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Creation from Procrastination 

My normal tendencies of procrastination have made me need to reevaluate some things in my life. I know what I want to be doing, and the relative steps to get where I want to be, but my mind is doing a good job keeping me stuck in a kind of almost existential paralysis.

The paralysis isn’t because of some ungodly amount of work, or because anything is intrinsically hard. I feel like it comes from a sense of knowing that setting off in this direction will cause some changes in my normal routine and lifestyle.

It’s as though my mind, fearing it’s own potential of what I can ultimately do with my life, wants to double down into self pity and feeling lost. All the while, the direction of clarity and my path out of this is as clear as it has ever been.

The nagging tension of this procrastination is starting to reach a climax, and I feel like I’m ready to change the potential energy of this stagnancy into momentum to propel me forward.

It feels like like a two sided energy. One side full of ideas, inspiration and creative flow; the other is clinging to the way I’m used to living and spending my time.

I have to make this shift to the creative flow inside of me. It’s like an energetic tickle that comes out. If I try to ignore it and just do my usual thing, than the tickle is irritating and anxiety-producing. If I focus into the feeling, it’s filled with raw ideas ready for me to mine and develop. 

Part of it is like a small voice in my ear. I get struck with an idea, and the voice tells me not to put myself out there, that I’m not good enough, and on and on. Often we want to get rid of this voice, or fight it off with our thoughts. But it can’t be about fighting the voice, as that makes it fight back harder. It’s a matter of taking in my own self doubts, and instead of letting them hinder me, use them to accelerate myself beyond how I think I am. 

I’m going to try to make it a goal of mine not to feed the anxious side of this energy. I have to focus on self expression and creation, rather than the loop of constant consumption of external media and attention grabbing we seem to be plagued with in our modern society, which ultimately drives our inner anxieties and prevents the flow of our own creativity. 

It’s not a question of having the willpower to accomplish my goals, it’s just a shift of focus of importance. To not get caught in the flashy lights and recycled novelty of our Facebook pages or Netflix, at least not as much as I used to.

And isn’t this anxious energy the same thing we are all facing individually, and as a species? We are at a point of clinging onto a dying paradigm, and seeing the immense suffering these growing pains our species is imposing on the planet . We need to step out of the adolescence of our species, and fully step into the role we need to stay on this planet, just as I need to for my next stage of development. 

If making the shift to focus on creative expression, connection, and self-fufillment can help calm the storm on an individual level, imagine what shift we could see occur in our world if we were to all work on this. Not to get trapped the same pitfalls we’ve often come to as a society, but to expand beyond our own beliefs of what we deem to be possible.

But how can we act on this shift and not revert back to our unfortunate comfort zones? Luckily we live in a time brimming with opportunities for us to connect deep internally, and through these methods try to manifest the ideal vision of how we can be in the world.

Methods such as floating, meditation, prayer, yoga and beyond can help us immensely in quieting down the monkey mind and bring us into more clarity about the predicament of our lives. Through these processes, we can tune into our rich inner worlds, manifest our true desires, and live from a place of more content-ness in our lives.

The studies coming out about floating, meditation, psychedelics and yoga are extremely promising. There is a method for everyone to get back in touch with their inner nature. May you find what works for you. 

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Double float

Today was a three and a half hour float. The 4th float I’ve had this month as part of a July Float Challenge I’m participating in. 

I relaxed quite quickly.  My breath became more and more extended until I I would get lost in the spaces between breath. How long would go by? 1 minute? 5 minutes? Time very slippery. 

Visual dreamlike lateral thinking in bright colours swirled in my vision. Like neural nets of thought association, each idea embedded in the other, like an infinite fractal lattice of thought 

Relaxing more and more I started hearing odd sounds, almost like a car driving with a window open. When I paid attention to it, it disappeared. A few minutes later it came back, but swept me up in it this time. It felt like I was being intensely rocketed through space. Almost felt like riding in a jetplane with no windshield to block the wind coming at you.  Similar to the accounts of the potent psychedelic compound N-N-Dimethyltryptamine. The force was strong, and swallowing became difficult. Managing to swallow after a bit took my focus out of the deep experience, and I was back in the tank. Unlike anything I’ve felt before. 

