The 10-Day Silent “Retreat” (Vipassana)
A Personal Journey into Sensations and Equanimity
by Bob Banner
As I drove up the long winding driveway toward the California Vipassana Center I felt both relieved and a bit fearful. Relieved because I finally made the 5 hour drive and because I knew for the next ten days I wouldn’t have to hear the phone, be tempted to watch innocuous television, work at my computer, talk to disgruntled people, have wild drivers swerve into my lane or worry about what I was going to make for dinner. I felt the fear because I did not know what to expect with all that silence, all the deep darknesses of quiet, not knowing what could arise, what issues were there that I hadn’t already opened to… and did I have the courage to withstand the long ten days…
With all these thoughts playing at me for dominance I parked my car under a tree and looked around at the familiar setting. The renovated barn for registration and the men’s dining hall, the women’s dining hall across the way and the wheelbarrows for carrying our bedding and clothes to our designated cabins that could take a ten minute hike just to get to a cabin.
As I strolled along with the wheelbarrow carefully maneuvering the rocky and hilly path to my cabin I couldn’t but notice the laurel, scrub oak, pine and manzanita trees that fill this very quiet valley (about an hour south of Yosemite) that were all majestically speaking their wild silence of nature to me.
Sixteen men were in the double-wide trailer home. Curtains were draped over newly renovated PVC pipe to separate the various “rooms.” Beds were foam mattresses on a simple half-twin bed frame. Instructions were typed out and placed in convenient places so we knew what we were supposed to do. The schedule of meditations. The times for rest. The meal times. The charts for signing up to clean in various areas; and the shower sign ups… all designed to make it very harmonious and so we would not have to resort to breaking silence or breaking out in a brawl for whatever reason.
more photos HERE
The men were separated from the women in the dining area, the sleeping areas and the grounds area where we could walk. The only times we could see the other sex was in the Dhamma Hall, the meditation hall, where men were on one side and the women were on the other side separated only by a single wide path. Yet, we were not supposed to look at the other sex (or anyone for that matter). We were to respect Noble Silence which included just not speaking verbally but not communicating with hands, body language or with our eyes. At my first course I remember that it was quite difficult for me to avert my eyes from looking at the ladies across the way in the meditation hall. I recall writing in my diary later on (after the retreat, of course) that I could feel an urge to scream out: LOOK at me, Look AT me, and Look at ME!
At this particular ten-day course (during the holiday break), it was filled to capacity, approximately 50 men and 50 women. And we were here to sit for approximately ten hours per day for 10 days. We were not to use the phone, no reading books or magazines, no lap-top computers, no pagers, no last minute stock transferences, no going to our cars for anything, no writing, and of course no speaking. If there were questions regarding the scheduling or food preparation or room mates you could ask one of the volunteer staffers that were introduced to us earlier. If there were questions regarding the meditation itself the AT’s (Assistant Teachers) were available during noon-1, or after the last sitting at 9 PM, or during break periods between sittings.
This certainly was not a resort type of retreat where we could order tequila shots with beer chasers at poolside or let our minds go adrift in fantasyland with the roaming about of tight-bodied scantily clad women or buffed men wearing their G-string “bathing suits” (whatever your preference is regarding sexual objectification). No. We were to take 5 precepts before we could be allowed to take this 10-day course. We were not allowed to kill, steal, lie, engage in sexual misconduct or take intoxicants (just for those ten days). For the older students, those who had already taken a ten-day course, we were to take on 3 more precepts: not to indulge in sensual entertainment, not to eat fruit or add milk to our tea during the 5 PM “dinner” time and not to sleep on an elevated and luxurious bed. Well, 2 of them were pretty easy to maintain: the beds were not luxurious and there was no sensual entertainment (especially after I asked the assistant teacher if sensual entertainment implied laying out in the sun during rest periods or looking at the moon. He simply laughed and said that it meant watching television where sensual images were being evoked.) However, the not eating fruit or adding milk to our tea for the old students was difficult especially seeing new students grabbing oranges, apples and bananas, cutting them up and decorating them with sunflower seeds and raisins in bowls… trying however they could to make a meal out of what was available. It always seemed to draw more hunger pangs from my already hunger pangs in my stomach.
