Dissolving pain

I have experienced two 10-day Vipassana retreats.

During my second retreat, I had an amazing insight into the power of the meditation. (I’m a slow learner.) One of the objectives behind Vipassana is to dissolve pain by observing it in the present moment and accepting what is. When we are aware of the internal resistance we are creating, we can stop the cycle of craving or aversion that creates pain within us.

At these retreats, around the fourth day, they start these sittings where you are expected to sit still for the entire hour. For a guy like me, who doesn’t sit on the floor often, my back starts aching after about 10 minutes. In my first retreat, I never quite made it a full hour without adjusting my back.

The second time around, and something stupid came over me – I resolved to sit still for a full hour. My back was killing me, but I continued to meditate without moving. I could barely focus on anything except for the sharp feeling in my back, which, by the way, felt like an army of four year olds scratching chalkboards. I forced myself to sit through it. Masochistic? Probably.

And then the most curious thing happened. The pain… dissolved. It went from feeling completely unbearable to feeling like any other sensation on my body. It didn’t cause me any more anguish. What I found really peculiar was that those same sharp fingernail on chalkboard sensations were there… they just didn’t hurt. They didn’t distract me. They felt as painful as my pillow.

That’s when the practice of Vipassana became clear to me, and what they mean about using awareness to dissolve your pain. The physical sensation, even if uncomfortable, is not what I thought was the pain. The true source of pain is something I don’t think I could have understood before I experienced it.

I have started noticing where in my life I am resisting what is, and how I am reacting to situations. It is not just physical pain, but can be found anywhere – arguments, laziness, frustration, boredom, apathy, and probably a million other places.