Background Static

“Awareness and Equanimity are the only measurements along this path,” repeated our Dhamma doot (translation: messenger, ambassador), aka S. N. Goenka. I remember hearing the words awareness and equanimity on the speakers every day, multiple times a day during long and short Vipassana meditation courses. Understanding it is still a work in progress.

For the most part, my default reaction to discomfort is retrieving to my mind with the mission of “figuring out” where I’m going “off balance”. There’s a solution to everything! I don’t think that looking for solutions is flawed, albeit it’s empowering and responsible, in my opinion. However, levels of awareness and equanimity are key. If I have a longing to rid of a feeling or situation, then I’m most likely not here in the now. If I want to better myself while still being accepting of and kind to myself, to my current abilities, and to the situation I am in, then there’s peace in my being.

Or so I thought.

But this life thing with it’s everyday experiences, with the past baggage (synonym: sankhara) it comes with, and with the new layers that keep on revealing themselves tend to throw me off now and again. Sometimes I just plain can’t be kind to myself, and then the practice becomes to be kind to the unkind in me. What?! …but I digress…

The topic of background static is somewhat new for me. I remember Assistant Teacher’s often telling students to ‘let the thoughts just be there like a radio or television playing in the background. Don’t pay any attention to them, stay with sensations or with breath.’ I never have been good with the radio or television playing in the background, I can’t help singing along or getting enthralled with the actors onscreen; that’s why, during study-time, I started listening to instrumental-only music. Over a period of time, I stopped that, too, out of respect of the composition and composer. I wanted to pay attention to the music be it with or without words, after all that’s the purpose of music, in my opinion.

A few months back I discovered Coffitivity. It is a website that has recordings of background murmur, like the kind we hear in coffee shops. There’s no rhythm or pattern to it that deserves attention or appreciation. It’s just random background noise. It’s not taking anything away, in fact studies suggest that this kind of random background noise might actually help us concentrate.

When I have background static in my head, so far my default has been trying to make sense out of it. Like music, I pay a lot of attention to it. But I am realizing there’s nothing there! It’s nonsensical. Just like my external surroundings are sometimes quiet, sometimes loud, and always on a spectrum between the two extremes … so is my internal being sometimes quiet, sometimes loud, and always on a spectrum between the two extremes. Depending on where I am on the spectrum + what my levels of awareness and equanimity are, my concentration / distraction can fluctuate. Simple enough.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t be here without Vipassana. Jai ho!

Practicing Gratitude

Two weeks ago was my last day at my last job. Night before the last day, while meditating, an idea bulb went off in my head – “thank you cards!”. I cashed in. I wrote a personalized note for every single person. Most of them I only saw briefly as we changed shifts. But as I committed to this [great] idea, it became my duty to invest my time and heart in each one.

It was humbling and a great reflective exercise! I thought about each person one-by-one and recalled something specific about them, something that I had come to appreciate in them, something I would be reminded of when I think of them. As I did this, I observed the rise of subtle pleasant sensations throughout my body. By focusing on the good in each of these people, and appreciating them for it, I was practicing metta (loving-kindness meditation), I concluded (but I don’t know whether that’s correct or not, opinions welcome).

Writing thank you cards has never been a habit of mine, I don’t even recall if it were ever emphasized in my childhood. By extension, the part of my brain that focuses on gratitude barely got any exercise if any. I became aware of this in early 2013. By that time I had been out of work, by choice, for almost 1.5 years; I was focusing on internal healing and growth. I had just concluded my long-term service at Dhamma Patapa and was transitioning back into “normal” life. During the past months, in spite of not having an income, I had food, shelter, and clothes. I had developed wonderful friendships, and I was much more grounded in myself. Yet, I didn’t feel gratitude.

I raised the question of, “how do I develop gratitude?” to my adopted mother. Amongst other things she mentioned making a habit of writing thank you cards; she has been practicing it weekly for years. I took it in, thought about it, and finally put it into action two weeks ago (almost 1.5 years after taking it in).

It feels great to be on the other side of this journey. I am thankful to myself for being kind to myself as I took my time with this new practice. And I look forward to whatever’s next.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t be here without Vipassana.

Listening with Empathy

Apparently we all like to talk about ourselves. I don’t know why it took me 60+ days (not consecutive!) of being quiet to become aware of this.

Yesterday I met with a friend after years. She is surfing through some serious vicissitudes right now. As our evening progressed, I realized my frustration with not getting to share about MY life as much as she did. It took effort to just be present, to just be a good listener, to spend three hours together and allow her to do most of the talking.

