|A Brutally Honest Review of My 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat|
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Full Text1A Brutally Honest Review of My 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat
My slow spiral into insanity and inner peace
Sep 25, 2017
This gong rang at 4:00am in the morning. Every. Freaking. Morning. For 11 days straight.
No talking. No phones or technology. No yoga pants. No working out. No music. No reading. No writing. No killing (even spiders!). No stealing. No masturbating. No sex. No lying. No drugs or alcohol. No moving during “sittings of strong determination.”
The morning gong rings at 4 a.m. sharp to rouse everyone for the opening 4:30–6:30 a.m. meditation session. The first two of 10 1/2 total hours of meditation scheduled every single day. For 10 days straight.
I am officially in Meditation Prison.
How did I end up here?
In a questionable moment of sanity, I decided to book a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat for my birthday. I had no idea what I was in for. Without bothering to do much research beforehand, I figured it’d be nice to disconnect and take a break from technology and social media, relax, and do some yoga and meditation. On a good week, I average about 20 minutes of meditation every few days, so this seemed like a solid way to try and practice it more regularly.
When I looked for payment options on the mysterious website Dhamma.org — complete with a spinning wagon wheel graphic that looked like it was plucked from the internet of 1998 — there was none to be found. What was this madness? What kind of place gives you a bed, three meals a day, and daily meditation instruction for nearly two weeks without requiring a significant chunk of change in return? Was I being lured into an international organ harvesting organization cleverly using the guise of a retreat to find deep inner peace as their cover? Was this some sort of Satanic cult? Do Satanists even meditate?
I had questions.
Digging deeper, I discovered that all of the meditation courses offered via the site are 100 percent donation-based. They won’t accept any money up front, but you can offer a donation after successful completion of one of their programs.
It seemed too good to be true. What was the catch?
I was about to find out.
I was accepted for a 10-day course at the Northwest Vipassana Center located in Onalaska, Washington. On my scheduled day of arrival I road-tripped down from Seattle, grabbed my suitcase (complete with clothes, toiletries, pillow, a sheet for a twin-sized bed, and blankets) — and nervously stepped into the simple, single-story building. It kind of felt like I was starting my freshman year of college all over again.
Immediately upon entering the registration area, I was given paperwork to fill out and a cloth bag into which I was to relinquish my cell phone. The last text that I received was from my father:
“Mom and I suspect this is a cult. If you feel something is out of line just leave right away.”
Thanks for calming my nerves, Dad.
The cloth bag was numbered, and taken away while I was assured it’d be returned on the last day. I sat down to read over the paperwork, preparing to sign away my life:
Signing my entire life away, no big deal.
“A serious undertaking”? I thought we were here to relax… How wrong I was. TM (Transcendental Meditation), yes. Vipassana, no. (Also, a shout out to Nikki Myers for telling me about this in the first place)
While agreeing to all the terms and conditions, I noticed that the men who arrived were sent to residential quarters on the far side of the campus and also had a separate dining area. Division of men and women was required at all times.
After my paperwork was squared away, I was assigned to room 10, spot B. No room key. Just go.
I gathered my things and found my room.
Room 10. The interior was clean, basic, and very college freshman dorm-esque.
My home for the next 10 days, equipped with an “InstaBed” (just add your own sheets and blankets!) and privacy curtains.
Same amount of storage space as a NYC studio. On the right, separate clothes lines for drying things over the heater, plus a posted schedule, rules for clean up, and acceptable times to shower.
Unlimited tissues, paper towels, and toilet paper. So fresh and so clean, clean.
I met my roommate briefly and we agreed to keep the temperature a little cooler at night. That was the first and only conversation we’d have for nearly two weeks. It was time for our first “practice” hour of meditation in the meditation hall.
First, everyone selected an assortment of pillows and props from the prop area. If you do this retreat, I highly recommend taking everything that you need immediately and keeping it at your assigned spot, because everything will be completely gone by the second day and you will be left wishing you’d taken an extra pillow to sit on or a set of blocks to prop up your knees with:
Slim pickings remain after the shelves have been ravaged like free appetizer trays at a Yelp Elite event.
