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Vipassana Experience Day 1: Addiction and Breathing

We were warned reassured on the night leading to our initial day of Vipassana learning that the first day is full of great difficulties and discomfort, as well as the days to come. We started with learning how to be aware of our breathing, without regulating it and no word or imagined form may be added. Breathe in, breathe out … ….

It seems ironic to join a course to watch one’s respiration and we soon found out this was our main ‘exercise’ for the first three days! I smiled wryly to myself, for many years back, I quitted yoga lessons after the teacher asked us to breathe in through the right nostril and breathe out through the left nostril – something that baffled the young and ignorant being that I was then. Well, we were asked to just observe our breathing so I got down to work, and realised it is often the simple things that are of utmost importance.

Awareness is the name of game, and one needs to look beyond the surface in order to get to the roots of matter.

Imagine this, as you are going about your daily routine, e.g. walking down the street, chatting or eating, you are not always acutely aware of your respiration because it’s such an ingrained body function but obviously you breathe anyway. The nature of breath is closely related to one’s mental state, thus observing respiration is akin to observing the mind.

So how is the mind and respiration connected?

When one gets agitated due to certain negative thoughts, the breath becomes faster or there’s a catch. When one calms down, the breath resumes its normal rhythm. As you observe closely, you will become aware of this. But to be honest, before one knows it, the mind (at least mine was like this) becomes bored and will start to wander.

From observing my respiration, without trying to regulate it, this mind got distracted from time to time and went forth like a mad train rushing through unpredictable destinations. Like the train conductor with great resolve, strong brakes were applied whenever possible and the mad train was directed back to the main station. Something that the teacher said during the introduction got me thinking through the entire first day of my Vipassana practice when I was not distracted by aches here and there. Sitting down almost all day can be more tiring and painful than being up and about. But, no, I was not agonising over the aches, but more pondering on addiction.  

What is your true addiction?

The human body is a composition of biochemical components that are always evolving and they create sensations. Like the unconscious breath, most people may not be acutely aware of your body sensations. But it is these sensations that affect us physically, mentally or emotionally, regardless of whether one is conscious of it or not.

Mr. S.N. Goenka said, “everyone is addicted to sensations”. A drug addict or alcoholic is not addicted to drugs, but the temporary sense of liberation that he/she felt after taking substances. An OCD is not addicted to cleanliness but the momentary sense of supposed purity / calmness that comes after cleaning the entire sink for a few hours. What we often took as an addiction is a mere tool or medium to fuel the sensations that one craves for.

Seeds of misery
The key word here is ‘crave’. Craving is a seed of misery, for if one craves something and don’t get it, you are gonna feel so lousy. The same could be said for the opposite. If something that you don’t want/like happens to you or comes into your life, you will feel lousy too. Aversion is also a seed of misery. The idea of practising Vipassana is for one to recognise such truths and to stop planting seeds of misery in one’s life.

I wondered, “what am I addicted to? Am I a travel addict?”

A couple of weeks back, I read an article about travel addiction and asked myself the same question. I was feeling bouts of misery from time to time as I explored my options in life. Interests, responsibility, practicality versus dreams, etc. Cravings for security has affected my usual peace. Should I hold back on travelling and focus more on a stable full-time job?

Onboard a Firefly flight to Kuantan where Dhamma Malaya Center is located.

Dromomania” or “vagabond neurosis” is the condition of having an abnormal impulse to travel; where one is prepared to spend beyond their means, sacrifice jobs, lovers, and security in their lust for new experiences.” – Dr. Michael Brein, social psychologist

Then, my answer was no. I enjoyed travelling and have indeed sacrificed jobs and security for new experiences but I have never spent beyond my means. I do not travel for the sake of travelling. I do not travel to escape, at least not in recent years. But, if I have to be totally honest, the thirst for knowledge is what compels me to travel. Am I addicted to learning? If so, what is so bad about it? As I tried to multitask while observing my breathing and trying to figure out my true addiction and its source, I realised the mind has wandered again.

In a moment of greed for more air, I breathed in deeply and felt giddy. By the way, one is supposed to breathe through the nostrils, not your mouth in this meditation practice. This was challenging for me initially, and I often found myself out of breath, possibly because I am used to breathing through my mouth due to sinus problems.  

Back to observing respiration, I was aware how uncomfortable the mind felt to be scrutinised but I was keeping a tight rein on it. When one realises your true addiction to the sensations that you crave, it is like a wake-up call. Sensations are fleeting and trying to cling to something of a changing nature, hoping things will not change is pure madness! Doris Day has sang the truth: Que Sera, Sera. The above is common knowledge, but knowing something and doing something is different.

An itch interrupted the wanderings of my mind, and as I fidgeted and changed my sitting position for the countless times, the shoulder and back aches reminded me to go back to watching the natural breath. Concentrate. Regardless of the aches, the sensations will not last so let’s get back to task. This will pass in time to come.

If you have enjoyed the above article, please stay tuned for more as I will be sharing a series of my daily thoughts on the 10-day Vipassana meditation at Dhamma Malaya Center along with some useful tips to know before going. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment. Peace, harmony and happiness to all! 

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