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My experience of a 10 day silent Vipassana Mediation retreat

I arrived at the Dhamma Dipa Vipassana Meditation (S.N. Goenka) centre in Hereford early on Wednesday afternoon. After a short registration, coffee and a biscuit I checked out my room. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I had a single. My greatest fear of the 10 days is that I would be confronted by the need to cry but have no where private to retire to . Such is the shame attached to crying when you have been conditioned out of it.
On the first night I couldn’t sleep. Thoughts of fire breathing dragons, 90’s metal and past relationships bashed around the inside of my head like a tin can being booted down a dark alley.
Getting up at 4:00am and only eating meals at 6:30am and 11.00am everyday isn’t easy, but you get used to it.
Not having any stimulation and spending hours after hours bored out of your mind telling your brain to do something it doesn’t want to do isn’t easy, but you get used to it.
Sitting perfectly still, unable to move whist invisible torturers set about attacking your knee caps with blow torches and chisels is excruciatingly painful and almost impossible to tolerate, but you do, and eventually, if you don’t get up and leave the pain does. It is actually surprising what you can adapt to when you choose to.
Setting aside the spirituality and mysticism, the act alone of sitting immobile, bored out of you mind, in excruciating agony and yet remaining still is going to retrain your brain. Your threshold of what is unbearable simply moves, and that which is stressful accordingly stops being so.
Its amazing what sensory deprivation will do to the brain. You end up craving any kind of stimulation. My favorite pass time when not meditating became lying on my back wiggling my legs in the air looking for shapes in the clouds.
It really is quite disturbing how much one thinks of sex when mind is free of sensory input. I really get now why the sexes are split up for the duration of the retreat. I think even the glimpse of a feminine styled throw cushion would have sent me running off to seek seclusion.
Throughout the retreat I experienced both joy and misery; they both came and went as frequently as each other. On one occasion when mediating i was running around in the darkness of my own mind, screaming at the top of my voice, smashing my head through a window, slitting my own throat, choking my neighbor to death and destroying property with a sledge hammer.
On another occasion during meditation I feel into deep ecstasy, my mind become completely black and I disappeared. I was aware that something existed but I did not know what as i wasn’t there to witness it. Whatever it was that was still occurring were like distant muffled voices in a locked room some distance away. I wasn’t conscious or unconscious and i wasn’t a sleep. I can only presume that whatever the mediation was doing to my brain resulted in the release of some happy chemicals, the change in my brainwaves, and some areas of my brain to shut down.
This was in no way the full extent of my weird shit experiences. At the end of one meditation sitting someone walked past me and the air flow on my skin triggered a near orgasmic wave of pleasing electricity to ripple around the whole surface area of my body. We were told not to get attached to positive or negative sensory experiences so I came out of it, believe me I really didn’t want to.
Yet another time when meditating I had sensitized my mind to be able to follow my nerves around my body. I search around my own nervous system painting a map in my mind.
The easiest areas to flow my mind into were always my face, my palms and the bottom of my feet. Since i’ve been doing martial arts I’ve simply got used to fact that my palms are always going to be hot and buzzing with vibrational energy. As I zoomed around my body I managed to get my awareness into my teeth, my eye sockets, penetrate my arms and legs. I began to scan my awareness up and down my body like a laser. It felt like a beam of sunlight as it passed over me.
My vision began to flicker, and towards the top of my head began to glow white. As my awareness passed over my eyes there was blue flash. As my awareness passed over my palms and feet there was another blue flash. My hands and feet began to glow blue and pulse with a powerful pulsating energy.
Each time my awareness passed over them the blue energy spheres grew until eventually they over lapped, merged and then expanded to fill the whole of the body. At this point whatever it was that was scanning my body gave up and joined the party. From that moment onward, the whole of my sensory reality was simply a pulsating , throbbing warm fuzzy energy field. My vision was black apart from expanding and contracting splodges of yellow, pink and blue an psytrance VJ would have been proud of.
Wow, some party this. I was loving it. But where could I go from here? How could I scan if the scanner was gone? When I came out of this mediation I had a good old think about what had transpired. In the end no matter how beautiful the experience was I had to admit to myself that I was no longer practicing vipassana. I had followed the funky shit down the rabbit hole and had a wild party but I could no longer be said to be simply observing my experiences.
And so the next time the pleasant fuzzy vibration energy filled my whole body, I stopped the observer from joining the party. I remained objective. I realized, at least I think I did, that the lovely vibrational energy was pretty much flowing around the surface of my body. I hadn’t noticed that I wasn’t penetrating my body.
So, I tried to use my awareness to penetrate my torso. This was really quite difficult. Maybe my mind was not focused enough. I suddenly decided to see what would happen if I tried to ‘see’ my own heart. As I passed my awareness to my heart at first it seamed dark and impenetrable, but each time i tried to put my awareness there I got a slight urge to cry. Again and again I placed my awareness roughly around my heart or solar plexus and I got more and more upset. Eventually I moved on to other parts of the body. The interesting thing is that the next time I scanned my whole body, not only my eyes, feet and hands pulsed with blue/white light, but my heart did too. And every time my heart pulsed white I got a feeling of love and not of sorrow as I had done previously.
Ultimately after all of this mediation I do not feel that I had a strong spiritual experience, I do not feel that I had a overwhelmingly strong emotional experience. I certainly did not view objective reality, shout ‘everything is emptiness’ and realize that we are all one.
What I did experience was possibly the most prolonged periods of physical pain and deepest feelings of joy, peace and tranquility. As I leave the retreat I feel lighter, unburdened, calmer, stress free, sharp, focused and joyous, but I don’t feel any more spiritual or closer to having any of the answers to as to the true nature of reality or the universe.

