All living beings are conditioned. Already a unicellular organism reacts differently to nearby nutrition or poison: in the first case there is approaching, in the second case avoiding. This primitive form of desire and aversion enhances the survival chances of the organism.
But sometimes, notably after environmental changes, an organism may be over-conditioned. Insects orient themselves to the ‘infinitely distant’ sun, making a fixed angle to it during flight. This causes them to fly in a straight line, a useful form of conditioning. After homo sapiens discovered how to make a fire, the insects also kept a fixed angle to that source of light. But now the fire is not infinitely distant; the insect makes a spiral towards and into the flame with dramatic consequences from their point of view. We say that the insect is over-conditioned. We all know that some of our friends are doing things that are not so good for them. They even may know this themselves, but cannot help repeating the behaviour pattern. And if we are honest with ourselves, we sometimes do this as well. This creates in us suffering.
Time may evolve insects to higher insects, that can over-rule their tendency to keep a fixed angle with a light source. This may take many centuries. Humans have the capacity to de-condition within their lifetime, so that they do no longer suffer from their over-conditionings. This is the goal of insight meditation, also called vipassana: freeing oneself from over-conditioning and the resulting suffering. This de-conditioning (or better stated ‘re-conditioning’) is liberating, as we have more choice possibilities for our behaviour. The path towards this de-conditioning is remarkable, interesting, and a source of joy. Also it brings triple peace: with ourselves, others, and the world. This nurtures unconditional love: being able to give without needing something back, which is important for your personal relationships.
The method is simple and effective. We sit in a quite place, alone or with others. We do this in a comfortable way, so that we can keep sitting for a while; we sit with dignity: straight up, not leaning back; we call this active relaxation. It is a helpful condition to recondition. After we have brought ourselves in this position, we check our state of mind. Are we still a bit excited, as we had to hurry to come here on time? Or are we relaxed? Are we slightly irritated, because something happened today, or even very irritated? We may also be happy. Or full of excitement. Do not ask yourself these questions by thinking. Just observe how you are, what is the state of your mind. Be honest: do not say to yourself that you are peaceful because you think that is the proper state in a meditation class. As a botanist you observe what is. Without liking or disliking. This stance is called mindfulness. It is one of the principal things that has to be developed by disciplined effort. And we will discover that it can be trained. Quite similar to a jogger who trains his or her legs and stamina, the meditator can learn to have continuing sharp mindfulness.
The course intends to give experience with the possibility to allow mind-states to be modified. Those interested in pursuing this path after the course will be directed to excellent Vipassana centers and teachers (e.g. near Roma).
The methodology is quite scientific. Buddha, who developed the method of vipassana, emphasized not to believe books, traditions, teachers (including himself), but rely on experience and its tested consequences. The present Dalai Lama states that if science and Buddhism are in contradiction with each other, then Buddhism has to be adapted. Vipassana teachers are not gurus: the pupil keeps his or her independence and responsibility of what to do. The teachers are only spiritual friends, who may help to diminish suffering, having some experience with the path of purification.