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© Leigh Wells

I looked around the hall at all the other meditators, sitting so quietly, with such dignity. Suffering arises from getting caught up in stories and illusions—I hoped that somehow this insight might release me from the turmoil in my mind. Freedom and joy arise from remaining present, I reminded myself, but it was futile. Before I knew it, the fantasies whirled me off again.

Several weeks before arriving at this Vipassana retreat, I had met a man who seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. In our few casual encounters, something had clicked, and I was infatuated, now utterly carried away by desire and delicious fantasies.

I was in the throes of what has come to be known as a Vipassana Romance, a state of mind that feverishly builds an enticing and erotic relationship with someone we barely know. In the course of a few hours of meditation, I had lived through courting, marrying, having a family with this man—over and over, in various versions.

No matter what I tried, this industrial-strength Vipassana Romance withstood all my strategies for letting go and returning to the here and now. I tried doing long walking meditations on the snowy paths surrounding the retreat center. I tried to relax and direct my attention to the breath, to note what was happening in my body and mind. I could barely complete two cycles of mindful breathing before my mind would once again return to its favorite subject. I saw us meditating and then making passionate love. I imagined that we’d hike to the top of Old Rag Mountain, revel in the hints of early spring and in the possibility that we were, indeed, soul mates. As my mind churned relentlessly onward, I felt self-indulgent and ashamed of my lack of discipline. Craving is the cause of suffering, I’d remind myself firmly. What was wrong with mel Why couldn’t I just detach, observe it, let it go?

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