Guess What I’m Doing Right Now!

Phil And SisMy sis took this photo late last summer while we were digging up some potatoes.

If you have any questions this week about my:

…my sister is going to do her best to answer them for you.

That’s because I’m currently in the middle of a 10 day Vipassana course.

As some of you will know, what that means is that I’m in a place with no access to phone or internet or even a pen and paper.

And I’m meditating.

I actually wrote this post early last week, a couple of days before leaving, and scheduled it to go out to you today, so by the time you’re reading this, I’m probably sitting as still as possible, trying to not let my mind wander.

Every morning, close to 100 other meditators and I wake up at 4am and proceed to meditate for 10 hours throughout the day.

Well, we’re supposed to wake up at 4am – I’m still hoping that part is some kind of joke – but I’ll try my hardest. (Update: it wasn’t bad at all – in bed just after 9pm and up at 4:20am)

Each meditation session lasts for 1-2 hours, with occasional breaks in between.

We get some instruction every day to keep us on track. Other than that, we’re not allowed to talk or exercise or do much of anything.

As I write this a couple of days before embarking on this, I feel very lucky to have the opportunity.

I’ve met a few people in the last 9 months who have told me about this course and how much of a positive impact it had on their lives.

And I believe it, because I’ve seen the benefits of even a modest amount of meditation over the last couple of weeks.

I’m going through a challenging situation in my life right now so I’ve been doing more meditation than I’ve done in the past, and it often leaves me feeling full of joy, so I’m optimistic that this very intensive course will continue that path.

Actually, I should clarify something in case you’re going through your own challenges and wondering if meditation might be helpful.

For me, it’s not just the meditation that’s helped – if I had just started meditating at home every day I don’t think I would have gotten very far.

For me, it’s doing it with a group of supportive people, and it’s the teachings that go along with it that have made all the difference.

In my case that’s been mostly Buddhist teachings, and while a lot of them don’t resonate with me and some of them I don’t particularly agree with, the overall ideas about how to be happier in the face of life’s challenges have brought some definite aha! moments.

Anyway, just thought I’d mention that – if you’re thinking of meditation, it might be cool to try out a couple of different places in your area where you can do some group meditation and learning (doesn’t have to be Buddhist or religious).

(By the way, since I still get emails from you guys to this day offering your support in light of my separation from my ex-wife Heather, I know some of you will be wondering if this current challenging situation has to do with her and the answer is no – we’re still friends and all is well there.)

As for these 10 days – I know they won’t be easy either. It’s hard work, not a vacation by any means.

The main thing I’ve been wondering is if I’ll be able to handle the physical challenge of sitting in a meditation pose for 10 hours a day, as the most I’ve ever done is 2 hours. I hope that if I can get through the first few days, it will get easier.

But for some people it apparently gets more difficult further into the 10 days because the mental aspect gets to them, the boredom or the solitude. I’m not too concerned about that at the moment, but we’ll see how it goes. Which do you think would be harder for you?

I mostly wanted to post this just so you know why I’m not responding to your emails and blog comments this week, and just to say hey 🙂

I’d love to hear your thoughts below:

  • Do you meditate?
  • How do you handle challenges in your life?

I’ll be back on April 20th, looking forward to reading what you had to say down below. I’ll also answer any other emails and comments at that time that my sister wasn’t sure of.


April 25 Update

I’ve been back for a few days now and wanted to jot down a few notes because some of you said you’d like to hear how it went.

The slightly disappointing parts:

  • My challenging life situation didn’t magically disappear during the retreat. In fact, it made it difficult to get through the course because my mind wandered to it all the time rather than staying in my meditation zone. I would have preferred to take the course in a more joyful state of mind, but at the same time, my situation made it even more important for me to try my best at every meditation sitting, to really work hard, so I think that was an advantage in some ways.
  • The course seemed to have such a positive impact on the lives of the 3 people I already knew who had taken it before that I put a lot of pressure on myself to leave the course feeling like “why isn’t everyone dancing in the street right now?”, as one friend put it when she told me about it last fall. I didn’t quite have that ecstatic of a feeling, and in hindsight, that was quite a lofty goal considering what’s going on in my life these days. I now realize it’s best to go into a thing like this without expectations, because obviously there are many factors that will shape the experience each of us has. If you’re thinking about doing the course, I say don’t do too much research going in – just go do it and it may change your life or it may just be an interesting experience.

