Vipassana 2012 – Insights and Reflections (Part 2: The Lessons)

Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. — Tyler Durden

It’s surprisingly (or not) more difficult to chronicle what happened than to tell a story. I learned this first hand, trying to outline the details of my vipassana journey in 10 days. It’s very much incomplete at 1,000 words. I’m only writing about day 2 and I’m already too bored to keep writing about each day. Ben Casnocha wrote an excellent semi-chronicle and intro to vipassana. I’m going to jump right to the lessons and insights part. My chronicle of this event shall forever remain incomplete :) There’s a strange novelty feeling in leaving it that way actually.

Insight number 1: I want things that I cannot have. And if I know I can’t have it, I want it so bad that my mind becomes irrational

This especially applies to my romantic relationships. Back in high-school, I tend to be interested in the girls that my close friends were. This created very awkward situations for me and for everyone else. I did not realize this until recently. It didn’t occur to me that the sequence of the attraction process really started with me realizing that my friend is attracted to a girl, leading me to start being attracted to her too (because the fact that my friend is attracted to this girl must mean she is attractive.)

Not only so, my (mostly) rational mind will begin acting very strange. When my ex told me she was going to move to Singapore for a 4-year scholarship, I practically broke down and begged her to come back to Canada. I told her we would move to Quebec (she speaks French) so she could use her skills more. I told her we would start a life there. Before this, I  hadn’t even thought of visiting Quebec, ever. And before she told me about the Singapore plan, our relationship was in a state of almost being broken. But none of those things mattered. As soon as I realized I could lose her forever (aka, I can no longer have her,) my mind went into panic mode. And when it does, damn this mind can be so convincing.

She chose to come back to Canada. But the relationship ultimately failed anyway. And I think I probably did see it coming, except I was blinded by my own damn mind!

Insight number 2: My eyes are bigger than my stomach

This applies to relationships and also other areas. I realized this thanks to the daily lunches at 11 a.m. We are all likely over-eating more often than we realize. But most of us nowadays eat while our minds are busy, with a screen (laptop, desktop, iPad, iPhone, Kindle, pick your favourite “lunch device”.) On roughly the third day, I realized I couldn’t finish my lunch plate on a consistent basis. Walking into the lunch area, my mind would go “oh my, the smell is so good” and I took big scoops of everything on the table. Even after the realization that I couldn’t finish my food consistently, I couldn’t stop from taking big portions. My mind would convince me I could, just this one time.

This helped me realize that a lot of times, my mind tells me I need … (fill in the blank) to be happy. I THINK I need “this” to be happy, to feel fulfilled. Examples:

– A beautiful girlfriend with great figure. Oh then the relationship will be perfect (it won’t be)

– A great job that fits my interests. Oh then my life will be happy and complete (it may not be – not to say this isn’t desirable. But anything external isn’t required to be happy)

– A perfect family. Oh then I’m allowed to be fun and interesting and awesome (it’s not required.)

Insight number 3: My failed 3-year relationship is 100% my fault

I think it’s on day 5 during the afternoon break that I broke into a uncontrollable sob. My roommates were also in the room and I didn’t want them to hear my sobbing so I took a walk outside and just completely let it out. I dawned on me that I had been a selfish bastard in my relationship with my ex. I did things because it was convenient for me, not because I so much loved and cared for her. I was a complete taker, and non-giver. In order to be with me, she gave up a 4-year scholarship to Singapore and came back to Canada (to pay $60,000 to go to school here.) This stuff is life changing. She took a completely different turn to be with me. Needless to say, her family financial situation became worse and she had difficulties paying the tuition. Christmas 2011, she gave me an iPhone 4S. To get this damn phone, she signed up for a 3-year contract with Fido, and committed to paying hundreds more in the future. Foolish as it was, it’s out of love and caring that she did, because I’d been raving about wanting an iPhone 4S but too cheap to get one myself. All this, and I can’t even name one thing I’ve done for her that’s extraordinary. And the reason why I couldn’t see all of this?

Goenka actually talked about this. He told the story of a king and a queen in India who took the vipassana course. They became very good practitioners. One day, they were both meditating in their palace and the king told the queen:

my queen, I’ve realized something. I only love myself.

To this, the queen replied

my king, you are right. I just realized that too. I only love myself.

If the king wasn’t a vipassana and enlightened meditator, he would have likely prosecuted the queen for saying she only loved herself :D. Goenka went on to say that everyone, EVERYONE, loves only oneself, including parents. I am still undecided about this point. But here’s the lesson that Goenka taught (to which I wholeheartedly agree because I experienced it first hand.)

I don’t love my partner as the partner is, in both physical and spiritual form. I love the image of her in my head, the perfect image of an ideal lover. And when the real person doesn’t meet this ideal, I don’t feel love for this person anymore.

