Tag Archives: vipassana
I’ve just got back from my second 10 day vipassana retreat.
I’m feeling rather battered by an experience I can only describe as emotional waterboarding.
The last retreat seamed to consist of resisting the process, clock watching, immense physical pain, dealing with mood swings of rage and depression, hallucinations and ecstatic floating and weightlessness. This finally resulted in the insight a few weeks after the retreat which gave me the solutions to dealing with emotional trauma and lifting of a huge burden of a lifetime of self hatred.
I had no clear reasons for attending a second retreat other than wishing to see how it would affect me. I was also curious to see the impact on myself of attending a vipassina retreat right after a zen retreat.
And so onto this time.
Upon arriving at Dhamma Dipa I was immediately struck by a weight of love and joy just hanging in the air. My scientific mind wondered whether this sense of the place was just my own body releasing happy chemicals triggered by my own memories, but instinctively I felt that the place has simply managed to absorb the positive vibrational energy of years and years of meditation. Maybe a quantum physicist will be able to explain the effect one day.
On signing in I was relieved to find yet again I had a room to myself as this meant that I had somewhere to hide if things got too much.
I made a small amount of effort to chat, whist chatting was aloud as i was about to enter 10 days of silence. Soon enough my second vipassana retreat was underway and as last time i found myself asking the question “Why was i doing this to myself?”
The first 3 days consisted of getting up at 4:00am and meditating 10 hours a day on feeling how the in and out breath affect the small hairs on the top lip. This enabled the mind to become a concentrated laser.
Being an old student i was given access to a cell. This was a small quiet meditation cubical. As my mind become more and more concentrated by senses were turned up to 200%
Light became so blinding to my eyes that i couldn’t see. The sound of metal cutlery being bashed together was painful. The meditation hall seam full of knuckle cracking, coughing, burping, yawning, and farting. I wanted to kill them.
The cell was my personal sensory deprivation chamber, a seclusion away from the human noise. As soon as i started using the meditation cell I started tripping out.
Travelling into two split dimensional planes of oil floating on water with yellow and blue light shining through. Then my life flashed before my eyes.
I suddenly realised that we never forget our memories. They are all still there waiting beneath the surface. I was hit by a unrelenting torrent. Thousands of disconnected memories one after another. Not bad memories, not good memories, but normal boring mundane stuff. I just re-experienced my whole life.
On the 4th day it was Vipassana day, the day we were to switch over from anapana meditation to vipassana meditation. The mind laser would no longer be stuck at the nose tip, but would be scanning the body for sensations and not reacting to them.
Also on this day we would be reintroduced to the wonder of strong determination sitting.
We would be doing three 1hr strong determination sits per day. And to start us of we were given a 2hr one. After the first hour my knees began to burn. The fire got hotter and hotter and spread to the whole of my lower torso. It was the most intense agony I’ve ever experienced in my life. I began to burp continuously and shake violently.
I was determined not to quit but the one of the center managers told me to stop. Apparently I’d missed the point. I was meant accept the pain not fight it off with brute force. I felt disappointed in myself that I had failed by trying too hard. I thought that everything could be won by not giving up. After the 2hrs were up I found myself unable to stand.
After this situation pain didn’t bother me again. The pain was generated by a conspiracy of body and mind in an attempt to make me move. Since both my body and mind now knew that they would’t win the pain simply went away.
After spending literally days sat on my arse scanning my body with focused concentration I formed a map of my body in my mind. I guess you could call it an energy map, or a sense map. It was how my mind experienced my body.
The top of the head was mostly blank with the odd sensation of a hair being dragged across it. The face was alive with pressure, tingling, buzzing and pin pricks. The torso and arms were warm with the touch of a cotton shirt. The legs and feet were buzzing with a heavy hot and cold energy. This mental map remained fairly consistent over the coming days. The laser of my mind switched between a focused point and sweeping horizontal beam.
