Friday, 18 November 2016

My Vipassana Experience

Intro


I am publishing this as a letter to anyone who wants to improve their quality of life dramatically, by seeing things more clearly and peacefully. If you are already considering a Vipassana meditation retreat go book it now and please do not read this until after you have done your first course (if you're still curious). If you are highly sceptical or ambivalent about meditation please have a read until the end and if you would like to believe that I am completely crazy go ahead. Just know that many people have these experiences or even more peculiar than this, and also remember this word: VIPASSANA. When it's the right time it will come to you or you will look for it. (Also bear in mind that there are two main types of Vipassana, Goenka and Mahasi both equally valid and important in their own way. The one I did was Goenka).


Also have a read through my experience of the Dark Night which I had to go through for many years until I reached this meditation retreat.


A little personal background to this story: it’s enough to say that my dad did some bad stuff, my mum became mentally ill and obsessed with suicide and permanently scarred those who cared for her with gruesome suicide attempts. She finally managed to finish the job 8 years later, and then about a year later I developed a neurological condition on my arms and shoulders that prevents me from using my hands properly. In the meantime I had been doing meditation from a very young age since my parents were meditators and over time I had developed my own meditation technique based on different techniques I read about. I found Vipassana through reading about phenomenological reduction (bracketing) or epoché, and when I signed up to this retreat in Herefordshire I thought it would be similar to that. I wrote the account that follows in my head over the days of the course as we were not allowed any writing material.


Day 0 - Arrival


On the train towards the meditation retreat, I was strangely feeling very calm and ready even though I was also feeling quite apprehensive about some of the practical aspects of this endeavour: waking up everyday at 4 am, sharing a room with a stranger, and more crucially having to sit on the floor for 10 hours a day. I had two things I was looking forward to as well, giving up technology and more importantly enjoying complete silence for 10 days. Nobody is allowed to talk or communicate in any way in the retreat, having to follow what they call “noble silence.” I desperately needed this silence, not just verbal silence and human interaction, but silence of my mind and silence of the myriad of distractions that were pulling me in every direction. I needed to escape the incessant bombardment of the media and the ugliness of the outside world, but I also needed to escape my own imagination that had increasingly become a burden constantly creating new images and connections in my head forcing me to express them in my art.


I arrived at Gloucester station where the retreat’s bus was waiting for everyone. I joined the queue for dropping off the luggage and started observing the people. Everyone looked so different, from all walks of life. A woman that looked like a fortune teller was dropped off by some of her friends, and as they left they wished her: “see you on the other side.” I felt out of place, some people looked very acclimatised with their meditation chairs, backpacks and hippy attire but more importantly they seemed to know what they were doing. I was in my fashionably minimal clothes hiding behind my dark sunglasses, not really knowing what I was getting myself into. Another man came out of the station, similarly hiding behind black sunglasses and looking very lost. He had a certain awkward smile on his face that clearly said “what the fuck am I doing here?” I could see the resistance oozing out of him as it was probably oozing out me, he did not want to do this. I thought to myself, let’s see which one of us lasts longer.


On the bus I felt my craving for silence was increasing, yet everybody was talking. Non-stop yapping, small talk, noise. I started wishing that everyone would shut up and start practicing the silence we were supposed to observe already. How could all these people be going to this place yet be such chatter-boxes? I tried to calm myself down thinking that they were probably either extroverted or nervous and needed to get it all out before the silence officially began. The woman next to me was silently reading a French novel, yet even that annoyed me thinking that this was the time to stop polluting ourselves with useless information. I looked around me to see that people were still on their phones, on their social media, etc. I peeked at what the guy on my other side was writing, he was sending a message to presumably his partner saying that “by doing this I will appreciate you more” and other sentimental stuff. I thought these poor people don’t get what they are about to do, still engrossed in this material existence. I was clearly irritated and desperately needed to be alone. Thankfully as the bus moved out of town the scenery started changing. There was the beautiful English countryside in all its glory painted with rolling green hills and meadows, with sheep, cows and horses scattered all over. I was filled with so much love for this openness of nature which I rarely get to see in the walled prison of London. I knew at that point that wherever we were being taken I would at least be able to take refuge in nature, and that calmed down my irritability considerably.


Indeed, we arrived at the facility and it was placed in the middle of the countryside, surrounded by beautiful farms. I thought to myself that even if this meditation retreat is bullshit at least it would be a relaxing trip to the countryside. We went inside for orientation and were given some forms to fill in, I sat down in a corner by myself to fill it in and the man with the dark sunglasses from before sat right across me shaking with nervousness. I felt that he was mirroring and expressing my own nervousness which was well hidden. I am good at appearing cool as a cucumber in situations like this, but this man obviously could not. I took a peek at his form and saw that he was the same age as me. In the end of the form there was a box asking about a few personal details such as education and important events in our lives. I wanted to turn to him and make a sarcastic remark like “what the fuck do they expect us to write here?” I decided to remain quiet and wrote something like: “Have an MA in Communication Design, work as a digital artist and university lecturer teaching Graphic Design and Animation. Important events in my life have all caused me a lot of pain. Pain is a recurrent theme in my life.” I gave the form in slightly afraid that they would read it and ask me to leave because they would think I was mentally unstable. Instead, the man working there showed me a map of the facility and where I would be staying and told me to go take my stuff and then return.


