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It’s good to be back ‘online’ here!  I just returned from an amazing 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat in North Fork, CA (near Yosemite).


There were 120+ other people there, evenly split between men and women and ages from 20s-60s., describes Vipassana as: “This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation. Healing, not merely the curing of diseases, but the essential healing of human suffering, is its purpose.”

And a booklet from the retreat continues:

What Vipassana is not:

  • It is not a rite or ritual based on blind faith.
  • It is neither intellectual nor a philosophical entertainment.
  • It is not a rest cure, a holiday, or an opportunity for socializing.
  • It is not an escape from the trials and tribulations of everyday life.

What Vipassana is:

  • It is a technique that will eradicate suffering.
  • It is a method of mental purification which allows one to face life’s tensions and problems in a calm, balanced way.
  • It is an art of living that one can use to make positive contributions to society.

How I benefit from regular meditation

Even before this retreat, I’d been meditating for about a year (simple observation of my breathing, not Vipassana) because:

  1. Meditation enhances my ability to focus. It creates mental ‘space’, helping me distinguish “activity” versus “productivity”. Ever feel like you’re so busy doing ‘stuff’, but when you look back, none of it felt like it mattered?   It doesn’t matter how hard you’re working to climb that mountain…if you’re climbing the wrong mountain.
  2. It opens up my creativity – I’ve had some great ideas come through!
  3. It enhances my happiness and contentment
  4. It’s enjoyable – calming and relaxing, like a mental massage 🙂  

How I got started with meditation – slowly; babysteps!

I started about a year ago, after beginning to work with an Ayurvedic nutritionist (which is also when I stopped drinking coffee and alcohol). I started with just a few minutes at a time in the morning, and slowly built from there.  Even now I don’t meditate every day.  For the past six months, it’s been about 3-5x per week, for 10-30min, and slowly getting more consistent over time.  I am increasing that now after the retreat.

Attitude makes all the difference

I’ve found my attitude makes a huge difference.  When I started a year ago, meditation felt like more of a chore, as if my conscious was a mom saying “eat your peas, dear”.  OK ok…grumble, grumble.  However, once I got the hang of it and stopped resisting, I began to look forward to it as an enjoyable, relaxing mental space, like a mental spa break ☺ Do you look at going to the spa as a chore?  The kid grew up and realizes they not only like peas, but even looks forward to meals full of them!  (Please ignore this analogy if you don’t like peas as an adult.)

I heard about Vipassana from a friend about three years ago, and even though I wasn’t meditating at the time and had no idea what Vipassana was, I immediately had a feeling of “I want to do that!” (someday).

The retreat: 10 days of silence to calm the mind and enable the study

It’s called “Noble Silence” – no communication during retreat with other students or the outside world, either by voice, glance or gesture.  The purpose is to calm the mind, to enable one to really learn and apply the technique. You can see ask the teachers questions, and their is instruction, so it’s not totally silent.  I found the silence actually very easy, and it did make the practice easier to learn.

Walking into the retreat, and leaving behind iPhone, camera, etc., and knowing I wouldn’t have access to email or my phone for 10 days, my mind immediately calmed down…


How it went & what I got (including an unintended addiction)

We had a suprisingly busy schedule, beginning at 4am, of meditation, breakfast, meditation, lunch, meditation, evening tea break, meditation, and then evening discourses. I was asleep by 9:30p each night. During the long meal breaks, I’d nap or take walks on the walking paths.  The food was amazing!  I became addicted to Celestial Seasoning’s “Bengal Spice tea“, a form of chai without black tea or caffeine. Yum!!  Don’t worry, caffeine addicts – they had instant coffee there too.

Although some people had a really tough time in the first couple of days with the silence and hours of meditation, I found it was surprisingly easy; a piece of cake.  I had some tough days (Day 8 was a low one for me), but it was all worth it.  I was surprised that it was harder physically than mentally for me, because I wasn’t used to sitting like that for so long.  Many other experienced meditators brought their own cushions and backrests. For novices like me, the Center had a ton of cushions and benches there for people to try out and use. It took 3-4 days to figure out my ‘seating system’.

Here are some of the specific things I got from the retreat:

  • A practice that will increase my happiness, calmness and awareness in all situations in my life
  • Clarity/confirmation that what I’m doing with PebbleStorm is exactly what I should be doing with my life
  • A GREAT image for PebbleStorm, using a tree to illustrate four levels of happiness, and how PebbleStorm helps people tap into the most enduring, meaningful forms of happiness.  It’s only sketched in pen now, I’ll have to play with it before I’m ready to post it here.  First a Sun, now a tree…I sense a trend here in using natural images in addition to my circles…
  • A shift in my thinking of the balance of buddhism/happiness thinking and capitalism in PebbleStorm (a topic for another day).  I used to think it was 50/50, but really the mix is more like 80% buddhism/happiness and 20% capitalism. By the way – if you’re unfamiliar with buddhism, its core isn’t religious at all, though sects have added rites and rituals. It is simply a system to help people achieve lasting happiness (“enlightenment”).