At some point I understood that that was my role last night – to be a good listener. Some of our life preferences are very different, but my role last night was to be there without judgement, with empathy. Not necessarily validating her experience with words, replies, and similar or counter examples from my own life …but… practicing acceptance, celebrating diversity, honoring experiences.

Listening with full-attention, without forming replies in our heads while the other person is still sharing takes a lot of concentration, attention, presence, awareness, will power, and determination. I spend so much time with myself that it is easy to start believing that my way is the only way. My reality is the only reality. My opinions and choices are the only ones that make sense. Listening with Empathy starts cutting through this illusion. Understanding someone to the core may never come! But, I guess, understanding that I may never completely understand anything waters humility. In me it also waters grounded-ness and curiosity.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t be here without Vipassana.

Attachment to Pain

When something deeply stirs me up in the realm of fear or pain, I outwardly express my internal emotions by smiling less or not at all, by feeling and being impatient with myself and others, by staying to the point in communication and speaking in monotone so much so that it may easily be perceived as rude especially at work since I work in customer service where interacting with people is the job!

Before I get into what needs improvement, I would like to first acknowledge the progress that has already been made. There was a time when my highs and lows were miles apart both in frequency and in their heights and depths. Cyclical depression was my norm and I was depressed for months at a time. Depression is now a thing of the past, it no longer exists in my self-descriptive vocabulary.

Hurt, pain, irritation, annoyance, anger etcetera can still have a hold on my emotions. The strength of their hold depends on how attached I am to a given situation. I would like to point out that in some circumstances where one or a combination of these emotions would have been a default reaction three-years ago (or even six-months ago), they don’t arise at all! I am very aware of this and surprise myself each time this happens.

Habitual practice of observing sensations without identifying with them thus choosing not to react to them … has indeed weakened the hold of this mind’s attachment to and identification with I, me, myself, mine. It’s fascinating!

There are also instances when I roll in reaction without awareness. The most recent one that gave birth to this blog post lasted for, I think, a-day-(or-two)-and-a-half. Compared to months of depression, rolling in misery for only two-and-a-half day’s is pretty great! But misery in general is blah. Period.

As I gained awareness of my deep internal reaction to this incident, I realized I did not want to let go of the emotions I was feeling. I wanted to feel angry. I wanted to give space to my worry. It was depleting my energy, affecting me and my interactions negatively, yet I wanted it to stick around. I wanted others to read that something was going on. My mind was somehow getting a kick out of it, these emotions made me feel important somehow. “Wow, I’m attached to my pain!” I thought to myself. I was waiting for someone to ask, “hey, what’s going on? Are you okay?” And I imagined myself acknowledging their concern but not answering their question. Leaving a sense of mystery around it, feeding my mind’s need of feeling important.

It was easy to switch to equanimity and practice loving-kindness after awareness took hold again. My interactions returned to a place of where I no longer was spreading my negativity onto others. I even came up with actions to address my emotions around this incident which is a deep rooted sankhara. And so today as I write this post, the external situation has not changed, however, my internal perception of it continues to get addressed. It feels as if 90% of the battle has been won!

Needless to say, I wouldn’t be here without Vipassana.

Let Them Be

Meditating / Sitting in silence, quiet and alert, observing the self without reacting brings forth many awarenesses. With continuous practice, this awareness grows, comes alive and stays alive in the undercurrents, ever-present even off-the-cushion. Which is exactly the point of daily meditation.

I think it is accurate to say that at one point in time, I was aware of nothing at a deeper level! I was reacting to people, things, emotions, situations and believing that was the only way. Fast-forward to post-Vipassana, and now I am aware of [some of] my reactions, and often even aware of a second level reaction to my initial reaction. Layers and layers of sankharas, reactions, should’s and should not’s etc.

A few months into seriously meditating I became aware of (what I think is) a strange phenomenon — my happiness makes me happy, sure… but what makes me even more happy is someone else’s misery. Awareness, equanimity, and loving-kindness allow me to tend to these (I’ll call them) human flaws with tender love and care.

Fast-forward yet another several months and I’ve noticed that I still react with happiness to someone’s misery if I do not like that person, or if my mind thinks they “deserve” it. I also noticed that if Person A is happy because Person B is unhappy, and I like Person B, then I am irritated with Person A for being happy for Person B’s misery. Oh, the games this mind plays! I am laughing to myself while writing this!

