As many of you already know, I recently attended a 10 day Silent Vipassana Meditation Retreat. Many of you have asked questions like “How did it go?” “What was it like?”, “Was it worth it?”. So I will attempt to summarize the biggest lessons I learned or that are now more deeply engrained. Attempting to summarize the total experience would require much more time and a lot more paper.
Let me start by saying Vipassana has been on my bucket list for a few years. But the truth is, I was never really committed to going until I actually committed to go. I liked the thought of going, but thinking and doing are world’s apart. Back in the fall of 2016, I had another moment of inspiration one day to look at the course schedule and consider, again, going to the course. I saw that the upcoming dates were all full and there was a “wait list”. So, I put my name on the wait list. It made me feel good to say “I tried” and it made me feel good that it wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t go, there was a wait list after all…haha. After I signed up for the waitlist, I forgot about it. Much to my surprise, I received an email on Dec 11th to inform me that there was an opening for me to attend Jan 4-15 Vipassana. I needed to respond by the 16th of December in order to secure my spot. YOINKS! I didn’t tell a soul until the evening of 15th, when I finally told Suzann. I was kind of freaked out. NOW, the ball was in my court. Will I say yes or will I say no? On December 16th I told my husband and asked if he would mind. Being the solid support system he is he said “Do it. If you want to do this, do it. Of course.” So I said “yes” on December 16th, still part of me hoping that they might say I was too late and my spot was taken. I know, madness right? haha.
This next bit of information may give you insight as to my state of mind prior to leaving January 4th. On Christmas Eve I received word that a dear friend of mine had unexpectedly passed away. He was 52. I found out later in December that the funeral would be held January 7th. So now, I needed to decide to go to Vipassana and miss the funeral or cancel my reservation for Vipassana to attend the funeral. That decision messed with my mind, leading up to the Vipassana and particularly while I was at the Vipassana the day of the funeral, wondering if I had made the wrong choice – a choice I would deeply regret. An update on that later.
Here are some of my big lessons from Vipassana. None of these things are new concepts, I already understood these things intellectually. However, “getting it” experientially engrained the lessons much more deeply.
Time is Relative – Before going to Vipassana it often seemed there weren’t enough hours in the day. BEING in Vipassana time ticked by at a turtle’s pace. 10 days felt like weeks. Perhaps if I powerfully choose to be present to each moment I’m in in my “normal” life, I won’t wonder so much “where did all my time go?” There were periods of time in Vipassana when I wasn’t focused on how slow time was ticking, I was simply present – tuned in, tapped in, energized and in the flow. And many times I simply wasn’t. I’m committed to increasing the amount of time I spend being truly present to what ever my current reality is. Any moment, every moment, can be a meditative experience if I intend it to be.
This also will change – At first glance this sounds like another way to say “This too shall pass”. But, for me, “This too shall pass” always feels like something to remind myself of when life is hard and certainly not when life is good. But the truth is, life isn’t either all good or all bad, all easy or all hard. It’s all of that and it’s always changing. Life is life. It’s the law of nature that everything is arising and passing, arising and passing. Observe it all, attach to none of it….this also will change.
Craving and Aversion are the source of my suffering – What is is what is. (click button below to continue reading…)
My tendency (human tendency) is to want more of what I like, crave what I think would make me happy, push away what I don’t like and feel upset, hurt or angry when I don’t get what I want or I get what I didn’t want. Vipassana taught me to observe the sensations in my body that felt good and the sensations that felt terrible (like the gripping pain in my spine from hours on my meditation cushion) without trying to change it, chase it, ignore it or push it away. I learned how to allow it, observe and detach from judgement and labeling of it. The more I thought about the pain, the more pain I felt. The more I chased a good sensation, the more elusive the sensation became and the more disappoint I felt when I couldn’t recreate it. In the moments I was able to allow it all, the bliss and the pain, I felt peace.
Having a full stomach weighs down more than my body – I had a concern going in to the retreat that I would be in a state of “hangry” (hungry and angry) for 10 days. The meal schedule concerned me. Breakfast at 8am, Lunch at 11a and only tea and fruit at 5pm? Whaaaaat? To my surprise, I only chose the 5p fruit feeding 2 or 3 times during my 10 days. And I lived. The teacher suggested we only eat enough during mealtime to be three-fourths full. This was actually quite helpful. As my body felt lighter, so did my mind. Fullness and certainly over-fullness brings about bodily sensations that can be distractive to the mind and exhausting for the body and the quantity of food I ate each meal was something within my control. So I exerted my self control and only filled my belly ¾ full at mealtime. I did feel pretty hungry at breakfast time, but was satiated easily within a few bites of my morning meal and truly never experienced any “hangriness”. I’m committed to eating more consciously now.
