The Meditation Experiment: Month One
I did my first 10-day vipassana retreat back in 2011; ten days of up to 11 hours of meditation per day. It was life-changing, but when it came to an end I did what most people seem to do: decide to meditate for about half an hour per day on most days. That half-hearted commitment quickly dissolved into meditating every now and then, and the quality of my life gradually deteriorated along with my practice.
At the end of a recent 10-day retreat, I decided to try an experiment: what would it be like to actually follow S. N. Goenka’s recommendation and meditate for one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening, every day for a year? It seems like an obvious thing to do, but it’s really radical. It’s radical because very few people do it even though it seems to have a massively positive effect on the self and the world. It turns out that it’s actually not that hard to meditate for two hours per day.
I have now been doing this for a month, the first hour usually before breakfast and the second hour usually before dinner. My wife, Cindy, has joined me for the past roughly 20 days, since I got back from the retreat. She had previously done three 10-day retreats. Here are my observations of the effects so far.
Before going on the recent retreat, I was anxious most of the time, feeling that I was not doing something that needed to be done, that something terrible was going to happen in the future. Over the past month, I have experienced almost no anxiety. I have been able to spend time doing nothing much, reading, chatting, noticing things. There is no urgency.
Before the retreat, I was struggling with an enormous amount of regret about decisions I made in the past. Over the past month, I have experienced almost no regret about the past.
Cindy and I would usually have an argument or dispute of some kind every few days. Over the past month, we have had one or two small arguments that were quickly resolved. We are much more playful together and much more loving to each other. I feel more able to be caring and loving when she is upset.
I am able to notice and trust my feelings more than ever before. I can sense the “energy” of people and things much more. For example, Cindy and I were sitting opposite each other in a coffee shop when a man came and sat down next to her. I felt that he was impinging on her energy, even though he did not appear to be doing anything unusual. When I asked her about it, she had been aware of the same thing. It felt like he was rubbing himself against her.
We recently drove past the Porsche dealership and I noticed that there was a certain quality to the sign that read, “PORSCHE,” something about it that I could feel, and that I liked the feeling. We then passed a small store with a sign that read “VOGUE CLEANERS,” colored in bright red and yellow and with horizontally compressed letters. My critical mind knew that from a design standpoint it was ugly, yet the feeling it evoked in my body was pleasant, and I liked it. This surprised me, and I mentioned it to Cindy. She told me that she often noticed that sign, and it also gave her a pleasant feeling, even though it was ugly. She didn’t know why that was, and wondered if it was some association with the word “vogue.” I wondered if somehow the sign conveyed something about the owners of the store. In any case, it seems like there is a whole world of feeling that is being opened up to me, a world that it much more familiar to Cindy. So this is helping me to understand her experience of this feeling world more deeply.
We have been proactively going to bed earlier and sleeping longer and more deeply that usual. I wake up feeling very relaxed and calm. Before the retreat, I would often feel tired in the afternoons, and I would also often wake up in the early hours of the morning feeling anxious. For the past month, I have been feeling energized all day long, almost never drowsy or drained.
My sex drive had been flagging before the retreat. I thought that it might be related to my age and perhaps a drop in my testosterone level. Over the past month, my sex drive has been extremely high. I think that the problem had been high stress levels.
A few months back, I had noticed that my voice seemed constrained and up in my head. I wanted it to be deep and resonant, like it was after a massage or an intense CrossFit session. Nothing I did seemed to change it permanently. After coming back from the retreat, Cindy noticed that it was deep and resonant, more sexy. It has stayed like that over the past month, getting even deeper.
A week ago, I was reading a list of “signs of the Buddha,” which included a “deep and resonant voice.” I showed Cindy and she gave me high five. She now refers to my voice as the “sexy Buddha voice,” and I am proud of it. I suspect that it’s not so much a sign of the Buddha as a sign of a man who practices vipassana every day.
My relationship to alcohol has changed. Before, if I had one drink then I would be likely to have another one. Now, I can take it or leave it. One morning I discovered that the night before I had opened one bottle of beer and left it half-drunk. I automatically drink less alcohol.
Cindy started sobbing today during the morning meditation session. Afterwards, I asked her what came up for her, expecting to hear about some past trauma. She told me that she had felt such overwhelming love and compassion for so many people that she had started to sob uncontrollably.
Both Cindy and I have felt a reduction in resistance to being productive. Both of us are finding that we more effortlessly take the next steps in what needs to be done, to make our personal lives and our business lives run smoothly and effectively.
We have both had breakthrough creative ideas for new products and new and simpler pathways to success that seem to have come from the clarity and mental space that has been created by our practice.
In vipassana, you carefully move your attention over all of the sensations in your body, whether pleasant or unpleasant, bringing curiosity and actively witnessing these sensations arising and passing away. This habit seems to spill over into every other part of life. There is a natural interest in thoroughly observing things without judgement. For example, on the retreat I found myself looking with interest at the valves and controls on a propane tank. At home, I have been working through a book on mental math, something that would have previously caused me too much strain.
I have found myself valuing my friendships more, and, as an introvert, having more social confidence than before.
Enjoyment of Meditation
Both Cindy and I have come to thoroughly enjoy sitting for an hour at a time. We both find that the time passes quickly now and they we are usually able to stay focused and engaged with the process. Both of us reach a stage of focus where we can feel the flow of subtle vibrations throughout our bodies, and we usually end the session peaceful and wanting to continue. We both look forward to our sessions.
I’m pretty confident that if everyone practiced vipassana the world would be more peaceful, but I’m not able to make anyone else practice. What I can do is to keep this experiment going. So far this is making the world, from my perspective, more peaceful, more beautiful, more meaningful, and more satisfying. I am grateful for this wonderful gift that Buddha re-discovered for us.