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A Vipassana Success Story

How Buddhism changed my life

After I’d been practicing Vipassana for a while, I started arguing one day with Ward. It got to the usual point where he started telling me who I am, what I do. It all sounded negative, and as usual I got defensive. But for the first time I started making an effort to be mindful of what was going on for me. Here’s how it went:

...I say to my self, I am feeling angry, my shoulders feel tight, my chest hurts, I want to slap his face, run away; these are just reactions, they are my reactions, they are just thoughts and sensations, THEY ARE NOT WHO I AM, they are not his fault, it is not useful to blame him. I have to keep choosing to be present to everything that is happening, including the fact that there may be some truth in his depiction of me, no matter how much I hate it — as well as to the hate I feel. I have to keep choosing not to take it too seriously, too personally. It would be so easy just to get carried away with my anger and start "defending" myself by attacking him, criticizing him. It would be so easy to tell him he's hopeless and walk out. It would be so easy to shut down and do something to distract myself. I have to make an effort to stay present, to stay aware of what's happening, and to remember that we are allies in our spiritual quests, though we have such different views....

Suddenly something shifted. I was still feeling all the awful stuff, but it had less power over me. I had a taste of freedom from it. This was something I had never learned in thirty years of therapy and studying Western psychology, but Vipassana taught it to me. And the ability to step back is a skill that gets better with practice; the freedom becomes more spacious, more centering.

As a result now I can handle criticism and even bullying much more effectively: I feel the old program, the fear, the impulse to deny, defend, project, blame the other, get angry, outraged & resentful; or to panic, run away — but I often (not always, so far) see that it's just a mental habit. I get curious about the workings of this crazy old mind, even adventurous; I start to investigate whether there's any truth in the criticism, or any way I can find compassion for the other's feelings. Having gone through the defensiveness (and all its hateful reaction) mindfully, feeling all those feelings as my own stuff — after that, admitting that there's some truth in a criticism is small potatoes. (I can even discriminate between what part is I think is true and what part I think isn't; when before, it was all too disgusting to consider.) I have discovered that not only does this kind of behavior short-circuit arguments, so that I can focus on the real situation that needs to be addressed, and facilitate the other person's getting to that focus — but it also feels wonderful to be free of those programs.

This has changed my perception of my “self”; see Self as Process.

© copyright Catherine Holmes Clark, 2001 and 2003; last updated 25 January 2003