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10.12.2015
The Hridaya Silent Meditation Retreat is a unique 10-day immersion experience which focuses on accessing our real and essential nature, the supreme and divine Self, atman, through an artful integration of meditation and yoga techniques.
Supporting Price is for those who have the resources to support the spiritual work of those with fewer financial resources. The first morning’s meditation was a struggle, not just because of an overall grogginess but also because of a never-ending stream of reminiscences, regrets, recriminations, resentments, assessments, aspirations, apprehensions, speculations, machinations, anxieties, fantasies and other errant thoughts–one after the other. Up until now there had always been something to distract me, something to silence that stream. Personally, I had found certain guided meditation mp3’s to be most the helpful for regaining focus.
If I was in a foul mood, however, the meditation would provide me with a feeling of well being at first, and then after an hour or so the negative thoughts and emotions would start to creep in, and before I knew it I was upset, distracted, or stressed out again.
About a year ago, Creighton, a friend of mine, told me about a 10-day retreat at a “Meditation Center” in Onalaska, WA (one of many worldwide). The organization that runs the centers is nonsectarian and people from all faiths are welcome to attend the retreats to become established in the technique.
After hearing about the course, and reading about my friend’s own experience on his blog, it was only a matter of time before I had decided to make a commitment myself and enroll. On the night of our arrival, we were assembled in the men’s section of the dining hall for orientation. The meditations in the main hall were guided by recordings of Goenka himself who led us step by step through the technique. Counting is a crutch because it only clears the conscious mind (the thoughts and feelings we’re currently aware of) while it does nothing to clear the subconscious mind, the wellspring of those thoughts. In this room the conscious mind, or all the surface thoughts and emotions that we’re aware of, would probably be the size of a medicine cabinet mirror on the wall.
As we progressed onto Day 2 we narrowed our focus to the “touch of the breath.” This meant that we were to concentrate only where the breath brushed past our upper lip and the entrance of our nostrils. On Day 3 we kept our attention on the triangular area beneath the nostrils and above the upper lip, but this time we were to observe whether or not we could pick up any sensation other than the breath. A very high level of focus is needed just to begin learning the technique of Vipassana meditation, and so, for the first three days, we were required to do awareness of breath meditation just to prepare for it. On Day 4, we were instructed to direct our attention from the top of the head to the tips of the toes and while some parts of my body (hands and feet especially) pulsed and tingled, I found other parts (like the middle of the back and certain places around the ears and scalp) to be blind, blank and devoid of any sensation whatsoever. We were told that whenever we came across a blind spot to accept the fact that we were not able to pick up any sensations there and to spend a minute or two focusing on that area until we became aware of any sensation, be it subtle or gross.
But Vipassana is not only an exercise in sharpening one’s awareness of sensations; it is also an exercise of increasing one’s equanimity to sensations. The first time I tried Vipassana was disappointing, but we had more than enough time to practice and refine the technique. There also came a point where I was able to focus my attention directly on the intense pain that welled up from my knees.
There were short windows of time when I was able to look at the pain objectively and in those moments the pain lost its control over me.
It was that breakthrough that helped me understand why we were asked to maintain the same posture during a sitting.
Not only was I able to develop a sense of detachment from physical pain, but from emotional pain as well.
Because I had developed the faculty to see physical pain for what it was and bring space between my sense of self and the sensation that my body was having, I found that I was able to do this for emotional pain just as easily. We were told that when we stopped reacting to situations as they happen, the negative emotions from the past would start to bubble up to the surface. On the final days of the retreat we were instructed to direct our awareness to the body when we weren’t formally meditating, to observe all sensations as we walked, ate, showered, and in bed as we were about to go to sleep. The retreat ended on the morning of the 17th, and even though we were allowed to talk to the other students on Day 10 in order to re-acclimate to the outside world, I still felt hypersensitive to everything around me. In the days since returning from the retreat I’ve noticed that I’ve been able to maintain an incredible level of focus. If you’ve read my last blog post, you know that I write this in a period of transition, but I can’t help but feel optimistic about the future. If you’re interested in meditation, but are unsure about making the commitment for a 10-day retreat, I highly recommend checking the mp3’s from Free Buddhist Audio. If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.
