Wednesday, January 7, 2015

MINDFULNESS AND THE OVERCOMING OF UNPLEASANT SENSATIONS

‘Unpleasant sensation is the greatest obstacle on the road of vipassanā [insight meditation or mindfulness]. Only when the meditator is able to overcome that obstacle can he forge forward to attain the rewards beyond unpleasant sensation.’

Those words come from what I consider to be one of the best books ever written on the subject of insight meditation (vipassanā)---The Yogi & Vipassana (Buddhist Meditation: The Sunlun Way). The author of the book, Sunlun Shin Vinaya, [pictured left], was for many years the presiding abbot of Kaba-Aye Sunlun Monastery, Yangon (Rangoon), in Myanmar (Burma). 

Most people have sought to meditate in one form or another at some point in their lives. For example, you may have sought to relax your body or your mind, but rest assured that is a form of meditation. Now, we all know what happens sooner or later. Yes, we experience some unpleasant sensation in either our body or our mind. And you know what we almost invariably do next. We resist the sensation. We fight against it. We try to expel the sensation. The result? Yes, we only drive the unpleasant sensation deeper into our consciousness.

In his book The Yogi & Vipassan Sunlun Shin Vinaya gives us some very good information and advice on the subject of unpleasant sensations:

And it is possible to overcome unpleasant sensation. Since unpleasant sensation too is subject to the law of impermanence it must come to an end some time. This end can occur in various ways. Its intensity can subside; but this would not be a true ending. Some measure of unpleasant sensation would remain. The real overcoming of unpleasant sensation takes place when the meditator dwells in the sensation watching the sensation without thinking any thought connected with the sensation, and it is consumed, it ends, it snaps, it is shed, or extinguished. It is said to be consumed when it gradually subsides till there is no remainder. It ends when the meditator follows it till there is no more of it like a road followed to the end, like a length of string felt along the whole length till not more is felt. It snaps when it breaks off suddenly as when a taut rope is snapped. It is light which has used up its oil and wick.

It sounds almost counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? We are told to dwell in the sensation, that is, to watch the sensation ‘without thinking any thought connected with the sensation’, until the sensation is consumed. In time the sensation will ‘end’ and ‘snap.’ Yes, it will be ‘shed’ or ‘extinguished.’  Yes, if we stay with--but not cling to, identify with, or own--the unpleasant sensation, and watch it choicelessly (that is, non-judgmentally, simply observing the sensation in and as the sensation ['Sensation exists']), the sensation will gradually subside. It will lose its power, intensity, grip and command in your consciousness. Such is the power of non-resistance. Such is the power of choiceless awareness and bare attention. And such is the nature of reality, for that which arises will in time cease. The 'secret' here is not to experience in depth the actual arising, duration or ceasing of the sensation but merely to ride with it. There is a world of difference between the two.

Why not put this into practice the next time you experience some unpleasant sensation, unpleasant thought, or unpleasant feeling?




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