Before we knew it we were in silence. After the initial registration, getting our rooms and bed’s together, getting initial instructions, getting our specific meditation spot in the meditation hall, and getting our last chance to use the phone — silence descended upon us.
Getting our meditation spot was important. With 100 people in the hall, it was tight. The lane that divided men and women was used for walking in and out of the hall. It seemed throughout the days of the retreat that lane got smaller and smaller. If you weren’t careful about how you placed your blanket or shawl around yourself you could easily hit your neighbor. A guy behind me coughed regularly. And even when he muffled it I could feel the breeze across my neck. Within the first few days it sounded like most people got sick from the few people who brought it in.
I should say here that the meditation hall was always dimly lit and quite stark and simple. There were no statues of Buddha, no icons, no incense, no flowers adorning any type of altar. Just a simple stage where the AT’s sat next to a video and cassette console that they controlled. Eerie, otherworldly and yet feelings of relief slowly calmed me with a sense of knowing that no one was out to convert me with some complicated cosmological system with a whole array of gods and goddesses and strange names that I couldn’t pronounce.
The old students were in front. The older students were way in the front and the new students were in the back. I think the purpose is to have the noise in the back of the room and to also have the more still postured older students in front of us so we could see what it was like to hold a position for such a period of time with such calmness. During my first retreat it blew me away. I could not believe how anyone could be that still for that much time, especially for those strong determination periods where we sat without moving for an entire hour. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We woke up at 4 AM by a bell chime outside. One of the old students would wake up well before 4 in the morning so that he would be wide awake, go outside in the cold darkness and walk along the path that threaded its way along the various cabins and mobile homes and bong the bell with a rubber mallet repeatedly and serenely. It was quite enchanting actually to be awakened by that sweet chime amidst the deep darkness.
I’ll simply go over the schedule: The first sitting was at 4:30. We could either go to meditation hall or stay in our rooms. Staying in our rooms was quite dangerous. Since someone would always turn the light out tere were always a few who stayed in their beds and snored away. I opted to go to the meditation hall. It was more difficult to fall asleep there. Even though there were times when people did, sitting in a full lotus… snoring away… only to be awakened by one of the staffers who would nudge the guy or gal and whisper oh so silently that they had fallen asleep. Breakfast was at 6:30. A rest period was set between 6:30 and 8. Everyone was obliged to go to the meditation hall between 8 and 9 to sit for an hour. The Assistant Teachers were sitting in front facing us playing a tape giving instructions as to the meditation technique along with some Pali chanting. There was more sitting until lunch at 11 AM, which was the main course consisting of a hot and delicious vegetarian meal (cooked by volunteers) and a salad. On two occasions we had a dessert. Another rest period from Noon until 1 PM; we could also walk around the property staying within the course boundary, or simply sit in the sun, if it wasn’t too cold or raining. After 1 PM there was more sitting until another group sitting at 2:30 – 3:30 PM and then more sitting from 3:30 to 5 PM. Dinner at 5 consisted of fruit and tea. Another group sitting started at 6 PM and then at 7:10 we had the great opportunity to watch a video tape featuring S.N. Goenka, the former industrialist turned follower of Buddha and teacher of the Dhamma who has retreat centers throughout the world. [Goenkaji was born in Burma of Indian descent and has spent most of his life in Burma.] His talks, or discourses as they call them, were dry, funny, compassionate and eloquent. They were often filled with stories about the Buddha, techniques about our specific type of meditation and general principles from the teachings of the Buddha. The last sitting was 8:30 to 9 PM and then the lights went out at 9:30, giving us some space to walk back to our cabins or trailers or tents, shower, brush our teeth, and then crawl into our small beds listening to the silence, observing our breath… letting go of not eating a full meal at dinner, letting go of not making love, letting go of not eating that piece of chocolate mousse cake right before going to bed, or reading one more chapter of LeCarre’s latest spy thriller.
