Thinking Responsibly: Never Mix, Never Worry

One of the things that produced a distinct “Awww nuts!” reaction in me was the suggestion that as a Vipassana meditator, I would do well not to mix this technique with anything else. Too bad, I thought. By day 8 of the course, I was SO excited by the possibilities and could not wait to take it home where the “real laboratory work” would begin.

If I could have my attention inside my body, what were the applications of applying an intention while focused on this part of the body? “Endless,” my head said. I could probably heal things, regulate blood pressure, maximize brain usage, maybe even slow down the aging process. The imagination started to wander.

What if I had a healing intention while floating around my liver? Could I enroll in first year university a second time and take in just as much substance? Clearly not the noblest of purposes for this technique.  Off the imagination went for a lengthy stroll, and I don’t mind confessing that a smirk came over my face one day when I thought to myself, “I guess I’ll be sending myself flowers and staying in next Valentine’s”. Again, clearly the basest of applications of the method, but it does illustrate that the realm of possibilities is a large one.

I became SO curious about the origins of the technique and the changes it has been through. Where did it begin? In how many directions did it branch off? And who ended up being able to do the coolest things? The word Jedi crossed my mind.

When I got home, I looked up Vipassana and must have opened about 25 separate Wikipedia tabs. I watched a documentary about Tibetan Yogis and some on Indian Yogis. My head was spinning. What sorts of practices are contained in the instructional pages of Vedic texts? What kinds of abilities are being handed down from teacher to student in the Himalayas right now? Who will send me an introductory DVD at no cost to me but the shipping and handling?

I discovered that the underlying curiosity could be summarized in one question: what am I TRULY capable of? Being a neurologist? Pffffft.  BO-ring. Mastering the neurological processes? WOW. Sign me up. I wanted to advance in this process of awakening like a physical training program, gaining strength and ability day by day. But, living in the world with all of its distractions seems to place limitations on that growth. I am not a cave dweller and am only committing a handful of hours a week to the practice.

Slow and steady seems the only path available to me right now. And no Vegas-style parlor tricks are going to be my reward. I have to become clear that my aim is not to be able to perform tricks that will wow an audience, but rather to attain peace, harmony, and happiness. I have moved on, but not before one last glimpse at the more novel possibilities.

I heard a story of a student at medical school in India who was receiving a decidedly Western education in regards to health. One day, a young Yogi was brought in for a demonstration. Here’s where my curiosity was piqued: the Yogi stabbed himself in the arm with a knife; BUT, due to his extraordinary ability to focus his awareness, he was able to go to the site of the injury and restrict the flow of blood. As such, when the knife was removed, no blood came flowing out. Amazing, right? The story continues: some of the medical students began mocking the young man. At that moment, the yogi – for whatever reason – allowed himself to be swayed by the mockery and became angry. At this moment, he lost the balance of the mind and, wouldn’t you know it, the blood began to flow.

Now, I don’t get stabbed much these days, so the practical applications of restricting blood flow from stab wounds are minimal for me. However, the idea of an intensely focused awareness is extremely appealing. And, as it turns out, this is the gift of Vipassana. My stab wounds tend to be from emotionally charged encounters with myself and with others. Ego, jealousy, greed, pride, self-loathing and so forth.

Stabbings occur. But, as this technique has shown me time and time again, I’m under no obligation to lose the balance of my mind. It’s a choice. Being stabbed will no doubt continue throughout my life. Allowing suffering to flow from those wounds is optional. What use is there in being able to astound people if I am still plagued by suffering? How important is it that people be impressed by me? And though I will surely be tempted by the alluring promises of the ego, I already know that the essence within has no interest in a job at Caesar’s Palace.

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About Ryan Shelton

While I'm currently married to a beautiful woman while teaching physics at Padua Academy, these descriptors fail to capture the totality of my adventurous life. I have hiked over 1700 miles, traveled to 5 continents, managed a bakery, started a meditation center, counseled troubled teens, attended Duke, UNC, and Harvard, protected forests as a wildland firefighter, volunteered thousands of hours with Americorps, rafted the Grand Canyon, SCUBA dived on the Great Barrier Reef, and continues to find new adventures. I hope my writing encourages you to pursue your dreams and be the best version of yourself while supporting your communities to work together to solve the current challenges in our world.

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