The beginning of an article is always difficult for me. I’ll stare at the white blank and run sentences through my head to try to find one that feels right. Sometimes this process can take hours.
Today I felt that same block. After about ten minutes of writing and deleting sentences I gained an awareness of a pressure in my forehead. “Aha!” This is the sensation of the writer’s block and I’ve been feeling aversion toward this block. I wanted the block to go away. I wanted my writing to start flowing. But of course this is against the laws of nature as taught by The Buddha. This aversion to the writer’s block only grows more blockage.
After I became aware of the sensation of the block I used the techniques I learned over the 10 day course. I reminded myself that this phenomenon, like all phenomenon is impermanent. I focused my awareness on the sensation with perfect equanimity. Rather than feeling aversion toward the sensation I simply felt it.
And then I started writing.
I’ve only been home for a day but in that short time I’ve already noticed a myriad of real benefits that arise spontaneously from the practice of Vipassana; like this effortless breaking of the writer’s block. I urge you to keep reading. Out of everything that I have tried in my search for a resolution to my inner turmoil none have been as powerful or immediately effective as the technique of Vipassana meditation. The technique of Vipassana can provide relief from the suffering of physical and emotional pain. It can provide relief from the inner worries that plague us. It is the path to happiness and peace.
What is Vipassana
Vipassana is the pure teaching of Siddhārtha Gautama, The Buddha. It is non-sectarian. It is non-dogmatic. It is not a religion. It is not a belief.
It is a teaching of universal truth. I like to think of it in terms of physical laws like gravity and thermodynamics. These are laws of nature that do not require belief. They do not require worship. If you jump off of a cliff you will fall to your death every-time. Regardless of your belief in gravity or your worship of gravity.
Through his practices Gautama discovered the laws of nature that govern human beings. He saw that the root causes of our suffering and misery and he discovered techniques that allow us to become liberated from our suffering. These techniques work because they obey the laws of nature.
We could not build airplanes if we did not have an understanding of the laws of physics that govern flight. We could not build nuclear reactors without an understanding of the laws that govern the atom. Similarly we cannot gain freedom over our miseries without an understanding of the fundamental laws of nature that govern the human mind.
The Buddha taught that all of our misery and all of our suffering arise at the root level from craving and aversion. We crave what we don’t have so we feel miserable, miserable. Then we get what we crave and we crave more more more. We become addicts to craving. We become averse to anything unpleasant. We feel pain and we want that pain to end. Something bad happens in our lives and we want these unpleasant painful sensations to go away. Our cravings multiply on themselves. Our aversions multiply on themselves.
And if nothing is done to cut out this habit of craving and aversion then our lives become more and more miserable. This fact is very clear in my own life. My addiction to video games absolutely comes from craving. When I first started playing games as a young child I felt pleasure. Then I wanted to play more games to gain more of that pleasure. Through the years anytime I thought about a video game I would start to feel the craving. The anticipation of the pleasure. But the thing is that after a while video games no longer really gave me pleasure. I would play for 12-14 hours staying up until 5am in the morning and feel empty. Totally and completely empty. No joy. No happiness. No pleasure.
Yet my addiction kept becoming worse. I knew intellectually that this addiction to video games was causing me great misery. It was causing me to lose opportunities and it was the root reason that my life was a mess. Yet everyday I would wake up and play play play.
With the insight of the Vipassana teachings I realize now that I became an addict to the craving for video games. It wasn’t even about the pleasure of playing a game anymore. It was that my mind had developed this deeply rooted pattern of craving toward video games and this craving just multiplied upon itself.
I’ve tried so many different things over the years and nothing has ever helped me to permanently eradicate this addiction. They only provided temporary relief. Then I would come to a low point in my life and my cravings to play video games would overwhelm my will-power.
