From January 4th till January 14th 2019 I participated in what was my second vipassana retreat. I'm sharing my insights in this post
Hi, I've been quiet for a while. But I found a new push of energy to start writing again. I'll get to the reason why later. Let me for now tell you and actually, let me for now tell myself what has been going on ever since I got back from my bicycle trip.
landing at home
I felt like writing in a great wave of post-intense-experience energy when I got back to The Netherlands. So I did. During the first few weeks after getting back home I was writing my most important words ever when I drafted the post on spiritual growth and my vipassana experience. I experienced writing, finishing and uploading that post as an enormous relief. I had captured the essence for why I had gone on the insane bicycle trip, and with that I had pooped out half a theory on philosophy. I was done, done with the trip, done with all of my past. It felt good. My ego wasn't quite done with the trip yet though. For a month or two after completing that post it was insisting I would write a book, create a movie and sell myself for public talks. But (luckily) at that time not a drop of energy was available to get started. I departed these ego-driven plans somewhere in summer. I told myself I would start looking for a job in September.
I've been in a very curious state since returning home. I've been telling people that I felt like an incredibly satisfied grandpa sitting by the fireplace ruminating his rich past. This feeling was only so often intercepted by feelings of how weird it was to be feeling this way at age 28. September came around and with this state of mind I started responding to all sorts of vacancies in the sustainability sector: the sector I had been working in before my trip. So there I went, an old satisfied granny, off to job interviews, suited up sometimes, business casual other times. High on life I would enter into the most interesting, and awkward at times, job interviews I've ever done. Did I want a job? Hell no, I was as satisfied with life as an enlightened monk in a cave is. No one would be telling me what to do or what not to do.. ever. I secretly knew I didn't care for a job. So I had fun talking to and looking for the human behind the interviewer. It was fun to see the interviewers process the odd kind of vibe. I had fun seeing them think: "mmm, this guys is kind of interesting.. but wait.. did we discuss any aspect of the job he is here for at all? Wtf, we didn't... ok, not a chance we take him onboard." And so interview after interview I was rejected. And I smiled. I loved it. I trusted something that would light a spark in me would come my way some day and I trusted that when it did I would know.
BTW: throughout this period there has just been one occasion at which I reopened my bicycle-trip memories: two talks at De Vakantiefietser in October for people that were preparing for longterm bicycle trips. I mention this merely to share with you a video I made for these nights. I decided to simply edit the prettiest drone images into one video. Anyway, as said, the cycling trip is not part of what I want to discuss in this post. I do feel some curiosity whether such a simple video has any reach on YouTube.
So I'm an old satisfied grandpa. It is honestly an amazing feeling: I could spend all day sitting in my house drinking some tea and perhaps reading a couple of pages from a book without any feeling of wasting time. Good times. But pretty passive. It was when I quit meditating for 2 hours every day in November that a slight nerve caught on. I had increased my meditation time to an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening since I came out of the vipassana center in Malaysia in April 2018. When I loosened the discipline somewhere in November the thought that I should start doing something to not loose all connection to 'regular people' and 'a proper socially accepted life' was persistent some days.
Don't I need work to pay my bills and rent? Yes, I do. But I have been able to live off savings I didn't spend on my trip. Moreover, by living minimalistically I keep costs extremely low. I'm able to afford a couple more months of rent and food. I will have to start earning something though. Luckily, my dad runs a garden center that gets super busy in the months running up to Christmas. I sold Christmas trees in November and December. Me happy, he happy.
At the end of summer I had signed up for another 10-day vipassana course to take place during the first weeks of January. Christmas came and I got ill. Shoulder pains seemed to cause fever and a heavy cold. I recovered a bit and left for a 10-day silent offline experience on a location in the heart of the country. Now, before I move on, this retreat is the exact same setup as the one I joined in Malaysia at the very end of my bicycle trip in March 2018. And since I already wrote about the technique of vipassana in that other post, it would be best to read the vipassana section in that one previous to continue reading this one. I'll actually do that myself now too.
Ok, so a short recap: vipassana teaches you that negativity in body and mind build up and get stored whenever you are in disagreement with reality. Both any form of craving or any form of aversion are negativities. Whenever you want something you don't have or whenever you dislike something that is part of your reality, you build up shit in the mind and body. It's an interesting thought experiment: am I okay with reality at this moment? Able to answer with a resolute no? You're probably converting these mental tensions into physical tensions as you're thinking of it. And how about the past? Have you been in disagreement with your circumstances for extended periods in the past? If yes, it's highly likely these tensions are stored in your body ever since.
So here I went again: sitting on a small pillow sensing all sorts of bodily pains and fighting all sorts of resisting thoughts for 9 hours a day for 10 days. But truth be told: I knew what was coming and I knew it all was a good thing. On the previous vipassana I remember running away from the meditation hall often the first couple of days. I also remember getting to understand that smilingly diving into the pains sped up the healing process from day 5 or so. And this is what I had remembered: whatever might come as pains, it is a blessing, and a chance to heal. Whereas the pains on the previous vipassana experience mostly touched upon the periphery of the body: the outer layer of my upper back and my legs, this vipassana made me dive into the pains at the deepest level: tensions around the hip joints, organs and spine. This made the whole experience similarly tough even though.
The meditation teacher I exchanged some words with in Malaysia told me it isn't common to be able to link certain pains in the body to their corresponding mental defilements. And for most of the healing I haven't been able to trace back the origins of the problem. I did share a couple of explicit examples from the first vipassana and I'll similarly share a couple connections I've been able to make during this one:
- food cravings - a slight difference for new students vs. old students in vipassana is in the available food during the daily rest moment at 17:00. New students can drink tea and milk and are allowed to eat two pieces of fruit whereas old students only get some lemon water. I was able to grasp the reason for this during the final days of my first 10 days: a lot of healing is processed in the stomach. The emptier the stomach the more effective the healing. Besides noticing this again, I was able to examine the feeling of being hungry more closely this time. It's fascinating how this feeling simply disappears if you just sit and observe it for a while. Big chance the body doesn't need food when it's requesting it in regular life. Big chance a lot of us are tricked into eating a lot more than necessary this way. Think of the following scenario for example: you miss out a lunch because of some work that completely absorbs you. You probably only start to actually feel hungry the moment you realize you missed lunch. The mind affects the body, and we feel like reacting, in this case by running to get something into our stomach. By understanding this mind/matter relationship it is easier to overcome these cravings. The fact that fasting is traditionally part of almost all religions makes a lot of sense to me now.
- stomach pains - one of the more shocking discoveries I made has to do with a very silly decision I made when I was a young teenager. A thought of a specific location near my parent's house popped up multiple times when some strain in the belly arose during meditation. After a couple of moments I realized I was visualizing myself being around 12 years old standing right on that spot and deciding I wanted to grow into a strong masculine body. I remember deciding to start with my belly. I perceived it to be too round. By simply retracting the belly inward a bit I felt a lot more muscular, I decided to walk around with a retracted belly whenever I could from that moment onward. I was clearly very much in disagreement with reality. And bizarrely enough, here I am over 15 years later, clearing out the consequences of this decision. This doesn't mean I've been walking around retracting my belly for all those years. I also clearly remember the moment when I was aged 17 that made me realize I had been doing this for a while. It was a legendary snowboard teacher on a school-wintersports trip that in a skilift cabin said: "Do you guys know that breathing is one of the most important things you do in life?", he continued "a lot of people for example breath with their shoulders. This is dangerous! It is important to breath down into the belly". I remember being shocked noticing my breathing occurred high-up in the shoulder area, a consequence of the decision to retract my belly years ago. I changed breathing from that moment onwards, more down into the lower belly. I could have never expected this 5 year period of unhealthy breathing to keep on negatively affecting my body until just last week.
- societal success - A couple of hours before taking my flight with my bicycle back home from Singapore I decided to visit a massage parlor. It was a nice way to enter the plane chilled out, and I wanted to make use of the cheap Asian massage prices one last time. I asked the lady to focus on my shoulders. She did. And she went strong. It was the start of relieving a ton of shoulder tension. During all of the hours meditating from that moment onward until the start of the vipassana 2 weeks ago, the focus has been on my shoulders. Pains and strains have occurred around the shoulders and upper arms over the past 8 months. Now, this one I'm not able to specifically connect to some decision in the past or some specific period of time. However, I'm pretty sure all of the tension in my shoulders have had to do with my endless ambitions in the past. Ambitions and goals are fine if you are able to detach from them, but become unhealthy if you would feel failed if you wouldn't succeed in them (more on this in my post on running a marathon). As to the moment of writing these words I still feel all sorts of sinews under tension in my shoulders. I'm not done yet.