The reason why I couldn’t see my ex’s love and great affections for me was because I was clouded with my perfect ideal. And of course, no one is perfect. How can anyone meet the requirements of being perfect. Of course I am disappointed. But not with the person. I’m disappointed because the person isn’t up to my perfection.

Sounds like a problem only I have, perhaps after hours of watching anime with fantasy hotties and movies with augmented personalities and features (and forming an unrealistic image of a lover?) We all do it more often than we realize.

Thus, our relationship ultimately failed. On the surface level, it seems to fail because I had commitment issues. I couldn’t see myself being with her forever. But this is only the surface level. I had problems committing because I couldn’t see her fitting into the perfect mold I had created in my head. The whole point of vipassana is to see things as they really are, not what we would like them to be. Ohhh my love with this image! It’s gotta go. I’d much prefer the real thing.

Insight 4: my mind (and yours) is a never-ending always-repeating movie theatre

The most powerful movie producer in the world is one’s mind. As I tried to focus on anapana and vipassana, I learned that my mind (which is separate from “me” the spirit. It’s complicated and it can’t be explained in words so sign up for a seating and see it for yourself.) I learned that my mind kept playing the same movie clips over and over and over in an effort to distract me from the present (breathings and body sensations.) Do you think you have control of your own mind? Most people would say yes they do. But if you try to control your mind and force it to focus on the present, you will learn that you DON’T have control over your mind. Not at all. It has its own agenda, which is mostly survival and reproduction. When it exhausts all the movie clips (of things you’ve done in the past and things you would like to do in the future,) your mind will employ other tactics on you. For me (and a lot of other people too, I asked):

– Sexual thoughts. Okay, I have to admit, I spent at least 3 days thinking about sex. Ben, did you struggle with this? I asked a cute girl who shared the return ride with me. She thought about it too, a lot. And it’s not like I wanted to think about it. No. My mind just dropped images trying to distract me (and a lot of the times, succeeded at that!)

– Happy thoughts. I had this perfect vision of how I would get a job at once I finished the retreat. I would walk into Andrew‘s office and talk to him about his life, his work, and a little bit about me. Then I’m gonna tell him that I don’t qualify for the jobs he posted on the company’s website but I don’t want anything less than working for the coolest company in BC, IMHO. And I will figure out just what to do, as long as he’s ok with me sticking around the company. That eventually I want to be an independent web and mobile developer and start companies (online, in Canada, and in Vietnam.) For the time being though, I want to work for the best and learn from the best. I’m going to tell him my plan to start the Starter League in Victoria. All this, and magically, he’ll say “fuck yeah. Let’s give you a try.”

– Weird, incomprehensible, grotesque images. Not like a horror movie kinda way. But strange, attention-catching transformations, like a purple flower turning into a chameleon, a leaf turning into a face. Like anything that would divert my attention from the present.

Insight 5: I’m also a taker in family relationships

Similarly to my romantic relationship, I’m a 100% taker in family relationships. This just made me realize that I have much work to do to put my family into proportion of how important it is to me.

Insight 6: We’re all here for one reason

This one is the least “eye-opening” at the time but potentially the most important insight of all. I sort of had this insight a few months back during the IELTS exam. Essentially, everyone is doing whatever they are doing for one reason: to be happy. Being good to family, being healthy, being financially wealthy, giving back to the community are all means of being and feeling happy with oneself. And if we’re all here for one reason of being happy, why not be happy with each other and stop the bullshits, the lies, the manipulations, the judgement.

Goenka especially emphasized this. The enlightened practitioner experiences the truth. The truth that we are all made of tiny particles, tiny vibrations. The physical body that we have, is nothing but a collection of vibrations. Notice I use the word “experience”, not “know” or “understand”. A scientist can understand and accept that on the atomic level, we’re all the same. But he cannot experience this truth/reality. But the enlightened vipassana practitioner does experience this truth, according to Goenka and the Buddha. I can’t speak for this because I did not reach this level of practice. However, to use an analogy, it’s like finding civilization on Mars. If I went there and found a bunch of Martians there, came back and told you about it, you wouldn’t believe me. I suspect them not like this but more like this. Even if you did believe me, you would have only taken my words for me. Unless you went to Mars and saw it for yourself. Me telling you about the truth is like the scientist using the machines to tell him what we’re made of. And you going to Mars to see the truth is like you experiencing the reality that we’re all made of atoms.

This realization helps me in 2 ways.

1. To live more freely, because I am a collection of vibrations. There is no “me” to be embarrassed about, and no expectations for “me” to meet.

2. To accept and welcome people more freely. Hey, we’re all essentially the same, and we’re all here for the same reason. You can’t hate people who are like you. Or you shouldn’t anyway.

There you have it, 2000 words for my insights from Vipassana 2012. I am definitely coming back. It is not the same 10-days every time. Each time is different. And if not for the insights, I felt an enormous gratitude for the volunteers who cooked my meals, cleaned my plates, woke me up at 4 a.m. every day. The whole thing only runs on donations by people who completed the course (you can’t donate unless you’ve done at least 1 seating.)

