What I Learned In 10 Days Of Exploring The Mind
Far up a winding dirt road in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is a special place. Situated upon rolling hills abundant with manzanita and pine trees are sweeping views onward to a lush green valley below. Hawks fly freely overhead, and wildlife flourishes in the beauty. But beyond the natural beauty, this is a place where people come to work on the beauty within; a place to observe the functions of the mind through the ancient technique called vipassana meditation, just like many centers located around the world.
The meditation is taught through 100 hours of awakened darkness behind closed eyes, in an environment devoid of the spoken word and body language. And as I discovered, meditation can be either peacefully tranquil or intensely painful. The point of this environment is to remove the mind from the distractions that it normally encounters. And only by removing these distractions, is it possible to look inward and explore the mind at a much deeper level; into the behavior of the subconscious that navigates our ship… a direct look into our selves. I put this experience in the, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” category, and it is through this struggle that brings out so much good. Nothing like meditating for 2 hours, eating breakfast, taking a nap, and then heading off to the next meditation while the sun is just coming up over the mountains.
Here are my main takeaways:
The mind is like an out of control rodeo horse jumping from thought to thought, never able to stay on a specific idea for long. It is addicted to information. The meditation enabled me to see how busy, active, and crazy my mind is. Throughout my practice, I experienced that’s is difficult to accomplish much without a calm mind. And it was very difficult to completely calm my mind.
I remember on day six—which was supposedly the most difficult day—I had an easy day. I almost enjoyed it. Wow, I had vipassana nailed down I thought to myself. It was early evening and we had only one more hour-long meditation remaining. And after nine hours of meditating, one hour appears to be nothing. Well, I ground through that one hour… every breath I took time moved in reverse, I lost any sort of calm mind; I had to power through it. It was brutal. The takeaway here is to never hold onto successes or failures. Instead, appreciate success and then come down to a leveled state of mind and ego. The same is true for failure. To get dragged down into a world of suffering over a failure is equally dangerous. Successes and failures come and go.
3 roots of all suffering (Buddhist teachings)
We aren’t necessarily physically addicted to sensations. Instead, we are mentally addicted to the process of craving, constantly in search of more, more, and more. For example, how common is it for us to want more ice cream after we just had some? Or a larger home? Or a new model of whatever product not long after the older model was purchased? This way of thinking is endless and rarely comes to a peaceful stopping point.
The mind tends to react negatively to feelings of pain or discomfort. Throughout the meditation, we were instructed to look into pain objectively instead of averting it. Our minds are habitually conditioned to avert pain and to instead direct our attention to pleasure. This habit sets us up for failure since directing all of our attention at pleasure ultimately leads to unhappiness. Pleasure isn’t permanent. It was interesting to observe the physically painful areas in my body with an equanimous mind and notice how the pain changed form, moved into different spaces, and eventually dissolved completely.
Nothing stays the same.
What I normally view as disrespect—i.e. the guy super loud in our house when I was trying to meditate, the slow car in the fast lane on the highway, or that person in the coffee shop yelling on their cell phone—I can now see as ignorance. It has nothing to do with me, is something I shouldn’t take personally, and how it affects me is my problem to overcome.
Society is Suffering
The meditation enabled me to realize that most of society is suffering. I now feel bad and empathetic for everyone. Everyone is trying to manage this life to the best of their ability. We mask our pain in distractions. By taking away all distractions and noises in our lives, we are forced inward. Most of us are constantly cluttering our external world to avoid the internal world. Excessive: alcohol, T.V., bad food, shopping, and hedonistic vices, are distractions for the mind, and create a “pleasure” to deter oneself from their true self. But no matter how much someone distracts themselves with busyness or craving, the deep issues inside of us are still churning at a visceral level in our subconscious, ultimately controlling our level of happiness.
Discipline is necessary for anything meaningful; without discipline, I would have cracked before the tenth day. There were times in the meditation when I felt pushed, and I had to dig deep; I wanted out, and to leave some sessions early. Fortunately, I had my former days of bike racing to go back to. The suffering in competitive cycling is intense, and I had to tap back into it at times to get through some meditations.
By knowing thyself, one has the skill to evaluate themselves better, and therefore they can read and understand other people better. This makes it easier to not take things personally and to forgive. It becomes easier to observe other people’s suffering, and in turn feel empathy and love towards them.
It’s an interesting experiment spending a week around 60 strangers without speaking or exchanging nonverbal communication. It was 10 days of absolutely no bullshit. Everyone’s guard came down; if they were suffering it was felt. After walking by the same people day after day with no eye contact or communication, it was possible to tune into people. There were people that I wanted to get to know, people I was indifferent to, and people who I wanted to avoid. We all put out a different frequency, and with some people, our frequencies are close to one another, and with others, the frequencies are far off.
