Monday, 31 July 2017
This morning, the sky was cloudy in Helsinki. I decided to sit for a three-hour meditation. When I opened my eyes, I found myself in Pori, on the west coast of Finland. The sky was still cloudy, and Helsinki was doubtlessly gone. No tele transportation occurred, though: this sort of miracle happens any time you meditate in a long-distance bus!
If you are familiar with Vipassanā meditation, you know how important is to pay attention to your tiniest bodily sensations. Therefore, you can imagine how being shaken by a moving bus does not facilitate the practice. Yet, after a while you get to distinguish the grosser external sensations produced by the vehicle’s waving and all the other sensations arising from within the body. At some point you just do not mind anymore.
In the end – as far as I am able to make sense of Buddha’s teachings –, any physical sensation arises from the contact of an object with one of our five senses, as well as from the contact of a mental content – thoughts and feelings – with the ‘sixth sense’: our mind. Any of these contacts produces some sensation in the body. Sensations trigger reactions. For example, somebody approaches me with a severe and critical attitude, I feel a weight growing in my chest, I experience this sensation as unpleasant, it means I am not comfortable in this situation, solution: I panic! Reactions cannot but generate new contacts – in the example, my panic will produce specific thoughts and feelings, and eventually specific actions and words… – therefore new sensations will arise, new reactions, and so on ad libitum.
According to renowned neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, our body registers stimuli all the time. Damasio affirms that emotions emerge only after the brain registers physical changes in the body. Unconsciously, we are continuously reacting to our emotions. Damasio explains that feelings arise after the brain interprets emotions. I find Damasio’s notion of emotions rather close to the Pāli term vedanā, which, among its rich list of nuances, has the meaning of bodily sensation. Without any claim of neuroscience proving Buddhist psychology, I like to draw a parallel between Damasio’s theory, and the Buddhist progression of four mental layers: cognition, recognition, sensation and reaction.
Shortly said, Vipassanā practice works around the assumption that sensations are the link between contact and reaction. An assumption which is made incredibly real by the direct experience provided by the meditation technique itself. By equanimously observing your bodily sensations, you train yourself not to suppress any feeling, and yet you avoid to blindly react to them. Such a non-judgmental attitude allows you to contemplate the fundamental impermanence of all sensations, as well as the ever changing flow of thoughts and feelings. This experiential wisdom makes you more ready to perform conscious and original actions out of your inner freedom. If you are simply human then – like in my case –, you become aware of how many times in life you react out of habit. And knowledge – somebody says – is power.
Arrived to Pori, I took a taxi till Noormarkku, which is the small town where my residency is situated. I will spend a one-week retreat here. Kindly supported by the University of the Arts, I will further develop my artistic research on meditative silence. In this moment, I am sitting at a wooden desk, in a wooden villa, facing a window. I am admiring a vast field of grass, surrounded by countless trees. My plan is to meditate and write, from Monday to Sunday. As simple as that.
What I am actually going to write, I have not planned yet. The point is to meditate for a minimum of four hours a day, and to just write. Each evening, I will publish a post on my blog, such as the one you are reading now. Of course, I will allow my thoughts to dwell on my artistic research, but as you can see, I might indulge in sporadic digressions…