10 Days of Silence: Part 2

First_flight2

Soundtrack: Queen “I Want It All”

As promised, this is part 2 of my testimonial about my experience at a 10-day vipassana meditation retreat. I want to get into the theory behind the meditation technique and share my thoughts on it.

To quote the folks who oversee these meditation retreats:

“Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e., anĀ Art Of Living. This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation.

“Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.

“The scientific laws that operate one’s thoughts, feelings, judgements and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace.”

This technique and tradition is rooted in the teachings of Gautama, the Buddha. In the discourses that are part of the retreat, there is a lot of discussion about the idea of the cycle of re-birth. In a nutshell, this theory is based on the belief that life is a thing of misery. That for most people, life is a constant stream of disappointments from desires not being fulfilled, or craving more and more of things that are pleasant, or running away from things which are unpleasant. Their belief is that every person who dies with any desires for anything is eventually born again in a different physical form with those same basic desires driving their behavior and thinking in the next life.

According to this tradition, the ultimate goal of life is to be freed from this cycle of re-birth and misery by achieving total enlightenment and therefore being able to stay in The Void. The Four Noble Truths according to the Buddha are:

  1. There is suffering.
  2. There is cause for suffering.
  3. There is cessation of suffering.
  4. There is path leading to the cessation of suffering.

I can’t agree with a philosophy of life that focuses on suffering as the primary quality of being alive. I acknowledge that suffering plays a significant role in human existence, however my focus is elsewhere. My craving for things that I don’t yet have or that I may never get, and my aversion to things I’ve experienced that I don’t like, is far outweighed by my pure Joy over being able to experience the beauty of Creation.

Any time I get to hear a beautiful melody or smell a flower or taste a wonderful dessert (especially bean pie) or look at a sunset or touch a beautiful woman — ALL of my suffering and disappointment is totally worth it. If you told me right now that I would never achieve my main goals in life but I get to listen to Michael Jackson and have sex everyday for the rest of my life, I will gladly take that deal! Sign me up for that shit. The beauty of being alive is indescribably wonderful and joyous.

I have absolutely no desire to be delivered from this cycle of rebirth. If the ultimate salvation is to exist in the spirit or non-material plane forever then I’ll pass. I’m cool with riding out this life of difficulty and striving for forever, forever ever, forever ever.

One of my favorite quotes from the great Napoleon Hill is “There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.” This explains one of my biggest philosophical differences with the ideology underlying the sect(s) of Buddhist thought which supports vipassana meditation. Their belief is that craving and aversion are the root causes of suffering, that these things multiply themselves and create more craving and suffering.

I agree that aversion is to be avoided. When one focuses on how much one doesn’t like something, it only feeds the existence of the thing which one doesn’t like. One great illustration of this is discovered by most people during the 10-day retreat. Most everyone experiences various aches and pains during the hour-long sitting meditations. And most everyone eventually came to learn that simply observing the pain without reacting to it causes the pain to eventually dull or go away completely. Only a small part of the pain is about what is actually happening inside the body. The vast majority of the torment that one experiences from the pain is really coming from the attention that one is showing to the physical sensation. If you can observe the sensation with equanimity, simply noticing that it is there and keeping in mind that it is not permanent, then it soon goes away. This same principle applies to anything we encounter in life that we don’t like.

However, desire for things that we want is a different story. It is true that a certain kind of craving can be harmful. If you focus on the idea of “wanting” a thing then you reinforce the message to the Universe that you “want” it, making it more and more difficult for you to actually “have” it. However, as Napoleon Hill points out, strong desire is the engine of achievement and evolution. Every “thing” that we enjoy was once an object of someone’s desire, from the car to the airplane to the shoe to the cell phone to the television. Someone had to first see that thing in their mind, desire for it to be real, and then believe in it so strongly that it became real for them. And eventually their physical reality came to match their mental picture.

Some people are ok with the idea of living in a world that never changes. That is the product of people not having desires. Things stay exactly the same from year to year and from generation to generation. Monasteries are like that. I choose not to live that way. I am very comfortable with having a burning desire for things and working hard to achieve them. I have no desire to be liberated from that situation.

The vipassana meditation technique, and meditation in general, are universally applicable. One doesn’t have to accept the underlying theory in order to enjoy the benefits of the technique. Increasing mindfulness and awareness is always a good thing, no matter what one’s motivation for doing it is. My personal reasons for increasing my mindfulness and practicing meditation are included in the entries of this blog and will be fully explained in my upcoming book, The Bliss Booklet. Stay tuned.

Peace.

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10 Days Of Silence: My First Vipassana Meditation Retreat

goenka

Soundtrack: Common “Be”

A week ago I walked out of a 10-day vipassana meditation retreat. Early in 2014 my wife informed me that she was going on one of these retreats at the end of the semester in May. At that time, I couldn’t fathom myself doing something like that because 10-12 days seemed like way too much time for me to take out of my very busy schedule. However, things change.

In the months of September and October I felt a major shift happening internally for me. I felt myself changing. And when the opportunity came for me to do one of these 10-day retreats the last week of December 23 – January 2, it resonated with me as the right thing to do (and the retreats are free, that had something to do with it).

