Why do people come to a Vipassana course?
In talking with people who come to our Center in the Southeast on registration day and Metta day, I find there are almost as many reasons as there are people.
There are some common themes, including life crisis, emotional trauma, and long-term need for ‘something more’ in life.
In general, it seems most people who come to meditation are hoping to find stress relief, increased calmness, and help in dealing with both the situations life presents as well as their own internal demons – notably anger, grief, depression, addiction, and existential angst.
Usually people find the help they need, if they don’t give up before the process has had time to work. Whatever the mechanisms involved are – and there are lots of theories and understandings of that – meditation does bring greater peace of mind and even better physical health. Although most of these things are, from the point of view of Buddhist teachings, side effects of meditation, they are what keep most of us in the practice in the early years.
Another effect of meditation is the development of a more open-minded attitude, both towards one’s own life and towards other people. Although this effect is not perhaps as widely appreciated or promoted, to me it’s one of the best things to come from practice, because it makes life more fun!
A fellow blogger friend, ‘Ramblingrosemaryanne’ on the WordPress blog “almostdroppedout,” talks about how we are programmed by our evolutionary past to be a bit suspicious of new things:
“On familiar territory, when encountering something or someone new, our brains trawl, computer-like, through the archives of our past looking for similarities so we can make a judgment. It happens in seconds and we don’t even realise we’re doing it most of the time. So when meeting a new person, we look at their clothes, their hairstyle, listen to their accent and bestow them with a range of values and beliefs that may or may not be theirs, so we can decide if we like them or not. When we’ve done that we ignore any future evidence that goes against our decision and only seek information that supports it.”
Clearly this limits one’s potential for growth and could also be seen as one of the prime factors in much of the social malaise of our times.
“Since I’ve been practicing Mindfulness I’ve noticed myself becoming less resistant to new experiences and regaining a sense of fun,” RamblingRosie says. “When I catch myself thinking things like not wanting to ride the quad-bike, I ask myself ‘why not.’ As a result I’ve been trying to be more open to new ideas and experiences and it’s fun. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, like the cake that wouldn’t rise and a new yoga pose that gave me a nosebleed. Other times it’s great, and either way life is much more colourful.”
Being more open to what life brings is as sure a path to gradually increasing happiness as you’re likely to find in this world.
And indeed, if we go on to discover the deeper aspects of meditation, the truly life-changing insights that come from longer, more intense practice, I understand that this aspect grows. We will come to realize that each moment is perfect in and of itself, regardless of how it may be evaluated by the “survivor brain” – and we’ll become more able to abide in that understanding so that happiness becomes the default mode.
If we make it on into the deeper insights, we will realize – on a truly experiential level and not just as an intellectual understanding – that every other person is really me and so, no negative thoughts toward them will arise. I’m still waiting for that one to happen! But I have great faith that it will.
In the meantime, I am happy experiencing the daily joys of meditation, feeling a bit more peaceful, and having fun with the new things that come along.