My Vipassana Catholicism

I come from a devout Catholic heritage and navigating my spiritual/religious identity over the years has been a rich and complex journey. One of the more interesting turns was my discovery a few years ago that my Vipassana meditation practice actually enabled me to understand, appreciate and connect with Catholicism in a whole new way.

Vipassana provided a bridge of sorts — the best way I can describe it is that the Catholic teaching I received throughout life seemed to impart clear directives about what values I should strive to embody, without providing concrete guidance about how to embody them. After learning Vipassana, I found that it was the missing link I didn’t even know I was lacking; the tool that illuminated for me how to embody these values. No matter how much I aspired to be a more loving and compassionate person before this, my efforts carried me only so far — my most earnest intentions were no match for my deepest rooted mental habit patterns. I inevitably reacted to potent age-old triggers in fractions of a second, beyond the reach of my conscious mind’s ability to control my emotions (and often, my words and behaviors). Think family dynamics. Through Vipassana, I have learned a technique to face the negativities within me, towards gradually weakening their grip on me at the deepest subconscious levels. I suspect that prayer the way it’s intended to be practiced more closely approximated Vipassana meditation once upon a time, but that the meditative and contemplative emphasis was lost to mainstream church teaching long ago.

Another way that Vipassana has deepened my connection to Catholicism is that scriptures, creeds, prayers, etc. have taken on entirely new and profound meanings as I find myself interpreting them through the lens of my Vipassana experiences. Sometimes it seems the teachings are alluding directly to Vipassana practice (or more accurately, its prayer equivalent). I’ll try to identify some examples to share in future blog posts. I find these parallels to be extremely exciting. They illuminate possibilities for people of various spiritual and faith traditions to converge with a shared basis in contemplative self-awareness. The journey continues.

“Start again.” — Goenkaji

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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.

3 thoughts on “My Vipassana Catholicism

    • Thanks, Chris — glad you enjoyed it. I’ve been wanting to start articulating the connections I experience between my Vipassana practice and my Catholicism for some time now, and it feels good to have gotten started! I also wonder if others experience similar connections with their particular religion or faith tradition. I think it’s pretty wild/fascinating that meditation has brought me closer to Catholicism rather than away from it, as I might have guessed before becoming a Vipassana meditator.

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      • Maria, That’s a wonderful connection to write about that vipassana has not seprated you from your Catholic upbringing but has rather enhanced your connection with it!

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