My first and only vipassana retreat was in January 2016. The retreat was great and I got back with lot of enthusiasm. I did attempt to get into regular practice once I got back, but soon I realised that I was getting nowhere. So, I stopped my practice entirely in April 2016, a mere three months after my first retreat. I never got back to regular meditation thereafter, until two months ago.
In May 2023, I bumped into an extraordinary experience while working on a CBT visualisation. Something that was bothering me for all my life suddenly lifted its grip on me within a matter of few hours. In a few days after that, I felt totally free from that past. In fact, a left shoulder pain I had —– disappeared fully!
I spent a few months being totally perplexed about this sudden release of pain. On a morning cycling expedition, I happened to randomly pick a podcast from Dr. Kiran Vagada on ‘Thoughts on Record’ where he speaks about Vipassana and how it works. Listening to that podcast got me to recollect the words of Goenkaji that emotions are stored in the body and the practice of vipassana releases them. I had now finally gotten a taste of what that means. Intrigued by that, I restarted vipassana practice from early August.
- Week #1: I did 5 min of aana-paana (breathing concentration)
- Week #2: I extended that to 10 min
- Week #3: 15 min
- Week #4: 30 min
By September, I felt confident about venturing into vipassana (or body scan meditation).
- Week #5: 30 min vipassana
- Week #6: 45 min
- Week #7: 1 hour
- Week #8 and #9 (which is now) 1 hour in the morning, 1 in the night.
- Last weekend – I also attended a one day (6 hour) vipassana meditation retreat.
During these past nine weeks I read several parts of Daniel Ingram’s Mastering the Core Teachings of The Buddha and The Science of Enlightenment from Shinzen Young, both of which provided a lot of clarity on what to observe during meditation. Additionally, one of my neighbours (the whole family actually) are regular vipassana meditators. They provided me with information about the Dhamma.org app and VirtualDhamma WhatsApp group, all of which provided significant support in restarting my practice. Looking back, I can now say with confidence that the universe showered me with a lot of resources and help to get back on track with my practice. Clearly the metta of many many meditators found its way to me. I am truly grateful for that and I hope my metta reaches many others.
I must say that my practice has improved manifold and the results I am seeing are far beyond what I expected.
Some clearly tangible results of my vipassana practice for the past 2 months: while I obviously get angry, irritated, sad, disgusted, degraded, insulted etc; I seem to be able to get off it rather quickly. What would have taken days to get over, now takes a few minutes.
In fact, time seems to have expanded a lot. An hour seems like a rather long time.
While driving, if I get stuck at a traffic signal for a long time – I do get frustrated. But as soon as I cross the signal, it would seem like I left that signal a long time ago. The frustration would have disappeared, almost instantaneously. Previously I would have held on to it and juiced it for long. Now I seem to implicitly know that frustration is just not worth holding on to, because like everything else it arises and passes away.
In my interactions with people, I still feel many times that they are insulting or chiding me, but I get off that feeling rather quickly. It’s like I seem to be in a blissful ‘I-dont-care’ mode about it. All the hurt and negative stuff still happens, but they seem to wash away quite quickly – you know what I mean?
I can drop into the ‘flow state’ anytime during the day and notice vibrations all over the body. And that relaxes me deeply. I can drop into it while driving, while speaking to others, while reading a book, while listening to a song, while waiting for the dish I ordered to come, while cycling. Literally anytime.
Each time I sit for meditation, I can ‘get into it’ quite quickly now. While it would have taken maybe 15 or 20 min to relax and concentrate my mind, I now seem to be able to do it in 5 min or less. I can now easily sit for 1 hour twice a day. I can clearly notice each sitting moving me forward.
The ‘flow state’ or vibrations are always all around. It’s like I am (and reality in general) is less solid and more of an activity, like a flow. Nothing ever stays put. There seems to be hardly anything solid out there. It all looks like movement.