I went outside to find my room which was part of a series of buildings that looked like reclaimed barns. Inside there was this man, my roommate, who looked like an Amish farmer silently lying on the bed. I mouthed hello and went on to make my bed. He looked like he was not into chit-chat so I did not say anything. I thought he might’ve been an old student and was already practicing noble silence. The only thing I said as the silence started to become awkward was “sorry it’s taking me so long to make the bed” to which he lightly chuckled. Once I was all settled in, I went back to the place where we filled in the forms to find that food was being served. I took a bowl and filled it with vegetable soup and went to sit somewhere by myself. Soon I was joined again by the man with the sunglasses across me, a young man next me and then this slightly older man joined us and introduced himself as Nunu from Portugal, starting up a conversation. I was surprised how easily I became engaged in the conversation, asking them things about themselves or asking practical questions to Nunu who had already been there 10 times before. I was now actually enjoying talking and started feeling more comfortable, thinking I was very quick to judge the people on the bus. The young man next to me was called Gabriel, he was from France and he had the most calm, innocent vibe. He seemed like nothing bad had ever happened in his life. The man with the sunglasses whose name was Luis from South Africa, a seemingly introverted guy, said he had read David Bohm’s “Wholeness and the Implicate Order” multiple times just like I have, that book is like my Bible (book on particle physics). It was amazing, I had never met a person before who shared the same appreciation for Bohm. He then looked around at all the people, there was over a hundred of us, and perplexed asked “What are all these people looking for? Why are we here?” We all fell silent, this was clearly a rhetorical question after all. I tried to think why I was there, and then I said that it was something I’ve been reading about for a long time and always wanted to do, and that I had put my name on the waiting list for this place never expecting that I would be accepted. I was actually hoping not to be accepted and when I was, I was considering cancelling it, I told them. Luis said that when he had signed up 6 months earlier he was going through a rough patch, but he was fine now so he wasn’t really sure why he was there. I tried to intellectualise it saying that I was there because I wanted clarity, and the name of this technique we were about to learn, Vipassana, can be translated into “seeing things as they are.” We discussed all the practical stuff that scared us like the 4am wake-up call and the very little food, and then Luis, Gabriel and I, made a pact that we would stay the 10 days no matter what and reconvene in the end to talk about our experiences. Nunu had this knowing smile on his face, a smile that said “you have no idea what’s about to happen.”


After dinner we were given some basic instructions on the timetable and rules and then the dining area was divided in half with a moving wall, separating the men from the women. I found this separation harsh and unnecessary and Nunu told me that I’d be surprised what could happen if men and women were mixed in this environment, but to me it felt so sexist and patriarchal. I immediately noticed some guys adopting macho alpha-male mannerisms trying to dominate the male group, and I wondered how is it possible for men like this to be in a place like this. I then heard some of these guys talk in my tongue, Cypriot, which both scared me and made total sense. Cypriot men are so engrossed in their macho culture, I thought, being surrounded by more gender-neutral Europeans only accentuated their behaviour. I was to avoid these Cypriots at all costs. The noble silence was then officially started and we slowly made our way to the top of a hill where a big building was standing: the meditation hall. We were all asked to stand in the lobby of the hall where we were called one by one and were given the number of our seat, mine was E3. Inside there was a very calm and clean atmosphere, yet seeing how close the seats were to each other scared me. This would be a very intimate meditation experience. I think we were played an introductory video and were given our first task which would be to concentrate on our breath and try not to think. We were given half an hour to try it, but I was buzzing so much from all the stuff I had talked about with the guys and all the different faces I had seen, it was impossible to concentrate. I was glad that Luis was sitting right next to me, and Gabriel behind me. It felt safe being surrounded by these two guys that I had just met; they were both so nice and shared the same concerns as me. After this short introduction we went to our rooms at 9pm to get ready to wake up the next day at 4am.


Day 1 - Settling
I found it relatively easy to get up at 4am and go to the meditation hall probably because I hadn’t slept much from the excitement. Everyone was there wrapped up in blankets sitting on the floor trying to observe their respiration. I was still buzzing from the previous day and couldn’t really concentrate but I was also feeling calm and tranquil. Can’t say the same about the breakfast experience. People were frantically jumping in front of each to serve themselves instead of taking it slow. There was general confusion in the dining area, people understandably were feeling weird about the whole thing. After breakfast I went to explore the walking area, walking being the only exercise we were allowed to do. It was a beautiful woodland area, with a big patch of wild grass in the middle that was frozen with morning frost. It looked like a giant pool of white crystals, it was so beautiful and I realised that 13 years living in the UK I had never paid attention to frost.
The rest of the day was about trying to empty the mind, and mostly failing. I had a lot of problems accepting some mens' "unrefined" behaviour. They would freely fart and burp, make loud grunting and guttural sounds and spit on the ground. Never in my life had I spent so much time with just men. The only time was when I was in the army but there I was mostly surrounded by maybe 8 boys who were in the army hospital with me. This was at least 80 men and there was no way to avoid them. I would notice that even in silence, they would let their bodies speak, especially the macho ones trying to assert their dominance. I intuited that gender is a social illness. I tried to not pay attention to this behaviour but it did annoy me. Later on during lunch time at 11am, I noticed something else that really annoyed me. They would pile up their food, literally making mountains on their plates leaving very little for others. It was clearly every man for himself here, they were already in survival mode.


Day 2 - Doubt
We were told to feel the touch of our breath in and around our nostrils. I started improving in thinking less. I had managed to stop thinking for about a minute, and then maybe achieved 3 minutes. Every time I would stop thinking I would feel such quiet calm and joy and my body would start vibrating. I had felt these nice vibrations from meditation before so it was not anything new to me, but I was glad that I still had it. It was painful sitting down for so many hours but I was still pretty ok and didn’t need to change my posture too many times in comparison to other people. It was funny to watch the guys build towers of cushions trying to find a suitable position, where I just sat cross-legged on the floor. I started feeling a bit complacent that I was a natural at this.
During the evening meditation I had a very good session. My mind was empty and I was feeling the good vibrations. I opened my eyes to see everyone meditating and they all seemed so calm and tranquil. I felt so much love for everyone around me and felt so bad for misjudging them. It really felt like a Christian atmosphere, imbued with love and compassion and a real community spirit. I looked to my right to see the female group and although they also seemed so tranquil and full of love, I felt so bad that they were separated from us and I started crying. I couldn’t help but feel that this patriarchal thinking behind this segregation was harming them. During the evening discourse, the teacher in the video was talking about morality. He was saying that whatever work we do it shouldn’t cause harm to others. I found this all pretty simplistic and not relevant to today. We are all so caught up in this system of suffering, just by paying taxes we are subsidising war, so it doesn’t matter what job we do, we are all caught up in a complex web of pain. Whatever this guy was saying sounded too idealistic and not only that, if he believed so much in morality and unity, why was he separating men from women? A cold sweat of doubt washed over me, I felt that his discourse was indoctrinating and directed towards a more naive audience. I started to feel that this place wasn’t for me.