–update–

I feel as if i have been split in two with the old me and the new me being able to gaze out through shared eyes and compare experiences.
Someone at work said something and I realized that historically it would have triggered a rant.
Someone did something and i realised that historically it would have triggered anger.
Someone else acted in a particular way and I remembered that it would have triggered anxiety.
I realized that I have always felt unsafe and that my mind created a construct of how I wanted my environment and the people in it to behave to allow me to feel safe. and if my environment and people didn’t conform to my imposed structure then I would use various levels of fear and anger to either escape from that reality or control it and try and make it conform to my expectations.
Sitting in silence for 100 hrs simply watching bodily sensations was simply brain training and using neuroplasticity to learn a new skill, the skill of being able to see things as they are.
For my whole life I haven’t been living in reality. I’ve been living in a projection of how I wanted everything to be and being constantly disappointed.
Perhaps this is the cause of anxiety and depression, well one of them atleast.
Today I was able to experience my environment and the people in it and accept for what it was. Doing so allowed me to feel at peace.
In all my past relationships I haven’t been in a relationship with those people as they really are, but rather in a relationship with my projection of who I desired them to be. Being constantly disappointed that they could never live up to my expectations.

–update–

If I am able to to feel my chest tightening and If I am able to feel my stomach constricting, . Then where am I?
If I am observing my bodily sensations, then I cannot be my body. If emotional pain and fear are felt in the body as sensations then who is feeling them?
If I’ve already established that I am not my body, and that emotional pain and fear impact on the body then they do not impact on me. So as long as i am able to see myself as the observer i am invulnerable to emotional pain and fear because it is not me that they are affecting.

Munnar

Munnar is a beautifully cool lush green paradise elevated from India’s usual insufferable heat.
I forgot this when riding my scooter to the top of a mountain one morning around dawn.
It gets pretty darn chilly up there!

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Pushkar

Ok, right Pushkar does feel like a spiritual place one could even go so far as holy. There is deep sense of calm and peace to be found sitting by the lake. But….and this is a BIG but I has a very dark under current.

The beggars dress in orange and pass themselves as holymen, when I sense nothing holy about them. If you take their photo then they get angry and demand money which a true holy man would never do.

AND I’ve just been threatened. Probably by the mafia.

I went down to the lake to chill out and I saw a young girl who had fallen for the lake scam. Basically they give you a flower when you get off the bus, then they invite you to throw the flower in the lake. Then they do a little ritual, and give you a bangle and put some water on your head. Then boom they charge you $100.

