Vipassana Meditation a waste of time

 
Lockwood
 
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Lockwood
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25 January 2019 14:01
 

If I knew how to send Sam Harris a letter directly it would be the one below. I suppose there’s a chance he might see it and even respond, but I’d also be interested in what other people think of my experience and my very genuine dilemma.

Dear Sam Harris

I have enjoyed your podcasts and books so I have respect for and tend to agree with your views political and otherwise. As you have often recommended Vipassana meditation I decided to attend a ten day retreat as taught by S.N.Goenka at Dhamma Dipa in Herefordshire, England. Having completed the ten days I am writing express how truly baffled I am at why you promote this practice.

The day ran from 4 am to 9 pm, involving up to eleven hours a day of meditation
For the first two days we concentrated on the sensations of itches and tingles that we felt in the upper lip area. Then the next two days on the itches and tingles on the triangular area around the upper lip and nose. On day four, as we moved to observe these same sensations in various areas of our body the reasoning behind this practice was revealed: the itches and tingles are “defilements” called shankaras, abstract fear, anger, passions and embodied negative emotions, and the actual process of observing these itches and tingles will release the negativity and it will pass away, the ultimate purpose being that we can have a better rebirth when we die.

Well I don’t need my degree in Experimental Psychology to know this is claptrap. However I decided to stay the course in the expectation of some further more practical or experiential lessons to be learned.  Surely, I thought as each day passed, there is more to it than this. It must develop into some insight into the mind, my self, or something, anything. But no, day after day the method of scanning and observing the itches and tingles up and down, left to right, back to front was introduced but no further enlightenment was given aside from lectures assuring us that this was doing us all a lot of good. By day eight I voiced my concern about the monotony of the process and was told if I felt bored I should observe the boredom and it would pass and then I should go back to observing the itches and tingles.

But at the end of the ten days I had had no insight nor the slightest degree of enlightenment. I don’t need ten days of monotony to know that one hundred hours of observing itches and tingles and numbness and pain is boring so my mind will wander and distract itself: this is a trivial lesson to learn, and one I already knew. Surely it is a sign of human intelligence and creativity that the mind will seek diversion when bored, and conversely a sign of mental illness to be able to repeat and endure tedious and pointless actions non-stop without being disturbed.

Of course to the Buddhists attending this was not pointless or disturbing because it was the means to an end - a better rebirth next time around. But to anyone else this can only be a complete waste of time. Or did I miss something and if so what?  I started the course with few preconceptions and with a mind open to learning or even just experiencing something new. I did not expect pure enlightenment but I did expect something beyond boredom and frustration, some “insight” which was not after all forthcoming.

I believe I have wasted ten days of my life and I feel that as you have been a vocal proponent of Vipassana you would do me a favour, and I’m sure others in my situation who have trusted your judgement and advice, if you could explain how someone as intelligent as you are, can put up with ten days or longer periods of tedium and repetition and then recommend it to others.

If you are unable to reply to this letter, perhaps you could address this in a podcast. Secular people shouldn’t really have “faith” in others but this has severely undermined my faith in your judgement.

With friendly best wishes,

KL

 
EN
 
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EN
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25 January 2019 17:35
 

Sam is not going to respond to you here, or anywhere else, for that matter.

 
GAD
 
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GAD
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25 January 2019 18:36
 
EN - 25 January 2019 05:35 PM

Sam is not going to respond to you here, or anywhere else, for that matter.

In any case all people who sell bullshit do is say you must be doing it wrong i.e. it’s you not their bullshit that’s the problem.

 
 
hannahtoo
 
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hannahtoo
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26 January 2019 10:17
 

Of course, everyone is different.  Some people imprisoned in solitary confinement go crazy.  Others go on to become president of a country.

 
GAD
 
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GAD
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26 January 2019 10:28
 
hannahtoo - 26 January 2019 10:17 AM

Of course, everyone is different.  Some people imprisoned in solitary confinement go crazy.  Others go on to become president of a country.

What do you think the statistics of that are? I mean how many people imprisoned in solitary confinement go on be president, or anything useful for that matter. I’m going to guess millions to one, so not really very effective in my view.

 
 
Cheshire Cat
 
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Cheshire Cat
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26 January 2019 12:06
 

I’ve been doing Vipassana meditation going on 12 years now.