Give More – When you live on the charity of others, you appreciate everything – Vipassana retreats are, by design, a “by donation only” organization. NO ONE gets paid, not even the teachers. Participants are not charged for the retreat. You are literally provided for solely by the charity of the one’s before you. A beggar would not complain about his accommodations when offered a bed nor complain about ingredients in the bowl of soup he’d been given. I felt a huge since of gratitude for everything that was provided for me and inspired to donate so that I can be the source of giving that provides for another. Perhaps I should give a way more and take less? Being the recipient of another’s giving inspires me to be more giving.
Silence is golden – Being silent for 10 days was actually not too difficult. In fact, there was a lot of freedom in it. I didn’t know anyone there and we were all going through an experience that put us in a vulnerable state. To be free of the social graces of small talk and introductions was actually liberating. I realized how much of my head space is taken up in a day by the external noise of the world. Additionally, my view of my experience was not altered by the opinions or experiences of anyone else there. No one was talking so no one was comparing their experience to anyone elses. No one got trapped into anyone else’s drama. Everyone was just having their own experience. The silence allowed for a clearing of external clutter which freed up space in my mind resulting in clearer thinking and increased creativity.
Practice is key – Since the law of nature is that everything is arising and passing, this holds true for everything. Leaving Vipassana I felt high on life, clear headed, tuned in to my Higher Self. As I drove home that morning I was processing my experience and thinking about what I was going to commit to so that this wouldn’t just be a cool thing I did one time. I wanted to experience more time in this space of deep connection to myself. I knew the high I felt would fade away if I didn’t take action to make the process a part of my life. At the exact moment I was thinking about all this, a bright orange light popped up on my dashboard “Maintenance Required”. I literally laughed out loud alone in my car. Got it Universe. The key is to practice. Since returning home I’ve carved out time to get on my meditation cushion each morning and each evening. There are no quick fixes and nothing lasts forever. MAINTENANCE REQUIRED.
I am in charge of my own liberation, my own salvation, I have to fight my own battles , no one can do it for me – These words play like a mantra for me now. No one, outside myself, can give me peace of mind, security, safety, or anything else I may think I need or think someone or something else can provide. I have to do it myself. I can choose each day to take the journey inward to experience my Higher Self (who already knows that everything is OK) or I can focus on the outer world and try to control it and be yanked around in degrees of happy and miserable. It’s up to me. I see this as incredibly empowering. I create my own reality. If someone is mean or rude to me I can focus on it, replay it, justify my ugly response and go down a tunnel of anger, hurt and sadness – justifying all of it along the way. But the cost of that is I lose my peace and I experience misery. My intention is to be non-reactive and to cut the source of the misery at its root. Only I can give life to peace or life to misery. What will I choose to focus on? Even if I only improved 10% in this area, life still would feel better. J And take yoga, for example. Someone can tell me that yoga is so great and how much they’ve benefited and I may believe them. I can, at an intellectual level, believe the yoga helps people. I can do the research, interview practitioners, decide that yoga is beneficial. I can even promote yoga to everyone I know and meet. “Yoga is so good for you. So many of my friends have had such great results”. But unless I DO yoga, I won’t get the benefits of the practice. No one can do yoga, no matter how hard they try, in a way that benefits MY body and mind. I am in charge of my own liberation and I have to do the work to the receive the benefit.
I could go on and on about the experience, these are just are a few of the standouts for me. I certainly do not see myself as a fully enlightened being after 10 days of Vipassana. I do however, have renewed commitment to my own spiritual development, more compassion for myself and for others and most of all a sense of direction (an instruction manual) on how to maintain these lessons in my life.
By the way, I held my own private funeral for my friend in my little dorm room and it was special and meaningful to me. I felt like I was able to give him a proper goodbye and I’m at peace with missing his funeral service.
For me, Vipassana was a HUGE challenge. Meditating for 10 hours a day was physically uncomfortable. Having no outlet to distract me, like a book to read, music, TV, journaling was uncomfortable mentally. I stayed, and I’m proud of myself, but then again they confiscated my car keys and cell phone on Day 1 so I had no wheels and no phone to call an Uber. Haha. Just kidding. I wouldn’t have left even if I’d had my keys but the thought crossed my mind a few times. At the end, it was definitely worth the periods of “suffering”. I actually enjoyed the silence, I could embrace 10 days of silence again…no problem.
Many have said to me “I don’t think I could do it”. The truth is, yes you could. It’s just a matter of whether or not you want to. If you don’t want to then that’s the truth and that’s fine. Vipassana may not be “that thing” for you. However, I encourage to find YOUR thing and do it – something that excites you, interests you, scares you a bit, something that pulls you out of your comfort zone and challenges you to grow or to learn something new or dive deeper into something you’re really interested in.
If you do want to try Vipassana Meditation and I can support you in any way by answering questions or whatever else, I’m totally there to assist. There’s not one path in life, there are many. I’ve taken many, and this is another one I’m glad I walked on.
Thank you so much for all the kind notes and messages and thoughts of well wishes before and during my journey. It means so much to know that someone else is thinking of you and wishing you well. I appreciate y’all so much.