I seem to have developed an almost super-human ability to breakdown any experience into fundamental sensations
- Physical body sensations
- Emotional body sensations
- Mental images
- Mental talk
And once I break them down to these sensations, I can see them apart and clearly get that they are rather easy to handle. They don’t ‘gang up’ and overwhelm. They all seem manageable. And like every other sensation, I now ‘know’ that they will stick around for a while and vanish. I mean fully vanish.
Even if a similar experience comes back, I can now clearly see that when broken apart, the fundamental sensations that make up the second coming of that experience is actually different. And they too stick around for a while and vanish, fully.
I may or may not be able to do this all the time and to all experiences, but I now know that I ‘can’ do it. Personally, it’s a big deal to me.
When I workout at the gym, I notice so clearly that I am not generating each part of the work out. Like for instance, when I am doing a bicep curl – it doesn’t appear like I am doing each and every minute movement that makes up a curl. It appears that all I do is generate an intention to pick up the dumbbell and start curling, the rest of it seems to happen by itself. Those minor shifts, pulls, pushes, sounds, breaths, pulsations and vibrations that make up the experience of lifting the dumbbell is crystal clear, yet it doesn’t seem like I am the one doing them.
I kind of feel this way while cycling too. Cycling seems to happen and the experience of cycling is very vivid – although I can’t seem to find the ‘me’ that’s doing the cycling. Breathing, breaking, pressing the pedal, staying put when going downhill — everything is a pot-load of sensations and happens all by itself. There isn’t a me in all that, there is only the experience which is a pot-load of sensations that can be looked at and broken apart.
Come to think of it, I am simply unable to find the ‘me sensation’ anywhere in my experience. I have no idea what the ‘me sensation’ is supposed to feel like, but none of the sensations I can feel seems to feel like ‘me sensation’.
I am less caught up in what the sensations seem to point at, but more enthralled by its arising and passing away, its expanding and contracting nature. I feel naturally inclined to look for sensations around solid-experiences like neck pain, back pain, fear, drowsiness etc. I have better grasp of what sadness feels like, what shame or embarrassment feels like, what anger feels like, what irritation feels like. I am slowly and surely getting less concerned about the subject of sadness, shame, embarrassment, anger or irritation, or happiness – but more intrigued and curious about the sensations that make up that experience. They all seem strangely similar. It’s not like I am getting numb, it’s more like I am getting sufficiently and unabashedly sensitive that I am fine with them showing up whenever they show up. I am almost clear that much of what’s showing up is random, while a few seem to have a rational explanation. At any rate, the content is bothering me less, the sensate-experience behind them is capturing my attention more.
As a direct consequence of that, I am increasingly beginning to notice just how hard I try to ‘remember who I supposedly am’. Thoughts in my head seem to be in a constant rush to keep reminding me of the things I have done, things I have not done, things people have said to me, things they have done to me, memories & feelings I am supposed to remember, unsettled scores with people I am supposed to keep track of and do something about, the ways in which people, things and systems are supposed to be, so on and so forth. Clearly I am not generating these thoughts out of intention, but there is a part of my psyche that seems to be working overtime to keep my sense of ‘me’ together. I am increasingly less and less interested by those thoughts. They still occur, but I am not so fascinated by it. I can surely say that the grip that these thoughts have on me have begun to loosen up a bit.
Clearly there are way too many paradoxes here and it would seem like I am speaking above my ‘pay grade’. But I have made peace with the fact that there are too many paradoxes. What could be more paradoxical than experiencing my solid-body as a ‘flow’ or ‘movement’, which is anything but solid.
While I might be coming off as a crazy lunatic who is speaking nonsense, I do feel very very sorted right now. I don’t feel like proving this to anybody. I am happy to live this. Proving it to anybody is sort of a craving, like an identity-building process (by identity I mean the notion of ‘I have now become this person’) which I seem to suddenly have absolutely no interest in.
I am nonchalantly sorted – and I don’t crave for a certificate from anybody about it.