Over time my mental perception of the body changed into a mass of warm pressurised buzzing. This was my energy body.
looking at the map I could see two problem areas. Two areas that did not consist of subtle vibrations. A point behind my right should blade kept on sending signals of pressure and pain. So I focused my mind there and slowly the pain/pressure began to dissolve. Once it had gone it didn’t come back. Had i just energy healed a physical injury?
The next problem was my heart. It was inaccessible, completely shut off, closed of from my mind. Not only my heart but also my intestines were surrounded on a wall of fuckoffness.
As I probed this wall with my mind, I instantly wanted to cry. It was like when someone tries to give you a hug when you are upset but you push them away because you don’t want to cry in public.
I rested my attention on the barrier around my heart with a gentle push and positive intent to get through but nothing violent or aggressive. Eventually the barrier began to dissolve and I moved on and cleaned up the rest of the black wall around my heart and intestines. Was this negative chi, an energy blockage?
How real was what I was experiencing? I wasn’t creating the visualization i was simply experiencing what I experienced. I’m not sure the word real has any value in such an experience.
I was able to clear up these two blockages and allow my whole body to become perceived by the mind as a pure subtle buzzing energy. Time will tell whether I’ve managed to heal myself either emotionally or physically.
We were instructed to keep scanning the subtle vibrations of the body but to me this seamed utterly pointless. My whole body was just a buzzing mass of energy which pulsed and breathed in and out.
I make all this sound easy, but it wasn’t. For the last few days my mind was crying. It was saying “No more, No more, please, I cant do it anymore, please leave me alone, please stop please stop”. but I kept pushing.
My mind felt bullied and picked on unrelentingly.
But this wasn’t the worse part. The worse time came at break.
When I wasn’t meditating I was still meditating. When i wasn’t meditating in strong determination sitting, when I was doing walking meditation in the woods, thats when the memories and emotions came up. an unrelenting torrent of some of the worse memories and emotions of my life.
I didn’t remember them. I re-experienced them. A montage from hell. What about this? or this? or how about this? you’ve got to love this one?
I was utterly utterly miserable and dejected. So much shit. I hadn’t realised it was all still in there. All this nasty toxic shit was still drowning me, still dragging me down.
I can honestly say that what I went through was absolutely fucking horrible. But if those memories that I re-experienced have been released and are no longer in me any more then it would have been worth it.
If all that shit is still in me somewhere then it can stay. I don’t want to see it again.
Only time will tell how much, if any healing has taken place this time, but I suspect a lot has changed in me.
So, the insights gained from my 10 day Vipassanā meditation retreat in Aug 2017 allowed my to put my emotional pain from childhood trauma behind me.
As I looked for a new challenge I settled on investigating ‘universal truth and the nature of reality’. So basically the biggest question there is.
I hadn’t realized it at the time but the journey away from suffering, is the same as the journey towards enlightenment, so effectively my methods of exploration, namely reading and mediation, haven’t changed.
So here I am over a year in in my search for ultimate truth, where am i?
I’ve done 6 ayahuasca ceremonies, one intensive zen retreat and have been working with self-inquiry meditation. I’ve also been going through about a book a week.
This is where I am right now. My personal reference point.
There are two realities. The reality in which there is a self and the reality in which there is no-self.
Both realities are completely real when experienced from within that reality.
When within one reality the other reality is not real.
There seams very little point in describing the reality as experienced from the point of view of the no-self.
As regards to the no-self. There is the experience of no-self and the memory of no-self. There is no need to describe the no-self experience to those that are experiencing it or remember it.
There is no point in describing the no-self reality to those that haven’t experienced it, since the no-self is unimaginable.
The biggest change is that suddenly words that made no sense to me 10, 20 years ago all of a sudden make sense.
Dialogue from various past kung fu instructors and tai chi teachers suddenly makes sense. Books on Advaita Vedanta actually makes sense. Even bloody Zen has started to make sense and thats saying something.
So basically the knowledge of ‘universal truth and the nature of reality’ is actually knowable. But it isn’t necessarily communicable.