I could see the shock hit this poor young girl. She nearly burst into tears at the high pressure sales. It started off with just the priest, but then his bouncer joined in to add to the pressure.

I didn’t intervene at this point as she had already decided to walk away, but I was ready to, if needed. I caught up with the girl and warned her of the scam. Unfortunately the bouncer herd me.

He said ” You make your choice, but you know nothing of the lake, DO NOT TRY AND DISSUADE OTHERS. Do not dissuade others, if you do it will be bad for you, very bad for you. You understand me? Now fuck off.”

This is the real Pushkar.

Every time I give someone the benefit of the doubt they let me down. Two women asked for their photo to be taken. I checked first. Do you want money? No. Are you trying to sell me something? No. So I took their photo and showed it to them. Then I got the “where you from” speal. Here it comes I thought. Then one of them tried to grab my hand and henna it. Yup. Thought so. Wish I had been wrong.

So, this morning I was up at 6:00 am to catch a bus to Jodhpur.

It turned out that it was a local bus which slowly snaked its way to jodpur stopping at every little town and village on the way. Even though the journey took 5 hrs rather than the expected 3, I chose to see it as a free tour of the local country side as a plus to the 200r (£2.40) I paid for the trip.

Previous to this journey, I had only experienced the locals as one dimensional beings. There were the school kids jammed into the tuk tuk for the ride home from school, The street hawkers peddling stuff that I cant imaging anyone wanting to buy, and the women selling grass, or fruit on the street side. Each day the school children were there, the hawkers were there and so were the street vendors.
In my mind they were always there. Since I always saw them in the same place at the same time, my mind never labeled them with more then one dimension.

But then came this bus ride. Street hawkers got on at one village carrying long staffs covered in little plastic bags of sickly pink candy floss, only to get off a few villages down the road. School children got on at one village and off at the next. Women got on the bus carrying curved blades, and steel cylinders with carry handles which I could only assume was their lunch. These women were off to the fields to cut grass, presumably which they would later sell at the market.

As an aside I had been a bit confused about women selling grass at the market, but slowly as i travel around India, things are becoming clearer. The women cut the grass in the morning and then presumably sell it on the streets later. Business owners then buy the grass and feed it to the cows which they presumably believe gives them good luck.

Anyway back to the story. Seeing these people at a different stage in the day enabled me to begin to see them as multi-dimensional. People with lives and jobs rather than people trying to get my cash.

which brings me on to the other matter. I spoke to some people that lived in pushkar which kindly explained to me the whole “seeing white people as a commodity rather than human beings” thing.

The natives see white people as stupid and having too much money. They have learned through experience that if they demand food or money from tourists, the majority will comply. So in our mind what we consider as compassion, the locals see as stupidity and ridicule us for it. There logic is If I demand money off tourists and they give it too me, then I would be stupid if I stopped demanding.

So the harsh reality is that if tourists ever want to enjoy India free from the touts, scammers, hawkers and beggars, it is our responsibility to either ignore them, or to engage in conversation and explain why there behavior is negative.
Until tourist actually change their behavior, we cant expect the locals to change theirs. I reality this is never going to happen, so holidaying in India will continue to be an unpleasant experience for many.

I have read that if you can last 3 weeks without throwing in the towel, then you eventually adapt to the reality of your environment, rather than struggle against it. I eagerly wait to find out if this will be true for me.

These are my favorite shots from Pushkar

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The full set can been seen of Flickr

Jaipur

I just had the most horrendous experience. I arrived in Jaipur. The 4 gb data and roaming I paid £30 for isn’t working. So I have no mobile phone and no google maps. So I paid a tuk tuk driver to take me to my guest house. At first I can’t find it. Then it turns out it stuck at the back of some grotty flats on the second floor. When I arrive there are two guys asleep on the floor who after 5 minutes gut up to serve me. They wont let me check the room before booking in. so I booked in and get taken to my room. Its a concrete prison sell. I sit down on the bed and my stomach starts to fill with dread and sickness. The doors are metal prison cell doors where you have to provide your own padlock. The cupboards are metal cabinets. The shelving are metal storage cabinets with newspaper on the shelves. Everything just feels so wrong. I cant connect to the wifi to access booking.com. Then the power goes off. I want to leave but its only 1.5 hours to sun set. Do I really want to be walking round an unfamiliar Indian city in the dark with no phone? fuck it, I needed to get out of there.

