February 2007

Practicing Vipassana

Vipassana meditation is pretty straight-forward. At the retreat, you start working with your breath, and progress to passing your awareness through your body.

The rough guide to Vipassana is:

  1. Awareness of breath (paying attention to your breathing).
  2. Focusing your breath awareness onto a smaller and smaller point at the base of your nose.
  3. Passing that same awareness slowly over the surface of your entire body, starting with your head, arms, chest, back, legs and then back up to the head.
  4. Sweeping your awareness over the surface of your body.
  5. Passing your awareness through (inside) your body.
  6. Becoming aware of your entire body simultaneously.

All this is done while trying to remain as an objective observer. This would be dead easy, but unfortunately, minds like mine like to run wild… much of the meditation is just recognizing that thoughts are popping into our head, accepting that this is happening and returning our awareness to the practice.

I never knew how much my mind had a mind of its own until my first retreat.

Vipassana retreat

The largest offering of Vipassana Meditation is that taught By S. N. Goenka, offering free 10-day courses (costs are covered through donations). It originated in India, but now there are meditation centers world-wide.

At first glance, the daily schedule for the 10 days looks pretty demanding:

4:00 a.m. Morning wake-up bell
4:30 – 6:30 a.m. Meditate in the hall or your own room
6:30 – 8:00 a.m. Breakfast break
8:00 – 9:00 a.m. Group meditation in the hall
9:00 – 11:00 a.m. Meditate in the hall or your own room
11:30 – noon Lunch
12 noon – 1:00 p.m. Rest break
1:00 – 2:30 p.m. Meditate in the hall or your own room
2:30 – 3:30 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
3:30 – 5:00 p.m. Meditate in the hall or your own room
5:00 – 6:00 p.m. Tea break
6:00 – 7:00 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
7:00 – 8:30 p.m. Video recording to recap day
9:30 p.m. Retire to your own room/Lights out

When I first went, I thought it would be impossible to wake up at 4 am and meditate all day long in silence. (There is no talking during the retreat, except for brief check-ins with the assistant teacher.) But waking up was a lot easier than I expected… you are naturally rested from going to bed early and meditating all day. And you are free from other distractions, such as work, mobile phones and e-mail, so it’s not difficult.

At the same time, I think I convinced myself on one of the days that time had stopped and I was going to be there forever.


Vipassana is a meditation centered around observation and awareness. It differs from focused meditations that use mantra’s, such as transcendental meditation, or meditations that focus on controlling the breathing, because it is precisely about NOT controlling anything, and just observing.

Sounds easy enough, right? In Vipassana, for once your life you don’t have to DO anything. In fact, you’re specifically NOT supposed to do anything. Well, other than observe…

The meditation stems from Buddhism as the technique taught by the Buddha to reach enlightenment. The meditation itself is quite separate from Buddhism and is something that anyone can do.

Where to start? Zencast has some great meditation podcasts available for download introducing meditation.

The regional adjustment burro


Credit card fraud with Capital One is very amusing.

There is this entity called the regional adjustment burro who keeps trying collect on a debt for a credit card opened in my name last year at an address I lived over 6 years ago.

For some reason, they don’t like to call me. Somehow they found my sister’s number in Salt Lake City, and like to call her instead. Perhaps it is because I live in the UK, and they are too cheap to make international calls, or perhaps it is because my sister is such a wonderful person to talk to, they find it more fun to call her instead. Note: They definitely have my number here in the UK, I verify this every time I call… they just choose not to use it.

I dealt with this in November, and handed it off to Capital One as fraud. I’m not sure of the law in the US, but as a resident in the UK, fraud is 100% responsibility of the credit card company. I tried to explain this to the adjustment burro, but they don’t seem to understand and just keep trying to sell me on the benefits of paying off their debt.

I called the fraud department (who do have their act together) and spoke with the person I filed the fraud with in November – and sure enough, my account has been correctly marked at fraud and the adjustment burro ought to know this and shouldn’t be contacting me. (Although, perhaps it’s okay for them to contact my sister… I forgot to clear up that mystery.) So all is nice and dandy, but the kind lady in the fraud department can’t call the adjustment burro, she can only re-mark the account as frauded so that I won’t be contacted again. (Which, as we discovered, did not exactly work last time.)

At least I called the adjustment burro back and gave them the extension of the lady I spoke with at the fraud department, so hopefully they can have a nice little chat and won’t have to involve me anymore. Or my sister.

The danger of thinking

Not to be able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don’t realize this because almost everybody is suffering from it, so it is considered normal.
— Eckhart Tolle

So much for mindfulness. Yesterday I wrote a short post, and saved it, but didn’t think to publish it. That is known in scientific circles as the “absence of mindfulness”. It was a miracle that the thinking blog found me today, which appeared to be exactly what I needed… until I found myself having optical seizures. (Which just fuels my theory that too much thinking is painful.)

So am I supposed to think or not? Becoming brain-dead certainly isn’t the answer.

To be mindful is to be aware of what you are experiencing in the present moment. It is about observing the emotions and feelings you are experiencing, and being aware of the thoughts fluttering into your mind. The point is not to stop your mind from thinking, rather to stop your mind from thinking uncontrollably.


How often are you caught up in your thoughts, worrying about tomorrow, regretting yesterday, or waiting for something to happen? Are you aware and conscious of what you are experiencing right now? Do you notice the strain on your eyes from staring at your computer for too long? Or is that just me?

This week’s topic is about mindfulness. I’ll try to remember.

Bedtime meditation

As I lie in bed at night, I practice a simple gratitude meditation before I fall asleep. For about five minutes, I review my day, and focus on a few things that I am thankful for (trash cans, toilet paper, healthy toenails). It is not as important what my gratitude is about (whether it something small, like the London transport working, or something big, like the London transport working), but that my feelings are genuine (like when the London transport is working).

If I can foster these feelings of gratitude, then I sleep more deeply, and when I wake up the next morning I am centered and excited to start my day. How my day starts has a huge impact on the rest of my day. If I wake up feeling grumpy, for example, the London transport usually breaks down. So if 5 minutes or reflection can keep my underground running, how can I resist?

If you’re having trouble, here is another gratitude meditation. Or, just visit the Transport for London to see how well I’m doing.

Thankful lists

There are quite a few lists of what people on the
internet are thankful for.

From my exhaustive search, I learned a number of quality things:

  1. People are notably more thankful around thanksgiving.
  2. People tend to be very thankful for their family and friends. Either that, or they’re concerned their family might discover their list and question why they’re not on it.
  3. People tend not to be thankful for just being alive. (Or they don’t think to write it down.)
  4. Bloggers like to make lists.

Some of the more intriguing items people were thankful for:

  • Toilet paper (for obvious reasons)
  • The word “spigot”. I like to say it over and over.
  • My electric blanket, foot bag and peppermint mocha creamer for my coffee.
  • I’m thankful that even though I feel like I’m talking to air 99% of the time, I do get a kid who comes back and tells me, “Hey, I actually learned something.” I wish more of them did this.
  • Nacho Cheese Combos
  • That I have 10 healthy toenails.
  • Trash cans
  • That I’m just as excited about a life-sized Malenium Falcom cockpit as J.

Off the ground

The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one’s appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship.
— Amelia Earhart

Does that mean that when you fly to more daring heights you gain a deeper understanding of thankfulness when you come to rest on solid ground?

Master key

I have just found the master key to gratitude. Which is really lucky, considering that I had undertaken the arduous task of finding the key to gratitude just three days ago. I figured with my highly analytical research skills, I would be able to hammer out a proposal this week detailing how I would uncover the cosmic solution from the universe… but heck with the proposal – it appeared almost effortlessly… and in just three days! What can I say… thanks. Perhaps I am ready to tackle finding the meaning of life.