Missing the Point of Meditation

I recently finished my second 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat in Kelsyville, California. I’m glad I went back because I missed the point the first time around.

After the first retreat I was euphoric. I had a spiritual experience that amounted to a deep belief that everything is going to be ok. It had a profound impact on my life. I didn’t know that meditation could go so deep so fast and I felt the urge to run around saying things like:

*You can dissolve into a mass of vibrations!
*You’ve spent your life looking out, try looking in!
*Consciousness is universal!

All despite the teacher telling us a hundred times not to fixate on sensations. The point of the practice is to remain equanimous, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant the experience, in order to retrain our minds to be less reactive and more peaceful in everyday life.

There is no such thing as a good or bad meditation. If you get distracted, who cares. If you have a brilliant idea, who cares. If your back hurts, who cares. If you feel bliss, who cares. It's all fodder to practice not reacting.

This all went in one ear and out the other. Holy shit, I could feel my brain vibrating! I had to go back.

During the second retreat, I was hitting a blind spot where I couldn't feel vibrations on one part of my body. It stressed me out and I started striving to try and feel something. In an attempt to follow the teacher's instructions not to focus on the sensation (or in this case, the lack thereof), I started telling myself to relax, don’t react, relax, don’t react, relax...

Then it hit me. I was reacting to my reaction, like a parent screaming “relax!” at their crying kid.

It was the first time I realized that being equanimous is different from thinking about being equanimous. I spoke with the teacher and he told me to observe myself reacting instead of telling myself to not react.

Finally, it clicked. Less thinking, more observing. It's fine to have thoughts, but my emphasis should be on observing them, not engaging with them. Through observation it became clear that what I called "feeling stressed" was actually my respiration rate increasing, certain muscles in my chest and stomach contracting, and so on.

It’s hard to describe but the more I observed the stress the less powerful it felt, similar to how things can appear clearer and less serious when you see them in someone else.

I realized that my emotions, which can be so all consuming, are just temporary sensations. The word "stress" carries a lot of weight for me, but in reality it's just a little extra respiration here and muscle contraction there. I couldn't help but start laughing. It was like realizing the ghost I was afraid of was the shadow of a mouse.

It’s not like I’m a master of my emotions now, they still take me for a ride. But every once in a while I’m able to stop, observe what's really going on in my body, and smile at how funny the whole thing really is.