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June 23, 2012

What I learned from my Vipassana retreat

Vipassana is a science of mind and matter that can only be experienced individually, and only through the body. True wisdom can not be learned intellectually. It must be experienced in the body. At the deepest level of the mind, there is a constant connection to the sensations of the body. Unpleasant sensations can cause misery if we allow them to control us. The habit is to recoil or push away situations or people that cause unpleasant sensations in the body. What we need to learn is how to accept all sensations as they arrive, so they can pass away.

Everything is impermanent. All earthly beauty turns ugly with decay. We must learn to appreciate the good things in life without grasping or clinging. Recognize the beauty in the constant flux of reality. There is nothing that does not arise to pass away.

Impermanence is demonstrated by observing nature. Every time you visit a river, it has completely changed.  The river is never the same. It is changing every single moment. To give this river a name is misleading, because the name implies that there is something unchanging about this river.

Like the river, we are always changing. The name we were givent is a convenient label, but is misleading. At the apparent level, I am the same person I was yesterday. But the truth is, my body has completely changed since then. Cells divide at split-second speeds constantly. Old cells are sloughing off constantly. Every 7 years, every cell in my body has been replaced. I am an entirely new person every 7 years. And that is not including the other aspects of what we call the self.

Because everything is always changing, attachment will only cause suffering. Whatever we become attached to will eventually change. Acceptance of whatever comes our way without craving or aversion is the only way out of suffering.

Most people are prisoners of their own mind’s habit patterns. They grasp for what they don’t have and are averse to what they do have when it doesn’t match their false ideas of what would make them happy. “If only others would change, then everything would be great,” they say. When the path gets thorny, put shoes on. It is much easier to change your own life than it is to change your external reality. There is no need for anger when your external world does not match your ideals; Anger is like a hot coal that one throws at others with bare hands. It causes suffering for both the giver and recipient. With this realization we are able to generate compassion. Forgive them, because they are already suffering at their own hands.

Awareness of sensation and equanimity towards sensations are the keys to unlock the shackles that keep us from living in the present. Observe sensations that crop up in the body, and ask, “I wonder how long this will last”. Do not identify with the sensations because they are not you. They will pass. You are just an observer.

Every emotion that we can experience is known to us through some sort of bodily sensation. The quicker we can observe the internal sensations generated by our reactions to external stimuli, the quicker they will dissolve.

Suffering is attachment to an outcome we cannot control. Happiness is total surrender to and acceptance of the present with recognition of the law of impermanence. “This too shall pass,” such is the law of impermanence.

 

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