I started this blog six years ago to challenge myself to articulate the many complicated thoughts I had in my head in the early stages of my Vipassana practice. One year ago I discovered that my vision for Vipassana as taught by SN Goenka was different from many within the tradition, so I started to walk a parallel path separate from the organization even while maintaining my daily practice. During that year, I discovered that I could be a strong leader in my community if I spoke my truth from my heart, but also realized that most of my compassionate wisdom had come from Vipassana. I’m returning to this blog because I want to find answers, and I need your help. Our world desperately needs truth and love to overcome our many challenges. I believe Vipassana can help lead us in a better direction, but it’s not currently fulfilling that potential. Let’s put our heads together and see if we can find some solutions. Time to meditate.
Following the school shooting that killed 17 high school students in Parkland, FL, I wrote this social contract to offer support for my students in a confusing time. 263 students signed it. Our children want to come together to help build a better future. Let’s help them!
With this Social Contract, we will build the foundation for a positive future together:
While the Parkland shooting is frightening and devastating, I refuse to allow my life to be overpowered by fear, anger, or helplessness. I understand that there are many factors in this world that I cannot control, but I will not let these outside factors define what my life is about. When I am scared, I will reach out to friends, family, and other adults who can support me to borrow their courage to face my daily challenges with an open heart and open mind. When I am strong, I will provide support and friendship for anyone who needs it. When confronted by adversity, I will join hands with others in my community to face these difficulties together. When a community member offers an opposing opinion from my own, I will listen with an open mind, share based on my best understanding, and unite over the common goal of love. I know that we can build a healthy and inspiring future for our community if we work together. Every day, I will invest my energy into creating a positive future full of optimism, compassion, and innovation for the benefit of all people.
As Goenkaji says, whatever arises in the mind arises simultaneously on the body as a sensation. There is no separation between thoughts, emotions and body sensations. However we are conditioned in western society to experience the mind and body as separate. We go to a psychologist for our minds and a doctor for our body. People in the west often live from their heads and can be dissociated from their body. This can have far reaching implications for health, it’s easier for disease to get a foothold if we do not inhabit our body.
It’s interesting as an acupuncturist to witness how the mind becomes our physiology. Our mind actually becomes our body and we can know our Sankaras or reaction patterns by looking at the physical symptoms we have or even by how the body appears. Every moment our mind is producing a certain biochemistry which produces our physiology and over time it becomes our physical structure. It’s not enough for me to put acupuncture needles in to make the symptoms go away if through a behavior pattern the symptoms are constantly being reinforced. It’s a very disempowering place for a patient to be when they think that whatever is happening is random and out of their control and they are looking for an expert outside of them to fix them. It’s much more empowering when they can see their own mind/body relationship and see how they maybe contributing. The beauty of vipassana is that it helps us change our underlying behavior patterns to affect real lasting change.
There are 5 general constitutional types.
The water constitutional type has the theme of reacting to life through the lens of fear. Fear can show up in different ways such frozenness, anxiety, intensity, urgency, over ambition, never-ending go-go-go, extreme risk taking, orthodoxy, or isolation. Fear is a contraction or excess of the life force rooted in aversion. The habit of fear erodes on the kidneys and the adrenals as the nervous system is always on and in vigilance mode, it hastens the aging process, can lead to burnout and exhaustion, it can cause hyper or hypo thyroidism, hinders the body from resting and rejuvenating, it can lead to teeth or bone issues, also lower back pain and knee pain.
The wood constitutional type has a theme of reacting to life through the lens of anger. Anger rises quickly and can cause tension and constraint in the body. It can show up as being judgmental, being at loggerheads with obstacles and not finding creative ways around them, brash action, anger can tend to see things in terms of black and white/ good and bad. Pathological anger can cause headaches, skin rashes, hypertension, irritable bowel, ulcers, heart attacks, strokes and pain anywhere in the body. An inflamed mind can also lead to an inflamed body.
The fire constitution has a theme of reacting to life through the lens of joy. Joy becomes pathological when there’s excess like too much excitement and manic behavior which can lead to heart issues such as palpitations, tachycardia and heart attacks. It can also lead to insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, agitation and being out of sorts.
