[This post is about my experience at a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat I went to… it’s written for people considering going to a retreat themselves or who like meditation/mindfulness/presentness in any way.]

I spent .4% of my time like this

I finally went schizo. I always saw it in movies “wow look at that Crazy” but now I was the crazy. There was the mind saying “shut up”, the mind demanding ice picks in faces, the quiet mind under all the noise. I thought I was going into a retreat of ultimate peace. I thought I was on the fast track to Nirvana. “It’s definitely a good idea to shoot my face” was not on my list of Enlightened Thoughts To Have.

A few days later my entire experience burst into vibrations with no beginning or ending. The (U!)niverse made perfect sense in nonsense. Every paradox was understood. Love was perfect and infinite and blasting out of me like I was an infinite supernova of goodness.

Holy Jesus I’m Buddha! I found Buddha on the road and forgot to kill him. Then Snap Back To Reality! Maybe “reality” is a poor choice of wording here…

I went to a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat. Ten hours of meditation a day starting at 4:30 in the morning. No dinner. No talking or eye contact (except to the Teacher-Master-Sensei-Professor of Sitting). No reading or drawing or writing. Just sitting, walking, sleeping, eating, toilet-ing. And watching videos of S.N. Goenka:

And it’s free!

What Happens When You Sit

There are two kinds of meditation we practiced. The first is Anapana – focus on the sensations in or around your nose. All I did for the first 35 hours of meditation was feel the sensation of air flowing through my nostrils and on my upper lip.

When you focus on one piece of your body, your mind gets upset. When we don’t pay attention to our thoughts they start to get neglected and jealous. The thought “this is a terrible exercise, I should be getting something done” came and I thought back “okay, that’s nice” then felt my breath again. After a while your thoughts begin to get more pissed off. They need you to hear them. They need you to be concerned about them. “Listen to me, damnit!” They start to get bigger and less rational. “Fuck that dickhead, he probably molests children.” I thought that about the meditation teacher who, at that point, literally did nothing but sit and smile peacefully.

You learn to sit even with these violent thoughts after a couple days. I sat in them and started to see the absurdity of my own mind. Once I slayed that dragon it grew a thousand more heads. The thoughts knew they couldn’t come out in sentences anymore because I was dominating them with my zen-ness. They started popping up as sensations in the body! Sometimes tingly, sometimes itchy, sometimes pulsing, but for me it was usually just pain. I’ve been told the sensations you experience depend on your current mental state. I did go into this thing on the tail end of a bout of depression.

I sat cross-legged with pain pulsing in my shoulder and legs and back. Thank god I never have to give birth because this was the most intense pain I think I could ever handle. At first I thought the pain was just because I was sitting for 10 hours a day. And a little of it was. But I would be sitting in meditation and I felt like there was somebody behind me twisting a knife in my shoulder and I’d open my eyes and the pain would leave immediately. One particularly painful sit – a ‘sit’ is when you sit down and meditate for a period of time – my entire body was in pain. It spread to every corner of my body inside and out. I was sweating profusely in a room cooled to 74 degrees. Then out of nowhere the pain exploded out of my body and I was left with a pleasant vibrating. This happened almost immediately after I stopped fighting the pain and surrendered to it. “Alright, I guess I’ll sit in pain for a while.”

The other type of meditation is Vipassana – the main event! It’s a scanning exercise. You feel sensations in your body. The top of your head, your tummy, your cheek, your fingertips, everywhere. This eventually turns into scanning sensations in your body. It is meant to sharpen the mind. As I practiced my mind went from feeling the pains and pulsing to feeling more subtle sensations. Once your mind is subtle enough you feel only vibrations.

It’s not like progressing through levels though. The only way to win is to sit in acceptance of anicca, or impermanence. Even though it felt ‘nicer’ to be in a complete vibrational state the magic left as soon as I developed and attachment to it. It’s much better to be accepting of your inability to meditate correctly than to be meditating correctly and getting excited “I’m doing it! I’m doing it!”. That last sentence doesn’t even work because you are in perfect meditation in the first instance.

The female residence hall at the Onalaska Dhamma center

What Happens In Between Sits

The meditation center I went to in Onalaska Washington had two walking trails. I walked a lot. I was going crazy from sitting. So I walked and stretched. Violently, apparently, because everyone after the retreat said I was ‘the angry one’. I’ve been called that zero times in my life. But holy shit I sat in some seething there. It snowed heavily, then melted, then looked like a perfect spring day. It was awesome.

After a few days of sitting everything took on a new vibrance. The trees were greener, the sky unspeakably – maybe because we couldn’t speak about it – beautiful, I saw deer and felt God. People got an aura. I don’t even know what that means but it happened.

I walked until the ‘food gong’ was rung. Then I ate delicious vegan food. Had a tea. Then continued to walk. I even started walking with my hands behind my back. Like Morpheus but a little lower.

What Happens After The Show

What a silly thing to say, of course the Show doesn’t end.

I didn’t continue meditating after the retreat – shame! For several weeks afterward I was in a meditative state of mind though. It’s a different perspective, a more calm one.

Problems weren’t so upsetting and things seemed to flow better. My mind noticed all the silly little thoughts and treated them for what they were. Heard them out and let them pass without stressing over them. It was beautiful for how different everything was and equally beautiful for how it was all the same. The new ‘light’ of a saner mind can change everything.

I went in wanting to be able to use the Force to shoot lightning bolts and came out having experienced my Self as the Force. Getting a glimpse of beauty as it is now with nothing – mental or physical – changed. And at the same time realizing that the process of participating in change is where the beauty of life lies.

That knowing never stays around long, but to glimpse it every now and again is enough. To know it’s there is nice.

For those who are considering doing a retreat:
-everyone wants to leave at some time
-you are sane
-don’t worry about getting stuffed at lunch
-be nice to yourself, especially when you’re being a jerk to you. accept your non-acceptance
-don’t worry about what you expect to come out of it, it won’t
-respect your experience only