Breakfast was quite interesting and entertaining. We hadn’t eaten a full meal since noon the previous day. The two lines of men (often straying outside) served ourselves cafeteria style. We were energetic, eager and hungry. Bowls, silverware, napkins, oranges, apples and halved-bananas were gotten before the diving into the oatmeal pot to ladle out our portions; or pouring different types of cereal and granola into the bowls. At the very small table sat jars of brown sugar, honey, yeast, jellies, peanut butter, butter, raisins, sunflower seeds and loaves of bread and the majestic toasters. The three toasters were always operating with men slowly moving about rhythmically flowing in and out of putting the toast in, taking it out, buttering the toast, putting jam on the toast… while others were waiting patiently with bread in hands waiting for a toaster opening. And immediately next to this scene was a smaller table with all different kinds of teas, Folgers (decaf and regular) and Cafix (a coffee substitute) all busily being occupied with a similar harmonious mission. Just imagine 50 hungry men in silence dancing about as if orchestrated from above taking care of their needs with the utmost of compassion and generosity without appearing too clumsily desperate. But we managed… no brawls, no coffee mug spills, no buttered toast falling butter side on the floor…
On sunny mornings we could go out to the few picnic tables and eat outside. Such delicious moments to see men quietly moving about, getting their meals… not knowing if they were chairman of BofA or a gardener or college professor or ex con… you didn’t know and you weren’t supposed to care. We were to go inside… deep inside… to do a surgical operation of our minds. In the past two retreats I had spent too much time wondering about what type of people were in the dining hall, whether they were CIA spies, or sex perverts or wimps. This time I went to the table/booths that faced the white empty walls and stared at the whiteness while I ate. However, even if you don’t look at their faces you can still sense things from their legs, feet, movements… subtle things… and of course the more subtle as the days grew. What kind of presences did they have?… What energies were being emanated from them?… scattered, quiet, calm, hurried, youthful, content, harried? At one point I imagined that all the men were animals. There were gazelles, foxes, bears, rats, possums, lions and squirrels in our midst… all walking about in silence investigating our minds as well as our species.
We didn’t go there to dance or drum or cathartically cry in each others arms grieving our childhood wounds. No. We were not at a strip tease bar joint howling at the females cavorting their bodies to desperately frenzied hungried gaping eyes. No. We didn’t come to pay our respects to our favorite football team howling out our demands and cheers for our side to win. No. We came to meditate, to sit for ten hours a day for ten days. That’s probably more hours meditating than the average casual meditator does in 6-8 months! And why?
To get clear… to let the issues we were working on speak clearer to us… to see if we can do it… Someone they respect happened to go and tell them about it so they are here… To learn more about what the Buddha taught, the real practical way, not just what they say in books… One guy’s mother suggested it and because he had seen the changes in her and since he was a constant dope-smoker for years he thought he’d check it out… Some people want to go deeper… Some needed a jump start since their practice was getting stale… Some want to escape.
All different kinds of reasons… just like in any kind of human activity.
So we sit and learn. We are to sit comfortably with backs and necks straight and focus on our breathing. Breathing in and breathing out. We are to do nothing except observe. As Buddha describes it in the Satipatthana Sutta, “[He] sits down cross-legged with body erect, and fixes his attention in the area around the mouth. With awareness he breathes in and breathes out. Breathing in a long breath he knows rightly, ‘I am breathing in a long breath.’ Breathing out a long breath he knows rightly, ‘I am breathing out a long breath.'”
About 2-3 days later we changed from simply focusing our attention on our respiration to becoming attentive to the sensations that we could feel in that area between the upper lip and the nostrils. Sensations play a big role in Vipassana meditation as taught by Goenkaji. Sensations are what is real — they are the basic feelings of hot, cold, wet, dry, trembling, throbbing, pulsating, prickly, perspiring, itchy. They are not something that we can imagine or visualize. They are feelings in and on the body. As Buddha instructed in another Sutta: “When a sensation arises in the meditator, pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, he understands. ‘A pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral sensation has arisen in me. It is based on something, it is not without a base. On what is it based? On this very body.’ Thus he abides observing the impermanent nature of the sensation within the body.”