In the week after Thanksgiving, my father got very sick, ultimately succumbing to interstitial lung disease caused by rheumatoid arthritis. There is so much that I could say about the impact this had on my relationships with my family members but what I will say is that it contributed to me feeling like I had reached the end of an era in my life. My life can be divided into pre-2014 and post-2014. Everything is starting anew for me right now. Everything has changed.

Vipassana meditation is a meditation technique primarily promoted within Buddhism but practiced by people from all different backgrounds and belief systems. Vipassana means to see things as they really are. That is the goal of the meditation technique. I won’t get into the specifics of how the technique works, but I will say what impact the technique had and is having on me.

Upon arriving at one of these 10-day retreats, all students are required to take a vow of Noble Silence. You are not to speak or communicate in any way with your fellow students or with anyone besides the assistant teachers and the managers of the retreat. 10 days of not talking to anyone other than yourself is bound to have an impact on you, even if you’re not following a meditation regimen.

By the end of Day 3 I felt like I could’ve left then and the drive from Houston to Northern Cali and the whole process would’ve been worth it. I felt great. I hadn’t been so relaxed in quite some time. Enjoying the quiet and the fresh air and the woods and the bird watching and the colors of the leaves and the taste of the food; I was in sensory heaven, fully appreciating the experience of being alive. However, on Day 4, the meditation work became more strenuous, and the experience became less pleasant.

My body started expelling wastes like I was sick, but I felt fine. I wouldn’t have thought it possible for me to release that much mucus and bowels without having the flu or some kind of infection. This continued from about Day 4 until Day 10.

On Day 5, I got flooded with ideas. It was like I was swept over by a wave of creativity and all of a sudden I knew exactly what I wanted to do and achieve for the next two years. I was receiving song lyrics and new ideas on how to arrange my thoughts in my book and talking points for lectures and people I wanted to do business with and much more. It was slightly aggravating to not be able to write any of this down but because I didn’t have anything to do other than think, I was able to replay this information in my head over and over until it was burned into my memory.

On Day 6, my face started peeling. Badly. In a way that couldn’t really be explained by the moderately cold temperatures and my skin getting dry. I’ve never experienced anything like it before and I still can’t really explain the WHY or HOW. My face shed its skin like a snake. I left the retreat 8 days ago and my face just got back to normal a day or two ago.

On Day 7, I started getting sick. Normally I can be around sick people with their coughing and sneezing and such and I am completely unaffected. I haven’t caught a cold from someone since probably 2011, before I started studying and practicing Tantra. However, I got sick at this retreat. There was quite a bit of coughing and sneezing in the meditation hall where all the students practiced. I don’t know if that’s the cause, some airborne germs. Whatever the reason, I felt like crap. For all of Day 7 and Day 8 I didn’t feel like getting out of bed. It took all of my will power to go to the meditation hall at the mandatory times.

I believe it was Day 8 when I started feeling some really stupendous results from the meditation. As I said before, vipassana is about seeing things as they really are. Part of that includes really paying attention to what is going on on the skin and inside the body. As my mind became more and more calm and focused, I started feeling the sensations going on inside of my body. In the last few days of the retreat, I felt my lungs moving, I felt my heart beat, I felt the organs in my abdomen doing their thing, I felt the pull of my tendons where my hips and knees bent as I was sitting on the floor, I felt the twitching of my muscle fibers in my legs from walking up and down the hills. All of this was extremely fascinating to me.

One thing that I noticed during this period was that my lungs were hurting. With my stuffy nose making it hard for me to breathe, my lungs had to work overtime to get oxygen to all my cells and throughout my body. And I felt it. They were not happy. And on Day 9 or 10 when I was no longer feeling sick, I could feel the difference in my lungs. The sensation of their inhaling and exhaling was so pleasant. It made me think of all the smoking I’ve done in my life. I’m sure my lungs have done this silent protest on thousands of days in my lifetime and I was never aware enough to notice. I will never put my lungs through that torment again.

By Day 10, I was restless and “rets ta go”. The cumulative effect of 10 days of sitting on my butt on the floor was taking a toll on me. I could no longer get comfortable on the floor no matter what I did. I felt like I wasn’t getting anything else constructive out of the meditations and I was just biding my time until we were able to leave the following day. But the benefits that I got were something that I know I couldn’t have duplicated in any other way.

Ten days (plus the orientation day before and the dismissal day after- 12 days total) is a long time for most people to take off work or set aside in their life to devote to something like this. Which is why I can’t really promote this as something that everyone should do. However, it definitely lends credence to the idea that everyone should have some type of meditation practice in their daily life. You don’t know what you don’t know. And full awareness of who you are and why you do what you do can only come when you get still enough to hear the answers. Meditation is mandatory if you want to maximize the Bliss in your life.

For more information on Vipassana meditation, go here. I will be sharing much more about meditation in the upcoming book “The Bliss Booklet” and in my lectures at SOL System University. Stay tuned.

P.S. There will be a part 2 to this blog post in which I go into the theory behind Vipassana and my critique of that theory.