Day 3 - Clarity


On this day we were asked to concentrate on a small area under the nose and try to feel the sensation there. I felt that this was a pretty pointless exercise and not only that, I was too distracted by my doubts. I was especially thinking about the segregation of the sexes, and the more I would think about it the more I would get angry. It made no sense. If it was to avoid sexual tension, what about the gay people there? I had to work to not be distracted by the hot men there, why couldn’t a straight man do the same with women? And surely this was an important lesson for anyone to learn, how not to be distracted by sexual thoughts? Why reinforce the difference of the sexes and make women feel unwanted just because of a few horny people? It seemed to me in order to avoid the suffering of a few, this segregation was creating unconscious suffering for a whole class of people. It really bothered me and I couldn’t meditate at all, these thoughts and arguments multiplying in my head. I decided I had to talk to the teacher about it, and arranged an interview with him in the afternoon. Thankfully by the time I went there I managed to phrase it in a more diplomatic way. I just said that I couldn’t meditate because I was distracted by my disagreement with the segregation. Immediately he told me I was making debates in my head. I knew he was right, I do have a tendency of endlessly debating things in my head. As soon as he said that, the debate stopped and I went back to the meditation. I finally managed to feel a sensation under my nostrils, it felt like pulsating orbs were wobbling around my moustache. Another thing that kept happening up to this day was that when I closed my eyes I would see complex organic patterns inside the static noise of the darkness. Not mental images but eidetic imagery, actual patterns made out of the residual static noise or pixels of vision.
During resting time I tried to practice clearing the mind instead of occupying myself with senseless debates. Whenever I was in bed with my eyes closed and an empty mind, I would see an image of a female demon. She was very scary and looked soaking wet (kind of like the girl from The Ring). I thought that this was a mental manifestation of my mother as I had seen this sort of demonic images related to her before. I tried not to pay attention to this image because we were told not to give attention to any thought, not to react, just acknowledge it and let it go. But whenever I would close my eyes she was there. At some point the vision changed. It became a sequence of events like a short dream that would play over and over again. The story would go that I was sleeping and then awoken by a child who looked like one of my sister’s children. The child would take me by the hand and lead me to the entrance area of my parents’ house and point towards the demon lady, gesturing with excitement as if to tell me look what I found. Again I tried not to pay too much attention to it but it was begging for my attention and it soon changed to more horrific images of this demon being decapitated in a medieval kind of setting. I couldn’t help myself and tried to destroy this demon with an imaginary sword and some other techniques I had read about dealing with negative mental images. Still this reaction was momentary and then I let the image be without messing with it.


Day 4 - Regret
This was the day the Vipassana technique would be revealed, so I tried to remain patient even though I felt like this concentrating on the moustache area was completely stupid. Still I managed to enter the vibratory stage in the morning and when I went outside to the forest I felt so happy and full of joy, and everything looked extraordinarily vibrant and colourful. This ephemeral flowing quality to everything felt like I was on an acid trip. I wondered whether I was in a dream and I looked at my hands since that’s the first thing you are meant to do to check if you are in a lucid dream. If it is a dream the hands are meant to dissolve but it was quite the opposite. They were so 3-dimensional and crystal clear I could see every little pore on my fingertips. I also started getting insights about the nature of the universe, but again this was not new to me, I had these kinds of insights because of meditation before. Still it was a reminder of that time I used to intensively meditate and was interesting to see the same insights come back.
Finally in the afternoon we were given the full Vipassana technique which basically involved sensing every part of the body just like we were sensing the area under the nostrils. This was very similar to the meditation technique I'd been doing for many years, since about the age of 10 so I was really annoyed. I waited all this time to get a technique that I already knew and worked on for so long? We were given an hour to try it out and of course I could do it perfectly. I knew that for people who’d never done it before it would take days, even months until they managed to do it, but I had many years of practice. I was really disappointed and wanted to leave. Then I thought that ok this technique had given me some good insights in the past so why not give it a go more seriously this time. I thought since I am so good at it I should get a private cell to practice while these newbies try to get to grips with it. So I went to the teacher and told him that I'd been doing this technique for 20 years and that I would like a private cell. The teacher laughed and told me that this was the kindergarten of Vipassana and that there weren’t any free cells available. I felt embarrassed by his response but also arrogantly thought that he couldn’t possibly know how good I am at it. I continued working on the technique but I was bored. I had done this before for so long I couldn’t be bothered, and when I had signed up for this course I was expecting a totally different technique (I later found this was the Mahasi noting technique a very powerful Vipassana technique). That night I started seriously considering leaving, and tried to think of ways to leave.


Day 5 - Pain
On day 5 I was ready to leave and skipped the 4:30-6:30am meditation as I was trying to think of what I could say. I went to the 8am group meditation and this was the best meditation I had so far. I could feel a big hole on the top of my head and an even bigger hole on the back of my head. The vibrations in my body became so strong that I lost control of my body and almost fell on the guy behind me. Going out to the forest I was ecstatic. Insights were pouring in and I felt extreme joy and happiness. I thought I had finally understood the technique and achieved the goal and was ready to leave. But then I thought since I am so good at it and since I don’t really have much to go back to, I could stay in the retreat until I got bored.
At noon I went to have a shower where I saw that an ongoing skin problem I have returned and became much worse. I immediately thought this was the perfect excuse. I could tell them I have a medical issue and need to be looked at by my doctor, which wasn’t a lie, and then I wouldn’t have to explain that I wanted to go because I already knew the technique. I got out of the shower to fix my hair when suddenly the chronic problem I have with my arms attacked me in a way that it had never done before. It was so bad that my fingers were folding by themselves and I couldn’t open my hands. The only time I had felt such intense pain was with a psychotherapist when I tried to access some traumatic memories. I got scared. I thought this was maybe my punishment for trying to leave. Then I more reasonably thought that it was probably because of sitting all day and not moving caused the inflammation accumulate in my swollen elbows. Whatever the case I had a serious reason to leave now. I went to the teacher and asked him if I wanted to leave how would I do that. I didn’t tell him about the arms because I was still in shock but I told him about the other problem as I thought it would be easier to explain. He told me if I wanted to leave I could go and find him in his bungalow to discuss. After that I felt terrible, I felt I had lied to the teacher, breaking one of the five main rules of the course (no lying, no stealing, no sex, no drugs, no killing) but even worse, the pain that I had worked so hard to reduce over the last year had returned with a vengeance. I was so miserable the whole day that I didn’t even have the strength to leave. That evening I had the worst meditation yet, I was in excruciating pain head to toe and I had to sense every part of it through the meditation.


