Discernment in Action

I have recently finished a two week Vapassana meditation retreat here in Myanmar. Almost every night there was amazing noise from the village close to the Monastery. The Burmese have a different way with noise and personal space that most in the western world would not tolerate. They use loud speakers throughout the morning, evening and night often mounted on vehicles driving up and down the streets promoting various celebrations, fundraising’s and other things and in this very Buddhist community of the Sagai hills, chanting emanating from the fifty or so monasteries is ongoing. The local monastic volunteers , as well worked daily outside my Kuto playing and talking with each other constantly. It was like nothing I have experienced. All of the thirty retreats I have attended have been in absolute silence. I was sleeping two to three hours a night with nowhere to escape. No books, internet, no one to talk to.
My response was that I was feeling violated, that “they” were not honouring my valued need for silence and there was no place to escape to. Thoughts were arising in attempts to assign the blame to someone. I talked with the teacher “Jessie” who is from Hawaii Vipassana about that part of me that coped by being evasive and to seek control but the fact was that there was no where to escape or nothing I could do. I was reminded that this is the culture that has existed here for hundreds of years before I arrived. Here I was wanting things to be different; my way so that I could take comfort in being my known self. In that irritation that I held with all that was outside my comfort zone, there was in my meditation a “discernment” arising out of that sense of threatened stability, and a further questioning of the nature of reality and what I thought myself to be and ultimately a passing through of what I thought, to an embracing of something more encompassing. The focus on the noise began to fall away and I began to sleep when I was tired and awaken when I wasn’t. Even my orientation to eating and food seemed to change. There was no food available after 11AM and often I would eat lightly depending on how hungry I was.
Jessie talked to me about one of the ways that humans cope through being evasive and needing to control situations and I saw it quite clearly in myself. I’ve been seeing it ever since and I am amazed that I haven,t been aware of it up until this moment of realization. My typical response has been a habitual, defensive and unconscious one.
Now a week later, I am sitting on the roof of the hospital that my wife is volunteering at in Wachet, Myanmar, with a very uncomfortable cold and some stomach distress, holding a visa that is two days short of my departure date; now having had the experience and direct realization that discernment does not come from a mental calculation but from awareness without thought I am quite atypically at ease, able to distinguish more clearly when my more disturbing conditioning clicks in.


Having been educated as a social worker and having worked in the mental health field for twenty five years I came to struggle with what I saw to be the limitations of psychological methodology in dealing with suffering. So often it seemed to reinforce the victimized “I” and a narrative of suffering and a conceptual understanding that was distant from the actual experience of suffering. Individuals often so easily become trapped in a somewhat arbitrary and deceptive unrelated thought process.

No doubt, we have to be able to see and experience what has been lost and trapped under the layers of our thinking and conditioning but perhaps it is more relevent done in a more experiential way. Our ability to problem solve and conceptualize can lead us astray and actually create more insulating layers. It seems that something more authentic of what we are can emerge even from beneath some fairly rigid, unconscious and even biological conditioning. 

Thinking about life holds us back from the unity of existence, but discernment is intuitive wisdom born from awareness and free of any alternative interpretation. Discerning is pure and simple seeing, and therefore the perfect application to use for understanding what is true and what is false.