Author Topic: Negative experience on 10 day vipassana course  (Read 1781 times)

strawberryjen

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Negative experience on 10 day vipassana course
« on: October 30, 2017, 03:14:33 PM »
Dear all,

I returned from my first 10 day vipassana retreat yesterday and I am sad to say it was more a negative than positive experience. I'm not about to bash Goenka or his techniques, I think he is utterly wonderful and I lived for the evening discourses during the ten days. I understand everyone has a different experience but haven't really come across anyone whose experience mirrors mine in any way so I guess I'm looking for some insight and support to help me through the aftermath of my retreat experience.

I went with fairly midling to high expectations. I have meditated for a reasonable length of time (3 years off and on but more consistent this year) and mostly focused on the breath. I have read a lot of spiritual/ non-duality texts and have had the occasional feeling of no self/ nothingness, which is subtle yet liberating. I also suffer from anxiety and an extremely busy mind, which often affects my sleep, as well as other aspects of my life (confidence etc) so I hoped that the retreat would tame my mind somewhat. I should also mention I have quite a difficult family situation in that my father is in the late stages of terminal illness (ALS) which has been difficult to come to terms with.

I looked forward to my retreat but on Day 1, I already wanted to leave, and that feeling got stronger on Days 2 and 3, remaining throughout the course. Goenka said there would be a great deal of resistance, and the mind and body would revolt due to this alien situation, so I kept that in mind. However, I found it exceptionally difficult. Not necessarily the silence, the lack of food and sleep and lack of any entertainment or distraction (though these were definitely difficult), but the apparent busyness and negativity of the mind, that would just not shut up. I felt persecuted by the people around me, judged, imprisoned. I judged everyone harshly, never a positive comment even though deep down I didn't believe those things, the mind just kept throwing negativity at me and sometimes it took my breath away. It was negative about everything, including my looks and I became preoccupied with looking in the mirror and finding fault, thinking I was getting old and planning ways to make myself prettier. Remaining in the present moment seemed near-impossible, with my mind wondering what was going on in the outside world and yearning for time to pass. The only time I felt present was when I was walking in nature, seeing the birds, looking at the sky. At almost all other times I was striving for something I couldn't have: freedom, contact with the outside world, food, a quiet mind. I also had many songs playing in my head, sometimes without me even noticing, and many memories surfacing from the past. It was quite discreet, but I would find myself remembering very random and specific things I haven't thought about in years: some difficult, some neutral. On one occasion, I cried and cried for the young 11 year old girl I was when my parents separated and had a very nasty divorce. I felt so badly for her and promised to protect her.

The meditation techniques themselves were challenging, not least because of my noisy mind. I just couldn't concentrate for long at a time, especially in the hall, with other peoples' bodily noises all around me. I struggled to grasp vipassana and still don't know if I'm doing it correctly. I had to use a back rest as I have back pain and that affected my ability to stay still for long without one. I would abide by the instructions and sit still for an hour with no movement. Towards the end of the hour, when I was in pain, I would feel a surge of panic arising, telling me I couldn't take much more. The pain would lessen somewhat as I looked at it with equanimity and I noticed I was fully present, the mind was finally still and focused on the sensation. Then the panic would subside when it finished and relief would set in, but I have no idea of whether this was getting rid of unconscious reactions or pain.

I decided to stick out the course despite so many conversations in my head about how I would ask to leave. I decided that the disappointment if I left would far outweigh the triumph if I stayed, and I didn't want to be a quitter (ego again). My one criticism of Goenka is his proclaimation on Day 3 that those who left were weak minded. I don't think that is fair or true. One boy who left had a complete breakdown on Day 8. Three girls also left.

Now I am home and in my usual routine and environment, I feel a bit bereft. I didn't sleep last night, despite being utterly exhausted, and my mind was again rebelling and filling my head with worries to the point I wondered whether I gained anything from the course. I learned so much from the discourses and have no interest in idle gossip or being nasty to or about anyone, but I had hoped that my chattering mind would have lessened. I just wondered if anyone could shed some light on my experience? Sorry for the waffling and thank you in advance x





Laurent

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Re: Negative experience on 10 day vipassana course
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2017, 07:17:38 PM »
Hello,

Try to practice mindfulness of breath. No more vipassana. Vipassana should arise naturally from a quiet mind and not be artificially forced while the mind is constantly chattering. What should be cultivated is not vipassana but mental calm. First, mental calm has its own benefits, and later, it leads to natural mindfulness of sensations, mind activity etc... naturally, without expecting it. You can appreciate mental calm in the present moment without expecting what's next.
Mindfulness of breath should be practiced as buddha mentionned it: when you inspire, just know that you inspire and when you expire, know it.
Don't focus on a particular area of respiration, just be aware of breath, globally, and let things do themselves. You need to ease off on the pressure and do yourself some good to restore relaxation and happiness in practice.

Good luck!
« Last Edit: October 30, 2017, 07:24:11 PM by Laurent »

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Negative experience on 10 day vipassana course
« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2017, 10:21:07 PM »
Hi Jen,

From reading your post, it sounds like you had too much craving and expectation of the retreat. Your nerves were too excitable and had trouble calming down, and probably became a point of focus.

A keystone of practice is cease looking at this as an intellectual question to be answered. This is essentially about experience, whether desirable or unwanted, observing it arise, and being ok with it.