The uplifting parts:

  • By the end, I was victorious over the physical pain of sitting cross-legged without moving for an hour or more. It was impossible at the beginning, but by the end I could do it without much trouble and it felt great (fyi, you don’t have to sit cross-legged if that’s too much for you – you can even sit on a chair).
  • I had some success with quieting my mind and learning how to feel sensations throughout my body, which is one of the main goals of Vipassana meditation – I didn’t get the strong feeling of electricity flowing through my body that some people got, and I must admit I felt pretty bummed about that at first, but I got just enough of that to want to keep practicing now that I’m back home.
  • Since moving here last summer and living in a basement for the first time, I’ve gotten in the habit of sleeping in until 8am, when enough light finally comes through my little window that I feel like getting up. I’ve also been staying up until past midnight most nights to compensate for that. I never felt great about that routine, but just thought I’d stick with it until I moved somewhere with more light. Anyway, since coming back, I’m now up at 5:30 every morning with ease, meditating for an hour, and it just feels so good to get that jump on that day.
  • On day 10, when we were allowed to start talking again, I got to meet most of the guys I’d been meditating with (they segregate the girls and guys to keep our minds focused, which it turns out is definitely a good idea), and I made some new friends who I’m excited to get to hang out with going forward. There’s something special about going through this course and making it through to the other side – it’s really a bonding experience, even though we didn’t get to talk for 95% of it.
  • Even though I didn’t walk out of the course wanting to dance in the street, my whole outlook on life is definitely changed (partially from the Buddhism/meditation stuff I was already doing and partially because of this course). I’m very excited to continue with this meditation technique, feeling better able to handle my challenging situation, and more positive about life in general.

If you’re intrigued by this, I encourage you to go here to find the Vipassana course closest to you and sign up today (it’s free by the way, including meals and your room and everything – you can donate after if you feel so inclined).

I could go on forever, but those are the main things I wanted to share today – thanks very much for your support 🙂

Think you might go try this? Or if you’ve been before, maybe go back and do it again?


  1. Elena on April 12, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Congratulations! What a very transformational gift to,your self! I hope your meditation retreat was all you had hoped it would be, and that you were able to deal with the physical demands, not to mention the mental/spiritual ones. I have meditated off and on and have done 2 one week meditation courses. (Not vipassna). I don’t resonate with much of the Buddhist philosophy (and find the roots of Buddhism surprisingly sexist) except, of course, for wishing for everyone’s peace, happiness, and freedom from suffering.

    • Phil on April 20, 2014 at 10:57 pm

      Thanks Elena, yes I made it! Was victorious over the physical demands and made some progress on the mental, although that part I believe will be a life-long challenge. Like you, I don’t resonate with a lot of what I would call the more religious parts of the philosophy, but to me the principles for how to be a better person and a happier person are priceless.

  2. Patricia Keene on April 12, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Hello Phil, Just extending my very best to you for this meditative journey! I am a complementary health practitioner and do meditate (some) as well as other means (journeying) for centering and accessing spirit/inner wisdom. Whatever the challenge is just now, focus on an outcome filled with love and light and let the universe (Great Spirit, whatever you wish to call it) figure out the details.

    • Phil on April 20, 2014 at 10:57 pm

      Thanks Patricia 🙂

  3. AbsolutelyTrue on April 12, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Wow. I look forward to hearing about your experiences. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Kathy Lindner on April 12, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Hi Phil, it’s nice to receive a personal email account of what sounds like a new beginning. We dearly hope the new challenge isn’t an illness of any kind but no matter what it is, that you are taking time for yourself sounds wonderful and appropriate. We all need to regroup from time to time to prepare ourselves for a new journey. As for your 2 questions, I have meditated in the past and found peace and answers – sometimes different questions emerge too – in the process. I don’t any more, unless I can count staying present, centered and current in the moment, no matter how uncomfortable or fearful, it’s where peace resides. Challenges – I either let go and step out on faith, or I resolve that failure is not an option and engage a fierce sense of determination and refusal to accept less. Mostly, when deciding a course of action I just keep showing up and get out of my own way. Since silence gives permission, I am less inclined to stay passive for long. Rambling now, but hope this helps. PS-Several people have told me that our book ‘Standing into the Storm’ is inspiring to them, even tho the subject matter of bison doesn’t apply to most people. Endorsed by Jo Robinson and Joel Salatin, if you’re so inclined, when you get back it’s available as an e-book on Amazon. Blessings to you! Kathy Lindner

