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.
Today I made the decision to return to blogging regularly here on Living Vipassana, as one way to help keep my Vipassana meditation practice central to my life — sitting regularly being the primary way, of course!
There. Is. No. Substitute. For. Sitting.
I also just enjoy expressing myself through writing, and this feels like the right outlet for me to do so.
Some of the themes I want to develop and explore here include Vipassana as it pertains to relationships and family life, friendships and community, spirituality and religion, and career and life balance. Expansive themes, I know, but these are things that figure prominently in my world and, indeed, in the world, so let’s see how it goes!
Speaking of friendships and relationships…I was visiting a good friend in Chapel Hill, North Carolina this past weekend, which is also where my husband, Ryan, and I first met, back in 2012. My friend and I decided to hike Occoneechee Mountain, which is the exact place where I actually first met Ryan. The hike brought back fond memories, and I’ll share our story soon… I figured it might be of interest to other meditators out there to get a window into one couple’s story of how a serious meditator met a non-meditator and they fell in love and got married! Stay tuned.
Nine more students killed by a shooter. This time at Santa Fe High School in Texas. Things need to change and I’m not just talking about politics. Our minds are constantly being lured away from reality and soothed by artificial stimulants. We spend much of our free time attached to a device that allows us to escape our reality by diving into artificial stimulants so we can avoid feeling discomfort. The more time we spend consumed by virtual reality, the less time we’re attending to our personal reality, and the more we’re contributing to the escalating mental crisis in our country.
Our world has been changing rapidly, and most feel helpless when considering the complexity of its dysfunction. When confronted by impossible problems, it’s logical to choose to escape reality for something more comfortable, but this becomes the norm, it’s like throwing in the towel on our world, and I’m not ready to do that. Eight years ago I found a solution that has helped me look directly at the problems of our world without being overwhelmed, and to start unpacking and correcting issues in my own life. The solution came from the 2600 year old teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama.
Eight years ago, my healthy father was unexpectedly diagnosed with a stage 4 brain tumor and died 7 months later. Several weeks after the funeral, I attended a silent 10-day meditation retreat offered free to the public at centers all over the world. I knew nothing about meditation at the time, but this emersion course provided experiential education that was clear and profound. My world had been turned upside down, and I was being given clear incremental instructions on how to purify my mind. Step 1 – Establish your morality by make 5 commitments: Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie or use harsh words, don’t perform unwholesome sexual acts, and don’t use intoxicants. Step 2 – Quiet and concentrate your mind by focusing on the breath. Step 3 – Feel and accept the current sensations throughout your body and observe how these sensations change, knowing that there is a strong connection between physical sensations and mental health. In ten days, I learned that trying to force change or avoid truths in my mind only makes problems worse, but by simply observing without judgement, mental tensions start surfacing, unpacking, and evaporating. This purification process allowed me to feel a deeper connection to unconditional love in my life, and it has helped tens of thousands of people do the same.
This is not a quick fix and it’s not something you can simply purchase and passively integrate into your life. It is a slow and difficult process that requires you to feel and make peace with all of your mental and physical tensions. My tradition says that 2 hours of meditation a day is the right amount to stay connected to your mind. In American standards, this seems impossible, but if we’re entering a reality where students across our country are simply waiting for the day that a shooter will enter their school, maybe it’s time to try something new. Maybe all the hours we spend competing against one another in school and the workplace could be better utilized purifying our own minds and learning how to work together. Instead of allowing technology to up the ante in our rat race for success, maybe we can let technological advancement make life easier and create more free time so we can be more present in our lives and our relationships.
The mindfulness movement is spreading because a growing number of adults are desperately searching for solutions, and meditation works. One struggle I see is that many organizations are trying to use meditation as a tool to help people cope with the difficult realities of todays world rather than discovering that our current constructs are fundamentally flawed. Instead of adding meditation on top of our current dysfunctional systems, we should be using meditation to understand the fundamental flaws in our society so we can make appropriate changes. Siddhārtha Gautama didn’t teach meditation as a tool to cope with life. He taught a way of life that leads to peace, truth, and happiness based on his scientific understanding of the mind.
