Should I try Vipassana again if it wasn't beneficial the first time?
May 17, 2010 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Should I give Vipassana meditation (a 10 day course) another go? Second time lucky maybe?

I've been on a 10 day Vipassana meditation course about 1 & 1/2 years ago. I stuck with the program the whole 10 days, keeping to all the precepts (no - talking, looking at people in the face, masturbating, sitting completely still for 1+ hours, and not even running or exercise... mild walking only o_0). And well, I'm proud of myself for sticking it out, but only in the 'I did something very grueling' kind of way (lets not discuss how sitting for long periods, with no exercise, does bad things for your digestion, even on a vegetarian diet).

The thing is, while I experienced some pretty entertaining visual hallucinations and head trips (not the point of the meditation, just a monkey-mind side effect), I don't feel like I got any benefits from it, except maybe clearing some ingrained bad TV out of my mental train of thought, as that was mostly what came up.

I did a 1 day sit about 6 months ago, and that was a refresher in the grueling, dozing off, can't concentrate for 10 seconds-ness worst bits of the original course.
Maybe it's just not a good fit for me?

Now, at this point, it sounds kind of crazy to think about going back, but I have the time off, got another email about the course, and I keep getting a niggling feeling - other people find this meditation of value, maybe I just needed to stick it out for a few more days (well 10 days) to get any benefits?

Metafilter, what say you? Input from people who've done this course and found it useful/not useful would be great.
posted by Elysum to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: other people find this meditation of value

Whenever I start to wonder about things from that perspective, a little man appears on my shoulder with a banner that says "Clinical Trials or GTFO" in ye olde time font.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:50 PM on May 17, 2010

I find meditation of value, but when it's a part of my daily life. You can do that without taking a course!
posted by wyzewoman at 7:56 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

And when I haven't done any meditation in a while, it's difficult to sit for even 20 minutes. After a few days of 20 minutes each day, I can do longer. I can't imagine jumping right in and doing a 10 day would be anything other than misery, for me -- even a one day sit would feel pretty extreme. So by doing these long classes, you are putting yourself in a situation that seems bound to be miserable! If you are curious about the benefits of meditation, I'd try instead with a daily practice.
posted by wyzewoman at 8:00 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Go back if you feel like it would be good for you, but nthing the suggestion that you'd get more from sitting meditation for 10 minutes every morning than these kind of fix-it-all-in-10-days-and-then-go-back-to-the-insanity sort of deal. It's kind of like the people who drink soda and eat candy all the time and then do a Master Cleanse once a year and think they're undoing it all.
posted by jardinier at 8:04 PM on May 17, 2010

There are lots of styles of meditation and it sounds as though Vipissana is not the one for you. If you want to try again, try some other kind. You could read a bit about different meditation forms and if one strikes a chord, try that. Meditation can be hard, but should not feel like banging your head on a wall (unless that's your thing.)
posted by anadem at 8:10 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: i think that getting the ingrained bad tv out of your mental train of thought is a major benefit! maybe next time the experience will work on a deeper layer!

that said, if you're itching to get back into some kind of intense immersion into meditation, consider checkin out your equivalent of kripalu or the omega institute, read their catalog, and see if something else gives you a huge yes instead of this niggling doubtful half-arsed sense of obligation kind-of. coz, you know, it's your life.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 8:17 PM on May 17, 2010

One of my friends went on a 10-day course like this in some remote place in the Himalayas. After 5 days he just couldn't stand it any longer and snuck out of the place and took the first bus he could get out of there. Quite a number of the other participants also left on that bus.
Since you've taken this before, you probably have a better idea of your tolerance for that sort of thing. Still I can think of much more useful and fun ways to spend 10 days than not talking to anyone and practically starving. Why not go volunteer somewhere? That might do more for your soul than meditation and might actually help some people.
posted by peacheater at 8:17 PM on May 17, 2010

I went to one of those.

I bailed after two days, after becoming convinced that the extreme and increasing lower back pain I was experiencing from forcing myself to sit still on a floor cushion for hours on end was not merely illusory, but was in fact a valuable feedback mechanism and that continuing to pay it no attention was a foolish idea.

