You just can’t believe that sitting can produce that much agony. You see so many people sitting in mediation looking totally blissed out. Ha! Maybe for ten minutes at the end of a yoga class. Vipassana is not like that.
If you want to get an idea of what it’s like find yourself a hard flat surface, put down padding no thicker than a yoga mat and sit on it for as long as it’s comfortable. Then sit on it some more. Be completely still. It will probably take a much shorter time than you expected for it to start hurting. Keep going. It won’t take an hour to become unbearable.
Now imagine doing that 12 hours a day.
I knew I was in serious trouble before lunch. There are the breaks, but by the end of the first day you realize you’re never going to get enough of a break for any kind of self-repair to happen. It’s like being cold and wet, but outdoors and knowing there’s no way you’re going to be warm until you’re dry and that can’t happen outside in the rain. You also realize that for the next 9 days you’re going to potentially feel 9 times the pain you’re currently experiencing.
You’ll want to leave. You won’t know why the hell you’re there (I thought meditating all day would be relaxing). You’ll want to smack the blissful benevolent smile from the teacher’s face.
As bad as I make it sound it was one of the best experiences of my life.
The whole experience. Hopefully I’ll be able to describe well enough to not make Vipassana seem completely crazy.
During meditation your eyes are to remain closed to avoid any break in concentration of your physical person. If during your practice you experience any images (and most everyone will. it’s kinda like dreaming while you’re awake) you are to ignore them and refocus yourself on what is physically happening in your personal reality. Your physical reality. This was something that was hard to do.
After the teacher is sure everyone has been able to observe their breath at least some of the time there are new elements introduced.
First you are asked to feel the touch of the breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils. What part of what nostril is most inhaling and what part most exhaling. You basically spend the first 36 hours of meditation bouncing back and forth between intense physical pain and living in the awareness of your nostrils.
It’s weird, but when you do have moments of being completely aware of your breath, and its touch, the pain is still everywhere, but you’re objective about it.
You are suddenly observing your pain and seeing it in the same way that you are able to see your breath. If this sort of thing comes at all on the second day for a new student it’s probably five of the most glorious minutes you’ve known. You’re so excited you break concentration and that’s your five minutes of zen for the day. Back to fire and pins and needles.
You are told to neither crave the positive feelings nor have aversion to the negative ones. Because they are both temporary and both craving and aversion take you away from the present moment. The idea being is that in the practice (and you realize later in this very Ralph Macchio washing cars in The Karate Kid kind of way that this truth applies to your life) you are not only experiencing present pain when you are feeling aversion, but the self-pitying memory of all your past pain and the fear of your potential future pain. You’re amplifying your own pain.
Which would almost be worth it if you could do the same with pleasure. But no. When you crave pleasure you have almost the same baggage as with pain- you want to feel more pleasure and you want to escape all past and future pain.