Day 6 - Breakthrough
The next day I was ready to leave again but I gave myself one last meditation before making that step. Again I had a wonderful meditation, the vibrations were back and I started feeling more sensations on my head, like 3-dimensional structures covering my brain either extruding out or going in like big holes. I was so excited with my finding I went to ask the teacher about it, who seemingly happy with my progress explained that these gross structures are blocking the subtle vibrations. The important thing was to remain equanimus and not react negatively to these gross sensations or positively to the subtle vibrations. Again after this good session the insights and joy kept pouring in. Everything was starting to make sense, to click. I had finally found the motivation to stay. I realised that the first few days I had confronted obstacles that were pushing me to leave, and those obstacles came from my own personal faults. There was my tendency to judge people based on superficial criteria such as talking too much or gendered behaviour. Then there was my sense of self-righteousness about the segregation of the sexes. My arrogance that I already knew this technique and that the discourses were too basic. My pride not to reveal my disability and hence my weakness to anyone. I was judgemental, arrogant, proud and self-righteous. Those obstacles created doubt and resentment in me, urging me to leave but continuing with the technique helped me rise above them.
My elbow was still very swollen and I decided to swallow my pride and ask for help. I asked one of the assistants, this gentle young man, for something frozen to apply to my elbow and after a while he presented me with an ice pack like a servant serving his master. His kindness and humility were so strong. I was floored. He was radiating so much love that I immediately had a vision of us falling in love and having babies. I quickly put the ice pack on my elbow and felt such an incredible relief like a thousand cool rivers had come to extinguish the fire in my arm. I sat across one of the macho men that had previously annoyed me and tried to wrap the icepack around my arm failing miserably. I could see him from the edge of my eyes wanting so badly to help me but stopping himself because he wasn’t allowed to speak or even gesture. Watching him feel my pain and wanting to help made me feel even more humble. This man, so masculine and so tough, seemingly hiding his gentleness and kindness as some kind of weakness, was showing such compassion. I had also revealed my greatest weakness, my disability. At that point I thought that if I have this disability for the rest of my life I am at peace with that and started crying. I felt great relief and humility from this acceptance.
During the evening meditation I was so tired and no longer joyous and ecstatic like I was in the morning, but that humility I felt was still with me. I felt immense gratitude for this technique, I felt so humble and appreciative that I had found it, and wished that everyone in the world discovers this technique because it can really help everyone. I kept wishing this to everyone and started crying again. The teacher gave us 5 minutes to have a break and I went outside to stretch while continuing to wish love to every single being in the world. While I was stretching I realised that I was much more flexible than usual and my pain was gone. My body moved so freely like rubber. I had experienced this before with meditation so I wasn’t that fascinated by it and knew from previous experience that if I overstretched I would regret it the next day. Yet I felt that something was brewing. I went back to meditating but continued feeling very emotional and wishing that everyone will find this technique. Then I thought about my mum and wished that if reincarnation exists that she will find this technique in her next life because it will free her. As I wished that I felt strange sensations in my stomach like it was waking up, becoming alive. This deep love that I felt at that moment was so strong I started crying again wishing that my mum finds this technique in her next life. I saw the image of that female demon slowly transforming into the picture of my mother smiling. Then I thought if she is already in a new life now may she find the technique now. As I thought of that, it clicked. That child that I was seeing in my visions was her in her new life.
As soon as I had that realisation a tremendous power surged through my forearms. The power was so strong that it pushed through to my hands and forced my fingers wide open, something that I could never do before because of my chronic injury. The force felt like a myriad of strongly vibrating earthquakes were inside my arms. Then the sensations in my abdomen became stronger, they felt like little fires were being sparked up or little fireworks or explosions inside my stomach moving up to light up every part of my body. I got really scared and didn’t know what to do so I tried to do the technique they taught us. But the power was so strong I couldn’t do much so I let the force naturally come up. It came all the way up to my head and went through the hole or vortex on the top of my head and came through the bottom of my body where it swirled around my legs like water.
As this happened I had so many insights, so much information was downloaded that I can only remember a few flashes. I saw the entire path that had brought me to this moment, like an extended flashback. I saw how my mother by teaching me how to meditate at a very young age, by giving me a simple mantra, had planted a seed in me ensuring I would reach this moment. I saw her as an old woman had she lived, I saw that my father and I go back together thousands of lives, I saw flashes of past lives and then I experienced transcendental planes. For a moment I felt like a god. I was so scared by this power going through me I tried to stop it by regulating my breath. As the power dimmed down it concentrated all in my hands and then left my body like little tornadoes (or vortices again) coming out of each fingertip. I knew there and then that the issue with my mother was resolved. It was like the tether was broken and I was liberated from her. I knew that whatever psychosomatic influence this tether had on my arms was also gone. It didn't matter if she is really reincarnated, or it’s just her DNA that lives on through my sister’s kids, or that my brain created a wishful image. Whatever it may be I was freed from her bondage.
Throughout this whole process I was shaking, crying and panting, mucus running out my nose, yet when I opened my eyes, nobody had noticed. There were people sitting right next to me and had no idea what just happened as they were trying to listen to the Q&A that was going on with the teacher. I got up and went out to collect myself. It was too much, I felt I was floating in another dimension. I went up to the teacher and asked him if I could talk to him privately. He took me to a private room behind the meditation hall where in tears I told him everything. The story of my parents, what led me there, my doubts of wanting to leave, the demon lady, everything. He listened with a lot compassion, and when I described my transcendental experience he said that those sort of experiences are fairly common and they are known as Bhanga or dissolution. I felt so relieved when he said that, I did not want to have the burden of experiencing such power all by myself or worse, being told that I was crazy. (I later found a very apt description of what happened by Daniel Ingram who wrote a must-read book on the stages of insight meditation.) He told me that experience is only the beginning and that it can go much, much deeper and beyond physical matter. He reminded me to remain equanimus and not get too excited with positive sensations. I said that what I felt was overwhelmingly powerful and he said that when that happens I can concentrate on my palms in rotating motion to control that power. I told him about my own method of body sweeping that I had developed and the books I read on phenomenology. He said my good qualities and past actions had led me to Vipassana. I thanked him and apologised for my outburst.
It was raining outside and I took an umbrella and went to look at the forest and let all the insights pour in. I felt like Buddha at the moment of his enlightenment where a Naga came on top of him to shield him from the rain. My Naga was this old green umbrella I had found there. I was too overwhelmed by the information I was receiving I couldn’t put it into a logical order. I went back to bed and rolled myself into the embryo position as it was really cold. As I did that, the hole I was experiencing on the back of my head opened wide open like a gate. I knew that the back of the head is considered the seat of the ego, so I intuited that my ego was empty at that moment. Through that gate I saw the image of the demon being ejected outside, and then with it junk started pouring out. It felt like all the negativity that was accumulated in my body was all pouring out. I did not sleep at all that night as the insights kept coming in and the shit kept oozing out.