But since I never set out to be able to communicate anything its all good.
A brief recap. I spent 30 years of my life trying to heal from emotional pain. Ultimately I was to be freed from this by my mediation practice. But, during my years of research into self help, actualization, healing and development there were two words that kept on cropping up again and again. Vipassana and ayahuasca. Vipassana was primary in my healing journey, but what was this Ayahuasca? Ayahuasca, Ayahuasca, Ayahuasca, the word kept on cropping up.
Upon investigation I discovered that Ayahuasca ceremonies can supposedly heal both PTSD and addiction. So I decided I had to give it a go. At that time my goal was to compare the efficacy of Ayahuasca with that of Vipassana, but as it would turn out, there is no comparison.
I arrived at the retreat on Friday night. I was welcomed in with warmth and compassion which went a long way to calm my trepidation. The people felt right. The location felt right. Over the years I have learned to trust my intuition so I knew that this was going to be right for me. Even on the journey there my heart said “you are going home”.
I set up my personal healing space. This consisted of a blanket on the ground and a sleeping bag and pillows, a vomit bucket, a toilet roll and bottles of water.
After the initial greeting the first order of business was a brief interview with the assistant shaman to ascertain whether my system was free from prescription medication or illicit drugs, that I hadn’t drunk any alcohol in the last two weeks, and that I had avoided processed meats and other Ayahuasca unfriendly foods foods for the previous two days. Luckily I was able to answered yes, as I has done my research and knew what was required of me. Apparently you aren’t meant to have sex a few days before a ceremony either, but I’m not sure that this was mentioned.
Next I was interviewed by the shaman. She asked about my mental health, previous traumas and if I had an intention for the ceremony. I mention wishing to investigate any residual pain and the desire to break my unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
There were to be three ceremonies over the course of the weekend, but I will only discuss one here for brevity.
The room had the alter at the front with the shaman and assistant shaman sat behind. Nine of us tessellated our blankets and pillows into the available space. The room glowed with candle light, incense and herbs protected us from inquisitive entities.
The ceremony was to begin.
One by one we were called up to sit beside the alter and kneel on a cushion whilst Rapèsito, a form of snuff, was blown into each of our nostrils. Basically this is like having pepper blown up your nose. The net effect is that your eyes, nose a throat burn like hell, you bottom lip begins to quiver and then you begin to drool sputum in uncomfortable amounts. After the initial unpleasantness dies down you are left with a feeling of calmness which pervades your entire body.
The nest stage was to drink a cup which appeared to be a cold brown herbal lemon drink.
And then it was the next bit. The scary bit. What was this stuff going to do to me?
I had read that Ayahuasca was the most unpleasant taste possible. Maybe I’m weird but I liked the taste. I was like a rather bitter exotic earthy thick coffee.
I lay on my blanket and waited,….and waited. Is it starting yet, is it starting yet? After fifty minutes nothing had happened so I went up for a second cup. Twenty minutes later I started to feel sick. I really hate nausea, I really do. If there was anything I could have done to avoid it I would have done. But it was just a case of sucking it up and getting on with it.
The nausea built and built and built and then pop there I go, bluurgh. And then it started, the ride was on. Too late to back out now. In the words of the matrix “Buckle your seat belt, Dorothy. Kansas is going bye-bye”
My vision filled with thousands of tiny little rings on a black background. They began to spiral inwards like a worm hole. Rainbow colours washed over them the change in pigments of cuttlefish skin. I told the rings that I loved myself on the advice of the shamen and the little rings shivered in delight and did a little dance for me. I think they beckoned me in. Come with us, come with us.
And then the circles changed to sequins, and the sequins changed to rhomboid scales. The shimmering scales grew in size and complexity. Then I was in a world of lego bricks. Coiling and sliding like snakes, or rotating like a clock work mechanism. A kaleidoscope mandala of lego bricks. And then a kaleidoscope medala of rpg dice.
