This is part of my Meditation Journal (click) which includes dozens of posts.
Here is something I posted in a meditation group a while back. Interesting to read it again.
I just stumbled upon this group and it seems to be a good place to share some of my experience during vipassana.
Quick history… I am 39, an American living in Thailand in the Northeast in a city called Ubon Ratchathani. There is a Wat here filled with many English speaking monks and that is kind of the “why” I ended up here in this city.
I grew up Catholic – not by choice, and by 16 years old I had already questioned the hippocracy of it and was moving into my own search for truth (I thought there was a truth then…). I read the bible completely through and every day for a while… I prayed in earnest and never felt fulfilled… ‘faith’ just never could give me anything to grasp onto…
Fast forward to when I was 25 years old and in Miami, FL at Florida International Univ. I took an elective “World Religions” class and found the Jewish teacher to be incredibly knowledgeable about Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and the rest of it… I started to expand my search to include experience in many types of these other groups. I attended different get-togethers and studied a bit of what they believed and why they believed it…
Then I started reading about Buddhism… it resonated the closest to what I thought was the truth… but again, it was an “ism” that I soon discarded… I went a few years without much of a religion… finished school in Tampa, FL at Univ. of South Florida and found some eastern philosophy books in Barnes & Noble… I started consuming them… then books on Buddhism…
In my 5 years of psychology studies, I came to believe that “truth” for me was only what I experienced. It was not what strangers told me in a book or on television, on the radio, on records/cassettes/CDs… It was not what close friends that I trusted told me either… Direct experience was the only truth that I could ever know. I decided that meditation seemed like something I might find some truth in… I found SN Goenka’s book on Vipassana and decided to sit and watch the mind for a bit and see what was going on in there.
I meditated by sitting in a half-lotus position, with liberties taken to get more comfortable (like a pillow under my butt at times, or if my back was in severe pain like it was for the first couple months I would lean against the futon cushion or couch which gave some support.
I meditated mostly in my spare bedroom for a period of ~ 10 months while living in Temple Terrace, FL.
At the risk of sounding trivial and incomplete, I will list some experiences here.
Please understand that the experience is only memory now (this was 9 years ago). And, while I believe my memory is very good and the experience seems like it was yesterday, any description of what the experience was is not really what it was… It couldn’t possibly be. It is so beyond impossible to put the experience to paper or into bits. I share this because it would be enjoyable to read comments or hear of similar experiences.
As I watched the mind I saw photos and heard voices. These were thoughts. This was brain activity that goes on almost every minute of every day of our lives unless we decide to watch it and see what occurs. While watching thoughts I also looked at pain and irritation… my back hurt, spiders crawled on me, mosquitoes bit me regularly when I was in the garage at night… Moths would land on me, sweat would run down my chest and tickle or it would get into my eyes. My feet or legs or neck or? There always seemed to be something that was hurting or irritating during the first few weeks of practice. Oh, the itchiness was unbearable sometimes after the mosquitoes or red ants bit.
I used little technique that the books taught except for a few principles. I was also reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s books on peace and mindfulness during these 10 months so I used some short sentences while focusing on breathing to help calm the mind and relax the body. Some of them I took straight from the book, others I just made up as they seemed more suited to me. One of them went something like… “breathing in I focus on my breath at the nose…breathing out… relax”.
There were “results” or experiences, that came rather quickly. Just a week and the mind and body were able to settle into a state of relaxation in which thoughts would cease for brief periods. It was during these relaxed states that the breath became gradually shallow and very slow… the hands would start to tingle – not at all like when a body part is “falling asleep”, but a faster and less pronounced tingle… and they would start to go numb… this numbness would sometimes start at the feet at the same time and would progress up the legs and up the arms.
When I didn’t respond or attach to the feeling (cling) it would envelop the whole body and soon there felt as if there was no body. The body was gone, there was only mind… and mind was sometimes gone too. There were periods of realizing – “hmm, the body is gone… this is great… or, this is scary” and yet most thought about it was done after meditating… During the meditation at all times I kept one idea… that nothing is to be grasped, clung to, sought after… and for the most part that is what I did…
If a mosquito landed on me during one of these states, the mind watched it – the eyes were closed, it didn’t matter what kind of bug it was… the mind watched the skin get pierced and later felt the itch and watched the itch until it no longer was itch. Every sensation arose and gradually left.