Out of the tank now I’m feeling deeply relaxed. Connection to  motivation I’ve  to get some work done I’ve wanted to for awhile. Moved past a level of the incessant mind-chatter and self-refrencing we constantly face. 

As I uncover deeper parts of myself through methods like floating , my focus keeps shifting more and more to what I want to manifest. How I want to live my life full of meaning that I’ve found, and ideas I want to manifest while I’m here. Connection to myself as I float seems to make me connect more externally too. 

I managed to not move at all for over 2 hours. After that point I had to readjust a few times. At the very end I began to get restless from not having got out, so I decided it was time. Checking my clock after I emerged, I got out 1 minute before my wake up time. Sometimes the body seems to know exactly when it’s time. 

Silence and insight 

Not much time is set aside in our society for silence or self reflection. Even when we have the opportunity, many of us would rather seek entertainment and distraction rather than looking into the depths of ourselves. Our habitual tendencies remain as they are, and the same patterns keep emerging in our lives. We respond in similar ways with each stress that comes up, be it the frustration you may have when talking to your parents, the way you may often play the victim, or even just how angry you get at traffic on your commute. These tendencies and patterns don’t have to be such a blind occurrence. We don’t need to be unwilling passengers to a Pavlov’s dog-like situation in our own body.

In attending these silent Vipassana retreats, you’re able to dive into the depths of yourself, see these patterns for what they are, and slowly begin to correct your response to them.

Vipassana is ‘insight meditation.’ The technique is essentially body scanning with your mind. You try to feel the sensations in every part of your body. The process starts off very slow, but as you practice more you can scan your body quite quickly. Sensations you feel don’t start with the subtleties. First you scan and mostly feel itches, pains, the feeling of clothing touching you, the ground, etc. But as you continue, you work down to the level of feeling all parts of your body very deeply.

The teacher likens the retreat to a “surgery for the mind.” You cut deep into yourself and begin to remove things that are causing your mind to react in its reactionary tendencies, and give you a new sense of freedom in yourself. The schedule seems pretty brutal, with 10 hours of sitting meditation dispersed through the day, but once the days start going by it becomes easier to get into the flow of things and actually enjoy the sits.

Every night, there is a talk by the meditation instructor, S.N. Goenka. First I was expecting the talks to be kind of dull and just about meditating, but Goenka has a very good way of conveying deeply impactful information through his use of humor and examples to drive points home and to understand beyond just the language being used. Each talk has to do with the meditation technique up to that point, experiences you may be having, and insights that the technique reveal.

Goenka mentions towards the beginning that some days people find more difficult than others pretty regularly. I found this to ring true both times I’ve gone. The first 3 days aren’t too bad, but then comes day 4. Day 4 you go from doing Anapana (breath-based) meditation, into the actual Vipassana technique. The 3 previous days of anapana allow you to feel sensations in your body incredibly deeply. First all you can feel is your breath, then slowly you start to feel things like little micro air currents, very very subtle sensations around your nose and upper lips, even down to the sensation of blood flow. Getting to this level of body awareness is key for doing Vipassana. Vipassana brings that awareness to your entire body.

What does it mean to feel so deeply each part of your body? it can be almost as if you can pinpoint down to a cell on your body and feel sensation within or energy flowing through. Goenka makes the connection of the subconscious. That the subconscious isn’t just our underlying thoughts and anxieties that creep up into our awareness from time to time, but rather it is all the simultanious processing of the body as well. Think of your breath; it is not an entirely conscious or subconscious process, as when you are not in awareness of it you continue to take in oxygen. The technique shows just how connected the mind is to each and every part of your body, and how much even just a slight discomfort in one area can really affect us and change the nature of our minds.

The goal is to be able to look at all of your sensations with an equanimous mind, that is, to feel the sensations without the attachment of liking any sensations, or aversion of any sensations. This can be extremely difficult, especially when facing an itch on your nose that just won’t seem to dissipate for a whole sit.

I had a lot of difficulty with this during times at both retreats, as does everyone else who attends. The key in this is to not judge yourself for not being able to feel sensations as much as you’d like or not have an equanimous mind. That drives a thought-loop that will keep you totally unfocused on meditation and into feelings of frustration and annoyance.

