After you are able to feel where your breath is entering and exiting your nose you are told to focus your sharpened attention on the triangular area from the top of your lip to the apex of the nose. And to objectively observe everything you feel in that area. It’s sort of funny too because there’s this calm voice with a heavy accent (the recordings are by the head teacher from Burma, or what was formally Burma and is now the Union of Myanmar) listing the same possibilities over and over for about ten minutes
“tingling, itching, heat, moisture, a feeling you cannot describe. And you should not describe it. Just be aware of it”
I don’t know, at moments everything is so hilarious. It’s like going to the ER with an ax sticking out of your chest and the doctor being all smiles and talking to you in baby talk,
“You got a little ax coming out of your chest there do you? I bet that hurts.”
“Yeah, it really does.”
“Look at you! Are those new shoes? They look really pretty with your outfit.”
“How do your feet feel in those shoes.”
“Better than my chest, because you may have noticed there’s an ax in it.”
“I love the smell of new leather. Don’t you? Those are really great shoes!”
So yeah, your whole body hurts maybe minus the one area you are supposed to be observing for sensation. And again you’re trying to meditate while also just asking what the hell am I doing here?
The last part (of the first part) of the technique is to narrow the size of the triangle to just be from your upper lip to your nostrils. Not even your whole nostrils, just the bottom part and the breath passing back and forth. Three days, I kept thinking. Three of the longest days I’ve ever known and the totality of my every waking moment is my nose and pain.
By the evening of the third day the discourse springs on you that EVERYTHING you’ve been through to this point has been prep-work, that you will not learn the actual Vipassana technique until the following day.
Do what now?
I had an alright third day. It was still a festival of pain, but I was holding up. I was adjusting. Or thought I was. I’d even seen a little progress, but in other areas.
The “free” time that seemed so little at first became amazing. 45 minutes of not being in physical pain was dizzying. Even if I could barely walk. And meals, ah meals. Food became something like your breath. You were so aware of every bite and every bite was a little bit of hope.
I felt very in tune with exactly how much food I needed.
I prep-cooked once in a kitchen where we portioned out 10 oz. hamburgers. When I started I had to use a scale. I never stopped having the scale in front of me because the kitchen manager would get pissed if he thought you were not being exact. But after months of doing it I got used to how much was 10 oz. I would prep dozens of burgers and grab exactly enough over and over.
That’s how eating was on the third day. I could tell when I was eating the bite that was the last one required for my body to do what it needed to do and that the next one if I took it would be too much, would be out of craving and perhaps even ‘damaging’ to my happiness. Maybe that next bite I would no longer be eating in the present moment and would instead be looking to food for comfort and escape.
It was seriously bizarre, but also kinda wonderful.
I remember thinking that whole day (the feeling continued through lunch and for pretty much the rest of the course) that if the rest of the next 7 days was just more seemingly fruitless agony it would be worth it to be in tune with my eating.
I’m not an overweight person, but I am a comfort eater. My weight fluctuates over long periods by about 20 or more pounds. I get to the breaking point on my pants and then dial it back. In the process of regaining my fitness and eating habits I often get too disciplined and my family starts telling me to eat a sandwich. I’m currently at a pants’ breaking point. But anyway.
On Day 3 the first physical part of Vipassana happened for me. it was tiny, but nice to realize food no longer tempted me (I never had dessert on the course, even though it looked amazing and was all baked on premises). As a result my portions got smaller and smaller. I was amazed that every morning I would spoon myself smaller portions and would still feel this new awareness of “the last bite” before the bowl was empty. And I wouldn’t say it was bliss to have toast with peanut butter, honey, and banana, but it was definitely the most peaceful toast I’d ever had. Grateful Toast.
It’s the same exact food, just different motivations. And awareness. If I need it to live my life it’s good. if I need it to momentarily escape my troubles it will only contribute to my misery.
That was five years ago. I feel like that weight swing is something I’ll deal with until I’m pretty much on the border of nirvana. But at least on that first course I felt like although I was failing miserably at meditation, at least I wasn’t eating too much.
I lost 9 pounds.