To assist Dhamma Projects’ focus in exploring how meditators integrate their practice of Vipassana out of the centre and into the world of the householder, we would like to share a recent conversation exploring this subject in the three parts. If you missed the first part of the conversation you can find it here, and the second part you can find here.
Interviewer: For you in terms of progressing on ‘your’ path what would you say is your biggest obstacle? And that could be on the mat, or that could be in your life –
Respondent: Sometimes there’s internalised voice in our heads that is called the inner critic, and the inner critic is sometimes quite harsh to us. I guess I’ve been struggling with that recently. The more aware I am of my feelings, of thoughts and emotions and sensations and everything, I am now a lot more aware also of this inner critic. This voice in our heads that is not very nice to us, especially when we make a mistake. And that inner critic is not our conscience really, because inner critic is actually judging us very harshly and judging our personality. It’s not saying, “You shouldn’t have done this,” it says, “You are a loser for doing that.” Or sometimes even, “You’re worth nothing. Look, you’re still failing!” So it’s a cold-hearted thing. I’ve been struggling with that a bit, and trying to befriend the inner critic also, trying to not let it take the driver’s seat.
Interviewer: How present is your ‘inner critic’ when you sit a course?
Respondent: Oh, it usually only comes up during daily life.
Interviewer: It’s not something that comes up during a course?
Respondent: Not really, because I think during the course I am a lot more focused on sensations, breath and sensations. And also I’m not really active during the course. It’s in real life that I would go out and try to let’s say accomplish something that I value, and let’s say I fail or whatever, then the inner critic might come in and might kick in. So that is the part of us, the perfectionist. People who feel like they’re perfectionist tend to have a strong inner critic. And while I was trying to establish my daily practise I think this inner critic was also strong. So at times now looking back I can see that many times I punished myself. Like there was a not so subtle self-violence.
Interviewer: But that’s what Vipassana is, isn’t it, self-violence?
Respondent: You mean Vipassana ?
Respondent: I don’t think it has to be.
Respondent: I think we can walk on the path with a lot of sincerity and a lot of commitment, and at the same time have compassion for ourselves. And I think if we can do that, then we’re doing something not many people are doing. And at times I think that is one of the primary reasons why some people progress a lot faster than others. If we’re caught up on this self-punishing, self-guilting, that doesn’t take us anywhere. And when I look at Goenka, he has a lot of just…he gives you such a strong sense of commitment with the way he’s talking, he really feeds the warrior in us. “Yes, I can do this, I must do this, I want to do this.” But again, at other times when I look at him, he gives you the feeling of immeasurable self-compassion as well. And most of us in the west too I think especially, we have strong inner critics, we tend to be perfectionists. I think the culture also imposes that to some extent. And I find in myself I had taken a lot more of the…I had to do this right away kind of feeling from Goenka. And the more I fail, (laughter) the more I soften, and the more self-love I was then able to access. The more self-love I accessed, the less guilt I started to experience.
Interviewer: This is during a course?
Respondent: This is during my entire Vipassana journey.
Interviewer:..outside of a centre?
Respondent: Also during the course sometimes, yes.
Interviewer: But outside of a centre, away from the mat –
Interviewer:..your biggest obstacle is your inner critic?
Respondent: Sometimes it’s the inner critic, and sometimes the inner critic’s voice can be the guru’s voice, at least what we think the guru is saying. And yet only with our limited understanding of the guru. When our understanding of ourselves – I think in my experience this was the case – when that got deeper, my understanding of the guru also got deeper. And I was then able to see very clearly how Goenka is showing both. A fitting challenge in a loving environment, that’s what we need. Instead of beating ourselves up just because we’re still not enlightened. That is not how it works. It doesn’t. But I think the fastest way to understand that perhaps is to really go for it. Because unless we really go for it, it’s going to take a long time for us to fail. (Laughter) So we have to really go for it and fail sooner rather than later, to then find out that beating ourselves up is not how it works. Self-compassion needs to be present. So we’re not only trying to get away from some from samsaras, we’re also trying to actually love samsaras at the same time. The more we are at home with it, the more we’re loving towards samsara, the less of a question it will become to right away escape suffering.
Interviewer:What is you understanding of ‘samsara’?
Respondent: Samsara is anything we are internally running away from. Samsara is suffering.
Interviewer: For you, what dharma projects would you like to see happen or would like to get involved with that could help bring the Sangha that you experienced in a Vipassana centre into your day-to-day life?
Respondent: I think having a Vipassana hall, however big or small doesn’t matter, just a big enough room for people to gather and to meditate together at least a few times a week in every city is what we need. In every city where there is enough demand. Instead of having the only option of going away just to be in an atmosphere like that. Yeah, so I can say if in Istanbul now today there were one day courses every Sunday, I would probably be sitting one day courses every Sunday. That really helps I think. With the sense of community, that support then becomes a bit more internalised. It helps with that. It helps with deepening our practise. And it helps with not feeling like we’re the only ones struggling or things like that.
Interviewer: So a place to sit, rather than a space where the ideas and principles of Vipassana can be applied to one’s day to day life.
Respondent: I mean, through that place, people can meet and maybe become friends, and just having more and more friends who are practising, I think that can help.
Interviewer: So you don’t think formalising some kind of format or structure where people are encouraged to come together and do things?
Respondent:Things like watching movies and stuff like that?
Interviewer: No, like actually doing…having a space like now, talking about how does Vipassana and the principles apply to my life, in terms of those who maybe haven’t experienced psychotherapy and don’t have the understanding of what’s going on and what they’re doing. So I guess more like a support, so that people can actually continue to progress, and whether that’s –
Respondent: Yes, I think through friendships that can happen. Through people who meet at those places when they sit or whatever, or like a pot luck let’s say in the same place we have a pot luck once a month, people come together, we talk, we have tea –
Interviewer: A pot luck? What’s that?
Respondent: A pot luck is when they all eat together, you know, and then socialising, then people become friends, then they start talking about things.
Interviewer: So informal, informal rather than formal?
Respondent: Yeah, I find the Vipassana organisation to be a bit more strict about those things, and I see the value of that as well. I guess as long as we find the chance to do it on our own with people who we meet through Vipassana, yeah. I think the organisation, to start organising community gatherings, I’m not really sure if they would be willing to do that. I’m not even sure if it’s necessary that much either. Because I actually feel that volunteers, you know like…I mean, there is a yearning for something like that in me when it comes to Vipassana communities, to be a lot more together, to be a lot closer with practitioners. But at the same time, there’s a lot bigger need for let’s say volunteers at the centres, a lot bigger need for a bit more money to make the centres bigger. So should that time and effort and energy and whatever and money, should that go toward organising community events, or should it go toward being able to assist more students at centres?
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