Men on the left, women on the right. We filed in through separate entrances, officially beginning our “Noble Silence” in the meditation hall. From the Code of Discipline section of the introductory pamphlet:
All students must observe Noble Silence from the beginning of the course until the morning of the last full day. Noble Silence means silence of body, speech, and mind. Any form of communication with fellow students, whether by gestures, sign language, written notes, etc. is prohibited. Students should cultivate the feeling that they are working in isolation.
Inside of the meditation hall.
My inner introvert was secretly relieved. No forced small talk? Phew.
Little did I know that in less than 48 hours, this feeling would completely change and I would have stolen an entire Halloween pumpkin bucket of full-size candy bars from a small child just to hear another human being’s voice again.
We were welcomed by our teachers: a woman named Tina in her 70s who sat in front atop a stool and a guy with a brown beard who looked to be in his late 30s or early 40s resting cross-legged on a pillow.
As everyone settled down, I was suddenly shocked by the blasting of an elderly Indian gentleman’s voice over the meditation hall speakers. Though he was extremely passionate and seemingly well-intentioned in his delivery, he also sounded — very unfortunately — like a groaning goat either giving birth, or dying, maybe both. If you’d like to experience it for yourself, go ahead and give this a listen.
After the unexpected chanting faded away, we were instructed by the same voice to focus on our breath. Feel the breath moving in and out of your nose. Feel the sensation caused by your breath in that small triangular area between your nostrils and upper lip. Focus all of your attention here, in this small spot.
For an hour, we breathed and meditated together. I finished feeling strong. This was going to be totally doable.
At 9 p.m., we were dismissed back to our rooms to shower and rest. My bedtime is normally much later (i.e. I’m writing this at 2:06 a.m.) but upon reviewing the posted daily schedule and seeing I was going to be woken up at 4 a.m. each morning, I tried my best to knock out. It didn’t work, so Day 0 passed with barely any sleep.
Day 1: Attempting to Herd Cats in My Brain
So. Much. Meditation. Rinse and repeat.
The morning gong rang at 4 a.m. sharp, as scheduled. I groggily tumbled out of bed and somehow made it to my meditation mat. Swaying from side to side from lack of sleep, I survived the first two hours in a semi-conscious state.
Breakfast followed from 6:30–8 a.m. We were offered an assortment of bread for toasting (raisin, whole grain, 7-grain, and gluten-free rice bread), a giant vat of oatmeal, some strange boiled fruit in syrup to pour over the oatmeal (raisins, plums, and dates?), a Costco-sized bucket of plain yogurt, granola, and two big silver bowls overflowing with bananas, apples, and oranges. Unsurprisingly, the tea and coffee station proved to be very popular:
Mmmm caffeine and toast. Creamer, sugar, and lemon to the left; tea and coffee to the right; and cups, hot water, and honey in the middle.
Everyone was very polite, waiting patiently in line while being very careful not to make direct eye contact.
I slathered two pieces of slightly burnt raisin bread toast with real butter (not the dairy-free option or anything from the tubs of tahini, peanut butter, or jelly), polished off a banana, and sipped some ginger tea with almond milk.
After eating, everyone politely lined up again to scrape leftovers into a compost bucket, place their used forks and spoons into a silverware bin, and wash and stack their dishes.
From 8–9 a.m., we were to gather for the next group meditation in the hall. After that, there was another 9–11 a.m. meditation marathon before lunch, followed by a 1–2:30 p.m. meditation, a 2:30–3:30 p.m. meditation, and another 3:30–5 p.m. meditation with five-minute breaks in between each scheduled sitting before a 5–6 p.m. tea break, 6–7 p.m. group meditation, 7–8:15 p.m. seated lecture, and finally the 8:15–9 p.m. evening meditation.
