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Difficult Time on Day 10
Vipassana Meditation
Citation:   Samanthe. "Difficult Time on Day 10: An Experience with Vipassana Meditation (exp110700)". Jul 2, 2017.

Third 10-Day Course

I recently attended a 10-day course for a meditation technique and tradition called Vipassana. Aside from the evening hour-or-so-long instructional lectures, the maintaining of 'noble silence' (not speaking, gesturing, or otherwise attempting to communicate with other students so as to cultivate a mind state conducive to meditation), and keeping to some behavioral rules (e.g. not killing including not smooshing bugs; not taking any 'intoxicants'), this experience involved sitting still and observing my breath and bodily sensations for 100 hours over the 10-day period. Meditation boot camp, basically.

The lectures ('discourses') describe this meditation practice as being a 'science of mind', or mental training, rather than a meditation of devotion or meditating to access a state of relaxation.This practice first came to my attention in 2001, when a friend at the time who sat in ayahuasca circles commented to me that she didn't understand what other people did in ayahuasca circles; she did Vipassana meditation whenever she did ayahuasca. I asked her to explain and it sounded compellingly intense and novel so I signed up.

I originally 'sat' a course, as it's referred to, in 2002, and then again in 2010. In the first course I had an experience on Day 8 where, facilitated by keeping absolutely still and remaining equanimous about any thoughts or any sensation experienced in the body, the feelings of pain, pressure and tension (one could call this 'body load') were replaced by a sense of my body as a unified field of vibration -- and I don't mean that as a metaphor, my perception was that of an intense high-frequency vibration. This sensation developed after the 30-minute point and lasted for 20 minutes before the hour was over. Awareness was very focused and thoughts were clear rather than foggy or chaotic. That same day, I had a 'creativity storm', a period of about 30 minutes during sitting when it was hard to stay equanimous without giving in to a compelling explosion of novel ideas and mental connections and a corresponding elation. It became too tempting to ignore the instruction to 'let the thoughts go by'; why do that? This was way more interesting!

When later asked about Vipassana, I would refer to the psychedelic dimension of that sensation of vibration and the dense web of meaning and imagery from 'Day 8'. Did I continue a daily practice of sitting? No, not with any regularity. But, like having a psychedelic experience and feeling changed by it, that first 10-day course profoundly impacted me.

In a way, this most recent 10-day course picked up where the course 14 years ago let off. I had a good handle on how to sit still despite the pain, and how engaging with the thoughts that popped to mind might be seductive, but in the end ignoring their thrall and just observing the constant changes was more rewarding.

By Day 4 I was starting to think of it as an ayahuasca trip in slow motion, with more pain and less purging.
By Day 4 I was starting to think of it as an ayahuasca trip in slow motion, with more pain and less purging.
Trippy thoughts, trippy body sensations, periods of serenity and periods of mental chaos alternated. A heightened sensitivity to outside stimuli made it difficult not to wince if another student (people attending the course are referred to as students) walked by wearing a t-shirt with words on it. In the absence of normal life input, reading the words sent me off into a ping-pong game of associations and emotional reactions.

By Day 8, thoughts of relief that this ordeal (it's really uncomfortable to sit for 10 hours a day) would soon be over began, but on Day 9 I was concentrating on ignoring that I was dreading that we'd be breaking noble silence the next day.

The dread remained on the morning of Day 10 and got even worse. In the morning sitting session in the meditation hall, as the teacher was giving instructions, strong body sensations that I would normally associate with high anxiety began to creep in; a thumping heart, pins and needles, and feeling overheated. They were joined by thoughts that I associate with the potential onset of a bad trip; depersonalization, worries of going crazy, feeling like I didn't know what I was 'supposed to be doing' in that moment, like I was losing a grip on reality, losing that illusion of control that governs most of waking life.

Yeah that didn't feel so good. But it was super interesting because I was able to keep observing it (a little harder to do in an ayahuasca trip!). Here I was feeling like a bad trip was coming on, but I was completely sober
I was feeling like a bad trip was coming on, but I was completely sober
, if sober means not having any psychoactives on board. Thoughts turned to a desperate back-up plan—I had an emergency Xanax in my room. I considered the option of aborting this period of discomfort with a trusty ally of trippers everywhere. Would I be undoing the whole week of fortifying my mind by resorting to a pharmacological intervention?

Like someone on acid having the presence of mind to comfort themselves with rational thoughts, I kept repeating, 'this will pass', and 'you probably just need to eat food and drink some water'. Also, given that I had been given very clear instructions on how to do this meditation, I kept coming back to meditating, entirely out of sense of desperation, not like I thought it was what I 'should' do. At that point it was like a lifeboat I was clinging to, in a very practical way not in a metaphysical way.

When it was time to break noble silence, I was afraid to leave the meditation hall and witness humans talking to one another again in their normal human ways. What if someone talked to me, would nonsense came out of my mouth in response? What if I acted weird, would someone worry about me and try to 'help' me, which would surely send me further into fearfulness? I was so confused. I managed to figure out it would be safe to go get a drink of water and still pass for normal, but then I came back and sat down again to continue meditating, hoping the weirdness would pass.

The frantic thoughts I was attempting to ignore as I concentrated on my breath broke through with a good idea, simple to execute, that might help. I would go back to my room and soak my feet in cold water! This simple technique had been imparted to me recently by an experienced elder psychedelic guide, as a way to help someone 'ground' or 'get back in their body' who was losing it the way I was. Sure wouldn't hurt to try. I resolved to draw on the collective wisdom of all the people who've dealt with bad trips and returned to my room at lunchtime.

The water-on-the-feet trick helped. I still felt like I was not back to baseline (10 days into a silent meditation retreat, I wasn't sure what baseline was, anyway), but I wasn't afraid any more. I went to the dining hall and hoped for the best.

In a stroke of good timing, the person who fell into line behind me at the dining hall was the right person to be talking with in my fragile state of mind. I started to come back to a sense of normalcy and thoughts began to cohere. Drinking water and walking outside helped. Eating food definitely helped. The weird body sensations persisted for a few days whenever I sat in meditation but the mental discomfort did not return.

This new experiential reference point has given me some insight on my mind. Surprisingly, I've also felt like meditating for an hour every morning, not because I 'should' or for an abstract idea that it's good for me. It's helping me keep the thread of peacefulness that I value that I'm able to access only after tuning the crazy outside world out for 10 days and sitting with myself.

Exp Year: 2016ExpID: 110700
Gender: Female 
Age at time of experience: Not Given
Published: Jul 2, 2017Views: 3,378
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Meditation (128) : Large Group (10+) (19), Multi-Day Experience (13), Difficult Experiences (5), General (1)

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