I said sorry and left. I started walking around Jaipur with my bags in the heat getting tireder and tireder. I found a hotel and asked if there were any rooms. They said “no, sorry sir, indians only”. I found another hotel and a guest house but got a weird look and a similar reply. Then I happened across what looked like a posh hotel, but I gave it a go anyway. I asked the price, but they said would I like to see the room first. Seamed like a good idea. The room seamed lovely. so asked the price. they said 1200 rupees. because I was stressed and tired I got my maths wrong and thought that was £140 so I said no and walked away. Then they dropped the price to 1000 rupees. I calmed down again and realized that that was only £12. Panic over. phew. Travelling can be stressful.

well I’d love to stay in this hotel, but the wifi is limited to 300mb a day. So I cant do any uploading of hi res images which is the whole point of being here :-(

Well it doesn’t get any easier. Got up this morning and got out of my current hotel that didn’t provide toilet paper, towels, unlimited wifi, and whos staff didn’t speak English. I was determined to to make it to my new hotel on foot. maps.me said it was in one location and google maps and booking.com said it was in another. I walked to the first location and couldn’t find it. I walked round and round in circles but only functional map app I had was the one saying it was in another location 1.6 km away. Eventually I gave up and decided too walk to the second location. In the end I got so hot and tired I gave up and got in a taxi. He took me back to the first location. Apparently the name of the hotel that I’d been looking for was actually the name of the chain which was why I couldn’t find it. The hotel itself was called something completely different. Finally I made it into the hotel. I guess what. They had never herd of me and didn’t have my booking….after 10 minutes of nervousness and phone calls to booking.com it turned out that they hadn’t processed the booking yet….

I’m pretty sure I hate this country. Since I’ve been here I’ve been ‘trying to get it over with’ I’m not sure I’ve found anything enjoyable yet. its like being stuck in a small hot loud room full of thousands of flies and mosquitoes constantly buzzing in your face, and in your ears, and in your nose, and in your eyes. Constantly biting you and sucking your blood. I swear i’m not going to bother talking to anyone anymore. I’m going to ignore the lot of them. Constantly having to say no to tuk tuk drivers, shop owners and beggars is steeling energy I simply don’t have. They can all just fuck off. I’m coming very close to shouting fuck off at people. I miss Thailand. It it gets any worse here I might just leave and go there instead.

I’ve decided I need to chill the fuck out. Originally I’d booked this hotel for 3 days, but I need a pleasant stable environment for a bit. Basically I need to stop moving. So I’ve booked another 2 days. Ofcourse the price has doubled, but thats still only £20 a night. So I get 5 days in the same location. bloody luxury that. I hope Jaipur is going to be ok. So far i’ve spent about 5 hrs walking around it looking for a decent place to sleep…
I started ordering food by picking names that I recognized, dal, thali, korma, methi, masala, but I’m getting bored with eating the same stuff, so now I’m just pointing as stuff with an interesting name. I tried asking the waiters “whats in it?” but generally they don’t speak English so I’m just going for it. So far the only disappointments food wise are the two times I ordered thai. My experience is that indians have no idea what what a green or red curry is and make it up as they go along. As long as the resulting curry is green or red, they don’t seam to think anything else matters lol. My green curry was a a very dark green grass colour, full of peas and tasted of ‘generic indian curry’ I don’t think it had ever seen a coconut….

When I came to India I wanted to be self sufficient. Turns out you cant. not really. Not if you want to get good photos. All of the security stop you from taking photos if you are white and you have to bribe them to carry on. If you actually hire a reliable guide and tuk tuk driver they will not only argue with the security for you and tell them to stop being a dick, they will distract them whist you nip in to ‘out of bounds areas’ to get the shot. Interestingly enough, all the prime photospots are funnily enough out of bounds. Mmm.

