So what did I get from 10 days of keeping absolutely quiet, without any books, TV, internet connection and writing materials, sitting in meditation from morning till night?
Without any external inputs and any way to output my thoughts, I was forced to observe. Forced to observe myself, my own thoughts and feelings.
I saw the inordinate amount of rubbish that went through my mind everyday, and I found a way to be aware of it and be pulled along unawares. I saw old mental patterns emerge and new perspectives on old misgivings.
Everything is Always Changing
One of the central Buddhist principles is impermanence, the idea that everything cannot exist forever and will arise, then pass away.
In Vipassana meditation, I was guided to watch this process in action in my internal universe. By observing our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, I noticed how they would all arise, and then naturally pass away.
The most difficult but also most enlightening examples of this lesson were during the Hour of Strong Determination, when we were challenged to sit absolutely still for an hour. The pain in my legs, back and shoulders would get very intense for sitting so long, and my body would scream at me to just stop doing this ridiculous meditation and give up.
At the same time, my mind was going crazy with the pain, because it felt like it would last forever. But always, if I could find my center and focus exclusively on the moment, I could always come through the pain, and it would naturally pass away in time.
I experienced the same effects with my thoughts and feelings. Sometimes during meditation, unpleasant memories would arise and make me feel miserable. But through awareness, I realized that these too dissipated given time.
Because of these experiences, I experienced impermanence for myself, not as intellectual knowledge but as personal experience. No pain, physical or emotional, can last forever – it just isn’t possible.
Old Memories Resurface
A friend of mine told me that when she went for the course, she remembered things she hadn’t thought of in years. I was curious about this and looked forward to experiencing it for myself, and yes, it happened. When it happened, though, I realized it was no big deal — this kind of thing happens to us all the time!
The mind, when untamed, is like a wild animal. Day after day, it drags up random thoughts and stuff from our past or imagined future and causes us to feel random emotions as a result. Reliving these old memories isn’t a significant event, the important thing is to train yourself so you remain equanimous and aware no matter the memory or emotion you experience.
Who Controls You?
So who controls you? Your mind, your body or your awareness? The more conscious and awake you can be, the more power you have over your decisions. Otherwise, your mind will pull you in one direction in one moment, and your body in another direction the next.
Tony Robbins is fond of saying it’s in your moments of decisions that your destiny is shaped, and you want to be as aware as possible during those moments so you make the best choice for yourself.
Like body-building for the body builds strong muscles, meditation for the mind builds a strong awareness. You can’t read your way to big biceps (unless you read really heavy books all the time), and you can’t read your way to a stronger awareness. Like exercise, you have to meditate constantly to keep your awareness in shape.