Overcoming Doubt

Written by Jessica Wright

I was very grateful to find this blog recently, after sitting my third course. At times on the course, I thought that I wouldn’t overcome the doubts and resistance that I was struggling with and continue to practise, so I was keen to read about other people’s experiences of establishing long-term Vipassana practice.

With hindsight, and having reached a few conclusions, I don’t think I can capture how confused and lost I felt on the course. I often felt that I was fighting against myself, because part of me has kept me on the path, somehow knowing that it was right, since I first heard about Vipassana – although nothing would have made me admit this in the midst of my most stubborn and argumentative insistence that it was a waste of time, all the apparent benefits I’ve experienced from meditation were simply down to wishful thinking and my breath was really, really, really boring. It would have been easy enough to leave and forget all about it if I had genuinely believed that it made no sense and everyone at the centre was brainwashed, but instead, I felt that I was losing something that had been guiding me.

I’ve questioned the part of me that was drawn to Vipassana, since sitting my first course. Where did it come from? How was it so unshakably certain that this was right? And most of all, why on earth did I not want to leave when I had to get up ridiculously early and sit in a painful position on the floor for hours instead of enjoying my time off work? I couldn’t answer these questions, nor could I deny that I felt I had found something I had been looking for, for a very long time.

Despite this, I’ve always had doubts and questions – not just on my most recent course – and I’m sure the main contributor to this is my obsession with understanding the whole of everything about everything, right now. If I don’t understand every little detail of something, I refuse to believe it! So the emphasis on only accepting what you experience yourself appeals to me, but I ran up against a brick wall, because I wouldn’t practise until I completely understood everything about the technique and the theory behind it…but I couldn’t understand everything without practising.

An important step in breaking this cycle has been to examine the intentions behind my questions. Some questions arise from doubt. They pick at unimportant details, and if they are answered, an endless list of others will appear, or I will argue and insist that I still don’t get it, against all reason, until I’m blue in the face! Other questions arise from a desire to gain a deeper understanding. It’s hard (although is that a tiny hint of relief I detect?) to accept that some of these questions don’t have to be answered right now and I can’t, or don’t need to, understand everything immediately. I’m learning to let go of the part of me that wants someone at the next course I sit to hand me a checklist of all the things I will learn about Vipassana and when I will learn them, so I can neatly tick them off.

So I’ve (mostly) stopped running around in circles, but how will I get over that brick wall? Faith. Which completely freaks me out if I think about it too much. For a start, it’s new to me that faith doesn’t have to be blind, and I need to let go of my certainty that complete understanding is an adequate substitute for faith. Not to mention, I’m clearly very attached to this idea of myself as someone who examines everything carefully before accepting it and has faith in nothing that hasn’t been proven beyond all reasonable (and unreasonable) doubt to be absolutely true now and for the rest of time.

But I’m just about ready to admit that I do have faith, deep down. If my recent experiences have proved anything, it’s that the part of me that needs Vipassana and knows that it is right is far stronger (for now!) than my doubts and my very distracting habit of questioning everything. And whether or not I understand how it came to be there or how it knows what it knows, there is no denying that it is there, keeping me on the path. So I’m going to help it out a bit by letting go of some of my questions and learning to delight in this process of discovery and growing understanding. And by meditating twice a day, of course.


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