Sometimes these sensations come up in the form of deep pain in parts of your body. In my first retreat, on day 5 I started experiencing extreme explosion-feeling pain in my left knee no matter how I sat to meditate. The pain culminated to a point where I had to ask the teacher for a chair, or that I may have to go home because of how unbearable it felt.

As I said in my previous post, the retreat doesn’t preach a dogma or a particular philosophy to follow and therefore is suitable for anyone of any religious or non-religious affiliation. Goenka says that anything he talks about that you haven’t experienced for yourself and know from experience to be true you don’t have to, nor should you agree or believe it. That being said, as you begin to experience the things he talks of, then you can reconsider what he said of having some merit to it.

The teacher told me that as you do these meditation techniques, you find ‘sankaras’ in your body. These are sensations of all varieties, from pain to pleasure to itching, that are held in your body through your life from not internally dealing with issues, or any kind of clinging or aversion to sensations in the mind. So as you recoil from stresses or get attached to pleasures instead of just allowing the sensation to run its course and dissipate, these supposedly build up in your body. The Vipassana technique allows them to come to the surface, make a sensation on your body, and eventually dissipate. Through keeping an equanimous mind while scanning through these sensations, the cycle of the creation of new sankaras is ended, and allows old ones to dissipate .

So to deal with my knee pain, the teacher told me to make it through an entire hour meditation without moving, and to sit with the sensation rather than fight against it.

I thought something must have been wrong with my knee for it to be so excruciatingly painful, so my bullshit meter was on high alert. But I thought rather than back out and ask to leave the retreat that I should give it a shot and see what happens. The pain came up again in my sit following our talk, but after a time of just letting it be and continuing on with my meditating rather than fixating on the pain I was in, I felt it just melt away. It was replaced very light feeling in my knee. This kind of experience continued for all sensations throughout the retreat, making me realize more and more the idea of impermanence or ‘anicca’ in our lives that Goenka talks about through the reatreat.

Going through the days and recognizing this experientially within my own body was a powerful moment. I had gone my entire life until this point swept away by my reactions to stimuli, as we all are to some degree or another, but never had I known that it was possible to tap into the root of where our reactions lie. This was a big turning point in my life.

One of the more well known Vipassana instructiors in the west, Joseph Goldstein, says about Vipassana that “Wisdom is the clear seeing of the impermanent, conditioned nature of all phenomena, knowing that whatever arises has the nature to cease. When we see this impermanence deeply, we no longer cling; and when we no longer cling, we come to the end of suffering.”

The technique makes sense on a neurological level too. As we become able to simply observe sensations, from exploding knee pain to feelings of pure bliss, without feelings of attachment or dislike or reaction, it changes our brain. Instead of neurons firing in the same patterns from stimuli, you open up new possibilities ways for neurons to fire rather than the habitual route it would take. Studies like this one and many others are showing results like neuroplasticity, changes in brain regions to do with attention, stimuli processing, amygdala response and more as people continue their meditation practice.

One of the most interesting aspects of the retreat was the incredible increase in dream awareness and vividness. Rather than waking up and being able to remember fleeting fragments of a dream, I found myself upon sleeping immediately coming into awareness of the dreams that I would enter, and have lucid control within them. For me it wasn’t just a slight increase in dream awareness, it’s as if through the technique and getting more body awareness, I became more able to see my continual subconscious processing in this visual way immediately upon sleeping during the retreat. I have never experienced that level of dream recall/vividness/awareness in my life. I’ll make a post some other time about some of these sort of experiences some other time.

