May 26, 2010

Pain vipassana

Every time I do some serious bookstore browsing I'm struck by the number of books on meditation. There are tons of them. I have a theory about that that goes something like this: reading or writing about it is way more fun than actually doing it. I've tried the sitting thing off and on over the years but seem to do better when in motion with things like karate.

One time a friend and I spent the night in a traditional Theravada Buddhist retreat center in WV's eastern panhandle. The practice there was to do seated meditation for an hour at a various intervals of the day, two being the bare minimum.

I decided to be hardcore so I wrapped up my legs into a full lotus posture, determined to gut it out. The method used there was vipassana or insight meditation and the basic practice was to sit and focus on breathing. If thoughts or feelings arose, one was to note them without judgment and return to the breath. Or something like that.

I spent most of the hour thinking "Jesus Christ, my knees hurt!" After a while though, I tried to just observe the pain rather than get caught up in. And, yes, that is way easier to say than do. But here and there, I managed to do it for a few seconds anyway and after a while I noticed that the pain wasn't constant but seemed to ebb and flow in intensity. Just observing it didn't make it go away but it did seem to create a little space for a moment or two.

I found that practice of "pain vipassana" to be useful at other times, such as endurance events like marathons or triathlons. I really don't enjoy doing those things--it's more like I enjoy having just finished doing them. The event itself is pretty much a total drag. But it did help to just observe the level of pain or discomfort and make the most of the times when the level went down.

I've been thinking about this because since Monday I've been hit with a sudden bout of what appears to be sciatica, which in my case is intense, sometimes agonizing pain in the back and down the legs. Going across the room sometimes seems like an ordeal--and I usually spend a lot of time in serious physical exercise. I'm determined to keep moving as much as I can until it gets under control, which means more pain vipassana.

But I'd SOOO much rather just read about it.

TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN. Here's a classic example of the low road approach to economic development, which usually involves giving away the store and getting ripped off in return. A telemarketing company located in Wheeling in 2006 because it got a three year tax break. Now they're moving to Pennsylvania. And we all know this isn't the first time something like this happened.

CORPORATE CRIMINALS? Here's another take on the Massey Upper Big Branch mine disaster can the various investigations going on related to it.

A GOOD READ. Here's an amusing list of the 10 books aspiring writers shouldn't read.

OVERDOING IT. While physical inactivity is a bigger problem for American children, pushing them too hard in sports can also do damage.


1 comment:

Hollowdweller said...

When I did meditation a lot, when I was in college and had time for it, I found that it was a lot like physical conditioning.

I'd always do the breath counting meditation, because it was non denominational and tried to hold just the image of that number in my head without any thinking about it.

Very hard especially for me who's a little ADD anyway but I did notice that just like running or anything else you got better with practice.

Also improved my grades somewhat because over time it improved my concentration.

The worst part was once the bodily distractions were dealt with then I'd get to like 25 or something and then think "wow I got to 25" which ruined it because then I was talking to myself instead of totally focusing on the number I was trying to keep in my head.

Not long ago they were interviewing this teacher who seemed to have a lot of successes with students. He described his somewhat unusual class which involved a lot of things like taking kids to ball games and having them keep score.

I realized that almost everything he was doing was practice at concentrating and focusing the attention on one thing, so apparently my experience with the meditation and paying attention in class was real.

The best book I ever read on meditation was a little book called "How To Meditate" by Lawrence Le Shan.

What made it great was he presented it so free of mystical trappings or New Age BS. I'm not sure if it's still available but great book.