From August 17th to the 29th, I was taking a meditation course near Battambang in Cambodia. This is the brand of vipassana meditation taught by S.N. Goenka - there are similar meditation centers in Nepal and India, and also in Texas, but I needed a change of scenery. I was taking the long route back home to the United States.
I was there for ten full days, and I spent about 12 hours a day meditating alongside 120 Cambodians and five foreigners. We were under a vow of silence that included a ban on reading, writing, or making eye contact with the other meditators (we were occasionally given the opportunity to ask our instructors questions, but I found them difficult to speak to and I usually declined).
I learned a lot, but I found it very difficult and stressful, especially towards the end of the course when I began experiencing some anxiety. The main thing I learned after ten days was that experiential insight meditation is not bunk; there is something very powerful and potentially useful there, but it requires more dedication and mental stability than I can spare at this point in my life. After it was over, I went to a computer and typed up notes nonstop for about six hours. I also sketched some Vipassana Comix, which I think give a general impression of my experience.
The comic below details the evolution of my ability to meditate through the course, symbolized by the size and clarity of the thought bubble that contains the word विपश्यना (vipassana). Of course, other random thoughts started cropping up as well, from cravings to the mundane to the weird and random, and I did my best to put them aside:
Some notes about the meditation course and the things I did to occupy myself during the short breaks between meditation sessions:
In vipassana we learned to feel sensations on the surface of our skin, sensations that correspond to positive or negative emotions. We would scan the entire body from top to bottom, starting with the top of the head:
But we were supposed to view these sensations 'equanimously,' meaning that we do not react with craving or aversion to them. This is difficult to do if, say, your butt hurts a lot (like it does). Also, when you progress a little more and begin to feel deeper, subtler, pleasant sensations, it is almost impossible not to crave these sensations in opposition to the usual butt pain-type of sensations. For me this lead to craving for not-craving:
We were allowed to speak to our instructors once every few days, and although they spoke English very well I found them difficult to confide in. I think that ideally this sort of course should be taken in a familiar culture and setting:
Rather than quieting down over the long days of concentration and silence, I found that my imagination went into overdrive. Without warning, bizarre thoughts and ideas began to come into my head. A few of the Vipassana Comix I drew as a result are displayed below: