Imagination is the enemy: Vipassana


We have the awful and debilitating ability to imagine our own feelings as images. But don’t do this as part of your Vipassana practice. Vipassana is effective only when its objects are actual sensations, not images. Have the courage to touch your feelings with your awareness directly.

Bury your face in the tar

(Re)connect with your feelings now as they really are—heavy somatic juices with overwhelming presence. Real feelings are have a power that nearly forces aversion. Consequently, we prefer to resurrect them in the accommodating plasticity of the imagination, where they can be handled easily. Practice Vipassana on your actual non-imagic, non-ideal, non-linguistic feelings, which in reality are sensations. Jump down the lion’s throat. Otherwise, your practice will be ineffective.

Stop, and right now feel every feeling as it is—as an overwhelming power that you cannot change. Feel every feeling, impulse, urge, itch, anger, lust, and regret as the material juice that it really is.

Unlike ideas, stories, concepts, and images, feelings are recalcitrant. We can translate feelings into images, in order (we think) to tame them. But imagining feelings also misrepresents them. Real feelings are real precisely to the extent that they overwhelm. Imagined feelings are straw men—easy to overcome. Real feelings drive people to murder and suicide. To really handle sensations, you have to get on their level.

Even verses from Scripture, which is notoriously interested in transcending and overcoming and manhandling everything upsetting, admits that the only way out is through. The most popular verses on this topic comprise the so-called Litany against Fear:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
The Bene Gesserit rite

I will permit it to pass through me. This is Vipassana in a nutshell.

So one of the great impediments to proper Vipassana practice is reliance on or use of imagination. We are to feel the touch of the breath. But do we imagine it instead? Probably sometimes. I often use a cutaway view of the sinus cavity, and see the passing air as arrows. Once you do this, you have separated your awareness from actual feeling presence, and substituted a more manageable (because invented) imaginary feeling.

It is common practice to live life secondhand through the imagination. It is just a fact that real sensations can be resurrected inside the imagination and more comfortably observed. But direct contact with discomfort is the point of Vipassana practice.