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July 8, 2020

The Practical and Blissful Sides of Meditation

Phil Kohn, co-host of The Breath Circle, shares the benefits he feels when he participates in 10-day long Vipassana retreats.  He describes how the beginning days are a challenge to control the ‘monkey mind’.  This initial clunkiness gives way to an unfolding of peace and calm in the silence that he equates to bliss.  This has led him to some very practical benefits in daily life and to some deeper revelations.


How he came to learn about vipassana seemed to stem from an alignment of interactions that have the sense of coincidence to them.  He had been hearing about this particular form of meditation from three very different people in his life.  Finally, while living in San Francisco, as he was taking a company he co-founded through a prestigious  accelerator program called 500 Startups, he takes note of one of his cohort peers working intensely at a multi-screen monitor station.  There was a fervor to his activity that seemed really intense.  As Phil describes it, he was “jamming away.”  He then noted him about an hour later, sitting very calmly, the opposite of the earlier session, on the sofa reading Marcus Aurelius Meditations.  Phil used that as a segue to strike up a conversation.


As Phil describes it, “ And so I kind of went up to him, and I’m like, hey, let’s, you know, get to know each other. And just, I was really called to get to know this guy.”


The discussion quickly turned to meditation: “And I’m like, so tell me about, you know, just, you know, you clearly are really into meditating.”


Phil shared how his cohort peer described the second vipassana meditation experience he had ever been through.  Phil was enthralled.


 “You know what, this is now enough of a sign like, I’ve now met a few different people. And here’s this amazing human who is doing it. And so for me, it was this process of discovering really fascinating people who had done a Vipassana or had done several vipassanas and had incorporated it into their life, and it was one of those like, wow, I want to taste what they’ve tasted,” shared Phil.


Phil arranged his first Vipassana meditation prior to a trip to a bio dentist in Switzerland, which would be his first of two visits there, to “have an unbelievably intricate procedure done on my mouth to basically help with some of the chronic health issues that I had.”  Phil felt that prior to that experience it would really be an ideal time to go really deep within and really heal and build some resilience for this pretty crazy trip that he had coming up.   He turned out to be prescient as the trip itself was tinged with all kinds of stressful mishaps.  He describes it as squeezing in a vipassana retreat in Canada and then flew back to San Francisco, landed in the morning and basically took off that night to fly to Switzerland for this procedure.   In sharing about it, he talks of how, “a lot of interesting things happened during that period of time that were just the world testing how patient and resilient and sort of calm I could remain. I had canceled flights, missed flights and had to stay overnight in a hotel.  All sorts of funny things and I was just laughing to myself thinking this is very clearly what’s meant to be like and I just knew everything would be okay. And it was.”


In Phil’s sharing this, it really felt that he was able to put a very practical application to the benefits of meditation, in the calm he describes.  Travel mishaps usually get the better of all of us, making us highly irritable and on edge.  Phil took it all in stride.


Beyond the practical side, there were even more profound rewards, “what I tasted was pure bliss and pure Nirvana, happiness that comes from nothing external. And what I mean by that is, in ten days of Vipassana, three days are just pure breath, a straight in and out of your nose. Breathing, breathing, breathing, and then body scanning and just getting in touch with sensations.”  He describes how, “that’s in a nutshell what Vipassana is all about during those 10 days.” 


He goes on to share how there’s no eye contact, there’s no body language, there’s no gestures, there’s no spoken language, just pure silence. Participants are not consuming anything from the outside, there’s no reading, there’s no TV.   He shares how, “The human monkey mind starts to sort of light up in the very early period of those 10 days of just wait, what about this? What about that, oh my gosh, I’ve got to tell this friend and where they’re not gonna be able to find me for 10 days and I wonder how my mom’s doing.”  But he then explains how  “you don’t feed that mind anything because you’re just meditating all day. So you end up just quieting yourself down to a level of just being there with yourself and being in the midst of really beautiful vibrations. It’s just listening to some chanting in the morning and it creates such happiness.” 


There are some parts of the experience that Phil recalls vividly, “I remember exactly where I was day eight and a few other things that happened that day where I was like, wow, like, life is so great. I’d come out of a pretty well long stretch of being very challenged with some chronic health issues and felt some very low points. And then just to pop to such a high point and really start to have a taste of where the mind can go with no external stimuli, you know, nobody’s feeding me medicine, nobody’s giving me drugs. And here I was the highest I’ve ever felt. It was just such a beautiful taste of, Wow, this is so real. I mean, this is experiential wisdom that I never could have intellectualized or read about anywhere.”


To hear his full episode, visit

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