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Vipassana - more fun with days

Oct 06, 1998 02:41 AM
by Murray Stentiford

The following is a piece written by a New Zealander, Ray Tomes, shortly
after completing a 10 day Vipassana Meditation course in May this year. In
my view, the kind of transformation wrought by such a course (and by a
further 2 of them, as Ray has done) is not unlike that which JRC described
in his recent piece called "How to spend a fun day".

What they have in common, of course, is the intention and effort to sustain
observation and stillness for a very significant period of time. Maybe
there's something to learn here .... :-)


I did the first Vipassana course in May this year, then served
(cooking and such) on one in July and did another one August/September.
Before doing these I had long ago (at age 11-13) rejected religions
because they didn't substantiate what they taught but seemed to ask for
blind faith.  However it is clear that I threw the baby out with the
bath water.  The real goodies were being hidden!

I have totally changed my patterns of how I spend my time and what I
read since learning Vipassana.

The following is [part of] what I typed into my computer shortly after the
first course in reply to someone on internet doing a book project about the
experience of doing Vipassana.  The additional courses have provided
just as many new experiences.


The first day of sitting cross-legged was agony.  I am 50 years old and
have an old back injury which became extremely painful and my knees and
ankles also hurt.  I had made a commitment to stay for 10 days and I
have always believed in keeping to my commitments.  However I could not
imagine that I could bear 10 times as much pain and it seemed that there
was no hope for completing the course.  I approached the assistant
teacher with my problem and he suggested sitting with my back to the
wall.  This was immediately before Goenkaji's first video discourse, and
I was enthralled by what he had to say.  He described my experience and
his style was so refreshing to me that my spirits lifted.  Never before
had I encountered such wisdom that was consistent with my own
experience.  I looked forward to future discourses.

As the days went by the pain didn't get any better, but then about the
3rd day I was thinking "my leg is in pain" and suddenly the meaning of
the words and the experience coincided - my legs were in pain but I was
not, I was an observer of my legs in pain.  I recognised that this was a
technique that I had used at the dentist to avoid panic and pain and
from then on I was mostly able to observe the pain without becoming
involved in the cyclical chain of avoidance.  I enjoyed Goenkaji's 2nd
and 3rd discourses also and was struck by the description of the mind as
being "full of chattering monkeys and wild horses with the odd rampaging
elephant".  I know that this is a true description for all people, but I
have been considered by my friends to have had an additional dose and to
use thinking to excess.  It was a real battle to get control of my mind
but I was hooked on the idea and very determined.

The events of the next few days are now almost a blur.  They were so
amazing that I cannot relate some of them and what follows is the less
spectacular things that happened to me, although they are far beyond my
expectations for what I might achieve on the course.  These days were a
roller-coaster ride.  I experienced both highs and lows that exceed
anything else that I can compare the experiences to.  I visited heaven
and hell several times each.  It seems that this experience is connected
with aspects of my behaviour such as impulsiveness, impatience and not
following instructions carefully but rather thinking that I know best.
It is also no doubt connected with my determination and dedication to
the task at hand.

When we had become adjusted to detecting the subtle body sensations I
was immediately able to observe old and present injuries and some
improvement was noticed.  For decades I have suffered from blocked nose
and sinuses.  I took my awareness up the inside of my nostrels and
discovered two pairs of sharp points of pain and observed these for a
while.  Suddenly two jets of sensation shot very rapidly out through my
cheekbones and shortly afterwards another two.  I realised that these
were my sinus passages and that they had become unblocked.  Shortly
afterwards the sinuses themselves emptied and my head was much clearer.
Later a similar experience happened with my ears when I observed inside
them and found the long wriggly passages would suddenly clear and again
some further sinuses emptied.  These "operations" were repeated perhaps
a dozen times each over the remainder of the course and the next 10

I soon became aware of sensations in my lower abdomen which relate to
some discomfort in my bowels.  Observing these sensations relieves the
discomfort.  As a result of other things the discomfort returns but
gradually the repeated easing becomes more established.  It seems like
this will take time but for the first time in 15 years it seems like the
remedy to my bowel problems is within my reach as all visits to doctors
have done nothing to ease, let alone reverse, the situation.