Middleway

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    • Vipassana as taught by Mr. Goenka - Switched to Shamatha
Re: Negative experience on 10 day vipassana course
« Reply #3 on: October 31, 2017, 01:05:39 AM »
I looked forward to my retreat but on Day 1, I already wanted to leave, and that feeling got stronger on Days 2 and 3, remaining throughout the course. Goenka said there would be a great deal of resistance, and the mind and body would revolt due to this alien situation, so I kept that in mind. However, I found it exceptionally difficult. Not necessarily the silence, the lack of food and sleep and lack of any entertainment or distraction (though these were definitely difficult), but the apparent busyness and negativity of the mind, that would just not shut up. I felt persecuted by the people around me, judged, imprisoned. I judged everyone harshly, never a positive comment even though deep down I didn't believe those things, the mind just kept throwing negativity at me and sometimes it took my breath away. It was negative about everything, including my looks and I became preoccupied with looking in the mirror and finding fault, thinking I was getting old and planning ways to make myself prettier. Remaining in the present moment seemed near-impossible, with my mind wondering what was going on in the outside world and yearning for time to pass. The only time I felt present was when I was walking in nature, seeing the birds, looking at the sky. At almost all other times I was striving for something I couldn't have: freedom, contact with the outside world, food, a quiet mind. I also had many songs playing in my head, sometimes without me even noticing, and many memories surfacing from the past. It was quite discreet, but I would find myself remembering very random and specific things I haven't thought about in years: some difficult, some neutral. On one occasion, I cried and cried for the young 11 year old girl I was when my parents separated and had a very nasty divorce. I felt so badly for her and promised to protect her.

Your post seem to indicate that you have strong identification/attachment with your body and mind (ego self). This strong identification causes constant thinking about the sense objects. This incessant thinking about the sense objects in turn causes anger and negativity in the mind. One way to loosen up the grip of this body/mind identification is to contemplate on impermanence. I suggest you search out dhamma talks related to impermanence and listen to them. I recommend dhamma teachers like Robert K. Hall and Ajahn Brahm. Both their talks are freely available on the net. You could also watch/listen Mr. Goenka talks on impermanence again. 

I also recommend you to practice meditation technique provided by Matthew on front page of this forum site.  Once you start practicing with these two steps, you should notice reduction in your mental chatter. You will also begin to accept your past and it opens a door for you to move on.

The progress at times may appear slow but diligence/persistence will yield results. 

Hope this helps and good luck!

Middleway
« Last Edit: October 31, 2017, 01:11:26 AM by Middleway »
Take everything I say with a grain of salt.

behappy123

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Re: Negative experience on 10 day vipassana course
« Reply #4 on: October 31, 2017, 04:28:32 AM »
My first course was very painful as well and I too didn't know if I was doing it right/wrong.  In regards to pain management, you don't have to sit indian style on the floor.  You can just as well sit in a chair and practice.  I moved to a chair on day 4 of my first 10 day.

The anxiety, mental chatter, inability to concentrate are all incredibly normal parts when first starting.  It's your own habit patterns, mental monkey mind indicating that this is unfamiliar territory and change is never easy to grasp.

Don't force your mind to shut up, that's where the fight comes in and the tension mounts.  Instead accept it, smile at yourself (physically force a smile on your face, it helps!!) and reassure yourself that this is the habit pattern that you are trying to change.  This is the time to reshift the focus to breathing.  At first it might just be for a few seconds you can hold it, but then it really does turn to minutes, and then hours.

Also listen to a lot of Alan Watts!  He takes the pressure off with his humorous take on life  :P


strawberryjen

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Re: Negative experience on 10 day vipassana course
« Reply #5 on: October 31, 2017, 04:09:36 PM »
Thank you all so much, every response is full of wisdom, thank you  :)

I agree I am too attached to my ego: body and mind. Strangely, I became quite obsessed with improving my body while I was on retreat: losing weight, even thinking about cosmetic surgery. This focus on external appearances is not healthy, but I realise my self-worth to this point has been linked to my looks first and my intelligence second: Always striving to maintain a certain look and to gain certain qualifications and credentials. I know deep down that none of this matters, but try telling the ego!!

I agree also that I need to go back to basics: to the breath. I think vipassana can be attempted once the mind is quiet, though mine rarely is at the moment. Always afraid that a moment of mind silence will mean danger or losing control, yet I am always craving the mind silence too. It's such a frustrating paradox. All I want is inner peace. Literally ALL I want, though I guess this determination and craving is an issue in itself and rather than attaining it on this course, I realised how far I have to go before it becomes a reality. I am optimistic that I will get there one day.

Love to you all,

Jen

BeHereNow

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  • "Do not doubt your basic goodness." J. Kornfield
    • Shambhala
Re: Negative experience on 10 day vipassana course
« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2017, 09:39:29 PM »
Hi Jen,

I can very much relate to the strong craving for inner peace, and the obsession with the body.

I would question the idea that there is something you need to do to find inner peace in the future.  Can you consider the possibility that inner peace is already within you?  That beyond your thinking, your doubts, your need to please and strive there is already a place of stillness that can hold all of it?

Be the container for everything that arises, and know that the one that watches is you.  And you are already whole and complete.  Nowhere else to go.

Much metta,
Paula
"You are the Sky.  Everything else is just the weather." - Pema Chodron

 

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