There began a feeling of non-attachment to everything. Wife, job, car, house, making $, a website, any “thing” became nothing worth obtaining. Whereas in the past I was very driven and bent on the accomplishment of every sort before meditating it all dissolved very quickly. So too did the desire to do anything that furthered ‘non-truth’ or something unwholesome so to speak…
Many small experiences were had during this time, that I’ll not write about… After the numbness and peace came it was a week or so before I could count 10 breaths in total awareness and without thought (other than counting to 10). At times these states of concentration would last just 10, at other times I could’ve counted to 1000 or 10,000 if I had chosen… but, I think that when you get to somewhere around 10 and you feel the state of concentration – then just throw away the ‘technique’ of counting to 10 and instead, feel the concentration directly. The counting to 10 is a tool to get you quiet enough… discard it once you’re there…
So the mind would go without thought for a period of time… maybe 1 minute… maybe 40 minutes or a bit more at its peak… I never meditated more than maybe 1 1/2 – 2 hours at a time. The usual time was about 40 minutes.
At times, during the concentrated state the body and mind would seem to grow to fill the room… actually there was no room, no walls were sensed, no boundaries or limits… but the mind and body would just grow… there seemed to be no limits of skin anymore… no physical limits… and the concentration seemed to expand as well. Keep in mind, this is a very vague explanation of the feeling, it can’t be put into words but I’m trying…
I went through the state of ecstasy where I felt so ecstatic I thought I would burst with love and joy. It happened a couple of times at a feverish pitch and then was felt lightly afterward in subsequent sessions. It was a feeling that not only was during meditation but during ‘waking life’ – walking around during the day – it was there in small or large doses…
There was also this feeling of balance… the monks here at the Wat called it ‘equanimity’. So that’s as good a word as any. The feeling was there during meditation and waking hours. It was a ‘knowing’ or a solid feeling that felt as if everything was as it should be or that there is nothing to value as better or worse or by using any other words as a dichotomy.
Sometimes while meditating the breath became so slow and shallow and the mind was completely devoid of thought that it felt as if the body had died. After all, it was numb, there was no feeling of body. No feeling of mind since it wasn’t active.
At times there was no detection of breath coming in and out, like it had just stopped and that the ambient air in the room was enough to sustain the body in that state.
Other times it felt as if the concentration, the “mind” for lack of better word was pressing up against some unseen force… it was as if the mind was a magnetic force of one polarity and that it was surrounded by some other force of the same polarity but they were not able to reach each other – they were repelled, and yet were drawn together like gravity… there was a distinct idea that the ego would be lost when these two forces blended together… and many times meditation was stopped at that point for fear of not knowing what was going on. I “knew” that enlightenment was just beyond that point.
I knew that once the forces blended – and they would if I didn’t grasp to the idea of becoming enlightened… once they blended that would be the end of Vern (my name). It was very, very scary. I wasn’t ready yet.
I remember reading books about what was happening during these odd states, and yet none of the books were detailing what “I” was experiencing. There were many similar experiences in the books but my experiences seemed different and didn’t follow the “order” or progression that the Buddhists talked about…
It was during this time – about 9 months into Vipassana that I sought out Buddhist monks at the Wats in the Tampa, Florida area to ask them to explain what was going on with me and am I doing this “correctly”… I met only one monk that spoke English to any degree and he was either not very knowledgeable about the states of Jhana or he could not explain to me… he seemed more interested in finding out about American culture.
I read more books. I asked anyone I could that had meditated. Later I looked on the internet. I could not find a concrete answer to – “Am I going to go insane if I continue?””What good is Nirvana for anyone anyway?” – I knew that for me the question was becoming crystal clear…
I would experience total bliss – I had felt it while meditating and then I began to have experiences during my day in which bliss would come upon me and there was nothing I could do but experience it… it just CAME and no matter what I was doing there was this feeling of ultra-awareness and truth… It was a total state change and would occur whenever it wanted… it just happened. After I stopped meditating the “otherness” as Jiddu Krishnamurti sometimes called it – just came and I feared that it was on a course of its own and would complete its way with me despite my stopping meditating. For days at a time, I would walk around in complete equanimity – unable to “want” something, unable to “desire to “be” something”… it was quite unnerving after it went away and I thought about what it meant.
It meant the destruction of the me… it meant that relationships that I had would be severed, not on my part- but because friends, family couldn’t begin to grasp it. They didn’t know how to interact with the new “vern”. Which was really more like the absence of the old vern since he was no saint before. Somewhere during the time I was meditating my wife and I dissolved our marriage. I could no longer relate to her… to selfishness, to greed, to gossip. I could not have the normal interchanges that we used to have.
Imagine the person that you married going away. The body is there. The mind is there. The memories are there. But, the new vern wouldn’t pull out the memories that were incongruent with the new vern. So, while the memories were there locked into the mind – they were not needed much. There was very little recall of anything in the past because the focus – the whole focus was on present. There weren’t thoughts about past or future. It just didn’t happen. Nearly every moment from maybe the 6th month to the 10th was spent in mindfulness of the moment, nowhere else.
