeed one posted I should remove it: food is for everyone. So before any other coordinator had the chance to overrule her, I took down the sign and ate like ten apricots, haha! Not perfect wisdom, but improving…

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