Days 7-9 - Work
The next day meditation was excruciatingly painful. All the stuff that came out the night before had formed a virtual crust on the surface of my body and using my awareness I had to slowly and painfully break through that crust. I was still high from what had happened the night before and could barely concentrate. I was way too excited that I had experienced something so extraordinary, something that confirmed the metaphysical nature of reality, that there really was more to this gross physical reality. By nighttime I was so tired that I was having doubts again but now I knew not to trust those voices. The experience I had was so powerful that nothing could change my mind anymore.
I spent the rest of the days meditating on this junk that was coming out, what they call “sankharas” or conditioned formations. The idea is that by becoming aware of these sensations they will rise to the surface and dissipate. I could see them as gigantic cabbage leaves covering my body, and wherever they latched onto they would cause pain. On my back the pain was so strong I felt like I was being whipped or stabbed. It was like all the pain and suffering I had endured or caused on other people was coming to the surface. The teachings reminded us to remain equanimus, never to react negatively or positively to these sensations, as it is the very habit of reaction that creates and reinforces them. During my probes into these structures I had discovered that on both sides of my body under my ribs there were giant holes and out of these holes these stems would project out and attach to my elbows. It was like I could see the neural structures that were causing my pain. I intuited that these sankharas were recurring neural patterns that had accumulated over time from my traumas and unconscious reactions to things. Going deeper I could see this junk come out from various holes in the front and back of my body. Most of the stuff was coming from a hole on the back just behind my heart, but all of these holes had stuff coming out of them and this stuff was interconnected in a vast network. At times I felt overwhelmed by how much negativity was coming out of me, but every time a bit of negativity would surface and dissipate I would have another insight. I realised that these things act like blocks or knots, hiding the truth and creating negative cognitions that lead to their multiplication.
When I was not meditating I was in a state of apophenia, where everything around me had meaning and was conducive to me understanding more things about the universe and my life. I had visions that showed me things clearly about the past, present and future. I also saw that this was not just a meditation retreat but a school, a training ground for lightworkers. We were being trained to spread the light and I intuited that perhaps men had a different role in this than the women, that’s why maybe they were split into two groups. Men seemed more militant and more direct in the cause, while women appeared more gentle, self-sacrificing mediators. I amused myself with a loose Matrix analogy, we were learning how to hack our programs that were enslaving us and then with this skill help others to do the same. Unlike the Matrix there were no Neos, only Morpheuses and Trinities, who having resolved their own code would go on to liberate others.
The feeling of apophenia was always accompanied by a feeling of depersonalisation that again was similar to an acid trip. I felt at one with everyone and the universe, people around me were like extensions of me or part of a vast interconnected system that had a very specific purpose. Meaningfulness and one-ness seemed to go hand in hand.  During these ‘spiritual’ states, everybody looked like magical beings. Luis, who was sitting next to me was emanating such strength, innocence and beauty I thought I could see the wings on his back. The teacher looked like a blue Hindu god playing his sitar and looking at everyone through his enormous third eye. Another chubby ginger guy reminded me of a Harry Potter wizard wielding his wand. And there was this tall African man who inspired such power and determination he looked like an ancient warrior spirit. I watched him day after day sitting like a perfectly poised statue, not moving an inch, never breaking a sweat. This place could turn everyone into a divine being. We were all like little Buddhas in the making.
One night I had a dream that I wrote a letter inviting someone I love to join the Jedi Academy. The dream told me that we’d been half-asleep all this time and this was our wake up call. This long letter that I am writing right now is your invitation to the academy, to discover this technique and be awakened like I was. This is not a religious endeavour even though there are some Buddhist teachings, these are mostly about a universal morality. The technique is free of religion, symbols, words or metaphors. It is just pure awareness and pure experience. The only thing that we were told over the 10 days that might sound a bit off to some is reincarnation, but in any case it’s not really important. What it teaches you is to stop the habit of clinging and aversion, which will then lead you to purge from all kinds of negativities. Through this purification you begin to see things so clearly.