    • Janet on April 15, 2014 at 7:48 am

      Going looking for your book, Kathy Lindner. Sounds interesting. 🙂

    • Phil on April 20, 2014 at 11:08 pm

      The practice of staying current in the moment is something I’ve understood for awhile but have never been able to do it for long – the mind is very good at wandering to the future and past. The meditation course brought about a very small improvement there, but I think that’s going to be a very challenging habit to form, and yet so beneficial I’m sure.

  5. Dorothy Coyne on April 12, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    I hope you are having a very calming and relaxing experience. I started meditating when Deepak Chopra offered an online experience. It has really helped me. I have done several more meditation classes and if you let it you can be able to find the peace within yourself. Your love of the earth and gardening speaks volumes for who you are. Enjoy.

    • Phil on April 20, 2014 at 11:08 pm

      Thanks Dorothy.

  6. Pete on April 12, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    I am very happy for you Phil and meditation is only way to relieve physical and mental stress according to Deepak Chopra.Why not? if it works for for you it should work for any body. Please share your experience with us

  7. Gina on April 12, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    Dear Phil, So happy that you have taken this innitiative!Meditation is such a transformative practice, helps us stay connected to our truth, and as you know, staying true to ourselves is a very liberating thing. May you be peaceful, may you feel that support and accept the challenge with an open heart. So many things will come up during this time. Feelings and emotions that will try to sabotage you process…fear, sadness, doubt? Only you will know.I do meditate and it is a very important part of my life.It has taught me acceptance, the power of stillness and silence and how to regroup myself in challenging situations when I feel life is turning into a tornado! It has guided me to find the right answers and actions that are appropriate, and deep within me…. because we always know what it right, its just that at times we have to peel away the layers to uncover it.Remain strong and keep following your heart. It will always guide you well. May you be healthy, happy and loved Phil! G.

    • Phil on April 21, 2014 at 1:25 am

      Thanks Gina!

  8. Jess on April 12, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Have a DVD on meditation, but haven’t studied it yet. Seems I am too busy with chores in and around the garden and house. Please keep us informed of your response to the next phase of the 10-hr meditation…I am not sure I could sit still that long!

  9. Ellen Greenlaw on April 12, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    Thanks Phil for spending time in silence. Your garden, me one of your listeners online and life thank you for taking time to rest from the usual judge, evaluate and condemn that the mind and brain can easily get drawn into.Best wishes for a good rest and refresh. Looking forward to your posts, post retreat.

    • Phil on April 20, 2014 at 11:18 pm

      Thanks Ellen 🙂

  10. Ramani on April 12, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Hi Phil,I have just begun to explore mind cultivation myself, even though I have been a Buddhist all my life. I have found Ajahn Brahm’s teaching style very accessible. I handle the challenges in my life by looking at them through the prism of Dhamma. I have found Ajahn Brahm’s Dhamma talks very helpful in this regard. All best wishes and may you find peace and contentment through your practice,

    • Phil on April 20, 2014 at 11:09 pm

      Thanks for sharing Ramani.

  11. Debbie Shepheard on April 12, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    How interesting. I hope it serves you well. I do not meditate, though would like to learn at some point. My mind is always abuzz with something 😀 Your description of this “vacation” does not appeal to me as I am usually always very busy and don’t like to spend too much time doing “nothing”. There is far too much to do as it is 😀

    • Colin on April 26, 2014 at 8:30 pm

      Hello Debbie. I used to think meditation was sitting down, and doing “nothing” too. Now, after hearing how friends improved their lives, I do a little bit every day. Thirty minutes of meditation a day can knock off one and a half hours of required sleep, so in actual fact you gain an hour for your ‘too much to do’ things 🙂

  12. Susan on April 12, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    Hi Phil, I add my congratulations and encouragement along with all these others. I too look forward to hearing about your experience. Yours is such a refreshing and uniquely beautiful voice. Your positive energy and honesty are something to be admired. If your challenge is interpersonal I think those who truly care about you will be there for you. I know you will work this out and be stronger for it. Thank you for all the wonderful products and for adding some light to the world.

    • Phil on April 20, 2014 at 11:18 pm

      Thanks so much Susan.

  13. Carol J on April 13, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    I practice meditation everyday. It’s perfectly okay to lay down on your back if sitting becomes difficult. Then your mind won’t be drawn to aching neck-knees-ankles or tipping over at some point. This is quite a challenge you’ve set for yourself! I look forward to hearing how it went. What a great guy you are, Phil.

    • Phil on April 20, 2014 at 11:19 pm

      Thanks Carol 🙂

  14. Bill on April 14, 2014 at 3:37 am

    Hello Phil. I’m excited for this new adventure of yours. I’ve been meditating for the past 20+ years and it only gets better! In fact, it’s so nice, I never want to come out. It’s like going to heaven for me. A sense of peace pervades like no other in normal consciousness. As someone mentioned earlier, position doesn’t matter. You can lie or sit. In fact, I had my most powerful experience while lying down. If you really want to experience the power of meditation, focus on your breathe. Once you become ‘One’ with it, in other words, you no longer are observing, but feel like the process itself, the channels are open for some really neat adventures in consciousness. The best to you my friend!

    • Phil on April 20, 2014 at 11:19 pm

      Thanks Bill!

  15. uncle tommy on April 14, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    I do it at the end of an axe handle. Splitting firewood is one of the most relaxing and rewarding occupations I can think of. A side benefit is, if somebody really pisses you off, you just write their name on the piece and have at ‘er. Being in the fresh air and seeing the geese and swans head back north does something for your soul that meditating can’t always achieve. To be alive and appreciate that fact is what makes it all worthwhile

  16. Elena R. on April 14, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    I’ve thought about meditating and tried to then realized that for me, formal meditation feels uncomfortable and my mind wanders like crazy! What helps me it what some call “open-eyed meditation”. I do this by simply watching a river flowing by, or a campfire burning or seedlings waving with the breeze etc, etc.As far as difficult challenges, usually I cry out loud at first and when I’m all cried out I take some deep breathes and focus on my gratitude for all that is wonderful in my life. When I’m feeling overwhelmed I like to go for an early morning brisk walk and when I’m full of endorphins from the walk I sit and watch the river flow by and the breeze flow through leaves on the trees and somehow I feel better. Even though the challenges may still be there, my perspective of them has changes.

    • Phil on April 20, 2014 at 11:20 pm

      Thanks for sharing Elena.

  17. Janet on April 15, 2014 at 7:47 am

    Oh how wonderful, Phil! Congratulations on this giant step. (and welcome to the world of the Vipassana Old Student). Twenty-five years ago, I started dabbling with mediation, but it was an undisciplined, self-taught jumble of a thing, learned from books as there were no teachers or classes in my remote region. Then in late 1999, I felt strongly pulled to learn to meditate properly. Within a few days after setting that intention, on January 1, 2000, I learned about Vipassana and within 24 hours of that, I’d applied and was accepted for a 10 day retreat in March – my Y2K gift to myself. Vipassana was a revelation, a challenge and pivotal to the next two and a half decades.The timing was perfect. I was diagnosed with breast cancer that June and mediation (along with Tai Chi, swimming and gardening) got me through the year of treatment. For three years following the retreat, I was diligent: sitting one hour or more, twice daily. I participated in a second retreat as an old student in 2002. There were several other life challenges since, including another health challenge that threatened to leave me unable to walk or stand.As with you and some of your readers, not all of the Buddhist teachings resonated with me so, as I did with my heritage Christianity, I “cherry-picked” the parts that DID fit. Then I continued to seek and learn about meditation and living my truth authentically (something you have a head start upon). My practise has shifted considerably. I no longer solely use the Vipassana technique but a suite of techniques I’ve adapted for myself, the primary being various “open heart” meditations. I meditate most days for 30 – 45 minutes, more frequently if my life is particularly tumultuous or serene.I believe daily practice has not only been a tool for coping with life challenges, it has changed my vibrational energy in a very positive way. I see the results in my physical and emotional health, in the depth of my spiritual connection to the Universal Divine and in the way life feels like a serene flow. That congenital condition that threatened my mobility is no longer running my life. I’m not only fully mobile but free of chronic back and hip pain for the first time in my 60 years – all without medical treatment. But the best part is the connectedness and feelings of serenity, of living my life from a place of love and light.

