Minding the Gap
Trip Start Oct 19, 2006
39Trip End Ongoing
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In the postscript to his "7 Habits..." book, Covey writes: "Someone once told me that there is a gap between when you experience something and when you react to it and this has made all of the difference" The purpose of Insight Meditation (Vipassana) is to overcome conditioned behavior or purify the mind. Insight meditation occurs when one places ones awareness precisely in the gap between experience and reaction and when one's awareness is focused on inputs from the six sense doors (five senses plus the mind - which includes thoughts and feelings)
Consider the phenomena of hearing as an example. A physical sound wave (matter) strikes the ear drum. The ear drum sends a message to the brain saying there is a sound (mind). Next the brain labels or identifies the sound, then it decides if you like it, don't like it or are neutral to it. Then you react. What one aims to do in Insight Meditation is to place the awareness right at the stage where the brain registers that there is a sound. You simply "note" or acknowledge that there is "hearing" but you do not otherwise react.
Conditioned behavior begins at the stage when you assign value to the sensation or decide if you like, don't like or are neutral to it. By placing the awareness at a point prior to this, one essentially breaks a link in the chain and goes from living reactively to living intentionally.
Here is an example. Perhaps you have trained a dog to come inside whenever you blow a whistle. The dog is now conditioned to automatically (unconsciously) respond to the whistle. If the dog could meditate, he would spend a lot of time in retreat keeping his awareness on his ears and other sense doors and he'd practice simply noting "hearing, hearing" whenever a sound arose in his awareness. Aside from noting the occurrence of the sound he would not react. Now, after much practice, when the dog is home and hears the whistle he just notes "hearing, hearing" but does not come inside. We can say he has now overcome or bypassed his conditioning. Later the dog might say to himself "Maybe I'll go inside and see if dinner is ready" but this he does intentionally and of his own free will.
How many of our behaviors are just conditioned reactions and how many are truly intentional? Is it fate or free will?
I find it very interesting to think about other implications of keeping ones awareness in or living in the gap, in the now. If you find this interesting I highly recommend reading "The Power of Now" by Ekhardt Tolle. I'll just throw some ideas at you:
* The gap is prior to thinking (thoughts are also observed as they arise in the mind.) When living in the gap you are living in the "now" and are aware of sensations as they occur in real time.
* If you are observing thoughts and sensations in real time, there is now a thinker and an observer. You are detaching from yourself and your body.
* The gap is prior to your ego or your sense of self coming into play. It is reality without your bias. Because the gap is prior to your ego, there is a resistance (fear of death) to placing ones awareness there. Your ego, "you" do not exist in the now. You need faith to allow yourself to experience this ego death.
* Vipassana Meditation is concentrating and focusing your mind on sensations (including thoughts and feelings) as they occur in real time. You just observe or "note" them as they arise in your mind. It is not thinking or daydreaming. You can do this any and all the time. It is easy.
* There are no "problems" in the gap. Hot is hot, cold is cold. There is nothing but a stream of sensations; impermanent, impersonal and inherently unsatisfactory. Psychological problems arise when you "wish it was or wasn't hot, wish it would stay hot or hope it will be hot tomorrow or had been hot yesterday" this is the sort of thinking that is obsessive, unnecessary and unhealthy. It is a rejection of what "is" or a projection into the past or future. Your brain is busy thinking like this most of the time. It eats up your energy. It serves no purpose and has no basis in reality. Stop listening to the insane chattering of your mind! You will feel more aware and awake, you'll have more energy and you'll need less sleep. You'll be at peace.
* "Problems" occur in time, in the past or future. Anxiety is just about wanting things to be other than they are. Keep the mind here and now with what "is" and psychological problems go away. If there is pain, there is pain, don't make it "my pain", don't write a story around it; "the pain that afflicts poor me, that I don't deserve, that will prevent me from going swimming, if only my knee didn't hurt..."
* In the gap, there is no boredom, sleepiness, hunger, loneliness or fear.
I hope you found this interesting. I am still hoping to leave here one of these days! The plan hasn't changed, when I decide to go it'll happen relatively fast, Phnom Penh then Thailand then more meditation. I'll keep you updated. I hope you are all happy and well!!!!