My Vipassana Experience Part 3: Phantom Bug Bites, Insights and After the Course

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Plantation around Vipassana meditation centre, Malaysia

Plantation around Vipassana meditation centre, Malaysia

This is the part 3 of 3 describing my 10 day silent Vipassana meditation course in Malaysia.
See Part 1: First 3 Days Were Torture and Part 2: Tingling, Vibrations and Sensations.

After 3 days of torture from 10+ hours a day of nothing but observing my breath, discovering new sensations in my body after day 4, on day 7 I thought I was going to leave more crazy than when I arrived.

Day 7 – Phantom bee stings, crazier than when I arrived

Starting the morning of the 7th day, I felt sharp pains all over my body, like ant bites or bee stings. I spent the entire day twitching as my body reacted to these frustrating sharp phantom stings.

At first, I thought I was having an allergic reaction, but there no physical signs of bites, bumps or rashes. I remembered scenes from Black Swan when Natalie Portman’s character was imagining cuts and blood only to realize they were not there.

I was seriously scared I might leave the course more crazy then when I arrived.

Later, the assistant teacher reassured me these sensations are normal and to try to watch my sensations with a neutral mind.

The next morning, these phantom bites completely disappeared.

Other sensations during the course

  • Thoughts about a friend. During the first three days of the meditation I found myself regularly thinking about them, even when I didn’t want to be. I observed my body the next time I found myself thinking about them. To my surprise, I could feel a tingling sensation arising from my chest, splitting in two, going up my chest, my neck and to behind my ears (like a doctor’s stethoscope). After I watched this sensation, my thinking about them stopped.
  • Cravings for hot drinks in my hand. I’ve always loved holding a cup of Starbucks chocolate mocha while I walk around. I wondered if it was the feeling of the warm drink in my palm, rather than the drink itself I enjoyed, because I felt a similar sense of ‘happiness’ holding a cup of chocolate during the meditation. Strangely enough, I haven’t craved any coffee or Starbucks since then the meditation ended a week ago, even though there’s constantly been Starbucks minutes away.
  • Sensations from crying. Old memories from surfaced, from seemingly unimportant ones to stronger memories that made me cry. The teacher told me to observe the sensations on my entire body, not just the obvious areas like my eyes or nose. The next time I wanted to cry, I could first feel the side of my nose warming, my eyes tingling, my throating tightening, my jaw tensing, my chest and top of my stomach warming. As more memories and thoughts surfaced that usually would make me cry, I noticed that I didn’t cry anymore.

The end of silence

When the silence ended on day 10, I didn’t want to talk. I liked the silence.

  • My concentration continued to be sensitive. As I listened to people talk, I could feel tingling in various parts of my body.
  • A shattered DSLR UV lens filter. The glass of the filter seemed to have spontaneously shattered after I got my camera back from the meditation centre. I laughed at the fact that the camera for months through much rugged conditions and that the filter ended up shattering at a quiet meditation centre, and for no obvious reason. It was as if my old perspective had been shattered and now I could embrace a new one.
  • Back in Kuala Lumpur. I had no urge to turn on my MacBook, nor go online on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Inbox of beautiful emails. When I eventually checked, I had an inbox full of beautiful emails from both friends and strangers inquiring about my travels and my meditation. While I was gone, my latest article about budget travel in Asia was published on Toronto Star newspaper’s Moneyville website. Apparently there was a link to the article from the newspaper front page and old friends saw it and said hi.
  • Re-adjusting and first night at the hostel. I continued to mediate in the hostel. Instead of subtle sensations, I felt “fat” vibrations on my face, arm and legs, like a water balloon vibrating. After a few tries, I eventually started feeling subtle sensations again.

    It was a full house at the 20-bed hostel dorm, buzzing energy from travellers and full of chatter and laughter. I fell asleep smiling at how just that morning I was at a quiet, calm meditation centre, and now I was in a a completely different place.

    I remembered the mediation teacher talking about constant change and to experience life from moment-to-moment.

I highly recommend this course

It was enlightening and was incrementally life-changing. I had similar epiphanies when I read The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment a few years ago, but this course was a step deeper.

The course is free with a voluntary donation anytime after the course in the form of funds or volunteering at a retreat if you feel you’ve benefitted from it. There are Vipassana meditation centres around the world.

