Techie in translation – Vipassana – breath + sensations are the gateway to true happiness

This is a change from the usual posts put up here but having been asked about my 10 days of “silence” I thought i may just be easier to do a quick write up.

As 2012 comes to a wrap – one thing that I would have said if you asked me 3 weeks ago is that – its been a helluva year – quite a roller coaster; but that’s good material for another post; what’s more important is now I’d say the year has ended with a sense of calming and an element of serenity that I have probably never been accustomed to.

Some of you may know (others may not) but I finally stepped down from operational duties at nivio in October to work on our next adventure (shout out to Saurabh, Jiten, Nick and AC from theTokyoProject) and having sprinted for the last 15 years I suddenly found myself having time that I never had before (3 months off) – it was simply surreal and scary all at once. Thanks to Rishika and Laura I got given the idea of trying meditation – something I probably would never have had the inclination for before – I probably intellectualised so much of what the Vipassana stands for that I stood at a cross roads of thinking I understood it… sadly I didn’t!

Things to keep in mind…

  • Mind and Matter
    • One of the most important principals behind the vipassana is that it teaches you that mind and matter are connected – each one of our 6 sense doors (thought + 5 senses) is linked to a sensation in our body – subtle or feeble. This is critical to understand.
  • Misery
    • Our misery is created through three things – craving, clinging and aversion – this is critical to know – as every one of the sensations we feel in our body are linked to these sensations.
    • We create our OWN misery – we can alone stop it.
  • Breathing
    • The breath is the only thing that we do consciously and subconsciously – it is therefore the only tool we have that connects our conscious and subconscious mind.
  • How our minds work
    • 4 steps
      • Cognize (cognise for my british friends)
      • Perceive
      • Sense
      • React
  • Our minds control us today – not vice versa
  • We are always thinking in the future or in the past and never in the “now”
  • Every sub-conscience reaction creates a sankaras (emotional responses) that are then stored in the body. 
  • Annicca
    • Everything is impermanent

The art of living (dhamma) was originally conceived by Siddhartha the Buddha – but was instrinsically non religious non dogma non chanting based. It was then lost to india around the time of Ashoka (the guy that killed everyone and then after being introduced to dhamma he started loving everyone!) and was saved in in pure format only in Burma –  where it was kept for 2500 years as buddha said it would be until Goenka ji took it back to India and then to the world (there are so many centres popping up everywhere see http://www.dhamma.org).

So Dhamma is based on three founding principals –

  • “silla” which is morality (don’t kill, lie, be addicted/headlessness drinking, rape nor steal) – this is the foundation / platform.
  • “sammadi” is about mastering the mind – i.e. taking control through observation of breathing – taking control of your sub-conscience.
  • “pania” is wisdom from within through sensations felt in the body only.

The 10 Days

This has to be the hardest and most frightening thing I have ever done – and as I speak to more and more people I realise that others share my trepidation with the usual “not the right time” “maybe the year after next” type responses. I know the saturday before I left I had a sinking moving stomach feeling. 10 days of silence is no joke its like open brain open heart surgery with no anaesthetic – nothing can save us from our thoughts….

The first three days focuses on anapana – observing (not regulating) the breath; which nostril is inhaling, is it hot or cold, can you feel any sensations. On day 3 you also feel sensations between your upper lip and your nose. Why do this? Its about trying to get your puppy mind to follow instructions and about breaking the conscience / sub-conscience barrier – and trust me its so hard – every 5 mins it wonders to the future or to the past. At day 3 the rate of the images slows down.

The next 6 days is about getting into the Vipassna itself and feeling sensations across the body, inside the body. And learning one key philosophy of truth – that everything is impermanent (annicca) and that you must remain equinimous with the sensations good or bad so that you do not create more sankaras. During the Vipassana you sit for 1 hour in adithana (one posture) 3 times a day – for those of you who are used to moving – at 45mins this i excruciating win but here is where you try “annicca” out and suddenly you experience the truth (And not just intellectualise it) – that the pain disappears (and yes it will come back). As the days went on you got pains all over and these were sankaras of the past as your body stores the responses we make in your muscles – so when you stop generating new ones (because you are equanimous and not reacting to the sensations just observing them) it starts to open pandora’s box of old ones – and with that comes images from your past, videos in full stream in your head.

On the last day you go through metta bhavan – as Goenka ji says – this is the balm. Feel love and compassion for everything around you – and its such a strong feeling that you feel re-born. Energy and positive emotion coming out of every knock and cranny of your body.

In conclusion

This is not about intellectualising a life changing 10 days – its about trying to piece through some of the philosophies – it would be impossible to explain Vipassana – its somewhat unique to you. I for one – went in scared and sceptical and have come out calm and re-born for all intents and purposes with a toolkit to manage life. One thing to note – this is not meant for monks or people who will not be in business, startups, industry etc – this is hyper rational, hype practical and as an analogy – it will take you from seeing the world in colour to full HD.

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