If you are 100% happy all the time and never have any worries or problems in your life, then stop reading! The stuff below is not for you ;-). However for the rest of us, life is constantly filled with worry, fear and at times anger - simply not a good way of living.
"The art of living: Everyone seeks peace and harmony, because this is what we lack in our lives. From time to time we all experience agitation, irritation, disharmony. And when we suffer from these miseries, we don't keep them to ourselves; we often distribute them to others as well. Unhappiness permeates the atmosphere around someone who is miserable, and those who come in contact with such a person also become affected. Certainly this is not a skillful way to live. In order to be relieved of our misery, we have to know the basic reason for it, the cause of the suffering. If we investigate the problem, it becomes clear that whenever we start generating any negativity or impurity in the mind, we are bound to become unhappy. A negativity in the mind, a mental defilement or impurity, cannot coexist with peace and harmony... (read more from Goenka)" - Mr. S.N. Goenka (Vipassana teacher)
In the past 8 months I have been "dabbling" in a little bit of meditation here and there. Maybe a quick 20 to 30 minutes of closing my eyes while sitting still does help to calm the mind down. Even 10 minutes of just sitting still and focusing on breathing helps to reduce the "monkey-mind" chatter, that uncontrolled thought bouncing from one thing to the next.
I quickly learn that there are many forms and techniques of meditation, even going so far as paying for a meditation/energy class in Seattle. The one course I took (Training in Power - Academy of Meditation and Healing) applies more visualization to the meditation technique. This course teaches advanced meditation and energetic healing system. It uses vibrational psychology "to help release and heal all that prohibits us from reaching our full potential". We learn to access our natural intuitive abilities and "our connection to divine power" through meditation (we are all vibration and energy as can be proven through math and quantum physics). As an example, with only the (1) name of a person, (2) their age and (3) current location, I am able to describe in fairly good detail their physical characteristics, overall emotional state and physical ailments if any. It scared me and the other person when I was able to "read" her friend. We all have this skill within us, and meditation is the key to unleashing this ability.
Recently in Nha Trang, Vietnam, a friend mentioned about a 10-day NO-Talk meditation course which caught my attention. A month later I find myself, in Saigon, sitting in a Vipassana course (as taught by Mr. S.N. Goenka) with 60 other students. Vipassana students "learn to release tensions and prejudices that disturb the flow of daily life - allowing one to live each moment peacefully, productively, and happily". Students eventually progress towards the highest goal that mankind can aspire - purity of mind, freedom from all suffering, and full enlightenment (lofty goals right? ;-).
The first 3 days focused on breathing and respiration around the frontal nose area, focusing in on all sensations. Although this might sound simple at an conceptual level, it is very challenging at an experiential level where your mind starts to wonder off ('monkey-mind") and your back and legs start to hurt and cramp up. As soon as a thought of pain arises, your breathing pattern changes; at such a moment, you are asked to re-focus back on the breathing. Truly living in the present moment and not wandering into the past or future. The first couple of days, four students left the course. I wanted to do the same, but kept at it one hour at a time.
Then from day 4 on wards, it became a bit easier for me. The focus remained on breathing and but this time we are asked to expand our physical awareness of sensations across our entire body, always told to be mindful of our thoughts, and to stay calm despite the rising pain (equanimity). Whatever one experiences in the process (pleasant or not), is unimportant. The point of this exercise is not to react to cravings or aversions, since both will "create nothing but misery". So now when I come across a negative experience, I tune into my breathing and become more aware of my body sensations. I become the "observer" in the moment and therefore step away from my reactive ego. Vipassana teaches me to be more aware, and mindful... to not react so quickly (focus on breathing/sensation), always staying equanimous.
On the 9th day, we were allowed to talk after lunch and needless to say it was an odd feeling. Although I was in close proximity to 60 other people for 9 days, I felt so lonely. I longed for just a simple conversation during this time. This "longing" was a part of the teaching process; another term for an unfulfilled want and desire is suffering. For 9 days I was talking to myself, mainly encouraging myself "to hang in there another hour till break time... you can do it!" On the 10th day, everyone who made it had such a big smile on their face, I think I had the biggest!
Operationally it was very well run and organized. The teachers and staff were on-point with the daily schedule and ensured that all students had the best Vipassana learning experience (meaning they were very strict with the course code - no-talk, no eye contact, no interaction of any sort with other students). The vegetarian food was very good; only breakfast and lunch was served (no dinner)! It's amazing what you can do with soybeans (tofu :-). We all woke up at 4:00 am and lights out at 9:30 pm - - 10 hours a day of meditation sitting crossed legged. Vipassana course is given worldwide so check their website if you have interest in this course.
Would I do Vipassana again? Probably not anytime soon (I spoke to one fellow and this was his 11th time). I learned the skills needed and can practice at home or in my car when I have free time. The tough part is finding time these days in our busy schedules. Between my learnings in Seattle (Training in Power - Academy of Meditation and Healing) and with Vipassana in Saigon, I am equipped to apply the best in both techniques. However, the nice part about meditation is that, you don't need all these tools and courses that I took - sure its helpful, but not necessary. Just sit still in a quite place, close your eyes and focus on your breathing, one breadth at a time. When your mind jumps around, calmly re-focus back on your breathing, and keep re-focusing back to the present moment which is all that you really have in life. Keep still and move deeper into relaxation... your mind will eventually level down. It is in this state that you start to get to know yourself.
"Meditation can be practiced by one and all. Everyone faces the problem of suffering. It is a universal malady which requires a universal remedy, not a sectarian one. When one suffers from anger, it's not Buddhist anger, Hindu anger, Muslim or Christian anger. Anger is anger. When one becomes agitated as a result of this anger, this agitation is not Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim. The malady is universal. The remedy must also be universal." - Mr. S.N. Goenka
Miki is a writer, story teller and product designer. He appeared in the 2015 Oscar nominated film "The Last Days in Vietnam" directed and produced by Rory Kennedy, the youngest daughter of Robert F. Kennedy. He often speaks to others on the ways in which they can better their lives. His history is well documented in the documentary that shares the amazing story of his father Ba Van Nguyen and his bravery during the last few days in the Fall of Saigon. His message is one of enlightenment and courage. Miki has overcome many obstacles as he and his family worked hard to create a life in the United States while their homeland was being torn apart. Through his father’s example of courage and commitment to a better life for his family Miki is inspired to be the best he can be and be of service to others by sharing his and his family’s experiences in an effort to give hope to all refugees who take the enormous risks of leaving everything behind in hopes of a better life.
Miki is available for speaking engagements on a number of topics and also has a new book to be published soon that will offer instruction and inspiration through the recanting of his life and his experiences in this extraordinary world we all call home. For more information visit http://www.mikinguyen.com