- sexual desires - There has been a time in the past in which I have watched a significant amount of porn online. I remember stumbling upon sexy-bikini-babes websites around age 14 or 15. I remember even exchanging urls with quality pictures and the least amount of spyware and viruses with buddies at school. However relatively innocent these first discoveries where, I have found myself hooked on pornograhpy a couple of times a week ever since. Certain periods the amount of masturbation would increase to start interfering with things I was supposed to be doing: the worst period being during the writing of my master thesis. I think I masturbated daily with the aid of porn. A bit depending on whether I would see my girlfriend any time soon. I would be calculative as to when or when not to masturbate. I would 'save up' a day to be able to have sex with her. I was oblivious to the fact that it could potentially affect my sexual relationship with her. And I was oblivious to the fact that it could harm my body. I'm pretty sure it did affect both. Ever since I got a job after graduation things took on more acceptable shapes (maybe watching porn and masturbating around once a week or so) and porn has not been in my life since I left on the bicycle trip. Now, this might perhaps sound familiar to a lot of guys out there. And the big insight I'm about to share is important for anyone that watches porn occasionally or either has an unhealthy approach to sex. Any approach to sex involving a significant amount of craving and desire and excluding genuine feelings of love are unhealthy in my perception. Now, I've felt all of my organs releasing stress during the 10 day vipassana, the rhythm the same: I felt them glow up, providing discomfort for quite a while to get at ease and provide relieve after. I've consciously felt the lungs, intestines, kidneys, liver ect., I felt their exact space in the body. And I was able to recognize a ton of discomforts they have brought along throughout my life: from the occasional heartburn stemming from the stomach to intense feelings of dizziness I only experienced in nightmares when I was younger stemming from the large intestine. I wasn't able to connect much of the strains to their mental counterparts though. The ten days past and I was relieved of a lot of strain in the torso. Upon arriving home though I started getting curious: what got resolved? What mental trash caused them? In processing the 10 days I scanned my past for periods that weren't my best. One question quickly came to mind: did the low-energy period when I was writing my thesis have anything to do with the excessive amount of masturbation at the time? I also figured there was only one way to test this: I would have to masturbate to porn now that I'm ultra-sensitive to my body to find out. I cautiously opened a browser and typed in pornhub.com. I opted for some solo lady undressing. I started the video and this lady directly looks me in the eyes sensually. I felt weird. I felt different to what I'm used to, I normally would get aroused quite quickly. Now thoughts pop up like "why is she doing this?", "how much would she earn?" and most importantly "would this make this lady happy?". She starts undressing while still looking at me. Setting aside the questions I start to feel aroused even though, I unzip my pants and start playing around with my growing halfy. Simultaneously a pressuring pain strikes in the mid leftish area of my back. She goes on to undress completely and starts playing with herself. I stare in the distance feeling blown away by the insight. Masturbation causes some pain in my back. I close the naked lady tab and start searching for pictures of the human organ anatomy. I conclude that it must be the kidneys I feel quickly easing now. Next, I Google "kidney problem porn" and a limited and mixed search results pop up linking kidney and erectile dysfunctions to watching porn. From horror stories to hi-we-the-Chinese-know-that-masturbation-is-bad-since-ancient-times. In this instance my suspicion that my kidneys just suffered from the masturbation attempt get confirmed, I understand that the previous burning of the kidney's during the vipassana period was to get rid of old patterns of unhealthy sexual craving and I vow to myself to never watch porn again. I know that a lot of guys (perhaps girls too?) struggle with watching porn / masturbation / unhealthy sexual habits, and if so, I just want you to know it isn't as innocent as it seems. Quit it if you can yourself or either get help if that is too hard. A tolerant and open discussion about sex and unhealthy forms of sex could break taboo's and could help a lot of people.
My second vipassana experience has been a rollercoaster of recognizing the past, of recognizing every single bodily sensation I've ever encountered and of recognizing why life can feel like it's going in circles. It is your sensations that make you perceive your outside world in a certain manner. It is these sensations that spark their corresponding state of mind. And this loops over and over, fueled by your own set of cravings and aversions. As I'm exploring what it is like to be human I think one neat answer could be: to be human is to run towards your cravings and to run from your aversions. However, I would want to add: to progress as a human is to eliminate your cravings and aversions to make space for generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, effort, tolerance, truth, determination, selfless love and equanimity. Or in real short, and as every wise person has ever taught everyone: to be human is to know thyself.
But besides gaining selfknowledge, meditation and vipassana have given me renewed life energy. I feel better than ever, am more focused than ever, and need less and less sleep while being able to maintain sharpness throughout the day. I played badminton when I was younger and started playing again back in September 2018. Yesterday I was playing for the first time since my 2nd vipassana and yet again, things seemed to be flowing more effortlessly and less tiring. This doesn't just go for sports, this goes for life. It isn't for nothing that vipassana is seen as an art of living.
In hindsight my grandpa state of mind makes a lot of sense to me. It was my body processing the trip / 1st vipassana insights. I fueled further healing with the continued 2 hours of meditation a day. My body knew it was the most important thing I could be doing those days, and thus allowed for a very quiet mind. I remember actually feeling scared for an employer to accept me since I didn't want to be forced out of my grandpa state of mind by some sort of job. Even though it has been the most passive period of my life, I think it might well have been the most important. I'm happy I listened to my body.
So after understanding a cliché as 'know thyself' on a experiential level, what is next? For me one thing stood out from the moment I left the Malaysian vipassana center: I owe life to my parents. So far my life has been an amazing adventure made possible by them, their unconditional love and their hard work. There is not much I can do to ever thank them for it. I can visit them often, I can express the gratitude I feel and show them my love. I took an important step in expressing myself to them when I took them to The National Maritime Museum last Sunday and gave them a letter expressing how I feel.
Besides, my dad runs a garden center, Life & Garden in Amstelveen, and I've, for now, decided not to pursue a career in sustainability: I'll be working with my mom and dad in their company. It's outdoor work, stress free and I'll be able to bond more strongly with my parents through it. Meanwhile I'll have sufficient time to continue my quest to understand what it is like to be human. I'll continue meditation, playing badminton and other sports, making music, and taking good care of myself (healthy food and enough rest). I'm far from enlightenment but am excited to slowly continue making steps on this path. I'm also eager to help with growing the technique of vipassana in the Netherlands so I might get involved in building a permanent center in Holland.
In the meantime I'll blog a little about the things I like.