This happened too with other areas. I absolutely know that I’ve become more and more anti-social as I’ve gotten older. I knew this intellectually but I didn’t know how to address it.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail in one sense was a desperate attempt to stop the multiplication of misery that I could see was happening year to year. My depression was getting worse. The periods where I was “okay” and could function were getting shorter. I saw less and less hope as I got older. The hike helped but it wasn’t a cure. It did not address the root issues.
Very clearly now I can see that my pattern was one of despair and depression followed by grasping onto something that I hoped would finally “cure me” of the miseries generated by my mind. I would grasp onto this thing – bodybuilding, opening the CrossFit gym, building the start-up, going to hike the Appalachian Trail. I can see so clearly now that the energy and focus I found during these projects was because fundamentally I had hope that this thing would fix me. Of course these were all surface level solutions. I was addressing the external and so of course none of them gave me lasting relief. And I think that’s why I’ve always crashed into a deep depression after each period of hope. Because on some fundamental level I was losing hope. If this didn’t work and that didn’t work and even hiking 2,200 miles didn’t work then maybe I was just fundamentally broken and I would progress into deeper and deeper states of mental illness that would conclude with a very unhappy and tumultuous death.
The teachings make sense. All of our miseries are created in the mind. If we can stop craving and stop aversion then we will have peace. These teachings existed during the time of Gautama. He didn’t discover them. His contribution was the technique of Vipassana. The technique allows you to see at an experiential level how your craving and aversion generate misery. The technique allows you to stop the cycle of craving and aversion at the root level. The technique allows you to eradicate your cravings and aversions at the root level.
Does it Work?
After 10 days of practice I can unequivocally say that yes, the technique works for me. This is what I’ve been searching for my whole life. I’ve read dozens of self-help books. They all have a similar message. Be positive. Don’t be negative. Be disciplined. Set goals. Journal. Write. Even meditate. The books were helpful but they only touched the surface level.
For the last couple of years I’ve understood at an intellectual level that my problems arise from a deep unconscious level. However knowing that wasn’t helpful. It’s like getting stabbed with a knife deep into your thigh. I can know who stabbed me. I can go figure out why they stabbed me. I can read and learn every piece of literature that medical science has to say about stab wounds and how to treat them. I can learn so much information intellectually but none of that will address my problem: that I have a knife stuck in my leg and I’m bleeding profusely. If I never actually remove the knife from my leg and treat my wound then I will die. All of that intellectual knowledge didn’t do me one bit of good until it was applied at an experiential level.
This is how I feel about all the different self-help and self-development books I’ve read. That information was absolutely useless until I put it into practice and experienced the truth and the wisdom of those words. I felt that experiential wisdom on the Appalachian Trail. I was starting to connect “aha, yes, this is the Wu-Wei of the Tao. This is the timeless feeling of the now.” I think long-distance hiking is a technique and a tool that can be used to gain deep wisdom and experience what the mystics and sages have written about but it is not the complete technique. It still doesn’t work to eradicate our root level cravings and aversions.
Vipassana is wonderful because it is a practical technique. I spent 10 days in Illinois sitting in meditation practicing the technique from 4:30am until 9pm. I didn’t sit there and study books written by master meditators. I didn’t sit there and listen to long seminars about how to be a better person and live a happier life. I sat and I practiced. Hour after hour. Day after day. I practiced becoming aware of the sensations throughout my body. Of becoming aware of my cravings and aversions. I practiced seeing the impermanent nature of everything at an experiential level. I practiced having equanimity toward all of my sensations so that I had neither craving nor aversion to whatever arose in my body.
And the teaching said that if I practiced diligently that I would start to become liberated from all of the misery of my mind that I’ve grown and multiplied over the years. I was skeptical. I really was. The technique is very simple. And it doesn’t seem that such a simple thing should be able to liberate you from all of your misery and suffering. Yet it worked. Day by day I noticed I was less reactive. That old thought patterns were disappearing. I noticed that thoughts of the past which used to brew up a storm of anger, of passion, of pain no longer held any strong emotion. I could think about them with total equanimity. I could think about people who had wronged me and actually feel compassion toward them. Not at an intellectual level of “I should love my enemies.” At a deep experiential level of actually feeling compassion toward these people who hard hurt me because I understood that their actions were born from ignorance and that they, like me, were acting from places of deep pain.