I don’t find it a waste of time. Quite the opposite.

 
 
hannahtoo
 
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27 January 2019 08:23
 
GAD - 26 January 2019 10:28 AM
hannahtoo - 26 January 2019 10:17 AM

Of course, everyone is different.  Some people imprisoned in solitary confinement go crazy.  Others go on to become president of a country.

What do you think the statistics of that are? I mean how many people imprisoned in solitary confinement go on be president, or anything useful for that matter. I’m going to guess millions to one, so not really very effective in my view.

I don’t know about the statistics, but many POW’s survived terrible circumstances and went on to lead productive lives.  One became a US Senator and ran for President.  Other soldiers end up with disabling PTSD.  I don’t know what makes the difference in these cases.  My point, however, is that how a mind reacts to circumstances—from calm meditation to extreme duress—depends as much on the mind as the circumstances. 

Probably Vipassana meditation is not right for the poster.  But maybe it’s great for other people.  Personally, I have never had the patience for sitting meditation.  But I have gotten benefits from long solo walks, which some people might consider to be a sort of walking meditation.

 
dazpetty
 
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dazpetty
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24 February 2019 01:05
 

If you already understand the nature of the wandering mind, if you already know how to sort of detatch yourself from your thoughts and let them pass you by like clouds in the sky instead of interacting with them, then you already get the philosophical component of meditation, there’s not really anything left to learn at that point and you essentially just need to practice the exercise, like strengthening a muscle to allow your mind and brain to produce a more tranquil life experience.

I’ve never been to a Vipassana meditation retreat, but I’m understanding that atheists and skeptics generally view it as a brain exercise.

 
Kewlguitar
 
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Kewlguitar
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05 August 2019 13:39
 

You did miss quite a number of things about the concept of Vipassana Meditation…. First of all:

To go on a TEN DAY FOR FIFTEEN HOURS A DAY Vipassana Meditation workshop with no prior experience is certainly unproductive, useless and completely missing the point…

The same thing would’ve happened if you went on a “Learning the guitar/piano” workshop under the same circumstances… You would’ve learned barely anything of real value by the end… It would also be very boring: under such curcumstances, you would be practising very mechanical and repetitive exercises day in, day out.  It’s too much information for too long every day in too short a period of overall time to be any good at all…

Like any skill, we’ll take learning a musical instrument for now, the most effective way to learn and reap the benefits is to start very small… 5 minutes a day of practice. Learn SOME theory to go with practice as you go. As you progress through your practice, you build bite-sized skills one on top of the other… Eventually, you will naturally practise for longer periods of time and over the course of YEARS, all these bite-sized skills and pieces of theoretical information combined together are what allow you to be a great musician and play whatever you want, whenever you want and even compose music/songs.  You cannot take a 10-day workshop for 15 hours a day and expect to play the whole 25 minutes of Moonlight Sonata by Ludwig Van Beethoven by the end… Or even just the first 5 minutes of the popular first movement of the piece. Yet other people can just look at sheets of paper and play the whole 25-minute piece even if it’s the first time they ever play it… But these people have been playing their instrument, learning their theory and honing their craft for many years.

You can apply the same principle to physical exercise. We’ve all done it: the “that’s-it-from-today-I’m-exercising-every-day”... You go for an hour run and then you lift the heaviest weights that you can… What happens after one day? Soreness and never wanting to exercise ever again… Until next year and you get another “health epiphany” that is… And fail again. The proper way again is to start small, run a bit and lift maybe a quarter of your maximum capacity and gradually increase over the weeks and months and years.

We’re naturally inclined to change very little at one time… Bite-sized changes and new pieces of information are better processed and assimilated than a mountain of paperwork or 15-hour endless discourses. You’ll learn and practise a whole lot more and better if you do it 10 minutes a day for one year rather than 15 hours a day for 10 days…

Sam also rightfully says that meditating (properly) for extended periods of time in a day, say hours, can be a very disturbing experience if you’re not ready to face and understand certain things about yourself… Especially your weaknesses and past traumas… “Vipassana” simply means “Insight” and as you get resonably good at the practice, the number of brilliant insights you receive during meditation is plentiful. I often have to stop my meditation session to take down notes of insights I received. Other times, I have to resist the urge of getting out of meditation to jot something down because as appealing as the insight feels in the moment, upon more inspection, it’s not pertinent enough to get out of state to note it down.