Since the course ended a week ago:

  • I’ve continued to meditate, once in the morning and evening, and fall asleep by feeling sensations in my body. I’ve notice I’ve been sleeping very well and I’ve reduced the amount of time I need to sleep by over an hour.
  • I’ve continued to notice sensations in my body I didn’t notice before, like tingling when I hugged someone, feelings on the sides of my tongue when I eat, or vibrations when see new sights.

In the last week, I’ve recommended Vipassana to my family, friends and other curious travellers.

Special thanks to the travellers I spoke to after the course, for being patient as I tried to articulate this complex experience.

>> Have you had small epiphanies through meditation, reflection or books? What did you notice afterwards?

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  • Anonymous

    Hi Lily, just saw this reposted on Twitter today. I have some questions…
    1. How experienced were you at meditating and Vipassana in particular before you did this?
    2. Is the food good, and is there enough food? (I read one report about people fighting over food!)
    3. It looks like the group meditation halls have ceiling fans. Do you feel the wind or the heat more?

    I actually have a lot more questions, hope you can answer :)

  • Arya Sravaka

    Hello, I enjoyed the article very much. I have been studying Buddhism as a priority  for 2 years and advantages have been amazing. I got free 5 weeks until the next term of uni starts , so i must commit myself to meditate 8h a day at least.  I found talks by Thanissaro Bhikkhu http://dhammatalks.org/ and Ajahn Brahm http://www.youtube.com/user/BuddhistSocietyWA very helpful.

    be well,with metta
    Ravindra

  • Curious to know how you’re feeling now, with more time passed since you did the course?

  • Lois

    I would most definitely want to try this course for myself. It might be a great opportunity since I will be traveling to Thailand tomorrow. I also read the Power of Now and a New Earth and it certainly changed my perspective. I just need to reread it and apply what I’ve previously learned. Thanks for reminding us how important mental and spiritual health is.

    • Hi Lois,

      If you do get the opportunity to try Vipassana, I’d highly recommend it. And thank you for the reminder that I should revisit the lessons from the Power of Now book as well – it’s been a while since I read it, but there were many lessons I took away from the teachings when I came across the book.

      – Lily

  • Great 3 part series, very interesting, and incredible experience.

    • Thanks Sarah :)

  • Trudyannkelly

    I found your blog through some random googling as I really am at the point you were when you gave up your 9-5, I’m 43, single, savings in the bank and no responsibilities but held back from ‘buying myself some time and freedom’! Those ties are beginning to be loosened and some of your thoughts have really helped. Thank you!
    We all buy things and possessions, all I want is some freedom and head space and that almost cannot have a price on it and yet we don’t do it. What I really want to do is to be able to explore new opportunities and find out what I am good at.
    Good luck on your journey, I’ll be checking in to see how you are doing.

    • Hi Trudy,

      I couldn’t agree with you more about using our energy towards opportunities that really make us, instead of material possessions. It’s so easy to get caught up with having ‘things’ and only once you leave that world do you realize how little it actually matters.

      As an example, I used spent hours in Sephora and department store trying to decide which skin products to buy – in the last four months of my travels, I haven’t used any skin products (aside from sunscreen and soap) and my skin has never been clearer! That makes me laugh at my (old) self.

      My best wishes for your journey and keep me updated :)
      – Lily

  • This experience sounds incredible. Magical even. I’m glad it was a great experience for you. I can’t wait to hear more about how it could possibly change your life when you come back from travelling.

    • Hi Laura,

      It certainly was a wonderful experience and I look forward to seeing how this changes my outlook in the long run. Also, if you’re interested, there’s a Vipassana meditation centre near Toronto, if this is something you’re considering :)

      – Lily

  • loved the 3-part series. sounds like an incredible experience. i think the world could use a lot more meditation in any form.

    • Hi Jamie,

      It was an incredible experience and I agree with you about the world needing more meditation… and calmness and happiness too :)

      – Lily

  • Well done Lily! Such a brave thing to do to confront your mind for 10 days like that. Sounds like an amazing experience. It was good to see the before and after Lily as well, you almost make me want to do it as well ;)

    • Hi James,

      Thanks for meeting up with me after my course and for listening to me try to explain my experience. I do feel like a slightly different person, mostly because I have a new tool to deal with life. I’d recommend the course if you get a chance to go – I’m sure you can find someone to look after your work while you’re away :)

      – Lily

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