At some point during these millions of hours of meditation, my butt, back, and basically every part of my body began to hurt, and my mind started to freak out.
Why am I here? What am I doing? This was a terrible idea. One hour, fine. Two hours, OK. Three hours, are you kidding me? Five, six, seven, eight and a half more hours after that? Oh god. What if my legs fall asleep? What if they fall off? Can that happen if my circulation gets cut off for too long? Am I going to be able to walk again? Is my mind going to spontaneously combust and kill me?
I attempted to distract myself from the growing pain in and around my ass by thinking about something else. Anything else. My mind ran with it.
Remember when you jumped off the Macau Tower in China (at 1:23, to be exact)?
How about that time you clung to Richard Branson’s back like a baby koala while he was kitesurfing?
Such a cheeky old man, that Richie B.
Remember when you went sandboarding down a 1000-foot sand dune in the Sahara Desert after riding a camel?
Made friends with a sweet elephant before she gave you pink eye while you were splashing water at each other?
Went to a giant robot show in Tokyo to watch a massive fire-breathing robot spider battle a shiny robot unicorn that blasted sparkles from its horn?
Swam in the warm, crystal clear waters of Super Paradise Beach in Mykonos? Ate your way across Florence with your sister? Was a bridesmaid during your other sister’s wedding? Went to your friend Chelsey’s wedding? Dressed up to be shot by Richard Kern and film a television pilot in LA? Celebrated Dan Sullivan’s 70th birthday and took photo booth pics with your bff Joe Polish?
Distraction. Distraction. Distraction. Distraction. Distraction.
Were any of these things actually happening in the moment?
The only thing that was real was the fact that I was sitting in a meditation hall on some farmland in the middle of nowhere, Washington.
The only thing that was real was my breath, and the momentary sensations flickering on and off across my body.
The only thing that was real was that nothing was permanent. Everything was changing, all the time. But yet I fought it. I didn’t like the soreness or the pain. I wanted it all to end.
Attempting to put a stop my obsessive thoughts about the past, I started fantasizing about the future. What if I stood up and screamed? A piercing sound to slice through the silence? What if I ran around kicking over people’s meditation benches and shaking them in their shawls? What if I stood up, solemnly announced that I quit, and turned to walk defiantly out the door, never to return again?
My fantasy faded, and I returned to my breath. Still there. Still steady. Still real.
Dinner consisted of a cup of tea and a piece of fruit.
At some point, the hours ended. I crawled into bed at 9:00 p.m., my stomach growling and my mind awake, alive, and alert as ever.
Want to think some more? What should we think about now? How about now? Now?
It was going to be a long night.
Day 2: Planning My Escape
Welcome to Meditation Prison. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
GONG. GONG. GONG.
4 a.m. 4:12 a.m. 4:22 a.m.
In case you didn’t get up to the banging of the big gong, a volunteer walks around 20 minutes later with a smaller gong, whacking it outside each individual room.
GONG. GONG. GONG.
4:30 a.m. Fuck.
As I’m putting my clothes on, I can hear my roommate snoring. I feel a mixture of envy, disgust, and annoyance. I want what she has.
My resolution to go to every single meditation instantly dissolves. I curl back up in bed and pass out, sleeping through the 4:30–6:30am sitting.
My dreams punish me accordingly, maybe out of unconscious guilt. I dream that a man murders a girl. His mother, who happens to be an attorney, refuses to defend him in court. He throws a knife into his mother’s neck and she dies. His best friend is horrified, but — not wanting to upset him — requests a massage using the blood. Suddenly the killer looks directly at me, smiling. I am his girlfriend, and my obedience is expected.
I jerk awake, sweating through my thin sheet. What. The. Actual. Fuck. I haven’t had a dream that disturbing in a long time. I’m a therapist. I’m too disoriented to do a proper dream analysis on myself. It’s 6:33 a.m. Breakfast time.
My thoughts shift from sociopathic serial killers to the type of topping I would like on my toast today. I’m inspired to get creative at the condiment tray.