Again, that’s after 3 years of meditation. I didn’t start with Vipassana… I just started Meditation as an exercise to relax, decompress and sleep… I had no idea that there was more to the practice than just relaxation and maybe a bit of self-suggestion, until one day, “something” awakened in me… I cannot explain what that is… So add to it that there’s a lot to meditation that is based on abstraction and that makes its properties even harder to explain.. No one can really explain or prove (yet) what it is like to be in a state of Meditation… Or attaining “Samadhi”... It doesn’t mean it’s not extremely useful or doesn’t yield incredible results… But like everything, you have to do it a little at a time… We can go into the theory but it will mean nothing until you can experience it for yourself. I can explain to you that C Major, A minor, E minor and G Major go very well together musically and there’s a scientific reason as to why which I can explain here but won’t because if you cannot actually play those chords on an instrument, this information is useless to you.

Similarly, for you to understand and reap the benefits of Meditation, you have to start small and practise daily… There are many health benefits to it (plenty of studies have proven the health benefits of daily Meditation), however there is “more” which you have to experience for yourself by practising… Meditation is maximizing your efficiency in everything you do, finding “your true purpose in this life”, maximizing the pleasure you get out of things you enjoy and simultaneously minimizing the otherwise monumentously painful, crippling and paralyzing effects of the worst day of your life… But again, this information means nothing until you can experience it for yourself THE RIGHT WAY: a little bit every day.

Try Insight Timer. It’s a free phone app which contains a ton of guided meditations, lessons and more. Again, do just a bit every day… No more than 10 minutes to start with. For the first week or 2, I recommend more like 2 minutes of just closing your eyes and completely relaxing and letting go to start. Eventually, in a year or so, you may wish to pick up Sam’s app: Waking Up - With Sam Harris.

Meditation is a skill, not an innate trait that you either have or don’t have… Which means you can learn it with a proper method and it also means it never stops evolving because, as a skill, you can always get better at it.

I hope this gives you more “insight” as to why your 10-day, 15 hours/day workshop failed to be of any value. However, I hope you caught a glimpse of why it is crucial to practise daily Meditation and the prospect of greatness which it can deliver to you.

Cheers.

Lockwood - 25 January 2019 02:01 PM

If I knew how to send Sam Harris a letter directly it would be the one below. I suppose there’s a chance he might see it and even respond, but I’d also be interested in what other people think of my experience and my very genuine dilemma.

Dear Sam Harris

I have enjoyed your podcasts and books so I have respect for and tend to agree with your views political and otherwise. As you have often recommended Vipassana meditation I decided to attend a ten day retreat as taught by S.N.Goenka at Dhamma Dipa in Herefordshire, England. Having completed the ten days I am writing express how truly baffled I am at why you promote this practice.

The day ran from 4 am to 9 pm, involving up to eleven hours a day of meditation
For the first two days we concentrated on the sensations of itches and tingles that we felt in the upper lip area. Then the next two days on the itches and tingles on the triangular area around the upper lip and nose. On day four, as we moved to observe these same sensations in various areas of our body the reasoning behind this practice was revealed: the itches and tingles are “defilements” called shankaras, abstract fear, anger, passions and embodied negative emotions, and the actual process of observing these itches and tingles will release the negativity and it will pass away, the ultimate purpose being that we can have a better rebirth when we die.

Well I don’t need my degree in Experimental Psychology to know this is claptrap. However I decided to stay the course in the expectation of some further more practical or experiential lessons to be learned.  Surely, I thought as each day passed, there is more to it than this. It must develop into some insight into the mind, my self, or something, anything. But no, day after day the method of scanning and observing the itches and tingles up and down, left to right, back to front was introduced but no further enlightenment was given aside from lectures assuring us that this was doing us all a lot of good. By day eight I voiced my concern about the monotony of the process and was told if I felt bored I should observe the boredom and it would pass and then I should go back to observing the itches and tingles.

But at the end of the ten days I had had no insight nor the slightest degree of enlightenment. I don’t need ten days of monotony to know that one hundred hours of observing itches and tingles and numbness and pain is boring so my mind will wander and distract itself: this is a trivial lesson to learn, and one I already knew. Surely it is a sign of human intelligence and creativity that the mind will seek diversion when bored, and conversely a sign of mental illness to be able to repeat and endure tedious and pointless actions non-stop without being disturbed.