Did I mention the 10-day retreat was free?  It’s 100% donation-supported.

And by the way, the course is free.  Yes, lodging and TASTY meals for 10 days.  They do ask for a donation at the end, “to pay for others”, but it’s by no means required and there is really no pressure at all.  The entire worldwide organization, in 120 countries, runs on a donation and volunteer basis.  This is how strongly people feel about how Vipassana has impacted their lives!

A worldwide non-profit driven by genuine, passionate commitment

Both the practice itself and the non-profit organization teaching it at more than 120 centers around the world are fascinating.  Run by volunteers (even teachers aren’t paid), it’s a worldwide, well-oiled machine. The retreat ran like The reason the organization works so well is because of people’s passion for the benefits they receive from Vipassana…and they want to help others receive the same benefits.

Now: integrating it to my (daily) life

They recommend, as a minimum, an hour of meditation in the morning, and an hour in the evening.  Rather than start out strongly and probably have some discouraging breakdowns in the practice, personally I know I’ll be more successful with a gradually building practice (this is me – what you need to be successful might be very different). It’ll take me some time to figure out my routine and to really make it a part of my daily life. For the next three months, I’m going to do it as much as possible, at least once a day, but realize that I have some experimentation to do.  Especially since I’ll be traveling and moving quite a bit between San Francisco, Los Angeles and Buenos Aires…and any kind of travel plays hell with my routine.

“I could never meditate, my mind is too busy/I have ADD…”

I’ve heard this from so many people.  If your mind is so agitated, isn’t that exactly why you should work to tame it, to put it to work for you rather than being at its mercy?  Jumping into a 10 day silent retreat might be too much at first, but there are plenty of ways to try it out in smaller steps.

A 3-minute practice and simple steps you can try

Please Leave A Comment!

Do you practice?  What works for you?  Leave any suggestions in the comments!  And I’ll share updates on my practice monthly as it builds.

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20 Responses to “A lifetime happiness and focus enhancer: Vipassana meditation”

  1. Krissy Saunders Says:

    I love this post, Aaron, so thank you!!! You shared, so I will share my first experience with meditation.

    I had never meditated before a year and a half ago, so I ended up getting ‘roped into’ going to a 3 day weekend retreat in Colorado with a girlfriend. Being open, this sounded like fun, and I needed a break from corporate america. Prior to going, I honestly had zero clue what meditation was, what my relation to it was, etc, etc. So there I am arriving for this with no idea as to what to expect. We could not look at anyone, or speak, and be mindful in our eating, etc. Oh and the mirrors were covered up because vanity is bad. Well, I know I wasn’t the only one moving the curtain covering those mirrors because I would leave it a certain way so I could ascertain it wasn’t just me moving it…lol!! This whole event was a lesson inside of a lesson inside of a lesson. We were allowed to ask questions during a certain part of this to one of the masters. This was definitely NOT a place for me to start. I had no idea what meditation was about and believe it or not, the ‘master’ couldn’t explain to me what I was supposed to be doing, learning, or anything of that nature through all of this, which surprised me. I had no idea I was going ‘into the gap’ of pure consciousness of the universe or anything like that. We weren’t allowed to move once we were meditating in the Zendo, and of course bugs were crawling all over me…lol. Oh and I also fell forward the very first time I meditated on this trip as I fell asleep. This was for the seasoned meditator, and definitely NOT the beginner like me. There was another exercise we did that I am still cynical of. So there I am, I paid money via the event, my plane tickets, etc, and had to take time off of work so I lost money there, etc, and on Sunday we had chores to do. I am out in this ‘MASTERS’ front yard picking rocks for 4 HOURS…lol. And I was supposed to be mindful. Well let me tell you the only thing I was mindful of was the fact that my stairs needed to be vacuumed, my laundry done, and here I am paying to pick this guy’s rocks…lol!!!! Where do I sign?!!! I was sooo not grasping what I was supposed to be doing AND I looked at everyone and talked to myself just to assuage the rebel in me.

    Fast forward to today, and I would definitely not only understand, but I’d appreciate the silence and the beauty of meditation (although the jury is still out about picking some guy’s rocks) and the benefits. I meditate now regularly, however, I am still falling asleep regularly…lol, and I even meditate right after a restful 8 hours of asleep. Who knows maybe now I am law of attracting that I will sleep. I’ll get it figured out 🙂

    I appreciate knowing this retreat is out there, so thank you again for sharing!! Oh and your video made me laugh out loud at your reaction to the car noise!!! Funny stuff, Sir Aaron.

    In love, light, peace, and beauty,


  2. Lynn Higgin Says:

    Aaron- What a GREAT article! I have also discovered the joy of Bengal Spice Tea (supposedly the next best thing to Indian Chai!) Being addicted for several months to that.