At times I became very clear of gross sensations and was able to scan my
entire body from head to feet and back several times per second.  At
such times the individual sensations from every part of my body were
quite clear and very precisely located so that it seemed like my
awareness was very many times greater in a very much smaller time.  At
other times gross sensations dominated parts of my body and scanning was
impossible.  I fell into the trap of craving and aversion for these
conditions and gave myself a roller-coaster ride being at incredible
highs with the most magic energy coursing through me and then within a
day being in the depths of despair.

My friends had thought it funny that I, an incessant talker, was going
to be silent for 10 days.  In fact that was not a difficulty.  On the
10th day of the course we were allowed to talk.  When I discussed the
course with other students I was surprised to discover that the subtle
body sensations were present all the time without any effort on my part.
In rapid succession I was confronted by the effects of certain habits
that I had developed and which I had varying degrees of awareness of
before.  When I interupted someone I had one sensation, when I had
critical thoughts about what someone was saying I had another, and when
I talked too much without being sensitive to others a third body
sensation occurred.  These were rapidly established as reliable
indicators and before long I was able to stop myself whenever I began to
do these things.

What I have gained from practicing Vipassana:

As a result of observing the nasal and ear passgaes my sinuses have
become much clearer and I can smell many things which I have not smelt
in decades.  A walk up the road a couple of days after the course was a

I am now very much more aware of previous bad habits in relation to
talking and listening and can mostly catch these quite quickly.  Some
situations are still quite difficult in this regard but I remind myself
that all things can change.

My driving has slowed down by about 20 km/h which pleases my wife.  I am
much more patient with other drivers and much more often look for the
possibility to be generous with people who want to change lanes or get
out of side streets.  I get body sensations if I become impatient or
inconsiderate in my driving.

I have steadily attacked piles of papers lying around the house and
completed or begun jobs which I have long procastinated over.  Some of
these seemed like huge mountains and required a lot of courage and
persistence, but I began to do these things today instead of tomorrow.
Every day I do something towards tidying up old messes and mostly catch
myself when I am about to create a new one.  I have become much more
considerate of my wife in the things that I do around the house.

In my new found zeal I have at times made mistakes, sometimes quite big
ones.  This has lead to some suffering, but eventually I realise that I
am craving or avoiding something and I am able to move on from the
mistake.  My impulsiveness and impatience are still there to some extent
but it feels like they are diminishing with each painful lesson.

Talking with friends and relatives has been much more about real issues
rather than avoidance of these.  I have tried to temper my enthusiasm
and allow my new calmer disposition to be present, listening more and
not judging, often knowing things about people before they tell me and
knowing when to hold back also.  In some cases when others are speaking
very critically about third parties then I feel distressed and find it
difficult to remain equanimous.  This will require further concentration
or the prevention of such situations.

There are many things that I have worked out by the intellect in my life
as I generally have not had faith in the teachings of others.  Vipassana
has allowed me to directly experience so many things that it has truly
created an entirely new reality, or should I say that it has dispelled
many illusions.  This has not always been comfortable and I know that
further discomfort lies ahead but I now feel firmly established in
continuing to keep on taking one more step down that road.  There have
been periods of doubt and confusion, particulary involving the fact that
my wife is practicing a different technique.  It seems that I am finding
an acceptance of this now but I also know that there may be some more
lumps in the system.

Learning Vipassana has been the greatest gift I have ever received and
my life has been changed so much that it can never be the same again.  
I know that I will give assistance to others who also want to take this
ride but otherwise the future seems so much less certain than it did
before.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

    ===end of article===

-- Ray Tomes -- --
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Boundaries of Science

    ===end of quote===

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