The earth constitution type sees life through the lens of over thinking, worry and pensiveness. Worry can show up as having lots of thoughts about things but never taking effective action on them, analysis paralysis, over thinking can show up as intellectualization or constantly grazing on ideas which don’t bear fruit or thinking which over complicates situations. This can have a real effect on our digestive system leading to things like nausea, fatigue, weight gain, bloating, difficult digestion, phlegm and mucous issues, diarrhea or constipation, also too headaches.
The metal constitution see’s life through the lens of sadness and grief. Grief can show up as heaviness, tiredness, apathy and depression. Grief over time weakens the lungs and can impair immunity, can lead to asthma, bronchitis, coughing, mucous issues in the lungs and sinuses and allergies.
These are just some examples in brief about how certain habits of mind can show up physically and how the mind and body is in constant interaction. Our body is constantly communicating with us and we have a lot of things to alert us when things are getting out of balance. When things are off in the body we can reflect and ask ourselves what is going on in our minds. Goenkaji calls these our private secretaries.
At the same time it is the nature of the body to break down and deteriorate and we might have conditions that we just inherited karmically. We are lucky though to have the Dhamma to work with suffering that arises whether from recent or long-standing conditions.
Nothing feels better than being accepted for who you are at the deepest levels of your truth. While it’s easy for anyone to appreciate our strengths, individuals who still accept and love us after understanding our darkest moments and witnessing our most hidden weakness are the people we acknowledge as our closest friends. As humans, social connections are pivotal to our happiness. We dress, talk, and act like the people around us because we want to fit in. We often straddle the line of being who we are and being who others want us to be without knowing which parts of us are which. It’s just as easy to get lost in abundant compliments as no compliments at all. We’re continuously searching for our authentic truth beneath the facade of superficiality we present to the world.
As I look out into this world, my stomach turns from the discrepancy between our perceived blissful surface reality and our ominous foundations we are secretly destroying. We pretend that our lives are full of joyful accomplishments while we sulk in our worries for the future. We’re afraid to say what we really feel because we don’t want to be ostracized from our social communities. We spend every waking hour trying to follow the script that was given to us without knowing how the story ends or what we’re trying to accomplish along the way. We’re afraid to question our true intentions because we doubt that people would still like us if they really knew who we were.
Well I have a secret for you: everyone is lonely sometimes, everyone has flaws, and we’re all different. True friends are the people who are willing to listen to your authentic truth and support you no matter what challenges you are facing in your life. These true friends are the ones you will still be in contact with you 5, 10, even 20 years down the road. Those friends who expect you to always be perfect will disappear from your life as soon as difficult struggles appear on your timeline. Struggles are not bad fortune. Struggles are opportunities to grow as an individual and to grow in your relationships. Every life is full of ups and downs. Don’t hide from your struggles, and don’t hide your struggles from your true friends. And when a friend approaches you to discuss a difficult topic, sit with them, hold them, and love them with your whole heart. If you can do that, I promise that they will be there for you when you need them down the road. There are many good people in this world. If one person lets you down, let it go and move on. Keep searching. Keep exploring. Keep living, no matter what.
We are facing many real challenges in our world today. Let’s stop pretending that they don’t exist. Instead, let’s use these challenges as opportunities to help our friendships grow to deeper levels. Let’s discuss the real struggles in our world openly and honestly, and maybe we will be able to overcome these obstacles together. We will make mistakes, and some people will call these mistakes failures, but who cares what they think? We know that the only way through this mess is forward so let’s go! Be real, be honest, and be loving, and let’s see if we can leave a positive mark on this world together.
It’s time to stop pretending that everything is okay. We’re trying to find solutions to specific issues like teen suicide and school shooting, but when are we going to realize that these are simply symptoms of much deeper problems. Our problem isn’t that a small number of children are struggling to cope with life in today’s world. The problem is most children are struggling to cope with life, and for a few, the only solution they can see to escape the suffering is to kill themselves and others. For a child to take such an extreme action, they must have built up a tremendous amount of anger and fear over many years of their short lives, and we’re letting it happen.