I have since made quite frequent use of the concentration technique - the start again, start again, start again, work ardently, diligently, patiently and persistently! thing - and in fact it does seem bound to be successful. Any time I notice a feeling of boredom becomes an opportunity to practice rather than an unpleasant period of suffering. As a consequence, I have not actually felt bored for more than a minute at a time, any time in the last ten years. And that's nice.

For a while I was in two minds about going back; I had some level of desire to train up for extended floor-sits and give it another go. That's largely gone now; I feel no particular need to prove anything any more, and see no particular virtue in choosing to be inside a stuffy meditation hall rather than somewhere a little more connected to the rest of the world. I do most of my meditating outdoors and surrounded by forest, these days.

I'm glad to have been introduced to the technique, and I've definitely got it filed under "useful skills". My best advice to you is to use it whenever you have an opportunity to do so, but unless your life is so flat-out you never have time to yourself, don't bother going to any particular trouble to create those opportunities.
posted by flabdablet at 8:23 PM on May 17, 2010

Oh, yes: seconding jardinier in the view that 10 days of meditation is not a cure for anything. You should expect no more benefit out of an isolated 10 days of intensive meditation than you would out of an isolated 10 days of intensive weight training. Meditation, like any other kind of bodywork, only shows its benefits if it's something you do regularly.
posted by flabdablet at 8:26 PM on May 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I did a 10-day course several years ago and found it enormously beneficial. Before doing the course, I had never meditated for more than about about 20 minutes in one sitting, but I did a lot of up-front self-work before the course, learning strategies for dealing with negative self-talk and runaway emotions. (From a Tony Robbins audio program, IIRC.) I also used a self-leverage strategy to make sure that I stayed for the whole course: I gave three other people a ride to the center, so they were counting on me to still be there on the last day to give them a ride home, and I didn't want to let them down.

Without the mental and emotional prep work I did, I don't think I would've made it through the course, or if I did, I would probably have walked away feeling the same way about it that you do. Instead, I came out of it with some of the most profound insights I've had in my life, and a general sense of peace and compassion and centeredness that stayed with me for 3-4 months afterwards, even though I did not keep up the recommended daily practice.

Would I go back? Maybe. The tinkerer in me has been busy trying to reverse-engineer just why it works the way it does and how to gain access to the parts of my brain that were unlocked on days 7-9 of the 10-day course without actually committing to 10 days of silence and celibacy, but I have yet to be entirely successful. There's part of me that believes that I got what I needed to get out of the experience and don't need to repeat it, and there's another part of me that says that doing the course again will result in benefits that far exceed the cost in time and discomfort.

Should you go back? I think you missed out on the important part of the experience, and that's really a shame. If you're willing to get yourself to a state where you're mentally prepared for all of the negative things that your brain is going to bring up during a 10-day course, then I think you absolutely should do it again. But don't just do it again and hope it will be better this time. There's something that you're bringing along with you that's blocking you, and you need to find it and deal with it first. Good luck!
posted by brain at 8:36 PM on May 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Are you talking about one of those SN Goenke retreats? If that's what you did, you may try a different teaching tradition altogether. Just to mix things up a bit.
posted by piedmont at 8:59 PM on May 17, 2010

I think those sorts of retreats are for people with a daily practice who just want to have some time to go really deep into it.

If you have a curiosity about it, you should probably begin with a daily practice of it.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:27 AM on May 18, 2010

Response by poster: This is a Goenka retreat, and yes, it is aimed for first time meditators, with a goal of establishing a good 'daily practice'.

Re: Starving
The vegetarian food was delicious and plentiful (though I'd be an 'old student' if I went back, and apparently that is more restricted? :P).

Re: Pain
I am reasonably flexible, and ascertained that the *burning pain* I experienced while sitting was actually just my body being 'bored' and hyperfocusing on the sensation, I did have a lot of success with the practice taught, which was neither ignoring nor obsessing on the pain, but observing the pain in the course of observing all my bodily sensations. The pain went away completely on moving around so I figure no long term damage was being done.
There were plentiful cushions and little wooden blocks with which people built elaborate structures to avoid body parts going numb.
I would try and work on being able to do the 'lotus position' if I go again, I finally got the point of it! You can sit in it for *hours* without any circulation being cut off, unlike practically every other sitting position.

