Staying with the theme of writing about general life lessons, I thought I’d share some of my current thoughts whilst I sit on the train from Richmond. I say current but this is something I’ve been working on since I did my 10 day silent vipassana meditation a few years ago.
In my teen years and twenties, I devoured self help books that advocated the power of ‘positive thinking’ and treated my meditation practice as a quest that would eventually lead to everlasting unwavering happiness. However, I’m no longer a fan — at least in the traditional sense of what it means to be a ‘positive thinker’.
As I walked through Richmond today to teach my final yoga session of the day I was feeling a little low. I’d been up since 5am and had already got completely soaked by the rain riding my bike earlier in the day.
My pre vipassana self might have given myself a hard time for feeling like this. I remember a fair few times in the past thinking, I meditate — why then do I sometimes still worry about stupid little things, feel frustrated, get jealous… (insert ‘negative’ emotion here)? I would then proceed to try and change how I felt and think more positively — only for the feeling to persist.
Don’t get me wrong I’m all for positive self talk or changing bad habits using positive thinking and hypnosis but now I just don’t think it’s healthy to straight away change how you feel and be on a continuous pleasure/happiness chasing mission.
What Vipassana meditation teaches
Learn to observe objectively whatever is happening. If someone is angry and tries to hide his anger, to swallow it, then it’s suppression. But by observing the anger, you will find that automatically it passes away. You become free from the anger if you learn how to observe it objectively. — S.N Goenka, influential teacher of Vipassana meditation
Vipassana teaches you to observe emotions, thoughts and sensations throughout your body without judgement. Through the simple act of observing and acknowledging that thought, feeling or sensation, it then changes into something else which then changes again and again.
This is what I did this evening in the rain in Richmond. I didn’t try to make myself feel happy or change how I was feeling — I just accepted it was as present as I could be — treating my walk as a mindful meditation. I listened to the rain, looked up at the trees and felt the air on my face. Just observing details and my behaviour changed how I felt, which changed my thoughts and even the way I walked.
After 10 minutes, I just felt peace. I hadn’t tried to stop the mind chatter — which can sometimes not be so nice — I just observed and listened. I haven’t mastered this fully yet, but accepting each moment for what it is, definitely feels better than trying to instantly change how I feel.
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. — S.N Goenka