So, we were to investigate the nostril upper lip area and become attentive to any sensations that arose during our breathing. If no sensations were felt, Goenkaji suggested we take a deeper breath for a short period of time to see if that will help us feel some sensation. And if we do sense a sensation, we simply record it as what it is and keep focusing on the breath… for hours and hours and hours. Unknown to the new student we were spending approximately 35 hours on training the mind to focus our attention on this tiny area. We were not doing Vipassana yet. We were doing what is called Anapana (respiration). It is a way to prepare for Vipassana. Since our usual normal ordinary mind is full of incredible dense distractions like worrying, wishing, planning, hoping, wanting, living in the past or in the future we would not be able to do Vipassana with our monkey mind distracting us from our attention.
When we could hold our attention for at least a minute on our respiration and sensations without monkey mind pulling us off course and, if we did lose it but could come back to our respiration within 5 minutes then we were now ready for Vipassana. The first 3-1/2 days were preparation for Vipassana! Just imagine… 35 hours of doing nothing but focusing our attention on respiration and its sensations from the upper lip to the nostrils and patiently and persistently bringing the monkey mind back to our respiration. 35 hours! Almost an entire work week doing what seems to be nothing… but a technique designed to sharpen our awareness… witness monkey mind… witness emotional states… but always returning to our sensations and respiration.
And we were to focus on this area with as much equanimity as we could muster. Equanimity was emphasized over and over again. That everything we did, how we sat, what we focused on, what was “coming up for us,” how we ate, how we walked down the path… all of it… we were to be “equanimous”: to be calm in the midst of whatever is happening. As Goenkaji reminded us, “The yardstick to measure our success along the path of liberation is our equanimity.”
Vipassana meditation is the systematic development of insight through the technique of observing reality of oneself by observing the sensations within the body. And, as one AT explained it to me, “Vipassana is the teaching of the Buddha, but is in no way Buddhist; but, in fact, is universal. There are no icons, nor do we suggest that one organized religion is better than any other.” So, we finally started Vipassana by body scanning. From the top of the head to the bottom of the feet we would scan all the parts of the body in orderly fashion. For example, from our head to our chin… from our shoulders to the finger tips., from the throat to the abdomen, from the neck to our butt, from the thigh to the bottom of the foot.
We could do that. Without those 35 hours of preparing a laser focused scanning beam we’d be totally lost (or I should say I would be lost). With it, we could be partially lost. For many students it was shaky maneuvering… monkey mind was still monkering around and some people still had a difficult time understanding sensations. According to Goenka, students of 10 day courses would say that they weren’t experiencing any sensations at all. But in fact were experiencing sensations yet they thought that they were supposed to be more magical or perhaps more blissful and ecstatic than mere sensations like itching, heat, cold, etc.
At times attention would space out. Laziness, doubt and sleepiness would emerge ruthlessly and debilitate any success. And yet we were to be equanimous about it all! And we were doing this ten hours a day (at least for those who observed the schedule). Not meditating, mind you, in the sunshine outdoors bathing ourselves in wonderful California breezes of sunlight and the smells of nature’s forests. No. We were to meditate either in the darkened meditation hall or in our darkened rooms. For myself, I found that I needed to be in total darkness and in absolute silence to focus on all these scanning calisthenics.
Then the focus changed. We could now go from head to feet to feet to head. And then later on we were instructed to scan simultaneously; meaning scanning both shoulders, both hands, both thighs, both the front and back of the torso. All the while checking sensations, whether they were gross sensations (like the pain in my knee), subtle sensations (like the vibrations in my head), or the blind spots (like my ankles). And whether they were pleasant or not we were to stay equanimous. If the pain got to the point where we wanted to move (aversion) we were instructed to scan it more deeply, spend perhaps a minute on the specific sensation and observe it like a scientist. “We are not our bodies. Sensations are simply arising and passing away.” So, it was truly difficult to look at the sensations, go in the middle of my knee, for example, and observe all the sensations. Stretching.. heat … sometimes a fierce coldness… and sometimes it would pass away while I was observing it. Sometimes it would get worse. Sometimes I tried imagining a bucket of cold water dousing the heat of my knee but found out later that that was not an equanimous thing to do and that I should stick with the sensations or simply move to other parts of the body. (It didn’t work, by the way.) “Keep moving,” Goenka would tell us, so that we wouldn’t get stuck on a pleasant sensation too long or then craving might develop.
The point was that the closer we observed it we would eventually discover through our own direct experience (not someone else’s) that the “pain” was not as pervasive, immutable or solid as we had assumed… and that it was not permanent.
