Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My Vipassana Meditation Experience (Observing the Mind's Reactions)

Vipassana Meditation Experience

One thing that I love about my experience with the 10-day Vipassana Meditation Course was the opportunity to observe the mind.  I had several different experiences. Some were pleasant, others not so pleasant, but the best was a mental clarity that I'd never experienced before.

Observing the gross reactions of the mind

The first three days of my Vipassana retreat went very smoothly. I didn't have any problems at all.  I found it all very easy. But on the fourth day, I started to have so much pain on my butt! actually on my right sitting bone, and just after 15 or 10 minutes of sitting down for meditation.

It seems that my heaps are not properly aligned so my body puts more pressure on my right side regardless of which sitting posture I use. I felt my spine constantly leaning towards the right side and my right back muscles getting more and more tense. 

This was pretty annoying and uncomfortable but I tried not to get too frustrated. Well, the main purpose of the Vipassana technique is to witness all body sensations without having any positive or negative reactions. Easier said than done.

The assistant teacher told me that the pain is just a reaction of the mind that doesn't want to remain still and doesn't want to be analyzed. Hmmmm maybe, or maybe it was just because they gave us such horrible cushions to sit on!

Observing the subtle reactions of the mind

On the fifth and sixth days, I started to experience some bizarre and uncomfortable sensations. As soon as I would sit down I would experience strong palpitations on my chest, not before or after. 

I also experienced body tremors. Every time that I exhaled the back of my neck would start trembling and my head would shake a little bit.  By regulating my exhalations I was able to control it for some time. 

I asked the assistant teacher about this and he said that it was just part of the purification of the mind. 

“It is just the effect of the impurities as anger, anxiety, or other negative emotions leaving the mind.  Just observe them with equanimity, they are impermanent.” 

Very interesting.

I also had a strange reaction with my right hand. 

Normally, when I sit for meditation I always use the Chin Mudra.  That's a hand gesture where the hands rest on the thighs, near the knees, with the palms facing upwards and the index finger and thumb gently touching each other. 

Usually, when I assume this posture my fingers get locked automatically, without any effort, like two magnets attracting each other. However, during this vipassana retreat, I was not able to keep my right arm and hand relaxed. 

I would consciously relax it but after a few minutes the mudra would release and my other fingers would start moving involuntarily.  I guess this is all related to the movement of prana (vital force) within the body.

The best experience: a beautiful clear mind

These subtle body sensations, the tingling, vibration, the feeling of energy flowing through the body or even the dissolution of the body (which I did manage to feel once during the retreat) didn't surprise me that much. Some people get really excited just by experiencing tingling in their fingers but I see all these experiences as nothing but the manifestation of prana.

For me, one of the best things that I experienced during this retreat was something very simple: a clarity of mind that I have rarely experienced during my meditation practice. 

This helped me realize how things such as the environment, the right food, proper sleep, and silence can make a difference in meditation. 

One of the greatest obstacles in my meditation practice is dullness and drowsiness. I know from personal experience how overeating and not having proper rest can have a tremendous negative effect on meditation. 

Even if you are only slightly fatigued you won't be able to meditate.  That's because you won't be able to notice when your mind slips away and starts dreaming instead of staying with your object of concentration.

During this retreat, I had so much time to witness my mind with full awareness and mental clarity. It's so much easier to note when the mind is distracted and then bring it back to the object of concentration. 

This experience reminds me that I have to make more effort to ensure that I create the proper environment for my meditation practice. But it's not an easy task, believe me.  

I love eating and it usually ends in overeating.  If you put a TV in front of me I get almost hypnotized and I end up going to bed pretty late and tired.  Also just by thinking about writing for my blog, I get so excited that I can hardly sleep.

This might not be such an extraordinary discovery; we have all experienced the effect of the environment on our minds, in one way or another.   Like when you take a walk in a forest or just sit at the beach contemplating the waves. The mind naturally becomes calm and still.  Don't you think so?

Anybody who has practiced even just a bit of meditation knows that practicing meditation in a natural environment can make a big difference.  

Even at the office.  Who can work at a dirty disorganized desk? Most people would rather clean their desks before starting any job. And what usually happens after lunch? People just fall asleep over the keyboard. That's why people drink so much coffee at an office work!

Sitting crossed-legged or on a chair?

Another interesting experience. Meditation is always recommended to practice in a crossed-leg sitting posture on the floor, if you are flexible enough. You can use a chair but it's not the best because the Earth would pull your energy down... or something like that. 

Anyway, I am pretty used to meditating on the floor but by the 8th day, my knees started to give up. I started to have problems while walking or even standing cause my kneecap would get stuck again and again. 

So the ninth day I asked (or rather demanded) for a chair to give a break to my knees. That was a bit embarrassing cause there were not many people sitting in chairs, except for a few elders who had clear difficulties sitting on the floor.

Sitting in the chair was really good for my knees although not good at all for meditation. As soon as I started using the chair my mind felt so heavy, drowsy, and also restless. I couldn't focus at all although I really tried again and again. So later on I decided to go back to the floor and like magic, I was able to concentrate on the practice again. No wonder why I always struggle to meditate on flights or airports.

  1. The 10-day Vipassana Meditation Retreat (My Comic Experience)
  2. How Vipassana Meditation Purifies the Mind (Based on Yoga Philosophy)
  3. My Vipassana Meditation Experience (Observing the Mind's Reactions)
  4. My Issue with Goenka's Vipassana Meditation Course

Update 2024.  Here are some more recent articles where I share my experience doing my second Vipassana meditation retreat:

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