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.
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.
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.