I’ve previously written an in-depth guide to meditation retreat — why do it, where to go, and what to look for in choosing one. Today, I wanted to give an inside look at my recent retreat.
I spent three weeks by myself in a rustic cabin deep in the Cascade-Siskiyou Wilderness, devoted to the practice of Vipassana meditation.
On an outward level, here’s what it looked like:
- Woke up around 5 or 6am, and went to bed between 11pm and 12am.
- Ate two meals a day – no snacks, caffeine or beverages (apart from water)
- Did around 10 hours a day of sitting meditation, an hour of yoga, an of hour of mindful hiking, and an hour of dharma talks
- Had two interactions with a human throughout the three weeks – each lasted about 5 minutes, and revolved around getting more water in the cabin.
Note: These days, I don’t often write or even talk about politics, social justice or the state of the world — my focus is more on individual hearts and minds.
However, I used to be very involved in this arena. Perhaps the climax was a year I spent living with an activist collective in Southern Mexico, doing social justice and community development work with oppressed peoples. Since then, my views and thoughts haven’t changed much, just my approach/tactics (which you can see throughout this site).
In any case, last year I had an unfortunate encounter with the police that still occasionally cycles through my mind, so today I feel compelled to share the story, and some reflections I have on race, privilege, and what sort of reaction/feelings/intentions it leaves me with. Here goes:
I rent an office space a couple days a week in a residential Portland neighborhood. One day about an hour before dusk, a client had recently left, and I was sitting inside the office doing a little final computer work.
Suddenly, I head some aggressive banging on my door, as if with a twenty pound hammer. I wasn’t expecting anyone, so I ignored it for a little bit. But as the banging kept going, I went to the door to see what was going on. As soon as I opened the door, I saw two police officers with a scary-looking canine. Continue reading
The Overarching Approach to Thinking in Insight Meditation
In Mindfulness/Insight/Vipassana meditation, we are not trying to get rid of thinking, ignore it, or make it stop. Thought is a necessary function of mind—without it we would literally be incapable of functioning in society.
However, there is a HUGE difference between skillfully using thinking, and doing what most people do: bouncing from one thought to the next, endlessly swirling in long chains of verbal thinking (usually about the “story of me”).
In turn, rather than getting rid of thinking, the objective of Vipassana is to break the habit of obsessive thinking—more specifically, it’s to build up enough awareness+wisdom that we can let thoughts float by without indulging them.
As our practice develops, we start to experience thoughts sort of like how we experience tastes, sounds, smells or body sensations. They stop feeling so “sticky.” We can notice them floating through awareness, but have a very real sense of choice on which ones we think and which ones we allow to keep on floating. Continue reading
I practice and teach a style of Buddhist meditation called Vipassana (aka Insight Meditation).
Many people have heard of the transformational eight week course, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which has helped make mindfulness meditation a household term. What many people don’t know is that it’s mostly just a secularization of Vipassana meditation.
However, even though they initially seem to be the same thing, there is also a big difference between the two.
I sometimes joke that if the Buddha were a 21st century dharma teacher, he would describe Vipassana Meditation as Mindfulness-Based Wisdom Cultivation (MBWC).
The rest of this post will explore what is meant by MBWC, and will answer the following questions:
1) What is Vipassana meditation?
2) Why are we shifting our basic perceptions?
3) What are we shifting our basic perceptions towards?
4) How do we actually, tangibly, realistically, make this happen?
5) What is core difference between Secular Mindfulness and Vipassana Meditation?
6) What is the quickest, most efficient way to really learn Vipassana?
One of the most common challenges for new meditators is getting sleepy, or actually falling asleep while meditating.
When students ask me what to do about this, the first thing I usually say is that meditation is like a mirror.
If we’re falling asleep while meditating, this usually means something about our lifestyle is causing it. Maybe we have poor sleep habits, we’re overworking ourselves, have a hyperactive mind or lots of stress, our diet or exercise habits are imbalanced, etc. Just like looking in the mirror, noticing these things is powerful information we can use to make real changes.
However, even if we did everything right, we’re likely to have some days when we’re sleepy. So what to do during meditation when this happens? There are three basic options. Continue reading
I’ve spent several thousand hours doing both of these approaches, and I can definitively say that one isn’t better than the other. Some of my most profound meditative experiences came with eyes open, and others with eyes closed.
Like most things, they each have their own advantages and disadvantages. Here’s some brief reflections:
The primary advantage of eyes closed
By removing visual stimuli, a whole layer of ‘potential’ distraction is removed. This makes it easier for many folks to stay aware. This extra ease applies to all styles of meditation, but especially for concentration-centered practices.
The primary advantage of eyes open
It teaches us we don’t have to be sitting still with eyes closed to have a meditative mind. We slowly learn that visual stimuli aren’t actually a distraction. They are just another thing to be aware of, and can actually be an aid to awareness! The major takeaway of this style is that it makes it easier to be aware in daily life (because, of course, we have our eyes open all day long!). Continue reading
The following essay on veganism is a personal sharing, and is more about expressing my own sincerity journey than it is about evangelizing a particular ideology.
I don’t judge people who eat meat or animal products. I also don’t have a problem sharing a kitchen or a meal with those who have different dietary habits. My basic life philosophy is that the best way to impart change is to dare to be radically myself, discover my own integrity, and to give others the space to do the same.
May this reflection be helpful in some way, fellow journeyer!
For a variety of reasons, I became a vegetarian in 2009. Although, as the years passed, only one of those reasons really stuck: I couldn’t justify the killing of another living being when there were plenty of other ways to get easily & fully nourished.
However, I never thought too much about becoming vegan. Using animal byproducts wasn’t outright killing living beings, I thought, so what’s the big deal? Continue reading
There are two basic ways to practice eating meditation.
The first is about being mindful of your sensory experience.
Before the food even goes into your mouth, you take a moment to really look at it. You put your nose to it, and smell its various fragrances. Maybe you even feel it in your hands. Continue reading
There are a million different ways to practice walking meditation. But all of them are rooted in the basics of mindfulness: being aware with a curious & equanimous attitude.
What follows is a way of practicing walking meditation that I’ve found particularly helpful, both for “beginning” and “advanced” meditators.
I like to think of this practice in terms of layers. Each one is a perfectly great practice on its own, though they can also all work together (sort of like how different instruments can create beautiful sounds by themselves, but can also mesh with other instruments to create a “song”). Continue reading
Developing gratitude can be very powerful for brightening spells of depression, and for making the good times even sweeter. In reality, it’s one of the key inner qualities a person can develop if they are interested in happiness.
In today’s post, I’ll share a way I think about different types of gratitude, and practices I do to cultivate each one. Here’s the three types:
1. Past Happenings
As the name suggests, these refer to tangible experiences that have already happened. They could be experiences from long-ago, like the vacation spot we went to as a child, or things more recent, like the vacation we took last month.
Although, one important principle to know is that proximity is power.
In other words, the most powerful past-happening-gratitudes are usually the ones that have occurred more recently. In turn, here’s a fairly common daily practice that I’ve found extremely beneficial: Continue reading