Would tumeric and peanut butter toast taste good? Cinnamon or cayenne sprinkled on a banana?
My brain is screaming for stimulation. It wants to “like” something and “dislike” something else. It needs to read the news, scan a Facebook feed or watch a movie. It is thinking, thinking, thinking, and obsessively judging everyone and everything. It is judging itself, hating itself, annoyed at itself, and reeling from inner pangs of shame, frustration, and resentment.
Where’s this inner peace that everyone talks about? Liberation from suffering? Total enlightenment?
The hours pass. My brain switches modes, moving from blasting random songs to replaying entire episodes of Black Mirror. (That “White Christmas” episode was so messed up.)
The day passes. My mind swirls, coming up with new business ideas and chapters for a book. I have vivid fantasies about my escape. Minutes and hours pass as I detail where I will go, what I will do, and what I will say as I leave. Escape. Escape. Escape. After lunch, I will escape.
Lunch is a tasty offering of vegetable curry over brown rice, a salad of lettuce topped with shredded carrots, beets, and a sesame-colored “sunshine dressing,” plus a couple scoops of cottage cheese.
I eat. I fantasize about escaping. I don’t escape.
1–2:30 p.m., meditate. 2:30–3:30 p.m., meditate. 3:30–5 p.m., meditate. 6–7 p.m., meditate.
At 7 p.m., everyone gathers in the meditation hall for the evening discourse. We are about to sit and watch a video over an hour long so I happily busy myself by building a comfortable reclining seat out of bolsters and blocks. Kind of like this, but without the eye mask and with my eyes (mostly) open:
After a few minutes of relaxing in my reclined work of art, a volunteer comes by and whisper-scolds me to sit up straight. Damn it.
I reluctantly deconstruct my makeshift bolster bed and hunch over my mat. It begins.
The late S.N. Goenka, the revered teacher of Vipassana meditation, appears in grainy footage dated back to 1991. He is a chubby, cheerful-looking man with a shiny forehead and a crisp white shirt. He looks like a kindly Indian uncle who likes to sing loudly, usually slightly off-key, and gives you sweets while you gather around to listen to his stories.
Except now, there are no sweets. Instead, he speaks of the root cause of all suffering: Craving and aversion.
If we like something, that liking can turn into craving, which turns into clinging. If we cling to something that we want or like desperately, and then we don’t get it or we lose it, we can become despondent, angry, and miserable.
If we dislike something or someone, that dislike can intensify into anger and hatred. When it comes to physical pain, focusing on it, becoming angry with it, and trying to force it to change or go away will only cause it to worsen and strengthen in its power and scope.
At one point, S.N. Goenka says,
“The thing that hurts you the most in life is your own untamed mind. The thing that can help you the most in life is a disciplined mind. When the wild mind is untamed, it can be very harmful. If we learn to tame our minds, then it can help us by reducing our suffering and misery.”
But how do you escape the misery? By understanding that pain, sadness, and suffering are a natural part of life. You also have to understand that these are temporary and ever-changing, just as joy, happiness, and pleasure are. If you stop fighting things you don’t like and stop desperately trying to hold onto things you do like, life can become more peaceful. Everything is temporary, so just notice each feeling. Observe it, without any sort of craving or aversion. Everything will ultimately shift, change, or go away, and that’s OK, because something new will take its place.
This is a practice that offers a way out of suffering. Living not in the past nor in the future, but right now, in the present.
For the first time, a tiny ray of light glints through a crack in the darkness. I think that maybe there’s something to this after all.
It sucks, but I vow to keep sticking it out.
Days 3, 4 and 5: The Suck, a Poem
Suffering streams down my back
Misery clenches my ass
Cracks and creaks cramp my stiff neck
Fact: All of this, too, shall pass.
But not now. Not yet.
Now I am aching. Sore. Straining with gas.
So. Much. Suck.
It was a rainy, soggy, shitty mess during days three through five. The weather decided to match my mood.
