Robbie Angus: How Vipassana Meditation Changed My Life…

vipassana meditation

Spirituality was something that always interested me but my meditation journey truly began three years ago when I finished my first vipassana, a ten-day silent vipassana meditation retreat. Before that, I felt like I was lost – searching for direction… and couldn’t find love for myself.

The most important thing being meditative has given me is a life’s mission and compass. No matter how challenging things get I know I can always reconnect with that life purpose and it gives me so much strength. For that, I am forever grateful because meditation to me is truly a priceless gem.

Three years ago I was travelling the world. While in Taiwan I met a Frenchmen who had been riding his bicycle around the world for the past three years with relatively no money. He was truly inspirational. I had always wanted to do some big adventure to prove that I was courageous.

I decided that I was going to do my own trip!

So I booked my tickets to China and planned to buy a bike and ride to my mom’s home in the UK.

First challenge! 🙂

I had done zero planning and time was running out to get the visa. There were so many issues and It really was a disaster. A couple of days before the flight I had this overwhelming feeling of hopelessness come over me.

I was so scared and lost I felt like there was a hole where my heart should be. I had lost all confidence in what I was doing with my life. I doubted I could undertake the journey or if there was any point to it in the first place.

Thankfully, maybe by chance or maybe someone or something is truly looking out for me. I stumbled upon a podcast about meditation. It motivated me to sit and meditate for the first time in a long time. I was able to disassociate from my thoughts and get a brief period of peace.

That short period of calm was in such a stark contrast to what I had been feeling that I was blown away. It gave me the belief that I could change. And this was the first step in the process and believing it is possible.

Straight away I cancelled my flights and booked a ticket to India, one of the spiritual hubs of the world.

A friend recommended a ten-day silent vipassana Meditation retreat

…and to him, I have the deepest gratitude.

Now I was in India on my way to my first vipassana retreat with a deep longing for peace. That longing was what gave me the drive to push myself like I never had before.

As soon as heard my teacher S.N Goenka’s first discourse I was hooked. I worked my ass off. I soaked up the teaching like a sponge and every day I felt like I had a new epiphany.

For the first time, I felt at home and truly safe. Like nothing in the past or future mattered so long as I was close to this stillness, I felt inside.

It was a beautiful experience.

To say it had a profound impact on me would be selling it short. I can’t stress how important this time was for me.

Now I view my life in two stages; before Vipassana and after Vipassana.

I went on to sit four more courses in the next five months and became so engrossed in the teachings I felt like the old me was gone.

I think back to all the things I learned from this phase and there were so many momentous shifts, like earthquakes inside me. I felt like a changed man and that I was ready to return home to New Zealand and my family and friends.

I thought just my presence was going to change their lives for the better too. Pretty much the first day back I realized how egotistical that belief was. I was invited to a party and given a heavy bong hit after not taking any intoxicants for six months. I could hardly move for the rest of the night and was taken deep into my anxieties and insecurities that I believed to have been left back in India. It was a deeply humbling experience. And over the next year, I was continuously humbled and shown how I wasn’t actually that spiritual after all.

I had changed as a person, and of that, I had no doubt, I was dedicated to meditation and was in the process of renouncing most materialist things. I had decided to become vegetarian, bought a van and started living out of it and continued to meditate every day for at least an hour. My neurosis, however, I was quickly realising, had barely fadedIt was easy to fake being spiritual when you were living in retreats and didn’t have a care in the world.

My deepest wish going home was for my family and friends to see the new me and that it would inspire them to do their own vipassana retreat and get the benefits. They barely noticed any difference in me and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t convince anyone to do a retreat. I was learning that actions really do speak louder than words and it hurt.

I thought I better put my degree to work and got a job as a geotechnical engineer. I was living in my van, cooking dinner on a portable stove and parking up each night at an abandoned house. Meditating one hour before work and one hour after work. To say I didn’t fit in with the regular working environment was an understatement.

At this time, I was trying so hard to be spiritual that I felt so alienated from the western way of life. I felt like I didn’t fit in with anyone anymore. It took a long time to realise how to integrate what I had learned and stop forcing myself to be a more spiritual person than I really was. I had to learn how to go with the flow and stop pushing myself to be something I wasn’t. I was white-knuckling my spiritual practice and eventually, I burned out.

Through this time, I was going to raves and taking lots of psychedelic drugs. I thought that although the teachings said to renounce intoxicants and avoid people who did take them. I still had a lot to learn from psychedelics and parties.

I am an introvert and always felt ashamed of it. I felt weak because I was uncomfortable at large, wild parties. After all the meditation, I was still insecure and wanted to prove to myself and the people around me that I was confident and not even the wildest party could shake my cool. Deep down I knew this wasn’t the case but at least I thought the “exposure therapy” would help.