Day 10 - Release
On the last full day a new element was added to the meditation, we were taught Metta meditation which should always come in the end of the normal meditation. This meditation involves wishing love and happiness to all beings, and wishing they will be liberated, which is what happened naturally to me on day 6. I became very emotional again and started crying out of gratitude and humility for this experience. I was still experiencing a lot of pain from the outpouring of negative patterns, but I now fully trusted the technique and knew that it could truly liberate me. I felt sad about the huge chunk of myself that was removed. It was like I had grown attached to this tumor that was sucking up all my energy because it was the only thing that I had from my mother. I also felt sad for myself for the suffering I had endured all these years, but I knew that this tendency for self-pity had to go. This experience was truly life-changing and I was so deeply grateful. In just a few days I felt like I had gone through a lot, it was such an intense and important journey.
As I was crying through these emotions and finally properly grieved for my mother, or grieved for the death of this boulder I carried, the noble silence was lifted. Immediately the macho guys stood up and started laughing and fist-bumping like this was some sort of football game. I felt awful. I took this so seriously and there was these people who were treating it like a joke. My self-pity kicked into full gear. This was my last obstacle but it was too overwhelming. I tried to go for a walk in the forest but the crying wouldn’t subside, so I went back to the empty meditation hall until one of the assistants found me sobbing and took me to the teacher. I went in his bungalow where there was a small meditation area, and I tearfully apologised for my lack of equanimity to which he laughed. He told me that I had endured a very deep operation like a big tree trunk was removed from my body and it was very normal to feel very sensitive. He tried to explain to me that some people just can’t hide their excitement and they didn’t do it because they thought it was a game. He also told me that a few more people had deep operations on the course like me so I wasn’t the only one. He managed to calm me down a bit and then I went back to the forest where I found a big dead tree lying on the ground that I hadn’t noticed before. That dead tree represented all the shit that came out from me, I gave it a kick and lifted it a bit up to feel its weight. In a kind of ritual I said goodbye to this huge weight that was lifted from me and made peace with it. I no longer felt attached to it, I was ready to leave it behind. I felt so much strength that I was able to remove this darkness from inside, that my fear of facing those people was completely gone.
I met many people that day, including the Cypriots that I was so afraid of the first day. They turned out to be such nice people with their own issues that they had to overcome. One of them, this big macho man admitted to me that he was crying for most of his time there just like me. I told him this experience was like a big slap on the face, he said it was more like getting beaten up but he was so appreciative of this like I was. Everyone was so happy and grateful for this experience. I met so many people that day that also had some neuromuscular problem like mine on some part of their body. Two people had told me they had nerve problems on their legs but still chose to sit on the floor to work through their pain. I thought that maybe we were all so sensitive to our psychosomatic ailments and that’s why we were there. I also got to meet some of the women in the forest and was so nice to feel some gentle feminine energy. One of them told me she felt like the experience was a reboot of her brain. I said it felt like a reset and an installation of a new operating system, an upgrade. I also finally managed to talk to my roommate with whom I shared a room without talking for 10 days. His name was Daniel and he was a builder from Liverpool. I thanked him for being such an excellent roommate. Talking to him it seemed that we had similar experiences in terms of painful stuff pouring out. It was incredible to see how two people from completely different backgrounds could have such similar experiences.
At noon I went back to the teacher to ask him some practical questions about the technique. He told me that even though it’s not wrong it would be better to stay away from visualisations and focus on the raw sensory experience. He told me that the emanations I was feeling coming out of my body are part of Metta (love-kindness meditation) but that comes later at a more advanced stage. I asked him how will I be able to deal with depersonalisation and the influx of insights during everyday life. He told me to let them come and just accept them, and not to worry about depersonalisation because as long as the meditation ends with metta, I would be grounded and not fly off.
At night I reconvened with Luis and Gabriel and told them about my metaphysical experience and the painful stuff that came afterwards. I described the metaphysical experience as an atomic bomb going off in my body. Their experiences were completely different and less metaphysical or painful but still rewarding. I told Luis that he looked so cool and collected the entire time and he told me it was only because he was mirroring me. I couldn’t even begin to explain how he was my mirror from the beginning of this process, and how his strength and poise kept me going. Gabriel told me he had only felt positive vibrations and on asking him if he had any traumatic experiences in his life he said that his life has always been good and pain-free. He told me that nearly his entire family practises this technique, and I told him that they are all truly blessed. I was sure that family will be transcending in this lifetime. We all agreed that the placement of the seats for each person was not coincidental but had a purpose to serve. Gabriel wondered if the people responsible for the seat placements made deliberate choices, I said that it’s the Dhamma that chooses. Whatever the case, those two, Luis and Gabriel were really my pillars holding me up throughout my entire time there, they were like my silent moral support and I hope I was the same for them. Also, without the little woodland behind the meditation center where I took refuge so many times, I probably wouldn’t have made it.
That night I went to bed at around 9am and woke up at midnight. I couldn’t sleep. My body was still releasing these sensations and they were causing pain everywhere. I laid there in bed until the 4am wake-up bell, witnessing all the pain that was pouring out me. It was endless, relentless. It felt like the pain of multiple lives was coming onto the surface. I remained calm knowing that this too was impermanent.


Day 11 - Return
On this last morning we had our last meditation. Again I broke into tears feeling so much gratitude. We had breakfast and then we all signed up to clean the place. I worked in the dining area and the kitchen cleaning shelves and containers. My hands hurt so much doing this but I wanted to do it, I wanted to contribute something beyond the monetary donation I had just given. I knew this pain was also impermanent. I finally got a hold of my phone and put it immediately on airplane mode. I couldn’t face all the messages and emails from work or the news about the American presidential elections (Trump won while we were in there). I wasn’t ready to face the world. The bus took us back to Gloucester where I spent a couple of hours with some of the guys while waiting for our trains. It felt so surreal being outside that place that had become reality for me those 10 days. The world outside now felt so unreal and so hostile. I was still so shaken up by everything I had endured, I needed more time to process all the insights I had, all the pain that I experienced, that extremely powerful incident, and the vision of my mother’s new life. It was all too much. I didn’t know whether I should tell anyone about my experiences, afraid that they would think I'd gone completely mad.
On the train back to London I sat next to this beautiful woman from Mongolia who was also on the course. We talked through our experiences and at some point I asked her whether she believed in reincarnation. She said of course, I am a Buddhist! I told her about the vision of my mother as my sister’s child and she did not bat an eyelid. She told me in Mongolia everybody takes it for a granted that if a grandparent dies they will reincarnate in the family as a grandchild. She told me even the grandchildren know that they used to be their grandparents and it’s totally normal for them. I found this to be such a beautiful tradition. I asked her if I should tell my family about what I saw and she told me of course, that it would be very liberating for them. I still wasn’t sure.
Coming back to busy London and to an empty apartment was a little daunting, but fortunately two friends came to visit and they slowly eased me into reality. They had also brought some weed which was much needed. I told one of them the story with my mum and the metaphysical experience. He did not find it strange at all and the whole concept of the technique made so much sense to him, that he started considering going himself. I thought people would think I was totally crazy if I told them this story but it seemed to be making sense.


