Vipassana: a garden in the desert

Living Vipassana! What a wonderful aspiration!

Over the past year, I’ve found serious challenges to my own intentions to live that life, but just recently I’ve re-affirmed the value of that aspiration and the practice itself.

I’m happy to have the opportunity to share this with others who may benefit from my experiences.

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As a long-time meditator and Buddhist practitioner with experience in several different traditions – and a lot of chartless wandering! – in my journey on this path, I found the teachings and practice of Vipassana to be a wonderful discovery some five years ago when I took my first 10-day course. For most of that time, I have been deeply involved in the Center here in the southeast, and in the practice.

But then a combination of circumstances – a season of loss and depression, it seems now – threw me off the path and I began to fall away from my regular sitting practice.

Not sitting, I began to let doubts and negativity creep into my mind, and I fell further away. I was not sitting regularly, and when I tried, it was terrible. I was plagued by all those ‘demons’ that work against effective practice: doubt, mental chatter, sleepiness… and more. I was a hot mess.

However, the wonderful group of people with whom I share the planet and the practice never gave up on me, and through their love and support and encouragement, I continued to make the effort.

And then finally, just last week, I had a very powerful and liberating meditation.

As I mentioned, I have been practicing Vipassana for the last few years, and I also volunteer to help with registering students for the 10-day meditation courses and other work at the Vipassana Center nearby. Until recently, I was there several times a month helping with various tasks.

Part of my falling away meant I had not been doing this service for some time, but for some reason, I decided I wanted to go out last week.

As normal, when coming to the Center for service, I made plans to do an hour meditation after arriving. The teachers for the course invited me to join them in a meditation that involves a recorded sutra recitation, the Tikapatthana. The recitation is a very intense and moving one that I had only heard parts of before, and I went into it happy to have the opportunity both to hear the recitation and to sit with the teachers.

I was sleepy off-and-on in the middle of the meditation, but then somewhere near the end, I went into a very deep meditation. Maybe it was the Tika, maybe it was sharing the teachers’ meditation; maybe it was just my great need. But for some reason, I went into one of the deepest meditations I’ve had for quite a long time. Of course, I wasn’t aware of being in that state as it was happening, and only afterward did I realize that I had done so.

My experience was simply a thought. A thought that, coming in that deep meditative state, was very powerful.

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There were no precursor thoughts, no context of thinking in which to put what happened, but suddenly my eyes popped open and I was very intensely aware of a single sentence:

My life is a garden in the desert.

Okay, so it doesn’t sound earth shaking, perhaps not even particularly insightful. But it came to me with a power and intensity that I can’t begin to describe. It jolted me out of my meditation as if someone had slapped my face.

As I sat there, a bit stunned, wondering where this thought came from – such things don’t generally happen to me – tears began to stream down my face, and the deeper significance of the sentence began to grow in my mind.

Again, I can’t begin to explain all the fullness of the meaning as it came to me, as most of it was non-verbal, but the short version is that I realized that my negativity was really stupid. I realized that it was really stupid to not appreciate how wonderful my life is, how wonderful and precious every moment is. At some point I just asked myself, what am I doing?!?

In the hours following this, I felt a tremendous release and a growing clarity about things. I realized – not just intellectually, but in my body, in my full awareness – that the depression cycle was creating all those negative thoughts, doubts, and resistance.

I realized that all of my life as it now exists, regardless of what has been lost, is a wonderful garden. I realized that having the opportunity to learn the Vipassana practice and the Center to go to, the people at the Center to support me, the opportunity in my life to do this practice – that all these things are great and wonderful gifts.

And I think I’m back.

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This entry was posted in Personal Experiences and tagged , , by Ryan Shelton. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ryan Shelton

While I'm currently married to a beautiful woman while teaching physics at Padua Academy, these descriptors fail to capture the totality of my adventurous life. I have hiked over 1700 miles, traveled to 5 continents, managed a bakery, started a meditation center, counseled troubled teens, attended Duke, UNC, and Harvard, protected forests as a wildland firefighter, volunteered thousands of hours with Americorps, rafted the Grand Canyon, SCUBA dived on the Great Barrier Reef, and continues to find new adventures. I hope my writing encourages you to pursue your dreams and be the best version of yourself while supporting your communities to work together to solve the current challenges in our world.

5 thoughts on “Vipassana: a garden in the desert

  1. I am facing some many of the same problems. I have just connected with a therapist and trying to learn insight meditation. Everything is so difficult for me and depression is overwhelming, even with medication. Thank you for sharing.

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    • The meditation will be a great help in your therapy. A number of years ago, I began to experience lots of PTSD symptoms, including serious depression, so went thru a few years of therapy. By great fortune, my therapist was a Vipassana meditator, so she was able to effectively work with me using both… the insidious thing about depression is that it undermines everything you try to do to help, so therapy is usually needed to learn to deal with it. Hope things go well for you!

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  2. Did you realize the experience is nothing but a vibration as it is happening? If u did not then be more alert nex time. If you did, now is the time to maintain that strong awareness and equanimity as continuously as possible. Realizing the anicca in a moment is good but it has to be developed to become continuous to totally break free from “I”.

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    • Yes, sampajanna is the heart of this. ‘Experiences’ are not so important, tho they help us stay on the path, and perhaps sharing them helps others to find their path; it is “experiencing” – the continuous awareness that you mentioned – that helps one to at least stay aware of the influence of “I”. I’m not so sure it’s really possible for most of us to “totally break free from ‘I'” – but it is a wonderful aspiration!

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