How did I get here

As I walked across the street of Bangkok, the heat, the smell, the intense energy of this city came all over me. Who is this “I” that is moving with the current of people and traffic? Who am I?

It so happened that everything had aligned that I took this course. I had heard of Vipassana in the past, and ex-boyfriend of mine had done this twice, and I myself have tried many times to get into one but was never succesful. But this time was different. It’s as if I was divinely guided to go on this journey.

The week before the retreat was full of intensity and massive changes. So many issues were brought up right in front of me. My relationships with my mother, with certain male & female authority figures as well as my frustration with life had been pushing me to the verge of collapsing.

a nice grandma sharing food with me

“You can eat my food!” Somebody was speaking to me in broken English.

I turned around; a grandma was looking at me. She asked me a few things about myself and then said:

“I had done this retreat 10 times!”

“Wow! Why so many?” (me)

“Because meditation makes me happy!”(grandma)

“That is nice to know!” (me).

On the bus to Kachanaburi, I was dosing off while listening to some tarot card videos. By this point, my anxiety level had gotten so high I had to resort to random people on Youtube to assure me my life would be okay. Auntie to my left started talking to me; she seemed sweet, we chatted about her and her family until the bus arrived at the meditation center.

Men and women were separated into different areas. No phones nor any communication device were allowed. We made a promise to the Dhamma workers to not leave the center until the course was finished.

Quickly settled, I had my last talk with a girl from Hong Kong. She said this was going to be her 4th Vipassana retreat; she needed some time alone to hear her own voice since life in Hong Kong was quite a crazy one.

But now we must keep quiet for 10 days. Noble silence it is called.

During the retreat

The first few days are very hazy for me now. I can’t quite recall what happened. The timetable was very intense. We were instructed to meditate from 4:30am to 9pm, with breaks for meals, rests and discourses in between.

The technique of Vipassana goes way back to 2500 years ago with the basis revolving around being equanimous to every body sensation. S. N. Goenka said when the mind has cravings or aversions towards something or someone, it is craving or aversing to certain body sensation.

If we remain neutral and remind ourselves that all these body activities are not permanent, everything shall pass; and therefore there isn’t any point to get attached to any sensation at all. There was some other theory and such involved, but I didn’t quite get it. I just thought I would give this a try. Simply observing what happens within my body can’t hurt. The mind-body connection is an interesting thread to explore.

We observed our respiratory movements for the first 3 days (Ānāpānasati). At this point my mind was full of thoughts, all kinds of thoughts, so much that I got really confused what it was that I was actually thinking.

The only fun thing for me at this point was to stare at and admire the new pair of shoes I just bought prior to the retreat. It was also quite funny to see how eager we were all were everytime the bell ring at the end of each session.

By the third day, I noticed some improvements. I had less thoughts, and from time to time I would get into certain states that time flew by really quickly. This is good!

On day 4, we were introduced to the actual Vipassana technique. We practiced observing the sensations under our noses above the upper lips. The smaller the area, the sharper the mind would become. I could feel some vibrations here and there, but my mind started wandering again.

Day 5, we started with the real technique. We were guided to feel from the top of the head all the way down to the tip of the toes, starting with the surface of the skin. Very quickly I realized how much tension and pain I had within my body.

Day 6, I started questioning the method. My mind became increasingly agitated. Why did he keep telling us to feel our sensations? I didn’t feel anything but pain, and my throat felt stuck while my heart area so hot and vulnerable. At some point, I wanted to storm off. Some extremely painful emotions started creeping in.

So much dissapointment, so much hurt, so much fear!

I was extremely angry, why did I cut myself open just so now I had to be with this excruciating reality? “I want to run away! Somebody please save me!”

Day 7, I told one of the teachers that I was very frustrated. He said I focused too much on the solid sensations. He asked me to relax and try to scan my body part by part again. Fine! As if I hadn’t tried already!

In the afternoon session, suddenly a nice warm feeling came all over me. I felt so powerful! Eureka! That is true! If I focused well on the sensations, no thoughts could actually come and I would be free of my sufferings, of the past and the future!

During one of the breaks, I experienced a profound feeling of gratefulness. I really wanted to give the Dhamma server at the corner there a massive hug, but then remembered we were not allowed to touch each other.

Well at least now I had less thoughts and actually got some space in my mind to start again. A voice seemed to come from inside of me:

Forget everything you know and start with a beginner’s mind!

Then my mind became quiet. There was nothing there! It was so satisfying, so calming. I had found salvation. I realized my happiness does not have anything to do with the outside world. What I’ve been searching for has always been inside myself!

Day 8 and 9 were another emotional roller coaster again. I felt so weak, so vulnerable, so stripped down. But came day 10 and we practiced Loving Kindness meditation, and in the end I received another message from my intuition:

The only truth you should serve is your own Truth!

Then I fell into a deep period of great peace.

“Hong Hong!”

“Yes?”

“Did you find the session okay?”

What is it like to talk again?

I see, we were now permitted to speak again. But I didn’t want to say anything. I was loving this state when no talking is better than talking. It took me another day to feel comfortable re-connecting with others.

On the days following the retreat, I found myself going in and out of different emotional states. I definitely noticed that I was in my body more, and became more aware of the connection between my thought patterns and certain body parts.

I am entirely responsible for my feelings

The most important lesson for me from 70 hours of pure meditation is that I am entirely responsible for my emotions. I noticed that as I have become more unattached to my body sensations, other people’s words and actions seem to have less and less impact on me.

This method actually has merits. Having learnt this, I have more hope going forward. I know that as long as I keep meditating and take ownership of my own mental health, I will become stronger.

It’s essential to look at things in totality, and not just parts

As I became more mindful of my body sensations, I realized that even though at first, pain and tensions seem to be the first things we notice, there are also many pleasant ones as well.

For what is pain without pleasure and what is pleasure without pain?

They are just meanings our minds put onto our body activities. If we are able to look at them as a whole, then there are no sufferings; things are just as they are, so why become too attached?

Discern, do not judge

As you sit for long and deep introspection, many thoughts and feelings will come up. Happy, yes. Joyful, yes. But also many dark thoughts, sometimes even demonic and you might be frightened of yourself.

Do not judge!

Let everything come to the surface so you can see they are just like entities living in your head, having no real merits at all! As soon as one leaves, another comes; so transient, so meaningless…

Vipassana is a great tool for everyday meditation practice

What I love about Vipassana is that it tells you exactly what to do so your mind doesn’t become easily distracted during meditation. You simply start with your head, scan all the way down to your toes and back up. I’m mediating a few times a week now, each time one hour, and I really find myself more grounded after every session.

Was it a life changing experience? Yes, this is when “All Sides Of Me are Fine” started budding in my heart.