    • Phil on April 20, 2014 at 11:22 pm

      Thanks Janet for sharing that – very nice story to read 🙂

      • Janet on April 21, 2014 at 4:17 am

        Welcome back to the hustle and bustle of the world outside the mediation hall. (Interesting emergence back into the world, on Easter Sunday… LOL) While I suspect you haven’t emerged walking on water and churning out loaves and fishes, I’m hoping you found some of what you were seeking – or as is the case with many of us, found even more than what we were seeking.

  18. sp on April 15, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    You’re a brave man Phil. I took a trip to India a few years ago, and was studying meditation quite a lot. I heard about the Vipassana 10 day course while I was there, but was overly daunted by the prospect of siting silent for 10 days. I meditate daily though, and can honestly say it’s a great way to maintain positive mental health. Good luck with the course, and let us know how it goes. Ommmm 😉

    • Phil on April 20, 2014 at 11:22 pm


  19. Melissa on April 16, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    Hi Phil,I believe if we are honest with ourselves, we are all in need of something more than this life has to offer. A peace and rest that one does not find in the chaos of the world. I meditate most everyday in Bible study and prayer and it has been a wonderful blessing in my life. Jesus is a friend that has always been there for me in good times and bad. I will be praying for you this week my friend.

    • Phil on April 20, 2014 at 11:22 pm

      Thanks Melissa.

  20. Linda on April 20, 2014 at 12:56 am

    Hi Phil, I just read an informative article about earthworms on the ecowatch website, reprinted from National Wildlife Federation’s blog. Informative about the detrimental effect on the forest system.

  21. Phil on April 20, 2014 at 11:19 pm

    Thanks Cori 🙂

  22. Ramani on April 26, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Phil. It is very inspiring.

  23. Elena on April 26, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    From your account, it does sound like the silent V. Retreat has set you on a new course. Having developed your meditation practice so that you are able to commit to beginning your day from this centering place is a powerful benefit that will only grow over time. May this practice bring you to a place of deep peace and heal your heart so that you feel complete and open to all that life offers. May you be at peace,,may you be happy, may you be free of suffering.Blessings to you on you life path. Life transitions can be deeply challenging but you have so much great energy that given time, life will unfold in ways that will carry you over this challenging time to a place where you will feel greater harmony within. Thank you for being a generous, passionate organic garden mentor who shares so much of your knowledge us. Wishing you all the best.

    • Phil on April 26, 2014 at 8:11 pm

      Thanks so much Elena, and thanks for the email too 🙂

  24. Amanda Halak Davidson on April 26, 2014 at 11:53 pm

    Thanks for sharing your exspirence Phil. I was kinda interested in what your take was. Hoping now winter is over and you being able to get out in your garden plus mediating helps you threw what ever your going threw. I know putting new plants in the ground this past week and watching my seedlings grow has really helped me clear my mind. Nothing better than being out in my garden and being close to nature… Thats my zen 🙂 best of luck

    • Amanda Halak Davidson on April 26, 2014 at 11:59 pm

      Oh and thank you for all the gardening tips , very helpful & i’ve learned a lot 🙂

      • Phil on April 27, 2014 at 10:51 am

        Thanks Amanda 🙂

  25. An Nhu on May 23, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    🙂 Sadhu Sadhu. I started reading your blog and book last year and it’s so inspiring that I started a garden a month later. Now my garden is going awesome (although i haven’t done any soil test, oops). However, today’s reading was the best so far, because of your sharing on your 10-day Vipassna meditation course. I can call you my Dhamma brother now – feel so connected haha. It’s so good that you informed your blog readers/followers/students about the course and its benefits. I wish that your practice will be more and more beneficial for you and everyone around you, that your Dhamma tree will grow strong, fast and healthy since you’re such a good gardener. That’s all for today because it’s time for my evening sit. 🙂 With metta – An Nhu\

    • Phil on May 24, 2014 at 1:18 pm

      Thanks for sharing An Nhu. My practice is still going strong and it sounds like yours is too 🙂

Leave a Comment