Reply to: Brain
That's what I wondered. Do I have something blocking me? Well, if so, I haven't the foggiest idea what it is, so how would I find and deal with it?
The average seemed to be that people really got some value out of it on days 7-9. I had what I thought of as a couple of 'really good' days on days 4-6, but that might be a false fixation on feeling 'good' anyway, then went on a frustrating downer, and I just wonder if I was a little behind the curve, and a couple more days would have helped?
But, it wasn't particularly negative, or stressful. I occasionally worried that I was a 'bad meditator' but felt comfortable and confident that I was trying the best *I* could, giving it attention, and accepting myself at the stage I was at, and that that was fundamentally ok.

At this point, unless I can think of something I would specifically do differently, either during or in preparation for it, 10 days is too big a commitment on the off-chance a 'few extra days' will make it click for me.
posted by Elysum at 12:51 AM on May 18, 2010

Best answer: Well, you know the technique now. Why not try it every day and see if you find yourself wanting to go deeper? A friend returned to Vipassana because she realized that in her daily meditation, all she did was clear away that day's layer of crud, and she wanted to see what was beneath it if she had time to keep going.
posted by salvia at 1:24 AM on May 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've done 5 long vipassana retreats. They have all been a challenge, but they have gotten progressively easier and less "grueling" as I've become more experienced. Each one has been enormously beneficial to me. The last one I did had a particular quality of lightness that was really amazing. The practice DOES work, but sometimes it works behind the scenes...

In group interviews, I have frequently heard people describe the experience of finally learning to let go, or finally understanding how to be gentle with themselves, or how to take their thoughts or pains less seriously - but only on the 3rd or 4th retreat. I have no idea if this would be the case for you, but you should know it is relatively common for people to struggle through the first couple retreats until things get easier.

After each of my retreats, I was absolutely certain - right away, on the day I left - that I would be back. I guess you didn't feel so positively. That doesn't mean it won't be really helpful to you; just letting you know my experience.

I do meditate every day now, and I also find that to be a Really Good Thing for me.

My retreats have all been at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, which has programs very similar in content to the Goenka retreats, but are much less "strict" and "regimented" (though DEFINITELY no less challenging). When I arrive at IMS I feel like I'm coming home -- really. I can't recommend it enough.
posted by Cygnet at 9:24 AM on May 18, 2010

Response by poster: In conclusion, I decided not to do the course again.

The reason why I wanted to do the course rather than try daily meditation, is because the course would provide an environment where that's the only thing I could do, and what I have to do, and frankly the thought of sitting an doing that meditation for even an hour a day, after 10 + 1 days of Vipassana, filled me with... wild-horses-couldn't-drag-me avoidance/revulsion/despair/hate/resistance/despair/escapism.*
Doesn't that seem like a great reason to do another course?
Luckily, Salvias answer helped me consider why I've never once managed to do the daily meditation, and once I had the thought out there, it rather obviously sounded like a terrible reason to do *another* course. Basically, I wanted to want to meditate, and have the type of breakthrough I 'heard about' rather than what I actually got from Vipassana, and like I'd 'failed Vipassana'.

I do want to keep open about other styles of meditation, some aspects of Goenka-style vipassana seem there not because it makes sense as good meditation practice, but because going through certain types of hardship have been shown to increase group compliance and conformity (eg hazing - military, fraternity and cult situations), and I think even being able to have alternated with walking meditation might have helped me not get so 'lost in my head', and I don't think I coped very well with the maximum of 6 hours sleep a night.

*Sometimes, when I'm sitting waiting somewhere, I do focus on my breathing - anapana, the movement of air across the groove under my nose. Just a little bit...
posted by Elysum at 4:34 AM on May 3, 2011

« Older BBC I-Player Time Ending Soonest   |   I am not acting type A anymore. This bothers me.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.