Goodbye World, Going to a Vipassana Meditation Retreat

vipassana meditation retreat

Thursday morning, I will be leaving to a 10 Day Vipassana Meditation Retreat from May 19th to May 30th, 2010..

During the retreat, I will be sitting, eating, walking, and sleeping by myself. I will be free from all the everyday distractions such as work, television, people, and extraneous thoughts leaving me to just face my self, whatever that is.

This particular retreat is under the organization founded by S. N. Goenka, a Burmese teacher with worldwide centers. The centers are run completely by volunteers and offer free room & board. You basically have to only sign up and find a way to get there.

To be honest, I’ve been thinking all week about writing some profound post about how amazing and life changing meditation is for all people. But, the words never came to me.

Three years ago, I went to my first 10 day meditation retreat. The meditation experience changed my life. I gave up alcohol, smoking, and fast food afterward. You could say that I meet God, but that would be an injustice. I experienced the greatest peace, bliss, and contentment of my life. I did not come out of the retreat with answers to my life questions. But I realized that those questions did not matter as much as I originally thought they were.

Life is beautiful as it is just right now.

Sometimes during my meditations, passages from the Bible, Dao De Jing, and Buddhist Sutras spontaneously came to mind, and I realized their truth on a visceral level beyond (or is beneath?) the intellect. The entire experience really cannot be put into words. The best I can hope is to inform, motivate, and inspire others to go for themselves.

So, friends, I will be gone starting Thursday for 10 days. I won’t have any email, phone, or other contact with the world.

I might have one last post in me before I leave though for tomorrow.

Helping Others Achieve Their Dreams

In the past months, I’ve realized an epiphany about how to make the world a better place. The lesson isn’t new, but I’ve internalized it with experience now.

The wrong way of trying to help people is telling them what they are doing wrong and how to correct themselves. Even if you are right. Anyone can easily find a fault in another person, “Quit smoking, drink less, eat more healthy, lose weight, exercise more, watch less television, and so on”. But talking at or talking down at people is not a productive exercise. Everyone has different referential experiences that our words are connecting to. We end up talking past each other.

The changes I’ve taken were always after extensive research and experimenting before I accepted a change was the right thing to do. But it’s hard to condense all that experience and knowledge into a single sentence for others like, “Dr Weston Price

has shown that people can have healthy, strong teeth by just changing their diet which means eating more fatty foods”. Most people just look at me weird like I’m a gullible idiot who fell for the stupidest diet.

Instead, I just aim to help people with whatever their present goals and dreams are.

When people start improving themselves and gaining a positive momentum, they will have more resources, time, and energy to take on even more projects. Eventually, life will teach them what they need to learn. Maybe, right now, they are just not in the right place to change a certain habit or problem. But, everyone with a pulse has some project they are working on.

In short, helping people with whatever their present project is is good. Rather than lecture people about the benefits of meditation, proper diet, physical exercise, or financial planning, I would rather just hear the answers to what are you trying to accomplish right now? And how can I help?

Who knows, maybe in the process of working with something on their project, you will also learn a new, positive habit too.

Growth, in all forms, is a positive thing. You cannot convince a person to grow in a particular area through logic or reason. The cause of everything we do in our life is from our emotions. Motivation and inspiration are feelings. Until another person feels the same way, they will not be open to hearing about change. So, it makes more sense to work from wherever they are starting and helping them from there.

In counseling, the first lesson of a therapist is to assume the patient’s expectations and goals rather than what you expect or want from them.

It can be a hard lesson to learn. But by stepping into their shoes, you are no longer talking at them out of an insecure need to be right but out of a feeling of empathy and compassion. Do you care more about proving you’re right or actually helping someone?

Self-Expression vs Emotional Mastery: Introduction

This post is a Cliff notes, Seth Goden version of a series of posts I am planning on writing. An amuse bouclé, if you will.

Reactive, Extraverted Types
Some of my friends are very charismatic, social, and expressive individuals. You say the wrong thing to them, they immediately get angry. Compliment them, and you’ll get an immediate smile. They are risk takers and opt for action over planning/thought. Sometimes, you may wish that they think before they speak. At the extremes, they might be described as extraverted, sensory, emotional, and spontaneous.

Responsive, Introverted Types
Others, including myself, are more reserved, calm, and thoughtful individuals. It can be hard to decode what we are thinking or how we feel. Often times, I say, “Interesting…” both when I’m annoyed and genuinely interested. We plan and think over things constantly before we begin acting. Some times, their constant planning and judging gets in the way of just living life and having fun. You could describe them as introverted, judging, and thinking based.

In worse case scenarios, the reactive, expressive group is easily manipulated and has no mental or emotional control over themselves. They’re neurotic, self-absorbed, and care only about pleasure. On the other side, the calm, reserved type never enjoys life, can’t ever emotionally connect with another human being, and look down on the mob with an elitist arrogance.