Of course to the Buddhists attending this was not pointless or disturbing because it was the means to an end - a better rebirth next time around. But to anyone else this can only be a complete waste of time. Or did I miss something and if so what?  I started the course with few preconceptions and with a mind open to learning or even just experiencing something new. I did not expect pure enlightenment but I did expect something beyond boredom and frustration, some “insight” which was not after all forthcoming.

I believe I have wasted ten days of my life and I feel that as you have been a vocal proponent of Vipassana you would do me a favour, and I’m sure others in my situation who have trusted your judgement and advice, if you could explain how someone as intelligent as you are, can put up with ten days or longer periods of tedium and repetition and then recommend it to others.

If you are unable to reply to this letter, perhaps you could address this in a podcast. Secular people shouldn’t really have “faith” in others but this has severely undermined my faith in your judgement.

With friendly best wishes,

KL

[ Edited: 09 August 2019 16:02 by Kewlguitar]
 
Lockwood
 
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Lockwood
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10 October 2019 01:47
 

Kewlguitar,
Thank you for taking the time and trouble to write such a thoughtful and considered response to my post. I’m sorry it has taken me some time to respond and thank you, but my intense reaction to the retreat left me with a lot of negative feelings to process and I needed some time away from the whole business. However your post and the very useful guidance in it has helped. It is good advice and I am taking your suggestions on board and restarting meditation from the beginning in a slower and more methodical manner and I’ll see what happens. Thanks again and my best wishes to you.
Lockwood

 
Twissel
 
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Twissel
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10 October 2019 02:06
 

Enlightenment in Ten Days or Money Back!

 
 
Kewlguitar
 
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Kewlguitar
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12 October 2019 02:01
 

Hey Lockwood,

You’re reconsidering Meditation and I’m glad you are man. Yes it’s perfectly understandable why you would be off-put by your experience of the Vipassana Meditation retreat. Who wouldn’t be? You invested your precious time and money into something meaningful and they cheated you. If you told me the website of the “service” who offers those “retreats”, I would write to them and tell them the disservice they’re doing to the community and that they’re thieves and crooks. I’m sorry you had to go through that.

However, there is a reason why you decided to go there in the first place; this feeling that there is more to this life that most of us are just not accessing. There’s this feeling that there’s this something that just quite doesn’t fit in our Cartesian view of the world we live in. The more human beings who “wake up”, the better for everyone… For all of us. Society will simply function better, smoother and as a more cohesive unit. I recommend going into it slowly and for very short periods of time to start but also go into it with an open mind right from the start. There are things and states of being that you will likely experience that won’t make logical sense, yet you will feel it right from the core in your whole being and you’ll simply know that it’s true. As wth all things, picking the habit is the most difficult part. Daily practice is key. It’s fine if you miss some days here and there but the more regular you are with your practice the more quality results you will get, of course. Again, I recommend the “Insight Timer” phone app to start with which contains thousands of guided Meditations. There are so many different categories on there as well to choose from many different belief systems. It literally changed my life. As you get more comfortable and confident with the practice of Meditation, you may then decide that you want a direction and method to help you reach new heights. At that time, you may decide to subscribe to the “Waking Up - With Sam Harris” app. It’s not exactly cheap but I’ve come to consider it an essential part of my life. It teaches you what the “goal” of Meditation is… Knowing the end game on a logical level alone won’t get you there any faster, if it were this way you would be left with the hole rather than the donut anyway. Nevertheless, I still use Insight Timer as well to this day.

Enjoy your journey, Lockwood grin

Lockwood - 10 October 2019 01:47 AM

Kewlguitar,
Thank you for taking the time and trouble to write such a thoughtful and considered response to my post. I’m sorry it has taken me some time to respond and thank you, but my intense reaction to the retreat left me with a lot of negative feelings to process and I needed some time away from the whole business. However your post and the very useful guidance in it has helped. It is good advice and I am taking your suggestions on board and restarting meditation from the beginning in a slower and more methodical manner and I’ll see what happens. Thanks again and my best wishes to you.
Lockwood

[ Edited: 12 October 2019 02:18 by Kewlguitar]