So, the next day I worked diligently at exploring the sensations of the so-called pain in my neck and knees. The more I practiced observing the sensations rather than quickly allowing my immediate intention to squirm or move positions, the more spaciousness I had around it. And the next day, rather than agitatingly awaiting the clicking sound of the tape recorder only to sigh in relief after the hour was up, I could calmly sit motionless until the hour was over. Something had shifted. I was chipping away at the robotic impulses and gaining more freedom!
The idea of freedom and spaciousness is vital. If we are continually fidgeting, moving from one comfortable place to another, most likely our lives are like that. If we can sit still and be a warrior on the cushion, being calm in the midst of all types of calamities of the mind, whether its remnants of the nightmare the night before or the break up of one’s lover or the gruesome manner the bosses laid you off… If you can sit still, most likely you will be able to have that same equanimity in your life. If someone irritates you, you can simply register it on the sensation level and not react… not express or repress… but observe spaciously. This is what many of us want. Why we came. We no longer want to be consumerized robots jumping from one pleasure to another or averting one unpleasant situation after another. We want freedom, equanimity, space and have the ability to cultivate love, forgiveness and compassion for all beings, including ourselves.
On the fourth day, we started what was called “Strong determination times.” Three times a day when we would meet at the Dhamma Hall, we were instructed to sit absolutely still for the entire hour… a test for sure of what we had been learning. If it was really necessary to move we could do it but it needed to be done very quietly so as not to disturb our neighbor.
Some times it was sheer beauty, exquisite in the silence… 100 people committed to go deep into their minds and be physically still for an entire hour. What effort! What incredible energy pulsating throughout the hall. The evening of the 8th day, I swear, if we had the knowledge, we probably had enough energy to take off and fly amidst the stars and planets!
However, on that 4th day, when we first started the strong determination periods, it was a challenge (to use that popular word which bears all the positive images to it although it often times hides the true meaning of words like torturous, excruciatingly painful, ruthlessly cruel and so on). The first half hour wasn’t bad. The first 15 minutes of the last half hour was tolerable. But the last 15 minutes, the last 10 and the last 5 minutes were grueling, for both new and old students alike. We could hear the fidgeting, the deep breaths, coughs, psychic squirms… the anguish in the air. That was our test… to stretch our limits of what our minds considered pain and our level of aversion to that pain.
At one point, it became extremely painful. I tried as best I could to not hang out there but to observe the sensations for awhile and move on… trying my best to keep cool, calm and equanimous. But somehow an image of making love to my lover appeared. It was a pleasant sensation for sure. So rather than watch it arise and pass away I added some color to the fantasy. What started as a simple sweet image of tender lovemaking turned into the most hard core of pornographic images. Images that arose were images from porno videos that I happened to view 8-10 years ago. Some I conjured up and some arose from their own volition. The sensation was one of heat burning up my chest. The pain was hot but very localized in my knee. I knew I was fueling the pleasant sensations with the images. I also knew I should have been simply observing with equanimity. And here I was with my body seeming on fire. When I finally got enough space to observe what I was doing, I sort of sat back and watched how I was trying to use the pleasurable sensations to counter the painful sensations. I wanted to prove everyone wrong. I thought I was smart enough to work out the aversion thing but what I saw when I got a bit more honest was that here was my life: running away from painful sensations and eagerly and obsessively running toward my particular brand of pleasant sensation (sex). Either I could continue playing the game of aversion and grasping or sit there like a warrior and watch it all arise and pass away and not get caught up in the drama of misery.
I needed to speak to the Assistant Teacher (AT). I told him about it. I told him I knew what I was doing but I wanted to know why the sensations were so hot and in my chest. He answered by saying that some “impurities” and “defilements” whether its hatred, anger or lust creates burning. Some can be of your own manipulation or as you gain more equanimity more defilements will arise. Somehow I was reminded of Rumi. Rumi spoke about “burning,” being “cooked,” getting “burnt” very much in his poetry and prose. The AT said this burning is very important. Buddha’s first Dhamma talk after he was enlightened was about burning… the need to let the impurities burn up as we sit there and watch it. He called them sankaras that are there regardless of our parents… that came from different lives and will continually cause us misery if we do not take liberation seriously. He also made reference to some of the men doing 30 and 45 day retreats in India. At times the heat became so intense that some of the men began ripping their shirts off due to the intense perspiration and heat in the midst of cold wintry weather.
