I had every intention of going out for a run this morning. I laid out my leggings, sports bra and socks even, so I could just roll out of bed and slide into all of the above and go. My body had different thoughts for me this morning, surprise surprise. How many times have you been there when you commit to something and when it comes to the execution, choose the easy way out? I.e. not bothering. It’s a human response. And, by the way, it’s allowed.
I didn’t beat myself up, as I may have done in the past, as is very tempting, to yell “ya piece of lazy shit, why can’t you ever stick to your word?” Kind of vibe. Instead I listened to my body, which was feeling achey and tired, and asked what it needed. Turns out it needed caffeine and carbs. So be it, then! I “replied”. And that was that. Drama over. Let the rest of the day continue.
It’s not always been that easy though, because, we’re human – we judge! We criticise! We beat ourselves up far too much because we’re taught to judge from an early age, I recently learned from my therapist. We learn what’s safe and what’s not, when it’s good to cross the street, what tastes good and bad, and so on. As we develop more consciousness (and then, an ego – conditioned thoughts and beliefs which turns into an identity if we aren’t careful), we start to embody these judgements, which becomes more personal as we age. We are ‘bad’ or ‘good’ if we do or don’t do certain things, which, in my opinion, is a load of donkey shite.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to notice. The ego’s judgements are so seductive and subtle, and ultimately are designed to keep you safe in the comfy zone. Whether something is good or bad, we know it regardless and therefore it’s familiar and ok for the ego to operate around.
Having said, once you realise you’ve been living by your egoic judgements (this is bad and this is good and that’s ok and that’s not, I’m good or I’m bad or she sucks and they’re a piece of shit) – whether you’re judging your own behaviour or the world’s – that gives you the opportunity to set yourself free of these limiting beliefs. After all, what good (or bad) have judgements served anyone? We get attached to them because they’re familiar, but don’t realise that these attachments are also keeping us stuck in that ‘safe’ space.
In relation to judgement and how it affects us emotionally, and thus our potentially problematic reactions to things, I asked my friend Lucia, an actor based London, recently about her Vipassana experience and how it changed her relationship with judgement.
Vipassana is a 10-day silent meditation retreat, run by the Dhamma organisation worldwide, which is completely free – they only let you donate whatever you can at the end and only once you’ve done it with the premise: It was valuable to me, I’m going to donate so that someone else can do it. Ultimately, you’re paying for someone else to be able to do it at the end of the 10 days (accommodation and food provided). It’s no cakewalk and requires that full commitment, but from what I’ve heard from everyone who’s done this, it can be life changing.
The premise of the intense silent meditation is to simply ‘see things as they are’, without judgement, allowing yourself to be comfortable in discomfort, without relying on distractions or numbing like we’re so used to doing in the West. God knows all kinds of things will come up when you are intensely meditating in silence for ten long days, but during the residential course you will learn to master ‘the practice of Vipassana itself: observ[e] sensations throughout the body, understand their nature, and develop equanimity by learning not to react to them.’ You can read more here: https://www.dhamma.org/en/about/vipassana
But when Lucia explained over probably one of the most important voice notes I’ll ever receive of Vipassana in her own words, she focused on this aspect of judgement. “Thoughts or emotions are not bad or good,” she said, “They simply exist.”
What they teach you is that there’s no positive or negative feelings; they are all the same. So when you are experiencing something positive, they tell you not to react in terms of ‘This is nice!’ and when something is negative, for example pain discomfort or anxiety, ‘I hate it I want it to go!’ In the mediation itself, there are moments when you feel a tickling sensation which is like energy passing through your body. But if your ego gets in the way, you start to think, ‘I’m winning, I’m doing it well! I’m having this tickling sensation!’ What they are teaching you is that that sensation is just as positive or as negative as the pain in your bum when you’re sitting down! So what you learn is that that feeling of anxiety always passes, both the good and the bad will never stay forever, so you just have to experience it and observe it for what it is, which is just a sensation. So when you’re going something that makes you on edge, you have to say to yourself: ‘I’m going through something called anxiety, it’s anxiety.’ It’s good to give things a name and say: ‘I’m going to experience this anxiety because it’s going to pass and it’s not bad or good, it’s just anxiety, it is what it is.’ And then when you get through it, instead of saying ‘Oh, I did it, I’m so good Im the best!’ You just think, ‘I feel a sense of calm now, which is nice, but not something to celebrate, because it will pass, too.’
I’ve tried everything to keep my brain in check to undo old patterns, and I’ve had a very complicated relationship with self-sabotage which has been keeping me stuck in many ways for too long. But hearing Lucia’s words about her experience and what she took away from it really shifted something for me – we all know that the goal in life is to achieve peace. But usually we’re too occupied with our ego (unconsciously) to be able to access that, myself included. Having heard her very wise observations, something unlocked inside.
We complicate something so simple when we get mixed up with our ego. Who knew? Things and feelings and emotions are not good or bad, they simply exist – and that’s ok. In fact, that is peace itself. When we can learn to cultivate this balanced, neutral response instead of attaching positive or negative labels, we are instantly at peace with ourselves and the world. Of course, bad and good things exist – we’re talking chiefly about emotions, thoughts and feelings here. But once you realise that peace is that neutral state (very important), that there is no ego there, when old patterns, thoughts and emotions come up and you decide to respond with: It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is, you really are free in every sense of the word.
I had not heard of Vipassana until now. Interesting thought that we might ever have any need to train ourselves to see things as they really are, but now more than ever, I think all the “noise” in our lives makes that more challenging than we realize. It sounds like a worthy course of action.