Stop. Breathe

The spiritual teacher Poonjaji once said: “You have to decide right now to be free once and for all. Everyone who has found freedom in this lifetime has had to make this decision…”

I, as those before me also stopped and asked myself, am I happy? Am I free?

So, I decided that the mediocre life I was living not only made me suffer, it also made my suffering spill over on everyone around me.

Hence, twelve years ago I bought my plane ticket to France, where I knew, the Zen teacher of Mindfulness (Sati), Thich Nhat Hanh could be found. This became the catalyst for my journey into discovering who I really was.

The first discovery was as Alan Watts so crudely puts it, that the ‘you’ that you think you are, does actually not exist. In a sense I had to die to see this truth.

Truth, a word we so easily abused. What is truth?

Well, this is where vipassana meditation enters the picture. Vipassana means to see things as they really are, and it is one of the most ancient meditation techniques known to man. Its primary tenant is a focus on one’s breath.

While it sounds simple, I think it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever worked on. At first, I couldn’t focus on my breath for more than a few seconds. But once I started to unlock this focus, I could explored each of my bodily sensations.

I discovered that everything that happens in my mind is connected to what happens in my body. And by focusing my mind on the sensations of my body, I could better understand the machinations of my own brain.

Satya Narayan Goenka helped me to really understand and integrate this technique on my painful journey of self-discovery.

Goenka taught this about Vipassana Meditation, “… real wisdom is recognizing and accepting that every experience is impermanent. With this insight you will not be overwhelmed by ups and downs. And when you are able to maintain an inner balance, you can choose to act in ways that will create happiness for you and for others. Living each moment happily with an equanimous mind, you will surely progress toward the ultimate goal of liberation from all suffering.”

So, I started to meditate twice daily, and are still practicing this to this day.

It helped me to observe the reality of the present moment exactly as it is. Free of stories, insecurities, anxieties, and all the other distractions manifested in our brains. This skill, when honed in, allows for clear understanding of the here and now. An understanding of what is really happening, not what I want to see or try to distorted through my story of what is happening.

Vipassana meditation as a tool had two main benefits for me:

First is focus, when you train the mind to focus only on your breath you gain the discipline to know what is important, and what to focus on.

“The mind spends most of the time lost in fantasies and illusions, reliving pleasant or unpleasant experiences and anticipating the future with eagerness or fear. While lost in such cravings or aversions, we are unaware of what is happening now, what we are doing now,” Goenka describes it. So therefore the importance of being able to focus on the here and now.

Secondly, Vipassana meditation helps you learn the difference between what is real and what are just stories that we invent in our own mind. Goenka puts it like this:

“Every sensation shares the same characteristic: it arises and passes away, arises and passes away. It is this arising and passing that we have to experience through practice, not just accept as truth because Buddha said so, not just accept because intellectually it seems logical enough to us. We must experience sensation’s nature, understand its flux, and learn not to react to it.”

Not reacting to the stories, but staying grounded in the reality of this moment. In other words, waking up.

A focus on the real, waking up, is what allowed me to see new avenues on my life’s journey. But don’t only take my word for this.

The best way to get started on your own journey is to close your computer, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. Focus only on your breath. And stop reacting to every thought or feeling that pops up.

That is the first step…