If you’ve done it, what’s your experience like?

Vipassana 2012: Insights and Reflections (Part 1: The Chronicle)

Never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let… lets evolve, let the chips fall where they may. — Tyler Durden

This post is only almost 1000 words long. Choose your favorite beverage (a lot of it) and settle down as I take you through my journey to the world of vipassana. Credits and introduction will be given at the end of the post. Actually, the post title is misleading. This is more of a chronicle than insights and reflections. I guess the lessons will come in the next post.

Day 0: December 19 2012

Tony and I got to Hope and we stopped for lunch. The entire time to Hope and while lunching, we debated about going to Merritt. It was snowing hard outside and I’ve never driven through the Coquihalla in the winter. The conversation mostly revolved around me telling Tony “I don’t want to you put into any kind of danger” and Tony replied back sarcastically “Don’t worry, if I die I’ll visit you at the meditation centre.” As we got up to pay for the meals, I looked outside at the pouring snow piling on the road and our van and concluded firmly “nope, I’m calling this off.” I sensed a tiny bit of reluctant relief from Tony.

We got into a car and Tony answered a phone call on his cell. I sat in silence staring at the space in front of me. I thought about Tony and his safety driving back alone from the centre. If anything were to happened to him, I’d feel horrible for the rest of my life. But I wouldn’t know about it until after I’ve finished the 10-day course. He’d be long gone by then. So it’s right not to go. I can reschedule this in the summer when it’s sunny. It’ll be easy driving to Merritt then I can even do it myself.

Then I felt this regret growing in me. If I don’t go this time, I won’t ever do it. This is possibly the only chance I got. And I need this. I need to figure this out. I need to know what to do next with my life. I’ve just quit my job. Not long before that, I broke up the relationship that lasted for almost 3 years and moved out of the apartment I’ve lived for the past 4 years. I’ve given up everything (or so I thought at that point.) So I am free to do whatever now. Vipassana was going to be the place that I define what “whatever” is. It’ll be perfect timing: meditate through the Christmas season (December 19 – 30), I’ll be fresh and enlightened to embark on the new adventures awaiting in the new life I’ll be leading. With this thought, I told Tony as he hang up the phone: “Tony, let’s go. I gotta do this.” He complied without saying a word.

Day 1: December 20, 2012

The noble silence started since 8 pm last night. The hall, the kitchen, the rooms, and the meditation hall all filled with silence. How can silence be filling hey? Yeah, it’s deafening. It’s definitely there. Silence isn’t simply the complete absence of sound, as the dictionary and the scientists have it. Nowhere on earth (or space) is there a place where we can find the complete absence of sound. Well, maybe except this place. Even there, with complete removal from the outside noise, you will be acutely aware of your own body’s noise. That and not to mention your own mental chatter. Silence is an illusion until your ears and your mind are sharp enough to hear the never-ending sounds reside within you. But this is way to early for this understanding. Let me back up a little.

I woke up at 4:30 on day 1. Waking up early has never been a problem for me, especially if it’s an important day to wake up to. Staying up and alert is usually the troublesome part. But day 1 was easy. Sitting in the meditation hall with 50 other people, nothing but breathing sound and the occasional scratching noises, somehow is enjoyable in a weird way.  I found myself enjoying the apparent silence. It’s easy just to let myself drown in thoughts. Exactly what I needed, even though that’s not what I am supposed to do. I am supposed to focus on my in-breaths and out-breaths around my nose and my philtrum*, and nothing else, especially thinking. I’m supposed to just focus on breathing for an hour straight. Not easy, if you’ve ever tried for even 5 minutes. The first day was relatively easy because I had no trouble killing time by thinking. 10 – 12 hours of meditation a day went by pretty quickly when you only spent 1 or 2 hours meditating and the rest thinking. Yet, thinking is exactly what you need to NOT do if you want to meditate…

Also, imagine the first time you have to listen to a chanting and it’s in ancient Indian (pali). And for some unknown reasons, the chanter ends every sentence of the chanting with a disgust-able sound in his throat like he’s burping very lowly but uncontrollably. My very first thought (and I’m sure of a lot of the other people in the room) was “what the hell is this noise he’s making?”

But other than that, the first day was comparably easy.

Day 2: December 21, 2012

Day 2 was supposed to be a lot harder and a lot of people quit on day 2 (and day 6, apparently.) But it was also surprisingly easy for me to get through.

Day 3: December 22, 2012

Day 4: December 23, 2012

Day 5: December 24, 2012

Day 6: December 25, 2012

Day 7: December 26, 2012

Day 8: December 27, 2012

Day 9: December 28, 2012

Day 10: December 29, 2012

Day 11: December 30, 2012

Introductions and Credits


Vipassana on Ben’s blog

The anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in South Minneapolis: I would do anything to have a 10-day retreat here.

(yep, that’s a word referring to the area below your nose and above the upper lip.)