Thank you for sharing your experience, it brought back my own memories from Vipassana camp.
Our Silent Meditation Retreats for the Awakening of the Spiritual Heart are a unique opportunity to bring more Happiness, Peace, Joy and Love into your life and get a deeper understanding of your real nature.
I did this in December of 2013 in Bengaluru and has been a life altering experience, Your blog captures all the experience that I had in the retreat.


During the retreat, we address broad aspects of the Spiritual Heart, from a variety of traditions including esoteric Christian, Sufi, and Kashmir Shaivism. We were to get up and sit: spine straight, chin tucked, hands in our laps and direct all of our attention to the breath flowing in and out of our nostrils for two hours until breakfast time.
For me it was usually work, hulu, twitter, facebook, reading, writing, coding, or beers with friends. One only has to look at the proliferation of productivity apps, guided relaxation tapes, and blog posts like this to know that people are desperately searching for ways to stay focused.
It felt as though my occasional 20-minute sessions of meditation provided only a temporary relief, like I was snipping away at the branches of the tree while getting nowhere near the roots. For the first three days we focused on “Anna Panna” or “Awareness of Breathing” meditation. When I did this I could usually clear my head of most thoughts within the space of ten to fifteen minutes. To focus on one’s breath while simultaneously counting from one to ten would essentially be like wiping off the steam from the mirror. I don’t think I’d be able to count how many times I found myself diverted or distracted from the breath by this or that random thought. This could be any sensation: heaviness, lightness, contraction, expansion, pulsating, itching, or any other subtle sensation which we weren’t able to name.
I had read beforehand that it was a body scanning technique, and because I had already observed strange and subtle sensations all across my body without even looking for them, I felt confident that I was ready to learn.
Eventually, I was able to move my attention freely through every part of the body, even to the point where I was able to achieve a feeling of free flow from top to bottom.
The judging, reactive part of the mind would resurface and the pain would become pain-ful again. Through meditation, I was able to see very clearly that emotions were nothing but sensations in the body, albeit more subtle than a strong pain in the knees. As I write this, I’ve already had come across several situations that have triggered a “negative” emotional sensation. The explanation for this that made the most sense to me was that suffering was akin to a fire burning, and that every time we react negatively to a situation we add fuel to the fire.  Because we continue to have negative reactions to situations, we continue to add fuel and the fire never burns out. For me, all the career related anxiety I’ve had over the past two years probably manifested as a pain in my right shoulder that ran up my neck to the right side of my face. The rest probably get stored up in the subconscious as psychological complexes waiting for some trigger to pull them up into our conscious awareness. The emotional pain didn’t seem to bother me, however, because I was able to distance myself from it. For the first time since I was five-years-old, there was no barrier of thought or judgment between me and what I observed. Other than calling my parents to tell them I was alive, I made no other contact with the outside world. I have so much energy, so much focus now that I really (really) do feel like I can do anything without having my motivation sag along the way. One track that had been especially helpful for me before the retreat was the 20-minute awareness of breathing meditation. Enjoyed the plausible explanation of its techniques, like why we need to stick to the same posture etc.
There were times when my feet would get so cold I felt like they are placed in the antartic and it would become so unbearable that I gave up several times initially but gained strength eventually. I did this course last year (I’m from India) and this almost exactly sums up my experience as well.
These activities kept me from recognizing just how scattered, how unfocused and untamed my mind really was.
After about ten minutes or so I’d let go of the count all together and focus only on the breath. This center, among the many others, are built and maintained by an organization founded by S.N.