I had stopped my job activities, I was a real estate salesperson and luckily had some money saved because there was no desire to perform work that wasn’t congruent with what I was feeling. There was no motivation for ANYTHING. I stopped exercising. I stopped talking with friends. Family and friends would call on the phone and I’d give them responses that were totally uncharacteristic for the old vern. They were afraid, especially since I’d already lost my wife and they knew I wasn’t working.
When I stopped meditating about the 10th month as I said before, the process was going on its own. No meditation was necessary… It would just ‘visit’ whenever it felt like it. A couple times per day was common for the first few months of stopping. Then it slowed to once/day, then couple times per week… where it stayed for a couple years… then (and now) it is not often that it occurs – once per couple months on average now. However, what has remained is this knowledge of what is there. It is always there. It is waiting there and it’s the most comforting feeling. It also has a pulling effect… like gravity. It is always pulling me toward it, to finish the process I suppose.
It has been 9 years since I meditated regularly (there were maybe 15 instances of sitting for 30 minutes in 9 years).
In order to STOP the process… I decided the only way to interrupt it was to fight it by acting as if the ego was back and purposefully going against the feeling in every way possible. After all, it was running on its own and I was very afraid that it would never cease. I began real estate and pursuit of money and debauchery that was excess even for the old vern.
Last year while still living in the United States there was a sudden increase in the ‘gravity’ or pulling and it felt like I had to continue the process. It was undeniable. The ‘otherness’ came back more frequently. The gravity was stronger. MUCH stronger. I began to look on the internet again for clues of what the whole thing meant. I wasn’t convinced that I was in the enlightenment process… but I was convinced that whatever was taking place inside me was very very powerful.
It had already changed who I was as a person. There was already much less ego present – a 1/10th?
I searched for a day and found someone on a web site in Thailand… “Santikaro” he was called. He was an American that had found his way to Thailand about 20 years before to study Buddhism. There was his picture on the site with Buddhadassa Bhikkhu – one monk that I did read some of before and enjoyed his perspective. So I emailed him. No response. I called the number that was listed for some organization in Illinois, hoping to reach someone that could tell me his phone number.
Well, HE PICKED UP THE PHONE. I was so excited to finally speak to a person that could maybe help… I explained what happened to me for over an hour – he listened. When I was done he asked some questions… apparently, there are false experiences that might not be ‘real’ – whatever that means, I’m not sure… but, he seemed to be genuinely interested in what I said because he and I talked for nearly 2 hours that afternoon. My main questions were – 1. What was I experiencing? 2. Is there any desire to complete obligations in society – like making car payments, driving, working, etc.
While failing to give a direct answer, he did tell me that it appeared that I had experienced the Jhanas – perhaps all 8 of them. About the obligations – he said that the personality remains somewhat after enlightenment… memories remain, sense of humor might remain… however, a total loss of the ego would result and I would become a very different person to those that know me. I asked him if it is realistic to think that an enlightened person could live outside of a Wat in Tampa, Florida – without the support of monks and other believers… and he wasn’t sure… he too had pondered that question…
And so – at the close of our call he asked that I write him email to give contact details and that he would recommend a Wat in Thailand to visit if I found myself there…
I wrote. He wrote. He gave me the name of a Wat here in Thailand called, Wat Pa Nanachat. There are many English speaking western monks here and I had the opportunity to speak to 2 of them. The first had the duty of speaking to all the visitors. He was the guest monk. He was from California originally and had been at the Wat for over 2 years. I told him some of what I experienced and his face beamed… he wasn’t sure what to say… he said that the monks there at Wat Pa were all trying to reach these states of mind and that I had found them…. he encouraged me to stay and complete the journey at the Wat… Hmm. There it was, two monks that said the same thing. I decided I must speak to the abbot. He was an Australian guy, shaved head and eyebrows. Everyone had the most sincere respect for him there and even here in Ubon Ratchathani, he is well known and revered…
so I spoke with him and told him what I experienced… and he was smiling maybe the whole time I told him… and it was like he knew when I sat down that there was something going on in me… and he too said, you were likely in the jhanas… and he went on to ask questions to try to clarify what levels of Jhana I had gone through – and it appeared that I had been through 8 of them… and he too was very encouraging about staying at Wat Pa for as long as I needed… and that I was very welcome to stay as long as I wanted…
I stayed overnight… it was a full moon weekend so we had to stay up all night, listening to chanting, dharma talks… and meditating. My back hurt tremendously and I decided in the morning about 5 am. that I would go digest what I had learned and return if I wanted to continue meditating… and so – I found this city and have been here teaching English for a few months.
(update – I’ve been in Thailand for over 15 years… and have meditated off and on during this time)