But the retreat isn’t just meditation, pain, and dreams. It’s possible to drop into some quite weird psychedelic-like states. I had an interesting and quite puzzling experience during my first retreat that continued on after my time there. Around the 7th day, as I was meditating I would start to see opalescent phosephene-like images with my eyes closed. Started of looking like people gathering into the meditation hall, but would slowly start to turn into amazing swirling geometric patterns. Each millisecond was like a beautiful art piece I would never be able to see again. There were incredibly intricate patterns that started taking up my whole vision. After my meditations from that point, I would still see the swirling opalescent colours. It was almost like a shimmery rainbow over everything that I saw. It was placed almost like a filter over my vision. Almost as if I could see the intricacies of what made up each colour I would look at. In dark rooms, or looking at black white surfaces it would become very apparent and distracting. This lasted for about 2 weeks after the retreat, and I sometimes feel like I’m on the edge of being able to see the colours, especially when certain colour combinations are present,

But with experiences like this and others I’ve had at the retreat or throughout life, the integration aspect and coming back into life is the most important part. It’s not about re-entering your daily reality and going back into the habitual patterns, thoughts and actions as you had before but now as some kind of “serious meditator”. The key with any retreats like this, psychedelic journeying, yoga, etc, is to try to bring the insights you get from these peak experiences into how you live daily at base-level reality. Sure maybe you had an experience of dissolving into pure bliss, seeing beautiful psychedelic colour vision, having your heart opened and crying for 45 minutes straight, or maybe even catching a glimpse into your personal-hell you hold yourself in so often, but each of these experiences are fleeting. The experience means nothing after the fact unless you are able to align your life afterwards, and use these experiences as catalysts to grow as a person, not to cling onto and get stuck in.

This doesn’t mean that going to a retreat is going to solve all of your problems. Like anything, meditation is a practice that takes time. But through practising the method, from that point on you’re able to slowly train yourself to react less, begin to make aware responses to any stimuli you are faced with, and live in the stillness of your own mind even in the midst of the turbulence of every day life.

 

Vipassana 

Silence is a rare commodity in our modern world. With lots of people working two jobs as a norm, going to school, running around doing extra errands almost every day, many of us don’t have much time for ourselves. When we end up with some time for ourselves, often we seek out an easy form of entertainment to distract us from our inner dialogue, or drinking and partying to wind down the week and have some fun before returning to the weekly grind. Our inner anxieties grow as we distract ourselves and avoid looking at them, making a cycle of increasing anxiety and less of an ability to deal with it.

The world is not how it was in our parents generation and beyond. The permeation of technology into our society has completely changed how we view the world, ourselves, and our free time. The internet has brought our distant neighbours right to our doorstep. Nearly all of human information is available on a piece of electronics and glass we keep in our pocket. Daily we hear of shocking headlines, gossip, corruption, bombing, murders, tragedies..

We don’t have the time to deal with the emotional impact of this bombardment of the senses. Many of us become desensitised to the strife, while our attention spans continually decrease.

Many of us don’t remember, or haven’t been alive before internet use became widespread. How many of us have had a week away from any kind of technology? Half a week? Even a day? How often do we give time for ourselves to really feel what is going on internally, rather than retreating to external simple pleasures?

I certainly hadn’t experienced much time away from distraction and technology before. But after reading about these silent Vipassana retreats, I thought I should see for myself what time away from my normal behavioural patterns would be like.  The course is taught post-mortem by S.N. Goenka, and although it is from a Buddhist tradition, the course is not about becoming a Buddhist. There is no dogma associated, it’s just about learning the raw technique. This means that you can be of any religious or non-religious persuasion and still get a large amount of benefits from it. Each day follows pretty much the same schedule, but the meditation instructions deepen every day, taking the full 10 days to understand the depth of the technique.

Silent retreat doesn’t just mean no talking. At the retreat you’re not supposed to have any reading materials, or anything write anything down in. The retreat is about making the conditions to approximate mental silence, rather than only outward silence. This also means doing your best to avoid eye contact with people, or any kind of body language and gesturing.

That being said, there is time every day that you can have a 1 on 1 interview with one of the assistant meditation teachers. They are really helpful in answering questions to do with the technique, clarifications you may need, or help through any struggle you may be facing. You can also talk to the men or women’s manager if you have any concerns about more general things.

The course is free for attendee’s which was one of the reasons I felt okay to take the plunge. It’s paid for by donations of anyone who has taken a course in the past, or if you want to donate at the end of your first retreat.

