How a tech-detox has changed my life
My 10-day Vipassana retreat
I’ve felt that this it will be an interesting experience from the moment I’ve registered 4 months before. It was 12AM, and my friend warned me to be fast, as all the available spots will be occupied instantly.
But I haven’t thought this is gonna turn into the most transformative experience from my last 10 years.
I’ve been working in tech, surrounded by technology and looking at various displays for the last 11 years. I’ve decided I have to take another break. The last important break was back in 2006 when I took a social-detox that was even more impactful then this one. Who am I? Coffee, milk or sugar? Cause staying all the time with friends, relatives and colleagues is surely helping, but it also producing a lot of noise, without allowing me to understand my own melody.
Back then, I’ve resisted almost an year without having a social life.
I am spoiled by the Universe.
In my outside world I have harmony, courage, love, an incredibly supportive wife, two wonder kids, a great team, financial success, health and challenging projects at my own start-up that aims to the moon. But I felt this is the right time for a big break.
A friend of mine told me what is gonna be all about. The most appealing thing to me was the 10 days of noble silence. No phone, no allowance to speak to anyone rather than the teacher for a few minutes a day. So I was completely committed to stay till the end, no matter what.
We were 100 people.
Men and women. Most of them, over 30 years old.
The first day: my mind is a crazy kangaroo
The schedule implied 11 hours for meditation every day, waking up at 4AM every day and the 2nd (and last) meal of the day at 11AM.
To be honest, in the first day, I’ve thought this technique is a complete bullshit. How could you just stay here for hours, without doing anything but watching your breath and gain freedom from all illusions? What’s the deal with this Buddha, anyway?
Luckily, my patience and curiosity helped me to resist.
I couldn’t watch my breath. Every time, my mind was running from the present moment:
Will Cami (my wife) manage to bring the kids to that summer camp? Will the guys at work be able to launch the new automated audit project? What time is it? I am hungry. I am thirsty. This guy is making too much noise. My leg hurts. Past or future, here or there, inside or outside, everything was an opportunity for my mind to jump and hunt diversity without me even noticing. Sometimes it took even 20 minutes to get back to the present moment.
Until noon, I managed to stay in the present moment and watch my breath for only 30 seconds. So, I’ve started counting.
And I was proud of myself: 200 breaths in a row was the record till the end of the first day.
Then Goenka’s teaching landed in the evening, to ruin my achievement: just watch your breath. No visualisation, no verbalisation, no counting, no nothing. Just observe what’s inside, without adding anything to it. Just remain aware of the impermanence — arising and passing away. Breath going in, breath going out.
At 9PM, I was completely tired, like after 2 days of intense work. My mind was exhausted.
It seemed like a game to me. A totally different experience. I was sharing the room with 7 other unknown guys. I knew the name of only one of them. So my mind started to have fun by adding nicknames: Enrique Iglesias, Nowhere-without-the-cushion, Captain America, Home Alone, Yellow Mug, etc. It was very funny to see how my mind was commenting and transforming the environment inside my mind.
The second day: Mind your freaking business, Valentin!
In the second day, I’ve managed to get there, in the zone. Not without noticing that, in the inside world, you can’t hire someone to do stuff for you. As an entrepreneur, I used to solve things I can’t do well by finding more talented people than I am (I think that is actually one of the most important things an entrepreneur should do: to recognise what he’s terrible at and to find good professionals to make it happen).
Having so much time, I realised that the commenting mind was constantly kidnapping me from my practice. Thanks to my commitment to stay in my inner world, I’ve had a small revelation while I was slowly enjoying a peach at dinner. I am here for me, but I keep on watching the outside world or the characters my mind is constructing. What’s wrong with you, Valentin?
Well, what’s wrong is that you are doing what you’re always doing. You don’t mind your own business, you are too curious, you feed yourself with human connections. Like in real life. You don’t have your phone to check email or social media, but you keep on commenting over what’s happening, instead of being aware and happy with what it is, as it is.
The practice started to work. Not only that I was watching my breath, but I’ve also started to feel how the air is colder when it gets in and warmer when it gets out. And realise how my nostrils are my gates to life. No air, no life for you, Sir!
Accompanied only by my breath, I’ve understood at an experimental level that my body is hiding a whole functional universe, that works perfectly without my intervention and that hasn’t got too much attention from my end since this life started.
Actually, that’s how my life looks my life from the time allocation perspective: the inside world versus outside world
The third day: Attachment is present at all the levels
The first guy I’ve met was guy that left Romania 30 years ago to settle in Australia. He got to this retreat for his wife. She wanted to become a monk after 4 years of practice. He loved her and wanted to sync with her. He resisted till the morning of the 3rd day. I suspected is gonna be hard for him, as he got there in an effort to share the same path as her.
He was such good teacher for me- as I was observing how my mind is crafting the best scenarios and attaches me to them.
I literally couldn’t concentrate on my meditation in the first half an hour of that morning because I was having all sort of feelings towards the guy. Pity, compassion, regret, affection. For a guy I’ve met 3 days before and talked for 15 minutes to him, while we enjoyed a bowl of vegetable soup and found out from him that the beef meat is causing directly and indirectly 70% of the CO2 emissions. A valuable insight emerged there for me. Not about pollution.
I am attaching very fast to people. Not only that I am attaching, but I also considered all my life that is actually OK to be attached. And that attachment means affection. Or love.
It doesn’t, Valentin. It only means that your place your happiness in the hands of other persons or stuff from the outside world.
Attachment is not affection. It’s postponed suffering.
Air = legal ecstasy
In the third day we were allowed to meditate in our rooms for a few hours.
Near my window it was a river, so I’ve chosen this over staying in the meditation hall, because my place was near the entrance and most of the new students had trouble meditating for long periods of time, so they heavily used the rule to take a walk for 5 minutes if they can’t make it anymore.
So, I’ve started to meditate in the room. Step by step, I got into a strange flow state, where I was just watching the breath as it goes in and goes out, with the impermanence in mind. And as I was watching my breath, I started to FEEL like my body was getting bigger and bigger with every breath I took.
The room mates got in, went to the bathroom, took a fire extinguisher and placed it at the entrance to leave the door open, making a lot of noise. All sorts of sounds, moving, but they were not outside anymore. My perception was that the were inside me. I was feeling like my body is a growing donut that was “eating” everything around: the bed, the guys, the room, the building. 12 years since my last joint, but this was 20 levels upper, with no chemicals involved.
After this experience, I got to the teacher to tell him about my victory. Surprise: he wasn’t surprised at all. He said that many students are getting in this states, but the technique aims to other things. What other things? What can be better than this incredibly intense sensations?
Now is everything
I started to ask myself: What other things? You know what? This guy doesn’t know what I’m feeling at all. It was ecstasy. What does he know about it? So that made me asked like a marketer: What’s the unique value proposition for Vipassana, anyway? Where is this journey leading me? So, I’ve went there to simply ask him.
And this was the moment. Not the one before, with the sensation of bliss and floating in space. This one, when he answered me:
It will bring you HERE. In this present moment. But FREE.
His face was only a smile and his eyes was sparkling.
I thanked him while I was laughing and left with the gem in my mind, promising to myself not to forget it again:
Now is everything. Everything else it’s a projection, an illusion, a diurnal dream.
After that moment, I’ve had 3 other blissful moments that were incredibly vivid: a journey to my past, making peace with some painful things I completely forgot. A cosmic travel into a world where two beings that looked like father and son were literally evolving from the planet’s surface, like trees, talking to me about the unified field and super-consciousness and another one that I will talk about later, as it is the most intense one. But, despite those strange and incredible moments, I am the most grateful for this comprehension that I’ve felt even with my skin: my pattern of mind pulls me out every time from the present moment. I am not living. I am daydreaming. I am not free if I am constantly chasing for more future sensations, future feelings, people, rewards, stuff. Stuff? Yep. Stuff.
Trapped in my own dream
I am fooled by the same trap as most of us. The trap is called imagination. Or dream. Or call it however you want. The amusing part is that you see tons of motivational quotes about how good dreams are: “Go ahead”; “Follow your dream!”; “Live your dream!”; “Dream on!”; “Create your future!”; “Your dream can come true!” :)
Picture this: you get in this life, you can’t move, you can’t talk, you can’t walk, but there are two nice people that take care of you, they think they are your parents and they tell you that you are human baby. And that you need to eat, to dress up, to do stuff, to grow up, to go to school, to get a job, to marry and to have your own kids. And then you will need to convince them to eat, dress-up, do stuff, go to school, get a job, marry, have kids, and so on.
STOP! WAIT! Who are you? What’s the catch?
The right questions to ask yourself are who you are, then why, then what, then how.
Day 7 — Everything is a dream
In the 7th day I’ve had another outstanding experience.
I was the little 5 years old kid in the courtyard. Alone, waiting for my grandma to show up I was playing with “Tita” — my dog. Which was so loving and warm and happy that I spent time with her. She was there, with her eyes sparkling of life completely connected to me and I was there with her. After a few months, the dog died. Wasn’t there any more. Where is Tita?
“It was just a dream.” A voice inside of me kept on responding.
And my grandma, grandpa, friends, colleagues, all the adventures, all the people that once were present in my life?
“It was just a dream.” That’s all there is. The rest doesn’t exist anymore.
Now is all that is.
Days 8–10 Love has the biggest ROI
Realizing that I live either in the past, either in the future, while both of these are just my mind’s interpretation on what happened and what it suppose to happen, made me very curious.
OK, so if everything vanishes instantly after the present moment, what is that thing that worths to be made, expressed and experienced in the now?
The answer was: LOVE. That thing that makes you do supernatural things, move the mountains, feel that heaven is all around you and that everything finally has a higher meaning, justifying all the sorrow and suffering.
Love has the highest return, it’s extremely cost effective and it always pays off at the end (what end? in the now)
After the last days, I’ve made a conscious decision to focus and to put myself in the hands of higher purposes than running from fear or producing prosperity.
I’m still not free from my mind’s traps, but I have a lot of moments of clarity and awareness, looking dettached at how the fragile construction of my ego is trying to make his point.
Bottom line, if you’re in it for the freedom, in it for the love, if you think you can’t make it no more, if you think you’re trapped without any escape door or if you simply want go to another level of self-awareness, make some room for a silent retreat. The most important relation you will ever have is with yourself. And if you don’t take time to build this relation, you’ll end up always looking for love in the outside world, building other relations, with persons that are as unaware, hungry, fragile and lost like you are.