Last year’s Vipassana retreat transformed my meditation practice.
Before doing Vipassana, I approached meditation as a Pilates or Zumba class. I made time for it twice a day, and at times, had to squeeze it into my busy schedule. In my attempt to meditate every day, at a specific time, I missed the whole point of meditation.
Vipassana is one of India’s ancient techniques of meditation. For 10 days, we meditated around 15 hours daily. Since meditation almost permeated the entire day, I stopped differentiating between when I sat in meditation and when I got up. Even during our breakfast or lunch break, my mind was still—in some way—focused.
That particular experience has changed my perception on meditation. Meditation is not an obligation or a homework assignment—we tend to bolt from the things that we are obliged to do.
Meditating goes deeper than sitting still and burning incense. It’s a state of mind that cannot fit into a box. It’s available to anyone at any time. You might not be spiritual, you may not know anything about Buddhism, yet you might be a pretty good meditator without realizing it.
In other words, meditation is about sharpening or taming the mind. Sharpening the mind means to keep it engaged in the present moment—in what’s happening. Its purpose is to help us deal with our thoughts—not to eradicate them. It’s a fallacy to think that meditation eradicates thoughts. On the contrary, meditation might be the fuel to our fiery thoughts. Thinking is an activity that our mind can’t entirely prevent. Just like blood is a major part of the veins, thoughts are a major part of the mind.
Absolute eradication of thoughts might be difficult since our usual habit is to stop at every thought that our mind produces. If you watch how your mind operates for five minutes, you will experience what I’m talking about. It jumps from one thought to another in less than a few seconds. So often, our mind chooses a particular thought and builds further mental constructions around it. Then, this particular thought becomes a problem that we can’t keep at bay.
The problem isn’t the arousal of thoughts. The problem is us stopping at them, analyzing them, judging them, worrying about them, and trying to take action to solve a so-called problem that didn’t exist a few minutes ago. Meditation teaches us to be open to the thoughts arising in our minds—whether good or bad—without stopping at them. It’s about attending fully to what’s happening in the present moment, without having expectations or creating judgments. It’s watching your thoughts and letting them be, without grasping at them or trying to hold control.
No matter what your mind makes up right now, see what’s happening. Watch it the same way you’d watch a movie. The act of seeing is what we call “letting go.” We usually think that letting go is an action, but letting go is just observing what’s happening without grasping.
We can still make choices and decisions—but mindfully. If there’s a pivotal decision we need to make, for instance, we can rent a thought from our mind for a few hours or days. Consider your mind as a rental place where you feel free to rent and return thoughts. But don’t grasp onto a thought for longer than it deserves. Grasping at unnecessary thoughts is the beginning of anxiety, depression, and agony.
Whatever you are doing today, cast awareness on your action or on your activity. Indulge in it 100 percent, no matter how many thoughts arise. Just observe them. No matter how miserable or how destructive they get, just watch them. If you do this, know that you are meditating.
Let your thoughts pass through like water flowing through your fingers. Don’t try to hold onto the water. Authentic presence is not only in stillness, but it’s also in action. Remember, meditation is about how our mind is scanning and observing every moment, whether we’re sitting crossed-legged or we’re running a marathon.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: Instagram @elyaneyoussef
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina