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Updated: Jun 1

I was in awe of the students’ silence and resolve to mind the technique of inner looking, inside and outside the sitting sessions. Also, the quality of generously prepared vegan food for the attendees left me surprisingly well-nourished and energized. A pizza or burgers and fries diet would have been unthinkable and intolerable. Food cultivates trust. Hence, my acute caution about the course and its objectives gradually dimmed as my engagement in the process grew steadily. The strain of my thoughts softened with every new moon and, yes, meal too. Nevertheless, I couldn’t tell if the muck of my mental state was dissolving, let alone if I was “awakening.”

Abruptly, during the third Vipassana sit in the middle of the sixth day, laser-hot pain ricocheted from within my left knee and brought me to the edge of a deathly cry. In the thick of my reined-in panic and amongst 50 other silent practitioners, I instantly recalled the general direction given at the onset of the teaching: only observe the nature of your sensations as they are and do not imagine, attach to, magnify, crave, or reject them. After perceiving any pleasant, disagreeable, rapturous, describable, or indescribable sensations, allow yourself to release focus and continue scanning to observe the quality of whatever else may exist beyond. Theoretically, the guidance was intriguing and inviting, leading me to remember periods when I felt sadly disconnected from my body and mind. If I ever had a sense of physical and soulful unification, I yearned to know how to reunite them. However, turning attention away from my searing knee seemed reckless and risky in the heat of the devilish moment. I would be gambling on if not provoking irreparable damage to tissue, bone, intellect, and ego.

Where would the expunction of such deep-seated temperaments of imagination, attachment, and so forth, for the sake of only observation, drop me? My grounding in American and French culture, education, and business ingrained a highly valued modality of clinging to feelings, desires, objects, objectiveness, and especially winning at any cost. However, when I arrived at my middle-aged altar of 40, that mode proved too unreliable, unappealing, and unsustainable. Fueled by bionic aspirations of independence and immortality, my zest for worshipping and hunting the succulent scent of material and social victories succumbed to the smoke of long-flaming delusions and dishonesty, others, and mine. Still, after every fire, miserable embers of ego linger beneath the ash, pulsing for something new to burn its brand of unnatural missions onto. Wielding the torch of fear, it looks for new ways to alight new avenues that avenge old failures.

Alas, there I was, seemingly alone, having to manage the burning situation. Quickly, I peeked through my half-raised eyelashes to witness the inferno that now seemed to be shooting out from my knee below, looking to grab hold of something. As the torrid affliction intensified, I imagined the tiny corner of the cosmos I was heading for. Even if I mustered the strength and committed to this technique, and even if it proved itself beneficial after the 10-day course and the cable car’s descent from Mont Soleil into the maelstrom of urban existence, would I be stranded without a dingy of a clue about how I could start anew and coexist absent such common inclinations, habits, dependencies? Would I be an outcast, lonely, and lost? In other words, would nothing change? If not, wouldn’t it be absurd not to seek relief by screaming and then unabashedly leaving?

On the precipice of a blood-curdling yell, I tilted my regard toward the teacher and asked myself, “But what if something could change?” Twenty feet ahead of me, Elizabeth was sitting in the front of the room with the entire cross-legged and kneeling group in silence before her. Seeing she hadn’t moved since the start of the session, a resounding calm waved over, consuming my form and consciousness. Andante, as I closed my eyes and returned to observe my left knee, I effortlessly began to move my attention onward, scanning for other sensations. In but a few moments, the dire situation was wholly extinguished. It wasn’t my knee that had been quaking or on fire. Ownership of my discomfort was not attributable to anything except my buried, brazen, and blazing beliefs.

I had become embroiled by fixated reflexes entrenched in imagination and not in the mindfulness that permits one to explore and accept the impermanent nature of a liberated being.

Blazing -oil on canvas - 114x162cm - 45x64in


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