I’m tired of people justifying horrible societal norms in the name of some virtuous agenda. If you are attacking another person, tearing down someone’s beliefs, or using your platform as justification to refuse to listen, you are adding to the problem. If you are so busy that you don’t have time to question the long term outcomes of your actions, you are adding to the problem. If you are unable to hear the children all across our country currently screaming for help, you are adding to the problem.
We need to stop. The way we’re currently living our lives is not working. We need to take a step back and ask ourselves what kind of world we want to live in. We need to do better than choosing one side of a political debate and fighting for it. We need to realize that to make any improvements in this world, we need to work together on some common goals. Children across this country are screaming for help. Just because they don’t know the solutions to our problems doesn’t mean they can’t help us understand what the problems are.
Jesus Christ taught us how to bring love and compassion into moments of grief, division, and despair. He taught us how to come together for the betterment of the whole community. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t simply mean attending church every Sunday. Following Jesus requires that we develop the qualities he modelled for us within our own lives. He taught us that no matter how dark the world around us, love can guide us to the light. It’s time to reject the rules that are guiding us into darkness so we can come together and write new rules that will guide us into the light. Let us hear the children across this country that are screaming for our help, and come together to create a future we can all believe in.
Hi, Living Vipassana readers.
With permission from the New York Vipassana Association (NYVA) organizers, I wanted to share information about two upcoming talks to be given next month in New York City by Dr. Paul Fleischman.
Here are the Eventbrite links with details about both talks:
- “Meditating in Troubled Times”— Open to the public. Friday, April 13th, 5-6:30pm at Columbia University.
- “Allowing Dhamma to Become Integral to Your Whole Way of Life” — Old Student talk. Saturday, April 14th, 9:30am-12:30pm, at McKinsey and Company.
I find Dr. Fleischman’s Old Student talks to be very helpful as I try to live a Dhamma life in the modern world. I am looking forward to attending and hope that some of you can too. Much metta to all.
“If there is no peace in the minds of individuals, how can there be peace in the world? Make peace in your own mind first.” — S. N. Goenka
Although many Vipassana mediators feel significant benefits from Vipassana practice, many Vipassana mediators, particularly newbie Vipassana meditators like me, often ask: how do I integrate this Vipassana techniques into real life?
Believe it or not, an interesting book introduced me to applying Vipassana techniques in work and life a few years ago, before I knew Vipassana. This book is The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism, written by Olivia Fox Cabane.
The author broke down charisma into three kinds of charisma: presence, warmth, power. These three types of charisma are composed of a set of concrete and specific behaviors. For building charisma, she advised that everyone might train themselves with these behaviors. When I look back now, many techniques she suggested are highly related to Vipassana meditation. In other words, Olivia Fox Cabane did an extraordinary job to integrate Vipassana meditation details into charismatic behaviors.
To train presence charisma, she advised us to meditate. In life, a quick practical tip is to sense your toe. Sensations from the toes can quickly reset yourself to the present moment. A Vipassana mediator can immediately recognize this is a Vipassana technique related to sensations.
To train warmth charisma, she advised us to practice metta and compassion to other people and to ourselves. For example, imagine the person you are interacting with as an angel with wings. Further to apply self-compassion to calibrate ourselves to the charismatic mode.
To train power charisma, although she did not directly used Vipassana, she mentioned people with power charisma don’t fidget. One part of Vipassana taught us “Anicca: everything is changing”; i.e. observation of sensation will make sensations go away. After practicing of observation of sensations, it is very helpful for us to keep an equanimous stance. For instance, if you feel an itch on your nose, because you know it will go away soon, you do not have to scratch it. Furthermore, the author advised us to handle uncomfortable things by focusing on observing sensations.
The whole book is a practical guide or a unique introduction to a Vipassana course. When I retrospect both the book and my experience with vipassana, I feel more promisie with Vipassana. Maybe charisma is a vision or path to connect Vipassana with our real life and work. Maybe for people who do not easily understand Vipassana meditation, charism is an overlook for Vipassana meditation.
p.s. When you see those people who practiced Vipassana for a long time, you can sense them from their behaviors: they project warmth through their eyes and bodies; they are present and engage when they are with you; they are composed and calm. Beyond those charisma components, they are also humble.