We were forbidden to have any cell phones, reading materials or writing materials on us and were to turn them in for safe keeping at the beginning of the course. I had expected the meditation exercise to have a calming effect, since that had been my experience with most “awareness of breathing” exercises I had tried in the past. I came to realize, however, that counting the breath was essentially the crutch that kept me from developing a deeper, more sustainable level of focus. The conscious mind may be clear for a day or two, but eventually the fog starts to creep back in, and then we’re back where we started.
Because the conscious mind is the only part of the mind that we are aware of, it appears as though we’re making no progress, when in truth we’re making significant progress. By the end of the week, the background noise was reduced to mostly instrumental music; it seemed that my attention had focused to the point that there was no room for me to subvocalize lyrics in my head.


In order to develop this quality we were to hold the same posture for the duration of each sitting. It was only then that I truly understood what Shakespeare meant when Hamlet said “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” at an experiential level. Because of an increased level of awareness I was able to recognize those sensations the moment they arose. The more minor negative emotions were so subtle, however, that I only noticed them on the body during meditation. It seems only natural that if we work to eliminate these emotional reactions that are currently lodged in the body, that our body will naturally attract the old baggage like a magnet. Little things like raindrops hanging from stalks of the tall meadow grass, or the quiet of the forest in the morning actually brought me to tears. My eyes opened and the first thing I was aware of was a shower of cold sparks running down the length of my body. Because of this, I feel positive about making meditation a permanent part of my daily routine.
After 2 days of the retreat, I attended a Akhanda Dhyana where I meditated for 14 days continuosly and at the end of it, I was able to see visions through my third eye. I write about personal growth, the creative process, career development and web technology.
Goenka, who also teaches the technique of Vipassana meditation to all the students through audio and video recordings of his instructions and discourses. Men and women were to be segregated at all times except when we gathered in the meditation hall. When I collapsed at the end of the day and released my attention from that narrow area, it seemed as though anywhere my attention went that every nerve ending ignited with energy. Because holding the same posture for an hour can be very painful, it was an opportunity to observe the pain directly, objectively, and learn not to react to it or judge it. There was one instance where I had been sitting for around an hour and fifteen minutes, when I found myself in the grip of a pain that wouldn’t go away. My mind was still and clear, and I was actually disappointed that I couldn’t sit longer when I heard the gong ring for tea time. Also, because of a more developed sense of objectivity, I no longer identified myself with the emotional sensation.
To put it another way: a clean sheet of iron will gather more rust than already rusty sheet. I felt the stress, the anger, the fear and the grief rise up within me and pass away as soon as it had come. I then realized that I was awake and shortly thereafter I was able to identify the sensation as fear. This didn’t happen all the time, as we were told that a high level of awareness will tend to bring old emotions to the surface. I think it would have been difficult to go out and meet anyone that day because some particularly strong emotions were welling up and I needed all my attention on them to ensure that I wasn’t overcome by them. One example: I remember that shortly after having my first cup of coffee near the end of the retreat, I could feel the caffeine snake through my veins and capillaries of my left arm.
We were forbidden to talk with, touch or make eye contact with any of our fellow students (questions for the assistant teachers were allowed during prescribed times, however). I’d like to count myself as one of the lucky ones though, because on the last day of the retreat when Noble Silence was lifted, I found out that one guy had the theme song from Gilligan’s Island in his head, while another guy had the Apples and Bananas song. I spent the rest of the day meditating in my apartment and writing down notes about my experiences. Food tasted better, and I could feel the texture of every grain in each mouthful of my favorite granola cereal when I came back home.
Finally, we were expected to keep to the course timetable, which meant nearly 10.5 hours of meditation per day.
Sure enough, the sessions I had after experiencing incredible flow were replaced by a complete dullness. They served breakfast and lunch but no dinner ( the best meditation is done on an empty stomach!), although we did get an hour break at 5:00PM for tea and fruit. There were no angry thoughts, no angry words spoken, just a ripple in the water and then everything was as still as it was before. Observing these blind spots triggered strong emotional reactions whose cause might have been a year ago, ten years ago, or even more.
Somehow, however, there was a part of my mind that still held on to a shred of deeper awareness.



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