Day 12 - Breaking ties
The next day my partner came back from his trip. I told him the story as well and he also understood it and did not think I was crazy. Even though he completely understood the benefits of the technique he felt that it wasn’t for him. At night I talked to my sister and without giving many details I told her I saw mother in her new life. She was happy about that although I am not sure how she rationalised it. Maybe she was happy because she thought I had found closure of some sort, but I really hope it gave her some closure. I asked her if I should tell grandma about it but she said it would be better if I told her in person.
Then my dad called and I told him about my metaphysical experience and insights. He admitted to me that he had very similar insights when he used to meditate especially the point that we had thousands of lives together. I told him that I was to warn him that if he did not settle his scores in this life he would have to return again and I might not be there to help him. He said that he was happy with that and he felt safe that when it’s the right time for him he will leave even if it will take a few more lives. He admitted to me that he spent all these years putting up a front to appear strong in front of us but he was hurting so much inside. I told him he had wasted so much energy for no reason. There was a great release from that conversation for both of us I think, and whatever tethers we had on each other felt like they fell off. After talking to him the insights started pouring in again. I started receiving information about past lives and I saw how the relationship between him, my mother and me over different lives had led to what we experienced in this one. Her self-sacrifice in this life would finally lead to the liberation of all of those involved.
I started to see glimpses of my ties with other people too, how the tethers of "past lives" continue in this life. I realised how love and pain are synonymous, how both can bring us up and liberate us and how they can bring us down and imprison us. We get caught up in a cycle of clinging and pain which we need to transcend. But I also know that we can free each other. I implore you to consider going to this retreat or any of their centers across the world, it will help you so much like it’s helped me. You can use your kindness and compassion or discover your good qualities to heal yourself and to heal others. You have an amazing gift, you are more in touch with your powers than you think. Many resistances will arise, sure, but I know, I have seen, that this is our calling. I have just saved myself 20 years of therapy by doing this and I will be going every year. There’s so much more I want to tell you, so many things I have seen and understood but I hope you will be able to experience them firsthand. I wanted to share my raw experience here with little analysis and let you make your own conclusions. Just know that your experience will be completely different than mine and unique to you. Without a doubt it will be worthwhile and profound. Above all it well help you REMEMBER.


Day 13 - Back to work
........
You can book a 10-day Vipassana retreat in the link below - (and because this seems to be the first question everyone asks it's FREE.) The retreat environment, the rules, and everything there is conducive to getting important insights very fast by allowing you to go very deep. It acts like a much needed shock to the system. So even though it's ok to do your own practice at home, the retreats are essential.


Monday, 15 February 2016

Western Limbo

To exist, to insist
Job to job, moving, renting.
Mortgages and taxes,
Relationships, failures, sex.
Illnesses, health issues,
Body image, skin and wrinkles.
Food and diets and exercise,
Stress and sore muscles and hairloss,
Eyebrow plucking and leg waxing.
Grocery shopping and bill paying,
Gift buying and clothes returning.
Abortions and miscarriages and babies.
Social events and small talk,
Marriages and ceremonies,
Reality shows and b-rate celebrities.
Gadgets and toys, pill popping:
Viagra, xanax, propecia.
Pretending to be in denial,
Pretending to live,
Going through the motions
Switching off,
Turning on auto pilot.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

London Hellscape

A stampede of drunken fools
Under street lamps and neon, 
Revelling, revolting, regurgitating.

At night they rise out of cubicles,
To drown in intoxicating ignorance.
They steal signs, burn symbols,
Mourning the loss of meaning.

Dante watched them from afar
Suffer in manic laughter.
They would stumble and fall,
In pits of burning asphalt.

He turned away and headed East,
Towards remembering.








Sunday, 4 May 2014

The Dark Night

I've recently come across the concept of "the dark night of the soul", which originates from a poem written by Saint John of the cross in the 16th century. His life story is worth a read, also fascinating is how a drawing of his inspired Dali some 400 years later to create one of his most famous paintings. The poem describes the spiritual crisis that a person must go through to find god, essentially enduring a period of spiritual dryness where there is a sense of detachment and lack of spiritual connection. Saint John of the cross describes two phases in this dark night, first the purification of the senses and second the purification of the spirit. The concept of the dark night has since been adopted outside Christian practice, and has been used metaphorically as a pivotal stage that people go through during their journey to self-discovery.

This idea immediately jumped out to me as it relates to what I have been going through for the last twelve years. After a series of traumatic events, shock and loss, my belief systems and worldview were completely shattered - I was having what one may call an extended existential crisis. (Blog entries written back in the beginning of this journey best illustrate my state back then - links at the bottom.) At some point I came to the realisation that I was not fully conscious, and this led me to Timothy Leary and Gurdjieff and their teachings that humans live in a state of “waking sleep,” like robots. I adopted Gurdjieff's mindfulness technique of self-remembering as well as Steiner’s exercises (in particular the review of the day in reverse). I kept a log of my reactions to these exercises, and I was eventually led to a realisation of the many layers of conditioning that shaped my understanding, my consciousness, my behaviour and my being. The levels of determinism I had discovered was an influx of personal narratives and metanarratives, and a supervenience of cultural, social, memetic, linguistic, neural, sensory, cellular, genetic, chemical, quantum conditioning. I became intensely aware of causality in the form of deterministic chaos, which can be compared to the Buddhist contemplation of dependent origination. What I experienced in the beginning was intense disillusionment and emptiness, but as I progressed this stopped being a negative feeling and became an active, continuous process of dis-illusion, a shedding of illusions or maya. Deconstructing the narratives that defined me, I started seeing patterns within them and discovered their smallest units, the archetypes, which naturally led me to Jung. I related my experience to what he called individuation, the process of finding the self through the integration and awareness of the unconscious parts of the psyche.