The idea to live life on the edge of your comfort zone is great. But it takes a lot of self-control not to fall off that edge and I fell pretty hard. It was a pretty unhealthy environment for me and I didn’t last long

During this time I met a girl that I thought was the one. I fell for the idea of her hard. She was on paper the perfect spiritual girl for me. I deeply wanted a serious relationship my entire life. I didn’t love myself and was seeking validation from someone else. Giving them the impossible task of filling a bottomless hole inside me. Through my own neediness, I pushed her away. And because I couldn’t love myself, how could I ever love her fully? The short-lived relationship ended as quickly as it started and pushed me into a state of depression.

How could I feel this way? I worked so hard to be free of these emotions.

Was all this meditation a waste of time? 

My faith was faltering.

Thankfully the teachings had never left me. I knew I needed to let these feelings be and not push them away. Given time, they would change on their own. I continued to meditate. It was all I had. I couldn’t give it up. I quit my job and served as a volunteer on another few ten-day retreats which helped a lot and put me in touch with some wonderful kindred spirits.

At this time there was this big multiple-day festival coming up. I was still putting a lot of pressure on myself. I was really debating if I should go to this party. After the last ten-day, I had a strong pull to renounce drugs and parties but I still felt like I had something to learn from them.

I was out camping with my mom and filled with anxiety about the upcoming party. We were talking about it and my mom kept saying if you don’t want to do it then don’t do it. After the tenth time, it finally sunk in. And I had one of the most important thoughts of my life.. what am I trying to prove…

At that moment I suddenly realised that for my whole life I was always trying to prove to myself that I was brave and fearless and that if I did that I would be worthy of my own love. I was pushing myself into difficult situations because I was afraid of fear and wanted to conquer it and be free of it forever. This party was me trying to prove that I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t want to go. I was telling myself I should go. It would be good for me. I realised that I didn’t love who I was and that this idea of self-improvement that had been my focus my entire life was all based on self-disgust. I wanted to change who I was because I didn’t like myself. I realized what I was doing to myself.

For the first time, I accepted that I had nothing to prove. I was ok as I was. I didn’t go to the party and stopped taking all drugs. I moved in with my mom. And took all the pressure off me to become better. I even stopped meditating for a bit.

Through this process of learning to love myself, I realised many things. The main reason I wanted to go on the bike trip was to show the world but more importantly myself that I had done something big.

Something very few people had done before. I wanted to say on my deathbed that at least one time in my life I did something truly impressive. It was all a big ego trip. I started to realise that what makes life truly worthwhile is the love you have and share with the world around you.

The greatest version of me isn’t the one that reaches the highest mountain or is the life of the party, it is the version of myself that fully accepts who I am at this very moment. That is the greatest version of all of us. Perfection is an illusion. we are all unique and wonderful exactly as we are right now. We don’t need to change just love ourselves.

It has been a long journey and I am only just getting started.

What I have learned is to be more patient and let the growth happen naturally instead of trying to force it.

Life is always teaching me things no matter the situation. I have no control over what happens outside of myself. And actually have very little control over what happens inside of me.

As many meditators know, it is very difficult to stop the continuous train of thought for any significant amount of time.

The only thing I can control is how I react to the world and the constant thoughts and turbulent emotions, Understanding I need to let it be and stop pushing and pulling. If I relax and stop forcing my will, things with eventually settle down by themselves. This goes for the outside world and the internal world.

They are like great pools. If we stop churning the water, eventually it will settle into stillness and we can then see clearly into their depths.

Spiritual practice is still the most important part of my life and has given me purpose in itself. If everything is taken away from me, I know I can still be happy. 

I have my practice. it is always with me wherever I go. It keeps me here and now and stops me from getting caught in the stickiness of life. It has given me a strong moral compass and shown my kind heart. I have learnt to love myself more unconditionally, allowing me to love others the same. I’ve learned to trust myself and the people around me and I have learned the importance of helping people.

I have also changed the way I make decisions. I decided that I will only do what I want to do and need to do or am responsible for. I will ignore what I tell myself I should do. Because should do’s are the pressures of society and are born out of self-dissatisfaction. Knowing if I follow my deepest desire (my life purpose) and cut out all the noise I can never go wrong. If I’m not doing what I love I’m wasting my time.

I’m far from inner peace but I have regular glimpses of it. And I know that if I just keep meditating and helping people I’ll get there eventually. Slow and steady.

If you made it here, thank you for taking the time to read it and I hope something resonated. I wish you all the best with your journey,

Here are some links if you like to know more about Vipassana, Meditation and retreats:

What is Vipassana mediation?

What is Transcendental Meditation

Buddhist practice

Effects of meditation

Insight meditation

Mindfulness techniques

Try a ten-day Vipassana retreat