We learned how to scan over our bodies equally into areas of pain and resistance, while also observing places of positive sensations. By refining this skill, it’s easier to react calmly to the outside world. We all experience stimulation from the outside world either positively or negatively, but before we react, there is a sensation in our bodies. If we can observe this sensation objectively before we react, then we have the ability to manage the way we react to a situation. This gives us the power to avoid craving or aversion. All sensations, both positive and negative will pass by eventually.
The only way to find true happiness in this life is to give love and show compassion; to understand that everyone is doing his or her best, that we all have issues. Hoarding, and looking at the world through a “what’s in it for me” lens results in unhappiness. People who can give and improve other people’s lives find happiness through the process.
A Lineage of Suffering Through Genetics
We are all where we are at in life for a reason. So many traumas have affected humanity, and this trauma doesn’t just disappear. For example, a Russian in their 40’s most likely had grandparents directly involved in horrific traumas of World War Two. If this trauma wasn’t dealt with, it was passed onto their kin. Until a person decides to truly deal with their issues, trauma and suffering continue to pass down through generations.
Most of us have family issues. I spent time looking into mine and working on coming to terms with them. Unless problems from an upbringing are examined and dealt with, they will never dissolve, and will always carry through this life at the deepest levels. Many of our negative behaviors stem from issues in our upbringings that remain harbored inside us like dormant volcanoes; eventually, the eruptions manifest on the surface unknowingly, sparked by outside events.
Our makeup of subatomic particles never stays static. The meditation taught us how to observe and read into these changes in the body. At first, we started with the breath and observed the nostrils, the air temperature going through them, and the tingling sensations around them. We then focused on the sensations below the nostrils and above the upper lip. After gaining observational skills in these small areas, we then worked onto the whole body. Eventually, we obtained the skill of flushing an intense amount of energy from head to toe with the power of the mind, which is quite a cool experience.
Everything in the world is impermanent. Seeing permanence in an impermanent world is unrealistic. Every moment our bodies are changing, the sky is changing, food is changing, the temperature of a cup of coffee is changing, the leaves on a tree are changing, existence is constantly changing. The reason many people suffer is that they fear change and resist it. Therefore, the idea of “settling down” makes little sense. To seek permanence in a world revolved around change defies the law of nature.
Attachment leads to suffering because eventually, everything will become unattached. Holding onto things with rigidity only creates a false comfort and security. Quite often this attachment stems from a craving, an addiction to that craving.
Fewer material trappings equal fewer things to lose, and therefore fewer losses to suffer over. We don’t own any of our possessions, we are just using them for the time being; they will all be taken away from us. If we identify closely with material possessions, then when they leave our identity takes a beating in the process.
We are conditioned from an early age to enjoy the future more than the now. Do well in 1st grade so you can reach 2nd grade so you can go to college, so you can get a career and get married, so you can “settle down” so you can get promoted so you can become CEO so you can retire. This is all great, but the now is all we truly have; enjoy it.
Happiness has absolutely nothing to do with money, and everything to do with knowing thyself and healing the inside. Money used solely as a tool to build an exterior fortress tied into the ego will never bring lasting happiness.
How much one knows thyself, understands the root of their suffering, and comes to peace with this world (interior/exterior)… determines their positioning in the next lifetime. If the spirit isn’t elevated, then it will come back next manifestation in the same place with the same problems, and the same amount of suffering will ensue.
After the ten days came to a close, my friend Stas and I drove away slowly; we felt no rush to get home and instead cruised aimlessly around the beautiful foothill roads of the Sierra. The clouds lifted in areas, the sun popped a deep green on the hillsides; the world shone beautifully. The distractions were overwhelming. We didn’t listen to music; driving was enough of an enormous task. I felt it hard to look at my phone because there was so much color, choice, and visual chaos. This was painful to look at and felt insignificant.
Instead of taking a quick way home, zipping up the central valley of California via the highway, we instead decided to dissect it. On our aimless journey, we awoke at the end of a road that stopped near a ditch with a few used mattresses in it. Surrounding us sat run-down homes, broken-down cars, and various other things decaying. A sketchy looking guy yelled at his dog with pure rage, on a mission to kick it. His son watched, absorbing the rage through osmosis. The trauma and misery passing down; and unless this kid is able to do serious self-work at a mature age, he also will repeat the cycle and pass the toxins down to his children.
A true brother. Stas, a true brother. Minds calm before the chaos. Getting home felt amazing; the lights of the city, the shiny cars, people walking in all different directions. I grabbed a few things from my apartment, put a leg over my motorcycle, and twisted the throttle. All of the distractions: the noises, smells, and activities pulsated madly in my head. My mind attempted calibrating back into this modern-day reality, but everything disrupted and excited me. And like the chaos of a storm, I was back into the madness, a place where one can avoid themselves easily. But underneath the external noises and distractions, the lights and movement, the same problems—if left unchecked—are burning in the engine room that powers our ship. Vipassana, the ten days of only hanging out with your own mind, is a look into that engine room, a look into the force that is guiding the ship through this open sea of life.
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