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On my previous trip to India, in October of 2000, I was sitting at the airport in Tokyo, waiting to transfer planes. All of a sudden, I felt a very deep and what I thought to be dark change in the atmosphere around me. It was something I had never experienced before – a strikingly perceptible aura of power – and my first thought was ‘black magic.’ I quickly looked to the right to find the source of what I was feeling.

prayerbeadsAt that very instant, a Tibetan Buddhist monk was walking past me.  I saw people go up to him and bow reverently. He was with other monks, but was clearly the one most recognized and respected.

Only later would I begin to understand what I had felt. When you take a Vipassana course, you are first instructed to carefully observe your breath for an extended period in order to build concentration. Later, you are instructed to observe the sensations around the breath, and then eventually, your focus shifts to observing the sensations throughout the body.

Spending nine days in silence, in virtual isolation, provides a conducive space for self-observation. By applying consistent attention to the seemingly simple task of observing the sensations of the body, previously unknown doors of perception to our own inner reality can eventually become unlocked and opened, allowing us to enter and experience ourselves in a whole new way.

It’s like walking into a room that appears to be pitch black. One may sit and wait for a while and conclude that the room is just impenetrably dark. It’s at this point, where it might seem like there is no gain in staying any longer. For those patient enough, however, faint glimpses of light may soon begin to emerge. These glimpses eventually take some form, and with time one can make out a visual layout of the room that was before totally imperceptible.

It’s in this way that Vipassana works and it’s for this reason that the course is as long as it is – it simply takes time to shift our conscious orientation from outer to inner, from mental to somatic.

As one enters the field of heightened physical awareness, one may find bundles of pain, clumps of tension, and a ceaseless flow of both pleasant and unpleasant sensations. Normally in life, as we encounter these feelings, we react to them – with cravings for more of the positive and with aversions to the unwanted negatives. Unaware, our entire habit of living becomes a series of reactions, and instead of making the wiser choices that may bring us the greatest happiness, out of ignorance, we desire and suffer, desire and suffer, always wanting life to be different than what it is.

broomVipassana teaches us to observe instead of react and through this shift, we gain the ability to stop the endless chain of reaction, and this eventually results in the purification of the inner flow. Having observed my own inner flow of sensations in a less reactive way, I now recognize that this is what the Tibetan monk was doing – internal “sweeping”- the only difference is that he was clearly super accomplished at it, being able to maintain perfect self-awareness even in a non-monastic environment. The purity he generated was so strong that it affected me physically as he passed by.

What’s most amazing about this to me is that it clearly demonstrates that our internal states affect one another. Having observed some of the scar tissue within my own being, I know for certain that there are blemishes on my being which cause misery both to myself and to others, as my unhappiness is contagious. The opposite is also true – the purer and more full of love I become, the more the world around me smiles in accordance.

A Vipassana course can be a very difficult undertaking. For those up to the challenge – and those able to carve out the 10 days to experience it – it is a golden opportunity, to Know Thyself in a very real and perhaps wholly unexpected way. If you are interested in taking a course, feel free to ask me some questions and perhaps I can give you some tips.