In light of the dark night of the soul, I believe that what Saint John of the Cross experienced and many spiritual people thereafter is a form of individuation. Spirituality is the search for the sacred, existentialism is the search for meaning, for Jung it's the search for the self. In effect, being spiritual, looking for god or that higher power is the same as trying to finding your self. People might also refer to finding the god within, or the higher self. Whatever you may call it, it is just label, a linguistic metaphor used to describe a yearning that cannot be put into words. So in order to know your self, is to forget everything you think you know, including your Self. It's spiritual negation, Buddhist self-obliteration, Jungian psychoanalysis, existential crisis.

The way I understand Saint John's clearing of the senses and clearing of the spirit, is the awareness and cleansing from external and internal conditioning. By conditioning I mean the forces that shape our understanding of the world and our self, the ones that determine our identity, personality, behaviour, body and the way we interact with each other in both small and large scales. In Buddhism there is the conditioning of the 6 senses, the 5 skandhas and the 12 nidanas. In Jung's path to individuation there is the persona, the archetype that we externalise and the shadow, the archetype that we internalise. In postmodernism there is the external metanarratives that we are all subject to, and the internal personal narratives that define us. And of course Wittgenstein's language-games and Derrida's deconstruction come to mind. (side note: Madhyamaka Buddhism that extensively deals with these matters has been compared to postmodern philosophy and postmodern science, but more interestingly it shares a common history with Greek philosophy, sharing concepts with stoicism, scepticism and cynicism, as these two philosophies overlapped during the Indo-Greek era). Going back to Jung, there is also the personal and the collective unconscious. In materialist terms there's the human-made external conditioning (culture, technology, language) and the a priori internal conditioning (biology, genetics, physics). What all these different disciplines have in common is a yearning to overcome these forms of conditioning for a greater cause: self-actualization, liberation, nirvana, God, freedom, meaning, truth. And they all lead to the same conclusion: there is no self, no absolute truth, nothing permanent.

So the search for the self and the discovery of its non-existence seems to be a universal concept that appears in very different disciplines and different times. It's the archetypal hero journey, a journey of discovering what was already there, a discovery of what the hero already knew all along. Yet this journey is nothing but futile. The dark night of non-belief, the face off with one's own archetypal shadow, the cleansing from conditioning and narratives; however painful these experiences are, they are necessary for deeper understanding. Reading that there is no self might be appreciated intellectually but it can never be understood until experienced. It is very frightening to even get a glimpse of anatta, yet so incredibly powerful and liberating.

How do you continue living once the never ending process of individuation or the dark night begins? For me the Buddhist idea of the middle way sums it up, it's about finding the middle ground between extremes, between eternalism and nihilism, finite and infinite, existence and non-existence. Perhaps this ‘oscillation’ between extremes could be the new cultural paradigm as postulated in the Metamodernist manifesto. From this aspect, postmodernism could be be thought as the collective or cultural equivalent of the dark night. This oscillation in meaning ensures that there is not one absolute meaning, but a continuous change. This continuous state of in-between can be thought of as the electricity between polarities, constantly being (re)created.

A fantastic article about the dark night offered another important insight: the dark night is a source of immense creativity. I definitely can relate to that, I've never been so creative in my life. It's like the purging of narratives has led to their outpouring, they are flowing out of me expressing themselves through creative outlets. The artist is the archetype of the individuate, an entity that consumes, breathes, deconstructs and reconstructs narratives creating new conceptual and mental connections. And as always, the message is the medium, it's not about which objects have been connected but about the connection itself. Just like the artist creates or facilitates new connections, modes of experience and understanding, so does the philosopher, the thinker, the meditator, the scientist and the mystic.

If creativity is really about this reshuffling and restructuring of reality and knowledge, then a conscious deconstruction, a spiritual or existential crisis, a dark night of the soul, are absolutely necessary for true creativity to occur. Since the yearning for self-discovery and the subsequent journey of the dark night are universal experiences, then the resultant creativity becomes an end in itself. Maybe it's all really an evolutionary process that results in paradigm shifts that drive the evolution of the species towards higher strata of experience, understanding and cultural complexity. Personal and collective paradigm shifts may appear to happen spontaneously, yet the process of self-discovery enables us to become conscious creators of paradigm shifts which can be likened to moments of enlightenment.

Where would we be without the truly seismic insights of Plato, Buddha, Jung, and the many other artist-thinker-gurus that delved into the depths of their own psyche, deconstructing reality itself to enrich and transform the collective consciousness? From the viewpoint of causality and dependent origination, the insights these people offered were part of the deterministic chain, dependent on what came before them. Plato wouldn't have been able to reach his enlightenment hadn't it been for Pythagoras' legacy, and Pythagoras wouldn't have developed his philosophy without the legacy of his ancestors and so on. Yet, it took a conscious effort from their part to deconstruct their beliefs and make their own connections. And here is where the middle way comes into play again, these paradigm shifts occur somewhere between deterministic chaos and free will. Maybe free will is dependent on causality which would negate its free aspect, but since deterministic chaos creates unpredictable outcomes, that makes free will unique to each person, and thus each person is capable of reaching enlightenment. I once thought of enlightenment as a telos, as something absolute that once reached you simply bask under its eternal light. Now I understand that just like individuation, enlightenment is an ever changing process, a constant shift in meaning and discovery, and we as humans both individually and collectively can be its agents. Never standing still, always changing, individuating.

Some key records of my dark night over the last 5 years (it all started in 2002 or arguably since I was born but 2009 marked the beginning of a more conscious period):

2009 Shock - Trauma
Metaphor - Crisis - Ignorance

2010 Qualia - Release - Ontologies
Deconstruction - No-self - Mindfulness - Self-remembering

2011 Causality - Suffering - Detachment

2012 Metanarratives - Big Story - Continuum -
Lifecycles - List of topics

2013 Darkness - No-self