In a couple of months, it will be one year since I went on my first Vipassana meditation course. An anniversary brings a pause to things. There is an innate curiosity to step out of oneself and see how one has changed, if at all. Vipassana was an experiment for me, rooted in curiosity.
Since those 10 misty days in Igatpuri last June, something seems to have shifted in me. The ground beneath my feet, in some fundamental way, feels like it has moved. I am still acquainting myself with this. There are some indications of this new orientation.
Things don’t bother me as much anymore. Rather, to be more accurate, I notice them but I don’t seem to be reacting to them like I used to. Instead, when something happens, often, I find myself spending more time considering it. Whether it’s a banal thing like spilled coffee or a greater health issue, I seem to be dwelling just a bit longer on the sensation it creates instead of busying myself with swinging at it blindly. Huh, I say to myself, this is a pretty sharp feeling. My nerves are tingling furiously. I get so busy observing the shape and form of my feelings that, before I know it, their strength is dissipated. When I return my attention to what happened, I am no longer in the clutches of the trigger. A lot of times, I don’t feel the need anymore to respond to it and I just turn my attention to other things.
So often, at the end of the day, I feel happier about how much I did not hurt someone through misplaced heated words uttered in a moment of sharp reaction. The practice of meditating regularly has expanded the space that exists after a stimulus is received and this is allowing me to respond in a more thoughtful, considered manner instead of reacting blindly. Response, not reaction.
In case I’m giving an exaggerated sense of detachment, let me be clear that I still get irritated, anxious, even angry. I still react, wrongly. On a few occasions, however, I don’t. Then, the difference is that instead of getting swept away, I remain on firm ground, watching the dark waves come at me. Because of this simple act of watching, instead of hard brick blows, they fall softly on me and float away. These experiences are gratifying. I can also start understanding how some Buddhist monks move through the world with calmness. I used to envy them, now I can relate in a small measure.
One definite, undeniable transformation is the disappearance of my migraines. This was a key attraction to me to try Vipassana: S N Goenka, who brought it to India from Myanmar (then Burma) used to get even worse migraines and through this meditation technique, he was able to eradicate them. His experience prompted my curiosity and so I went to the course.
After I returned from Igatpuri, I kept meditating. To my disappointment, migraines flared in me several times over the following three or so months. I felt deflated and went back to the pharmacy to replenish my strong migraine medications. I still kept up my practice, however. Eventually, I’m not sure when, my migraines downgraded to regular headaches.
The first time this happened, I popped in my migraine pills, anticipating the throbbing sensation to bloom into a full-scale migraine. It didn’t. It stayed at its low grade and then melted away over the next day. The next time it happened, I took a regular Crocin. Magically, the headache went away. Any sufferer of migraine will relate to my sense of wonderment at this. At the hint of a migraine, I used to resign myself to a dark, cool room for the rest of the day, cancelling dinner plans with friends. Now, a mild medication and a short nap was liberating me to return to my friends and family. The frequency at which I get headaches has gone down dramatically as well. I’m popping fewer pills on fewer occasions.
Learning Vipassana has been a good thing for me. I notice the number of times I have averted a misguided interaction by responding differently. I am still new to this way of conducting myself – it’s so fresh that I am very aware of the old way of reacting. For this reason, it feels even more gratifying to observe myself responding in a fresh, better way.
Although I feel like I have moved 0.0001% forward in the journey towards enlightenment and liberation from suffering, it still feels like a step forward. I feel more relaxed with life, more okay with myself, and more open to others. Close to one year later, I can already say that learning Vipassana has been one of the most important things in my life. I think everyone should give themselves this gift.