Well just properly lost my temper for the first time. I was walking up a 45 degree incline, carrying one camera body, two lenses and a tripod, running out of water, against the clock, to reach the summit before sundown. A kid latched on to me and said “hey smoke smoke”. I wasn’t smoking, I didn’t have any cigarettes, which I told him, but he kept on relentless, ” hey smoke, smoke, hey smoke smoke” I just snapped. In a split second I could have either punched him in the face, or shouted in his face at the top of my voice. Luckily I’m not a violent person. These people push you and push you and push you without any any awareness of the effect they are having, or how stressed you are getting. If you pull a dogs tail you expect to get bitten. I don’t understand why people her think you can just keep pushing us. Quite frankly I’m getting sick of the prejudice in this country. Separate hotels for Indians, separate floors for eating at restaurants, security guards making up tourist tax fines all over the place. Quite frankly I don’t feel welcome here at all. They young kids are great though. I guess they haven’t learned all the bad habits yet. I young girl blew me a kiss from a balcony. I wanted to return it so not to be rude, however its seamed inappropriate so I didn’t.

Nearly slipped and broke my neck on a cow pat whilst crossing a busy main road. Yup. This is India. On the plus side I can now cross a crossroads in the dark, with traffic driving directly at me from all directions, constantly beeping their horns at me, and not flutter an eye lid. This is desensitization in the extreme. I expect I’ll be a different person when I do finally get home.

Here are some photos

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The full set can be found on flickr

Remedy Post Apocalypse

On November the 5th I worked as event photographer for Remedy Apocalypse. This are my favorites from the night.

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Prince Harry visits Nottingham

Alamy News phoned me up and asked me to work for them as a fixed point photographer for Prince Harries visit to Nottingham Central Police station. I said yes, not because I had any interest in the royals, or for that matter any interest in news photography, but I figured if you say yes to stuff, you are more likely to be asked to do more stuff. And you never know what you might get asked to cover in the future.

It turns out that fixed point press photography is a bit poo. You wait for a long time with backache from the heavy camera gear, the famous person turns up, people then stand in front of you to block the shot, the famous person then turns his back and walks to a place you cant see from, and when he comes back into view people stick their mobiles phones in-front of your lens…

I didn’t get very much but these are my favorites

Equinox Festival 2016

In September 2016 I worked as event photographer for Equinox festival. Here is my seletion of personal favorites of the weekend.

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Infest 2016

In August 2016 I work for Infest industrial Music festival as event photographer. Here is my selection from the weekend.

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Grausame Töchter at Infest 2016

I worked as event photographer for Infest Festival 2016. Grausame Töchter were definitely interesting to photograph due to the nudity and live BDSM behaviour. Most of my photos had to be censored for facebook so I shall post the uncensored versions here. The music wasn’t at all bad as well :-)

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Sunrise – Viva la Revolution

In my younger days I spent the majority of my Saturday nights either in dingy pubs or Goth/Metal/Industrial/Alternative club nights. More recently I appear to have gravitated towards the Leeds centered psytrance club scene.

The whole scene transition thing happened by accident. Back then I was pretty much just a Landscape photographer and I wanted to teach myself another genre of photography.

I volunteered my services to Nottingham’s Ascension club night so I could learn how to do nightclub photography. After Ascension I ended up doing some photography for Cabbage in Leeds, then Illuminaughty in Manchester. The next Thing I know I’m doing stuff for Remedy in Leeds and Somasonic In Liverpool.

I’ve started going sunrise not because I love the music (although I do like some of it), but because the people are great. They are such a happy, friendly, welcoming bunch. Its always shock to the system when I do a goth/industrial shoot again and have to reacquaint myself with all of the standoffish behavior. I guess that’s ruddy goths for ya ;-)

Any way getting back the whole point of this blog thing.
Here’s my favorite shots from Sunrise – viva la revolution

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The whole shoot can be seen on flickr