Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Simulator

Vipassana meditation shares something in common with the manned space program. In meditation practice, we learn how to recognize and then deal with events and experiences as they arise. It is a safe and systematic process, and anything that arises, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant, can be known.

This process has often reminded me of the way astronauts train for space flights by spending countless hours practicing in a simulator - an exact replica of the actual craft they will take into space. Most of their simulator training involves learning how to handle malfunctions of one kind or another. The only difference between these exercises and the actual mission that the simulator is safe on Earth. Through repeated exposure to situations that might arise during their flight, they gradually become desensitized to the ordeal. By the time their launch date rolls around, the flight crews have been through every step of their mission repeatedly.

In the same way, we become gradually desensitized to the arising of difficult experiences in our own lives by allowing sometimes difficult experiences to arise in our meditation practice. It could be as benign as one of our legs falling asleep that offers us this opportunity to acknowledge and allow. And so we sit with these experiences, and allow them to move through us, seeing as well the way the mind can make things worse by creating stories and thoughts that have no bearing on the fact of the actual experience.

When unpleasant events arise, we can see how the mind reacts with aversion toward them. When pleasant experiences occur, we can see the tendency of the mind to want to cling to these and to want them to continue. Through this kind of practice of acknowledging the pleasant and unpleasant, and then allowing these experiences to continue without trying to change, fix, or get rid of them, we can become more attuned to their arising in daily life. Through our work in the meditation practice, we can make more skillful and effective choices when it matters the most.

Then, when we launch ourselves off the cushion and out into daily life, we are a bit more in charge of the choices we make, and our suffering is reduced.


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