I left the dhamma hall with that image of seeing men ripping their shirts off. It reminded me of the stories of Ramakrishna who also had phases where he felt unbearable burning sensations in his chest. I closed the door to the meditation hall and started walking back to my trailer and for some strange reason something was welling up inside me. I turned toward the trees, walked passed the course boundary, found a quiet place, sat down and wept for 15 minutes. I felt those men burning up. I felt my fear, my shame, my lack of commitment toward this thing Tradition has called liberation, awakening and enlightenment. I felt the immensity of it all… the world’s suffering. As I was weeping the words that arose were: “This goes way beyond merely competing to see who can sit still the longest…”
After the morning strong determination meditation on the 10th day, we could resume our talking. They called it Noble Speech. Many different reactions. One man walked directly into the woods and began crying. Others started conversations as if nothing had happened. Some were very uncomfortable but wouldn’t admit it until much later. Even though it was now okay to visit with the women, some of the men were torn. One young man told me he didn’t want to start “hitting” on the women like he used to in that type of situation. He shied away from the interchange. The first course was very difficult for me. My body felt so sensitive that being enclosed with 50-60 people all chattering was overwhelming. I felt as if I had just come out of a three hour intense Reichian body work session… I saw neuroses lucidly, including my own. I practically ran to my room and immediately hid under the covers.
But overall, people are full of joy, lights shining in their eyes beaming a highness that was as natural as it was innocent.
The tenth night has always been interesting, to say the least. The discourse ended early so we were free from 8:20 to 10 PM to talk in our cabins and trailers. The conversations were primarily about personal stuff. If one guy starts it off by talking about how it was for him, it opened the gates for others to speak honestly and truthfully about their experiences… their pain… what was coming up for them… the decision to quit the job or make more of a commitment to their occasional lover… the deeper feelings that were felt because of a certain loss. In our trailer, there was a group of 6 of us… Indians (from India), Japanese and Caucasians talking about alternative medicine, organic farming, the idiocy of the AMA and pesticides… the disdain and feelings of futility of psychological counseling: “most people just want a simple fix; they don’t want to take responsibility”… conversations moving into the “alien” area, of abductions and communications and the bigger scope of things to come…”we are living in very interesting times… quite exciting actually”… tales of Jesus traveling to the East after the so-called crucifixion and learning more about Buddhism… revealing our addictions and understanding that it doesn’t do any good to blame our parents or past karma; “whatever is is what is” and we need to take responsibility to liberate ourselves… government is creating an agency to investigate the FDA because of their recent gestapo tactics toward certain health practitioners… and on and on. In fact, the staffers came to our trailer and told us in humorous boy scout camp style that we needed to shut up and turn the lights out. We moved twenty feet, lowered our voices for awhile and continued non-stop for another hour. It was great… almost like a chat group in a particular internet discussion “area” where everyone is either obsessed about it or fanatical… yet here we were… not on the web. We were bodies and minds talking, sharing, happy that we did it and eager to talk about what we were going to do to liberate not only ourselves but to serve others.
The next morning we sat again at 4:30 and listened to a metta-meditation (loving-kindness) via a tape by Goenka. Metta-meditations are very potent. This one started with forgiving people who have hurt you… and letting your heart simply open to forgiving… And then the meditation moved toward forgiving ourselves for all the harm we’ve done to others. At some 10-day courses you could hear the sniffles, the tears dropping… you could feel the openings to loving-kindness.
And with all that love we were now free to leave. The retreat was officially over. And I have never seen so many happy people, people helping people jump cable their cars, take stacks of cardboard to the recycling centers, volunteering for serving another 10-day retreat, exchanging addresses, going out of the way to give rides to people, helping people move their bedding from the cabins to their cars, cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the carpets…
We were now our own masters… but if we wished to continue the practice, we were informed, we needed to sit an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. We were reminded how a tiny seedling was planted within us and we needed to protect it, nurture it and keep sustaining it or the seedling would die. For me this is very critical. The last two times I did the 10-day course the magic lasted for 2 weeks at the most. The first thing that went was the ability to body scan, the next was the focused attention on my respiration… and then all that equanimity that I developed went out the window. It’s like anything else. If you don’t work out you’ll get flabby. If you don’t exercise, certain muscles will atrophy… No pain, no gain. [It reminds me of the film Man Facing Southeast. Here the main character Rantes was diligantly standing still facing southeast for hours “transmitting information to his mother ship”. But then the mental health experts felt the need to give him anti-psychotic drugs so that he would become “normal.” And with the drugs you see the outrageous decay of a man who was once lucid, critical, brilliant, loving and giving become restless, angry, listless and catatonic.]
Many people experienced wonderful peaceful states of mind… bliss… lucidity… hearing celestial music in their minds…seeing holographic images of certain archetypal forms granting boons or giving personalized wise discourses…seeing one’s judgmentalness as their unique armor to feel separate from other humans… seeing the path that they need to take… feeling the awesomeness and deep gratitude of being a human and being alive… and feeling a genuine deep inner peace. It was all there and more…
In my diary after my first retreat I wrote the following:
Near the end of the retreat, at night, I experienced incredible moments of lucidity; the thoughts seemed not only orderly but were arising from a deep place revealing myself to myself. Feelings of contentment enveloped me. I started to trust this process of slowing down, no longer addicted to distractions (at least for awhile). A most profound sense of serenity was tasted for many days afterwards. I recall driving home, 300 miles back to my home. I thought I was driving 50 and yet I was only going 25. Cars were passing me and I didn’t care. I walked into a shopping market briefly for some crackers and felt like I was an alien… nothing in the store had me in its grasp… the music did not pull me in or repel me… the female cashiers did not pull me in or repel me. The advertisements all throughout the aisles of the marketplace left me indifferent yet the sensations that I was feeling were bubbling through my system without any attachment to them. I felt strangely more alive than ever! Back in the car I had no interest in listening to anybody chatter on the radio or music to abort this unbelievable serenity (that lasted about 9 days after I returned home). A very important side effect of experiencing the ten-day retreat was a powerful sense of knowing that “I” contain answers to all my questions and that “I” don’t have to run away from myself or run towards someone else for the answers, whether it is a governmental leader, spiritual teacher, or famous critic of pop culture. I know I have the capacity of cultivating these states of awareness and that what is within me contains a powerful resource of knowledge.
For course information at North Fork, CA click HERE
Bob Banner, author
References and Sources:
Shambhala Sun Magazine, Yoga Journal,Tricycle: The Buddhist Review
Ecopsychology edited by Theodore Roszak, Mary Gomes and Allen Kanner
Seeking The Heart of Wisdom by Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein
A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield
Start Where You Are and The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chödrön
Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Out Of This World: A Woman’s Life Among the Amish by Mary Swander
Inner Simplicity by Elane St. James
The Way of No Thinking: The Prophecies of Japan’s Kunihiro Yamate by Robert Engler and Yuriko Hayashi
The Heart of Stillness by David Cooper
Living the Mindful Life by Charles Tart
The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation (as taught by S.N. Goenka) by William Hart
Being Nobody Going Nowhere by Ayya Khema
a recent eNewseller:
From their website:
Persons With Serious Mental Disorders
People with serious mental disorders have occasionally come to Vipassana courses with the unrealistic expectation that the technique will cure or alleviate their mental problems. Unstable interpersonal relationships and a history of various treatments can be additional factors which make it difficult for such people to benefit from, or even complete, a ten-day course. Our capacity as a nonprofessional volunteer organization makes it impossible for us to properly care for people with these backgrounds. Although Vipassana meditation is beneficial for most people, it is not a substitute for medical or psychiatric treatment and we do not recommend it for people with serious psychiatric disorders.
The California Vipassana Center can be contacted by writing P.O. Box 1167, North Fork, CA 93643 or calling 209-877-4386 for a global listing of retreats throughout the year. Please visit their site at http://www.dhamma.org/
At the time of this writing, Bob Banner was a writer and student of Buddhism. An updated version of this article will appear soon. (1/12/2010). This was written in early 1994 and many changes in the piece will make it more current, personally.