Of course, like all things in life, this is not a neat, Manichean dualism. The best leaders, teachers, and masters are fluent in self-expression, spontaneity, emotional/mental mastery, and thoughtfulness.

The challenge, I believe, is figuring out if you have a deficiency on one side and how to balance yourself out according to the situation.

My History
As a teenager, I pushed my emotions and desires away in a subconscious, locked vault. I become “contemplative” but melancholy. It had its benefits. When I had a horrible food poisoning incident in a study abroad in China, everyone commented later that they admired how well I went through the ordeal. Of course, the truth was I didn’t even have the energy to have self-pity, but that’s beside the point. As I transitioned from child to young adult, I began shutting away my emotions and didn’t let anyone in. It still takes a long time for any new friends to really get to my core “me”. It’s hard for me to be spontaneous, open, and self-expressive.

The two sides complement each other. I thin everyone starts off as a child as a reactive, animal monster. Socialization and education is necessary and good to become more responsive and thoughtful. Education should and does make people into critical, independent thinkers. However, it can go into the excess like myself of being completely shut away, detached and aloof from the world.

Of course, there are those who never learned how to control their thoughts or emotions. They assume that whatever they feel is who they are. And, for them, a different path would benefit them. All about the context.

More to Come

I Have Finished My Masters Program

I created that sign last summer when I began research for my masters thesis. Each date marks a pivotal point for my thesis progression and my life in DC.

December 1, 2009 was the deadline for my thesis rough draft.

February 22, 2010 was the deadline for my thesis final draft.

May 5, 2010 was the first day of my post-graduate life.

August 1, 2010 is the day I’m leaving DC.

Are you happy that you did the Masters Program?

I get this question often, and honestly, I’m never sure how to answer it.

After my first year, I was fairly certain that I wouldn’t continue on to get a Ph D in Philosophy or any Humanities field. Then I started to wonder if it made any sense to finish my degree then. Inertia and advice won out, and I continued on.

Three Reasons I Would Not Get a Ph D (in Humanities)

  1. Job Market is Horrible
  2. Wrong Focus of Research First, Teaching Second
  3. My Passion is in Psychology and People

Higher Education is becoming more and more of a business. Department budgets are often based on the number of students they can convince to sign up as a major. The number of students also going into Masters and Ph D programs are at a record high. For every open, decent faculty position, there’s at least a dozen, qualified Ph D candidates. Professors in the Humanities are also paid abhorrently for the amount of invested time, work, and often times, debt. Financially and career wise, academia just doesn’t make sense. All of my best professors told me that if there is anything else in the world that interests me then do that instead.

Large colleges and universities generally care about the number of credentials that their professors have rather than cultivating actually good teachers. In order to gain tenure (or just a decent salary), professors need to write books, get published, and gain fancy titles. There are almost zero resources in terms of how to become a better teacher or rewarding better teachers. I did a lot of research in graduate school, and I did not really enjoy any of it. It would take at least a dozen or more years before I feel like I have anything original to contribute. There are exceptions of course. However, the trend in every field is moving towards publish or die.

Finally, my heart was not fully in Continental Philosophy. I had no background in Philosophy and struggled my first year trying to make sense of things. My background is in technology and religious studies. You would think there’s at least some intersection between Philosophy and Religious Studies; nope. I’m very very interested in understanding the human mind. What makes people do what they do? How do you change ingrained habits? These were the questions that always interested me. Likewise, most of my thesis work both as an undergrad and graduate student were on identity formation. If I ever go back into school, it will likely be in a field related to Psychology.

Why I Am Grateful For My Past Two Years

However, as Hegel would say, every negation is a determination. Many times finding out what you don’t like is just as important on the path to discovering your true calling. I learned that I enjoy teaching and speaking in public even if I’m not the best at it right now. Along the way, I got to meet some excellent teachers and great peers and friends. I learned that I could immerse myself into a new field and thrive. I gained a respect for philosophy and changed many of my perspectives and beliefs. My Masters Thesis is a culmination of over 5 years of reflection on my identity and ethics. I jokingly tell my friends that in graduate school, I finally figured out my life philosophy. But I’m not really joking. I’ve figured out everything I needed to figure out at the moment and can take action to making my dreams into a reality now.

Finally, I learned a great deal in my extracurricular activities outside of the class. I grew by leaps and bounds in the past two years that I’m almost certain I would never have done if I stayed back in my hometown. There are so many more opportunities that a urban city offers. I become a better public speaker through ToastMasters, learned how to be more spontaneous through WIT’s Improv

, flew in the air doing Trapeze, and joined a meditation community.

There are several projects in progress over this summer and this next year. My primary goal, first and foremost, is to never stop growing.