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Me being silly at a friend’s house. The sunlight happened to bathe me through a skylight.

What 4,300 hours of meditation has taught me

Duncan Riach, Ph.D.
Nov 13, 2017 · 18 min read
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A random bumper sticker I saw somewhere. I love how scratched and damaged it is.
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The meditation room at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. I have spent many hours meditating here.
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My wife’s Facebook profile picture while she was on retreat.
  • 4:30–6:30 Meditate (2 hours)
  • 6:30–8:00 Breakfast
  • 8:00–11:00 Meditate (3 hours)
  • 11:00–1:00 Lunch
  • 1:00–5:00 Meditate (4 hours)
  • 5:00–6:00 Break (no food for old students)
  • 6:00–9:00 Meditate and discourse from teacher (1.5 hours of meditation)
  • 9:30 Sleep

The only thing we can control is our attention

We can’t control the external circumstances of the world. We can’t control our bodies. We can’t control our thoughts. We can’t control our emotions. Everything that happens to us, and that we do, is the result of our unconscious mind reacting, and to circumstances arising in order to invoke reactions from our unconscious mind. The only thing we have control over is where we place our attention. This is because the only thing that really exists is our attention, and it’s what we are. By directing our attention to the core of our delusion, we can use it to untie the knots of delusion which bind us, and free ourselves from this self-imposed prison of suffering.

We are 100% responsible for our contentment

Whether we are happy or unhappy, content or discontent, is the result of a process inside our minds. The default program that our unconscious mind is running is designed to cause us to suffer. It does this by continually reacting to reality, to the sensations that reality invokes inside our bodies. Not only that, but our unconscious patterning tells us that we are unhappy and suffering, or needing to acquire something, because of external circumstances. There is in fact absolutely zero necessity for suffering, under any circumstances.

We are 100% responsible for our circumstances

Everything we experience is created by our past thoughts. To experience different circumstances, we must think different thoughts. Our thoughts are a result of the purity of our mind, which is a function of how we direct our attention. By skillful direction of attention, we can purify the mind, which will lead to more adaptive thinking, and therefore more favorable circumstances. Meanwhile, paradoxically, as the mind is purified — and retrained to not react to reality — whatever circumstances we find ourselves in are increasingly experienced as optimal.

Everyone else is suffering too

As we come to experientially understand our true nature, and the real cause of our suffering, it becomes very clear what drives people to behave the way they do. This leads to dysfunctional behavior from others being seen not as a personal attack but as an expression of delusion. They don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t yet understand how their actions are harmful to themselves. They’re choosing the best item on their menu of behavioral options.

Meditation is the most effective use of time

I have experienced many revelations during or after meditation sessions that led to massive reductions in effort in achieving goals. It’s one thing to drive to achieve something, but it’s a whole other level of effectiveness to spend that energy striving for the right thing. Effective and right use of effort is something that requires time for incubation and disconnection. Not only that, but the purification of the mind that comes from Vipassana practice, and the development of the ability to see things from multiple perspectives, leads to a clarity of vision that is an unparalleled asset in decision-making.

Relationships are extremely valuable to me

In my drive to be productive and effective, I often forget about the value of my social and family connections. Because meditation brings my awareness back to the reality of my human being, I become acutely aware of the true value of the people that I love. I am reminded of how important these “soft” assets are to me: the people and the relationships. I often reach out to and connect with many people following ten-day retreats, and the amount of time that I socialize seems to be correlated with the amount of time that I meditate.

My suffering is not what it seems to be

At this last retreat, I realized that there is a very similar pattern to my experiences at retreats. I have always gone through a period of feeling down, regretful, and anxious. This is in contrast to what many others experience: bouts of anger. At least until now, I don’t seem to have struggled with a large number of mental impurities related to anger. I realized that the water I swim in is colored with sadness, regret, and anxiety. I didn’t used to even think of those states as mental impurities. Like most people, I thought that my modes of suffering where ways that I was a victim to life, that these were externally imposed by my circumstances and history. This past retreat, I understood, even more deeply than before, that these are just non-adaptive mental habits that I have unconsciously perpetuated. By returning to the Vipassana technique, I was able to release these layers of impurities and come through into more clarity.

Conclusion

This article should have given you a glimpse into the mind of a long-term meditator. If you meditate a lot yourself, perhaps what I have written is validating or comforting, or perhaps even challenging. Thanks for reading, and please remember to give this article some claps, and to subscribe to my profile here on Medium, if you have not already done so.


Vipassana vs Kriya Yoga (optional read)

I have realized, while writing this article, some differences and similarities between Vipassana and Kriya Yoga (and other practices), which might be interesting to you if you are familiar with both. If that’s not you, then you might want to skip this section.

Vipassana Ānāpānasati vs Kriya Yoga Hong-Sau

The only difference between hong-sau and ānāpānasati, is, as already mentioned, that in hong-sau the word “hong” is said mentally on the inhalation, and “sau” (pronounced like “saw”) is said mentally on the exhalation. For the ānāpānasati practice of Vipassana, Buddha specifically directs you to not mentally verbalize anything, whether words, as with the mantra word of Transcendental Meditation or the hong-sau of Kriya Yoga, or even counting, as in the Zazen (Zen Meditation).

Vipassana Whole-Body Vedanā Witnessing vs Kriya Yoga Spinal Traversal

As I said earlier, Kriya Yoga is a type of pranayama, or energy control, practice. The energy is moved up and down the spine by controlling the breath. It took me a long time to realize, or to discover, that you’re not supposed to try to move the energy in the spine using the mind (in fact, you can’t). The intention is to move the energy by controlling the breath, and then to witness the resulting sensations in the spine. You’re essentially consciously breathing like a liberated person, with a breath pattern that it as smooth and continuous as possible — which means less fettered by mental impurities — and then witnessing the resulting spinal energy blockages that are encountered by the flow of energy up and down the spine.


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Duncan Riach, Ph.D.

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An engineer-psychologist focused on machine intelligence. I write from my own experience to support others in living more fulfilling lives | duncanriach.com

getHealthy

Gradual change approach toward getting healthy, with personal weight loss stories, thoughts on diet, diabetes, chronic pain, high blood pressure, coping with debilitating conditions, sleep apnea, meditation, and healthy food choices.

Duncan Riach, Ph.D.

Written by

An engineer-psychologist focused on machine intelligence. I write from my own experience to support others in living more fulfilling lives | duncanriach.com

getHealthy

Gradual change approach toward getting healthy, with personal weight loss stories, thoughts on diet, diabetes, chronic pain, high blood pressure, coping with debilitating conditions, sleep apnea, meditation, and healthy food choices.

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