This is pretty incredible considering the fact that they feed and house you for 10 days. It’s worth mentioning too that the food is excellent. They’re all vegetarian meals through the week to help keep your body clean and not feel to heavy while meditating. By the end of the 10 days, you feel in a very clear mindspace, both from the meditating and just how well you eat through the time. Both times I’ve gone there have been build-your-own-taco/burrito days, delicious soups and curries, shepherds pie, apple crumble, and on and on. Even in my lowest points psychologically during the retreats, I always found that sitting down to have some food and tea brought be right back to a content awareness.

The time at the retreat works as a much needed reset from our hectic modern lives. You are able to get in touch with yourself. People are able to get to a point where they can see their inner worries, anxieties, frustrations and desires for what they are in clear sight. It gives one an opportunity to strip away the bullshit they tell themselves every day, and pierce into the root of the issues themselves.

I came back with a renewed outlook on life. The benefits didn’t just end with the last day of the retreat, but rather these experiences work as catalysts of how to live better and treat yourself and others in a better way. The normal reactions we would have from annoyances, or any kind of turbulence in our life we come away with an increased ability to deal with. A way to calm and bring equanimity to the churning waters of our minds.

Retreats aren’t a panacea or cure all for our issues, but it can help us tune back into ourselves, and allow us to live in a more gentle and aware way going forward.

There are hundreds of these Vipassana centres around the world operating year round, more than 1 in many countries. In terms of my own personal development, there are few experiences that have been as important than these retreats. Consider taking the plunge, everyone needs a reset sometime.

For more on my personal experience at the retreat and more about the method itself, stay tuned for part 2!

Float

Floating is incredible.

After working for some awful business owners, I’ve gained employment at a float centre in Vancouver called Float House. Over the coming months I’ll be floating as much as I can and reflecting on the experiences of floating and other key experiences and practices in my development.

Every day we are surrounded by distraction. From work and school to family obligations and beyond, many of us are running around without a good means to deal with stress that builds up from our day to day lives.

How often do we truly give time for ourselves? How often do we even take a walk without the headphones in or a phone on us – to just see, observe and be present with the day?

Although new technologies are incredible and worth being in the know about, we still have to do what we can to not get lost in a sea of distraction, and to tune in with ourselves from time to time.There are many different ways to tune into yourself. Methods such as yoga and meditation, Tai Chi and Qi Gong, psychedelic medicines, floating, etc.

Of course not all technology is inherently a distraction. There are ‘spiritual technologies’ which can tune you in to more awareness as well, from biofeedback, float tanks, and even the idea of psychedelics as technologies.

Floating is essentially meditation (just as anything can be an object of meditation), except rather than trying to keep a straight and engaged spine while trying to fight gravity and back pains, meditation in a float tank allows you to let go further than most would normally be able to while doing sitting meditation.

Some equate the experience to floating in zero gravity. A thousand pounds of epsom salt is dissolved into the water making the water extremely buoyant, allowing for release of all your muscle tension through the time spent in the float chamber. The water is heated to roughly skin temperature, and after about 30 minutes it seems as though the mind forgets where your skin ends and the water begins, allowing a further releasing and relaxation to occur.

The environment of the chamber allows you to reach a very relaxed state, your brain being able to spend much time producing deep rest theta waves while maintaining awareness. On top of this, floats are typically 90 minutes long, much longer than most people would meditate for regularly until much further into their practice. This, coupled with the ability for your body to release into the experience makes for an incredible way to tune back into your body and rest from the constant stream of sensory input we live with day to day.

In these deeply relaxing states, we are able to get away from the constant river of thought, observe our subconscious processing and see our mind as a flowing thing rather than being caught in the torrents of our mind-contents.

The experience is a chance to step away from your brain’s constant self-refrencing that drives our inner narrative, and much of our inner anxieties. Giving time to rest away from this stimulus can affect many parts of your life. From relationships and family, to work life, and even just how you relate to and treat yourself.

However,  just like with any of these practices, the benefits compound over time. One experience may help you feel rested and alert, but through repeated floats is where the effects really spill into your day to day life. Just like with meditating, one 30 minute sit isn’t going to solve your anxiety problems, but through repeated exposure we can really get in touch with some deeper levels of ourselves.

Float centres are becoming much more commonplace, so if this interests you you may not have to look far to turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.