To be blunt, I’m not telling everyone to become Buddhist. After 8 years of studying and practicing meditation, I’m no closer to being Buddhist than when I started. Similar to Christianity, there are stories in the scriptures that don’t make sense to me, and I’m not interested in joining intellectual debates discussing why one sect is better than the next. We have enough division in our lives without squabbling over details that are beyond our own experiences. I’m simply sharing that meditation has helped me purify my mind so I can align my life more skillfully with peace, love, unity, compassion, truth, and optimism, and I think it can do the same for others.
Our society is heading in the wrong direction. Anger, fear, greed, and apathy are growing stronger in our world causing many people to feel that our future is doomed. I’m here to tell you that there is another way. Siddhārtha Gautama left the course manual sharing how to align our lives with love, and many experts from all walks of life are transmitting these same lessons today. As individuals, we can decide to follow these lessons and live a better life. If groups of individuals start adopting these core strategies, we can realign the foundation of our society. It won’t be easy, but I know we can do it, so why not try?
This morning I had the good fortune to attend a group sitting in New York City with many, many fellow old students and to hear an old student talk given by Dr. Paul Fleischman and Susan Fleischman titled “Allowing Dhamma to Become Integral to Your Way of Life.” What an incredible experience it was to get support from being in the company of so many others also walking on the path of Dhamma, and to get encouragement and guidance from such senior teachers. I came away truly inspired and further committed to developing in Dhamma (ie qualities such as equanimity, humility, and metta).
One point that I found particularly valuable came up during the Q&A. An old student noted the guidance that “friendship is the path” according to the Buddha and the student inquired why sangha doesn’t figure more prominently in our tradition as it does in various Buddhist traditions — is this because Goenkaji specifically intended it this way, or has our tradition simply evolved this way without particular reason? We received the clarification that sangha is, indeed, very important in our tradition, and that our tradition guides us to give Dhamma service as the primary vehicle for sangha, rather than social events which are separate from our meditation. I’ve struggled with this question myself and found Dr. Fleischman’s answer to make good sense. Obvious, perhaps, but it resonated with me in a new way today. Maybe because I understood it newly in the context of “allowing Dhamma to become integral to your way of life.” There is certainly a role for (social) Dhamma friendships in my life, but they aren’t the complete source of sangha that nurtures my growth in Dhamma. Just thought I’d share — and I’d be interested to hear others’ experiences and feelings about this.
Many thanks to all of the Dhamma servers, teachers and organizers from the New York Vipassana Association who made this opportunity possible. I am truly grateful.
PS – if you have the volition, and do not have a “home Center” of your own, perhaps consider bringing your Dhamma vibrations to serve at Dhamma Pubbananda (Delaware). Strong old student vibrations remain uniquely valuable, I feel, to augment the committed team and culture taking root over the past few years. Bus fare from NYC to Delaware is considerably cheaper than an Uber from Manhattan to Brooklyn, it turns out ($20 vs $35 last night), and a nice 2.5 hour ride :). The Center is also 45 minutes from the Philadelphia airport, FYI. New York Vipassana Association will be holding more non-Center courses at the Fishkill site, and these are also opportunities for people in the area to serve.
He said: “There isn’t supposed to be success at meditating. As any good mediation teacher will tell you, if you talk about mediation in terms of success or failure, you are misunderstanding what mediation is.
I would not advocate mediation if I did not think there was something people could achieve by it. Granted, it may be best for people who are meditating to not think about succeeding , but that is because thinking about succeeding gets int eh ways of success. Granted, if you do achieve meditative “success”, that may lead to a new frame of mind that is less caught up in the pursuit of success that your old frame of mind – less relentlessly focused on achieving certain kinds of distant material goals, more aware of the here and now.
In sum, you can best achieve success at mediation by not pursuing success, and achieving this success may mean caring less about success, at least as success is conventionally defined. “
As I mentioned before, I started meditation because that I was motivated by several books, which described the beauty of meditation.
I think the major paradox came from the wide spectrum of meaning of “Success”. There are too many complexity of this word “success”. If we define it as “fully-focused”, the logic of “meditation and success” may become easier. Therefore, “meditation” is the practice or process; “success” is the goal of meditation, which is fully-focused.
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.