So.. here’s an idea!.. what if no one was liked or disliked? What if no one was categorized? What if everyone was treated like a tree? (I am referring to the following words)

When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree. The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You’re too this, or I’m too this.’ That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are. 
– Ram Dass
What if I just accepted everyone for who they are in this moment? Allowed to walk their path without my judgement or opinion? Such freedom that would be.
I know that at some level I already practice this, I choose to let people be them. However, the sense of liberation I feel while imagining this tells me it can be taken to another level. Time to peel off yet another layer.
That’s all folks. Needless to say, I wouldn’t be here without Vipassana.

I am still a Whiner

“Oh my God, you’re such a whiner!”, said my girlfriend smilingly to me. I replied back with a mix of whining and knowing, “Yes, and now you see why meditation is so necessary for me!” Not that she doubted the positive effects of meditation, after all she meditates herself, but in that moment praising meditation seemed the right thing to do – more for my benefit than for anyone else’s.

There was truth in what she observed in me. I was whining about something as trivial as getting a haircut. I was doing it half-jokingly; only half jokingly 🙂 …the other half was completely serious. I attempt everyday to get in touch with the child in me, the joking part was whining for that reason, which is probably not a sound method. The serious whiner in me had a serious issue with what was to go along with the haircut – sweeping and showering.

There are a lot of things that I dislike doing, but if you were to ask me to list these, I would be at a loss. Because, I choose not to remember them. I choose not to give them energy. If you were to ask me to list these before Vipassana, I could keep going and going. Back then I lived mostly in avoidance mode. Now I live in doing mode.

The whiner still shows up. It’s first resurfacing occurs without my permission nor my knowledge. My reactionary mind rolls with the whiner in the driver’s seat. It even attempts to disguise the whining as a good thing, like getting in touch with the child in me. Sometimes I am blinded by it, other times not so much. I am still learning the ways of the ingenious mind! Making mistakes to only learn from them.

During times when I recognize the reaction:

  • I first acknowledge it, then
  • make a decision, and
  • shut off my mind
  • switching to breathing and being
  • …and just go do it. Take Action. Make it Happen!

Yes, some things take more effort in shutting of my mind than others. There are areas that require more stamina to be ‘conquered’ and I have been unable to make them happen as of yet. The cool thing? The little trivial things like the haircut dilemma allow me to build the stamina for conquering stronger whines.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t be here without Vipassana.

Truth over False Safety

This is my fourth post on Living Vipassana. I have been excited about being a contributor here from Day 1. It was exactly the right addition to my week; it fits perfectly with how I am carving out my life and where I want it to head. For example, although regular meditation has always been an important part of my life that often doesn’t get done, weekly contribution on a meditation blog keeps it in the forefront for me.

Experiencing change and reflecting on change are distinct activities. Experience happens in the moment. Reflection is after the fact; reflection involves analysis and introspection, resulting in deeper intellectual understanding. Writing–as a weekly habit with accountability–forces me to make time for reflection. Reflection, by my definition, needs quiet introspection and analysis, which often gives rise to questions in me that I haven’t discovered the answers to yet. This, in turn, brings and keeps meditation in the forefront for me. What a beautiful cycle!

During one of these reflection times a question arose in me: in spite of the excitement that I have for writing on this blog, why haven’t I told people that I am writing here? A couple of very close comrades know–like, my significant other, my sister, and the close-knit group of my accountability group. Other trusted individuals discovered on their own because they’re frequent readers of this blog. What about others, though? Why don’t I mention this when “so, what else is new?” echoes in a conversation? Am I choosing humility or safety?

I think safety. Notice the choice of words above: close comrades, close-knit group, trusted individuals. If I were coming from a place of humility, that would be wonderful. Unfortunately, however, I think I am coming from a place of fear. By choosing only close and trusted individuals, I am avoiding possible difference in opinions, difference in interests, possible judgments, and/or active and passive conflicts.

The bare truth is that my fears are imaginary, created by my own mind. It is impossible to know what someone thinks or how someone feels without their sharing. Thus, the imaginary consequences may or may not take place in actuality. And by coming from a place of fear, by choosing avoidance, by keeping myself “safe”, I indirectly choose to betray my own true self.

My true self loves writing, takes meditation seriously, and is passionate about self-growth. Sharing these with only a close-knit group of trusted individuals,

  1. keeps me in my comfort zone, and
  2. keeps my comfort zone small.

It’s time to expand. It’s time to take even more ownership. It’s time to more tightly embrace myself for who I am, and allow others the opportunity and pleasure to be a part of it.

For the coming weeks, I will be more aware of how I am integrating the above resolution in my life and actions. The changes this brings will be fascinating to experience and observe.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t be here without Vipassana.