The first two days were unbearable physically. I was in so much pain. My back hurt, my knees hurt, my neck hurt. And it was real suffering. I wanted the pain to go away. But the reality is that I was in pain and so I suffered. It really was very intense – comparable to anything I’ve experienced in the Army or on the AT. As I practiced the technique I slowly became more and more equanimous with the pain. I learned to view the pain as just a sensation and not as something that needed to be gotten rid of. I learned that pain is impermanent even if sitting for that hour feels like an eternity. I was able to objectively explore my pain. “Oh how interesting it feels more dense here and less dense there. This pain in my butt throbs with my heartbeat yet the pain in my back is feels like a solid sheet of ice.” And as I developed my ability to sit calmly with pain without developing aversion to it, without trying to push it away, I stopped suffering. It’s magical. It really is. The same pain that on the first day made me shift and move every 5 minutes now I could watch for a full hour without any agitation. Without any shifting. Without any suffering.
The pain was still there. I still experienced great pain by the 10th day but my misery had stopped. Similarly throughout the 10 day course I still experienced all the mental pain that arose from the deep rooted places in my subconscious but I was able to be aware of it and abide it without aversion. And just as the teachings said because I wasn’t creating new aversions new cravings these old ones started to dissolve.
I took my first step on the path toward liberation.
The Path of Liberation
The 10 day course certainly was not a miracle cure. It was 10 days of hard work and slow but steady progress. I will continue this practice for the rest of my life and it’s likely that I won’t reach full liberation even with all of that time spent in practice. But it’s helping. Already I can see the benefits and that’s why I’m writing this post.
There is nothing else I have ever tried that has given me such immediate and clear benefits for my mental well-being, peace, and happiness as Vipassana. The teachings said that when you feel the benefits of the practice you can’t help but tell everyone about it. Because you will see that others are suffering and that this simple technique could help liberate them from their suffering. So of course you want to share it with them. And like everything else in the teachings I found this to also be true. I can’t stop sharing my experience. It is so beneficial. It is so helpful. How can I keep it to myself?
The path of liberation is a long path. But every step of the way you will eradicate some of your cravings. Some of your aversions. You will gain more peace. More happiness. More compassion.
What I really liked about the teachings was that they were completely non-religious and non-dogmatic. You were never asked to believe anything on faith. You were taught techniques and the theory behind them and then you practiced. You are the judge. Does the technique work for you? Good, keep doing it. It didn’t work? Throw it away. No hell. No damnation if you didn’t keep practicing. Find out for yourself.
It’s not a system where you must have faith now and then you will be rewarded in the afterlife. What kind of a system is that? Have faith and believe and all the while suffer and be miserable but oh just wait in the afterlife you’ll reach the kingdom of heaven! How do we know that? Who says? I’ve never met a person who died and went to heaven and told me “oh yes the technique of blind faith worked really well for me.” Have you?
You can meet Vipassana practitioners and they will all tell you the profound benefits that practicing the technique has brought to their lives. You can experience the benefit for yourself straight away. You are taught to take on only those things that make logical sense to you. Nothing is based on faith. Nothing is based on belief. There is no god to worship. There is no dogma to obey. And that makes so much more sense to me than religion ever did.
You are not taught to love others because this is what will get you to heaven. You are not taught to have compassion toward others because this will bring you rewards from a deity. You are simply taught techniques and then experience a bubbling up of love and compassion naturally as you practice. The experience is ineffable but that was what I experienced. A natural wellspring of love and compassion simply by following the meditation techniques that were taught.