And then donkey kongs face, and then clowns, fucking clowns, so many clowns. And then skulls. More skulls coming out of the mouth of skulls. And bones of a rib cage designed by giger himself.
Apes, clowns, skulls, apes, clowns, skulls. Hello subconscious. Nice to meet you.
End of level one. Level one complete.
Was that the end? No, no, oh no.
A little break perhaps, a little breather. Welcome to level two.
On a conveyor belt moving forwards whilst the scenery of excessively bright orange and yellow vertical columns enveloped me. I’m pretty sure there was some Celtic knot work in there somewhere. I was scared. This wasn’t fun. This wasn’t watching something on a screen. This was there, I was in it. A different reality, a different dimension. I had no reference points. I had no residual reality to hold on to. The advice of my shamen came to me. “I love myself, I am safe, don’t resist, go with it, breath.”
I kept trying but I was so afraid. I pushed on a little with that intent but I was so afraid. So very afraid.
End of level two. A god, oh god, oh god.
Welcome to level thee. Oh fuck, clowns again, why is it always fucking clowns?
I was in my own personal clown hell. The fear level hit night terror level. I’m not sure there is any higher than that. Big huge thick red vertical pipes, with white and back pipes. And black and white diamonds. And jesters. Fucking scary jesters. I cant handle this help, help, help. Is this what they call a bad trip I thought to myself? In wanted to push on but the fear was just too much. I opened my eyes and for the briefest of times I got a break from my personally designed hell.
Could things get any weirder? Oh yes.
The body started going “ bwouuur, bwouuur, bwouuur” It was either expelling something, or trying to expel something. “bwouuur, bwouuur, bwouuur” My voice took on an unnatural sound. To be frank it sounded demonic. “bwouuur, bwouuur, bwouuur” and then “bwaourgh, broaugh, bluuurgh, bwuer” and then the body vomited. It may just have been vomit, but right then at that moment, it was darkness, it was negativity , it was evil . It was casting out of something truly horrible from within me. From my perspective my bowl was almost full of vomit, but when I came to inspect it later there was almost nothing in it.
It was at this point that I completely lost control of my body. The body was sat cross legged rocking backwards and forwards and in circles. The arms jurked at twitched, almost like an ape scratching the fur on its arms. The head was shaking from side to side making the lips flaps making a bawewe, bawewe, bawewe sound. Then the voice started babbling unintelligibly. Basically I was acting full horror film possessed. But I have been reliably told that this was not what was happening.
Then suddenly I managed to regain enough control of my faculties to rush to the toilet and so a full on squirty, liquid bowl evacuation. Lovely. Thankyou legs. Without them it could have got very messy.
Then I sat down at started rocking and scratching and softly saying “ blu, bla, bla, bla, bla” over time this softened off.
Then the body was rolling around on the floor. I ended up kneeling with my head down on my arms. The shamen touched me on the back and told me I’d feel better if I vomited and that I should lay on my stomach. But I had other ideas. I didn’t feel like vomiting, I really didn’t want to be touched and I was quite comfortable in my current position. Eventually the utter horribleness passed and I collapsed on the floor and started wriggling and writhing. That was until I had to leg it again before pebble dashing the walls in korma sauce.
Reality was warping and shifting, the floor was tilting. My arms were phasing out of reality and getting delayed and catching up with themselves. I collapsed, exhausted.
And then it opened up.
Infinite diamond stars, of infinite sparkle, embedded in infinite velvet blackness.
At that moment I realized that all my experience in life up until this point were as a speck of dust to the universe. Not only the experiences I had had to date, but all the experiences I ever would have. In fact all the experiences of all humanity were infinitesimally small compared the beauty I beheld.
I laughed and cried in wonder. All My preconceptions were a joke, all the traumas and conflicts were a nothing. Everything I had experienced when compared to this ultimate beauty were so small as to be of no merit.
Who has seen what I have seen? Who have felt what I have felt?
Humbled and in awe I gazed upon the face of god.
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.