I had a chance over the past week and a half to attend a 10-day course in Vipassana meditation, taught at a center a couple hours south of Seattle. I am going to briefly describe the experience and share a few initial thoughts, although I am withholding a complete judgment (and recommendation to others) until I have a few months to practice the techniques we learned and see how they impact my day-to-day life and interactions with others. So you can expect that in a future post.

I knew nothing about Vipassana until my good friend Lydi here in Seattle introduced me to it a little over a year ago, having done a couple of the courses herself and thinking it would be a beneficial thing for me to learn. Definitely one big goal of taking this time in my life was to increase my introspection and ability to be present, and pick up some new skills along these lines, so this seemed like a natural fit once I could block out the full 10 days without any other commitments. For those like me without any background in this, Vipassana is a specific method of meditation which is a central practice in Theravada Buddhism (thanks Wikipedia) one of the major branches of Buddhism and often considered to be one of the oldest and “purest” to the Buddha’s original teachings. Courses like the one I took are taught at around a hundred similar centers all over the world, based on the idea that the technique (and way of life) and the benefits it provides in daily life are very practical and universal, independent of one’s belief in Buddhist philosophy/spirituality or following of any other religious tradition or belief. You can read more about the core ideas here: http://www.dhamma.org/en/about/code

“The Wheel of Dhamma”

The experience of this 10 days was really, really hard and intense, definitely one of the most physically and mentally challenging things I have done in a very long time. But, my initial reaction is that the practice, life realizations and self improvements from these 10 days were well worth the difficulty and investment (time will tell if that holds up). We were working in complete silence and self-enforced isolation from the other students until the last day, without any other form of outer stimulation or distraction (no music, reading, phones, or even writing) to stay focused on the meditation and introspection. Physically, we were living a relatively ascetic lifestyle – bare living quarters, simple vegetarian meals (lots of rice, oatmeal, salad and stews), hard beds, and rising around 4:30am every day to start meditation, which we did about 10-12 hours per day. Sitting up as much as possible for this long was a big strain on the back and knees, and focusing to increase mental discipline, endurance and awareness left the mind pretty worn out at the end of each day too. Not to mention the isolation and the often unpleasant things surfacing from the sub-conscious and the past, which was ultimately healthy but certainly its own emotional strain.

So, what do I think I got out of this that was so worthwhile? First, the meditation techniques were certainly the most practical and direct means of improving mental control and emotional/reactive balance that I think I have ever come across. Even in the past 48 hours since I got back, I can see myself staying more on task and present with what I am doing or who I am interacting with, calmer (and more internally calm rather than just seeming externally calm..), and less likely to be shaken by regular discomforts and inconveniences of life. And I can see clearly a connection between continued practice of these techniques on my own, and continued sustaining/improving in these areas. As well, with this amount of self observation and reflection I recognized some big areas particularly in some relationships where I was assigning external blame for my frustrations or unhappiness, when really and clearly it was my own attitude and perceptions (colored by past reactions or events) that were the source of the problem. Finally, in the isolation I was able to really step back and take a look at how I have been spending my energy, what I want to accomplish, and where those two things are more or less aligned with each other going forward as I set more concrete plans and tactical goals for the next 6 and 12 months, which still seems a fairly pivotal time in my life. And, had time to mull over some other specific ideas in business, pleasure, art etc and let them have time to really marinate in my mind and have some interesting things come to the surface, that I can act on now (boy, was it frustrating to have those moments of clarity then float around in my brain for 5-6 days with no way to act on them, talk about them or even write them down!! hah).

So, those are my initial thoughts on my experience and takeaways. Of course, there is likely some “peak experience glow” still happening. Time (and feedback from others) will tell if the changes and benefits I perceive now are real and sustainable. So, we will check back on that in a few months, and if they are I will probably be pitching this experience to some of you, too. 🙂


Tunes for this post: Samaris – Samaris [via spotify] Kelsey sent me this album while I was gone and it is excellent. The newer one is good too if a bit more ambient.