The courses are given free of charge. The room and board is free. The teachings are free. They won’t accept donations until you’ve completed the course and seen for yourself. Did you benefit from the techniques? If you did and you want to help others learn this technique then donate whatever you are comfortable donating. Through this practice the Vipassana centers have spread around the world. There is no profit being taken. No one is getting rich off of these teachings. The staff, servers, and teachers are all volunteers. This strikes me as being infinitely more pure than the bullshit peddled by many of the new-age gurus who are really immoral con-men enriching themselves by selling hope to those who are in deep misery and suffering.
See for Yourself
Take a course. Try it out. It’s 10 hard days but if the claims of the teachings are true and this truly is a technique that can liberate you from all of your suffering and misery then isn’t that worth it? Wouldn’t that make it the most important 10 days of your life? Wouldn’t it be worth it to spend 100 days or 1,000 days or your entire lifetime to seek after such a goal?
Don’t take my word for it. Go see for yourself. Put your full effort into it. Work hard. You won’t get any benefit if you sit there for 10 days day-dreaming. Set your skepticism aside for just 10 days. Practice the technique as it is taught and decide for yourself it it is worth integrating into your life.
I’d meditated off and on for over a decade before I took this Vipassana course and in all of that time I never realized how serious a practice meditation should be and how beneficial of a practice that meditation can be. I learned meditation through random books, YouTube videos, and audio tapes. None of that holds even a candle to the bright flame of Vipassana. What I learned previously was like kindergarten and this course was like a PhD course. I always had an on again, off again relationship with meditation. I’d start 5-10 mins a day and work up to 20 and keep that up for a month or two. Then I’d stop. Because I didn’t see anything profound. Sure my attention and focus was a little better. I felt a little better. But nothing profound. And I still had to work up the energy to meditate everyday. It was a chore.
Now I’m happily meditating two hours a day. I look forward to my sits. I drove 8 hours yesterday to come home and the first thing I did was to sit for an hour. There’s no way I would have felt like meditating with the old techniques after an 8 hour drive. There is zero thought of “maybe I should cut back, maybe I can skip today” because I have seen the real fruits of this work. Because I’ve learned a technique that really really works. The techniques I learned before were designed for some concentration or stress relief but Vipassana is the path of liberation! It is so powerful.
The word meditation is thrown around so often and I think it leads to a lot of confusion. The word meditation is like the word exercise. It can mean a vast array of techniques and programs. Techniques and programs which have vastly different goals and outcomes.
What is your goal with meditation? If it’s to feel more relaxed and quiet the mind then any number of techniques will do the trick. But if you’re seeking a solution to your misery and suffering then you need to learn the technique that is designed to eliminate your misery and suffering. It reminds me of newcomers to the gym. They’ll do lots of random exercises. They don’t ever really stick to one thing. One week it’s cardio all week and the next week it’s bicep curls. They ignore the lower body entirely. And they see very little results. I see the same thing with meditation. Meditation is not just about following your breath. There are depths and nuances and it really requires intensive study and practice to learn. It is not a thing that should be haphazardly learned through random YouTube videos from random people. I consciously did not elaborate on the techniques in this post because I am not qualified to do so. The teachers of the technique have mastered it over many many decades of practice. Yet if you search YouTube you can come across thousands of “how to meditate” videos from people who have very little experience themselves. Do you think you would get good results in exercise if every week you switched to different workout videos put out by random people with little fitness experience and no formal training? Of course not! But this is exactly what I did and what many people do when it comes to meditation. Oh let me try this thing for a couple days, oh let me try that thing for a couple days.
It is a very serious path. If your goal is an end to suffering then you need to study the technique that frees you from suffering and practice it seriously, diligently, and with hard work everyday.
Thanks for reading and I hope that you will go take a course and see for yourself. You can find a list of courses across the world here taught by S.N. Goenka, the teacher of the course I went to.
If you’re in the Midwest area the closest center is the Illinois Vipassana Center and you can see their schedule here: http://www.pakasa.dhamma.org/
The courses fill up REALLY fast so I would encourage you to apply for a course on the day that applications open.
May all beings be happy. May all beings be at peace.
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