    I loved the ‘peas’ reference too (and I also love peas!!)! Seems like when I started to meditate, my mind wanted to narrate the entire thing “let’s find a nice river, no-how about a scenic valley full of wild flowers-no, let’s go to a nice mountain” ARGHHH! I now have a great meditation teacher who lived as a monk in India for many years, and he has taught me the benefit of letting go of the mind chatter and that has worked wonders for me! I am actually studying Ayurveda right now, and incorporating the theories into my meditation practice is so helpful! Good nutrition, healthy body, great meditation all work wonders together! I am at a ‘career’ crossroads right now, and have been meditating to keep myself grounded to maintain focus and clarity so I can make decisions from a better and higher place!

    I would LOVE to look into a silent meditation retreat! Thank you for all the info on yours-now I know it is exactly what I must do!

  3. Jatinder Singh Says:

    Thankyou for such precious information!!!!!

  4. Olivia Kuhn-Lloyd Says:

    Aaron, this is fascinating. You answered all the questions I had. I read this slowly and luxuriated in the information and your experience. I’m being hit over the head to start my own meditation practice. I love how you shared your baby-steps. Much thanks for a great post.

    P.S. I’ve loved Bengal Tea for years! It’s the absolute best.

  5. Ruth Murray Says:

    Very nice blog…I enjoyed it alot. I meditate everyday and am fortunate enough to be able to meditate while I “work” as well. I do long 2-5 hour healing massages which if we(the client and I) are lucky enough, I will be able to meditate while I do Reiki on them. Reiki seems to work best if you can clear your mind and let the Universal Life Force Energy flow through you as the open channel. That has been the best course of clearing my mind that has happened to me. Because I have been doing massage for so long, I am able to let my guides guide my hands while I meditate, therefore letting my mind be empty while I massage.

    Anyway…I recommend Reiki to people as a method to help them learn to meditate…and if they already know how to meditate, they would be great as Reiki practitioners allowing themselves to become one with the energy and the person on the table.

    I also learned some techniques from a teacher that were great. She had us meditate to everything…from silence to Rap music…because the point is to go inside, no matter what is going on outside. And the other thing that I learned from her, that was invaluable to me, was to treat it like brushing your teeth. You wouldn’t leave the house without brushing your teeth in the morning, so don’t leave the house without meditating in the morning. I took it one step further and don’t leave my bed until I am done meditating…it is an unbelievably great way to start the day aligning one’s soul with Spirit! I feel like I have had a healing when I start my day.

    Anyway….thanks for the great blog and the information about Vipassana Meditation. I will definitely share this information with others.

    Blessings. Ruth

    ps I agree with Olivia..Bengal Tea is great.

  6. Jeanne Kuntz Says:

    Wow! Another synchronicity . I have been thinking about taking my meditation to another level and I have not really tried Vipassana. I have been considering finding a group to sit with in the Mar Vista area. Now I will take the next action step. Regarding ADHD, which I have, Yoga and meditation are the main things that quiet my nervous system. I could go so far as to say, “yoga + meditation = mind medication. I do much better, by the way, if I do even 5 minutes of yoga first.
    Peace and Blessings, Jeanne

  7. Graham Says:

    Congratulations, and thanks for the write-up. I did my first meditation retreat in March, and have managed to keep practicing two hours (almost) every day. (Though like you said, traveling messes things up, so I tend to aim for one hour a day in those cases.) I’ve been really happy having this as part of my life. It’s a long way from enlightenment, but any amount of mindfulness that creeps into the rest of my life from meditation is a good thing.

  8. scribbx Says:

    Enjoyed reading of your experience. I practiced Zazen when I was at UCSC, and have been trying to find my way back. I’ve been finding meditation in daily life–and especially in mountain biking, but it’s not the same as stillness and watching my breath. Thanks for the inspiration.

  9. Phoenix Says:

    I am really glad I landed here and read this 🙂

    – Phoenix

  10. CHUCK B Says:


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    […] It’s been about three months since I attended a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat (“A lifetime happiness and focus enhancer: Vipassana meditation”).  I’ve been meditating about every 2 out of 3 days – sometimes for 5 minutes, sometimes for […]

  12. Anonymous Says:

    chuck b said it all

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  15. Lynn Higgin Says:

    Aaron- I’ve been a follower of your blogs and newsletters, and remember reading about this trip when you took it!

    I suddenly find myself getting ready to take this exact trip, only the Texas location. I remembered reading this blog, and then, of course it was the same retreat!

    Thank you so much for your very detailed description of your experience. I do have a question for you (if you get this!). Are you allowed to journal?

    I’m not leaving until end of April, and I am SO excited!

    Thank you for anything you can tell me about the journaling, or what else I may expect!

    Much gratitude,
    Lynn Higgin

  16. Lynn Higgin Says:

    Aaron- Took the trip, wanted to leave the entire time I was there, but when I left, I felt it was the best thing I ever did for myself! The clarity, the changes, already started to occur, and I’ve only been back 2 days! It was daunting, and grueling (I thought)-but I am SO glad I did this! SO glad!

  17. Charlie Dennis Says:

    thank you for this posts friend

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    Soon thereafter the first man prayed for a house, clothes and more food. The next day, like magic, all of these things were given to him. However, the second man still had nothing.

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