We are taught to switch from focusing on the triangle between our nostrils and our upper lip to scanning our entire body for both subtle and intense sensations, from the top of our head to the bottom of our toes. We are to do so with an equanimous mind, merely observing, not reacting, craving, hating, or judging.
Everything hurts. I continue to struggle in an upright seated position for over 10 1/2 freaking hours each day. Distraction. Past. Distraction. Future. Distraction. Past. Distraction. Future. And despite the request for Noble Silence, a couple people continuously burp and yawn loudly. I judge them, annoyed that they would disturb the silence so rudely when they could exert a little effort to contain themselves. I’m noting that this checks the boxes of both a dislike and an aversion. I am supposed to generate love for Mr. Loud Sigh-Yawn and compassion for Burpy McBurpeeson who I feel would be immediately cast as the lead in an all-burped Phantom of the Opera.
I have a lot of work to do.
Even the seats in the dining area are uncomfortable. I ate nearly every meal while staring at my food or the wall. Stubbornly, I slog onward.
Day 6: Tina, I Have Questions
Students are allowed a five-minute Q&A session with a teacher from noon to 1 p.m. This is the only time we are allowed to speak.
I sign up. I have questions.
I arrive at my assigned time and am ushered inside. Tina awaits my entry in the otherwise empty meditation hall. I notice she is wearing black New Balance sneakers beneath her long skirt.
Me: Isn’t pain an important indicator? Our body’s way of communicating danger to us? How do we determine when and if to react to pain? For example, if someone is burning us with a hot iron, we can’t just observe it and calmly think, “interesting,” before moving on to a different part of the body, right?
Tina: We are learning to observe pain without reacting to it. Explore and observe the pain. If you are in danger or if it is pure torture, take care of yourself. Remove yourself from the danger. Stand up and walk around for a moment. Otherwise, simply notice it. Where is the pain? Where is its epicenter? Where does it begin and where does it end? Don’t stay in it if it’s intolerable. Also understand that it’s not permanent, and this practice and experience is an opportunity to face more and more of your pain in a new way, by observing it instead of reacting to it. If you keep observing and allowing it to be, while staying neutral, it will eventually pass because everything is temporary, even the worst pain. This is a way out of suffering.
Me: Isn’t liking and disliking things part of nature? A dog likes treats and getting its belly rubbed. It dislikes being hit, and will react by biting whomever hit him. Aren’t we wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain? How can we understand what is healthy and good liking as well as disliking, versus excessive craving and unhealthy aversion?
Tina: There are different degrees of liking and disliking something. It’s unhealthy when you inflict suffering on yourself due to your preferences. For example, let’s say you’re really excited to eat chocolate cake for dessert, but when it’s time for dessert, there’s no chocolate cake left. It’s OK and healthy to be disappointed, but then say, “oh well,” and move on. Don’t let the lack of chocolate cake disturb your peace. If you get angry and miserable because things didn’t turn out the way you wanted and hoped, this is what the Vipassana practice helps to free you from. Why make yourself more miserable about something that is temporary? Don’t let your disliking of a person, thing, or situation rob you of your happiness and peace of mind.
Me: Speaking of chocolate cake, if my stomach growls when I’m hungry, shouldn’t I eat? Right now, I’m not sleeping well because I’m going to bed hungry. I’m not used to skipping dinner. Then I wake up tired and grumpy because I’m attached to sleep. I have a strong liking and craving for sleep, and I function a heckuva lot better when I have enough of it. I think I could meditate and focus better if I got more sleep. Wouldn’t it be more helpful if I could have more than tea and an apple for dinner so I can wake up more refreshed and alert to do better at this meditation practice?
Tina: It’s true that human beings need food, water, and shelter. However, unless you are actually starving, it can be a helpful practice to observe and accept your hunger during the day or at night. If you lay down and can’t sleep but you are resting your body and mind, you will wake up feeling rested. Be aware of your strong attachment to sleep. If you get angry and make yourself more miserable because you are not sleeping, you’re feeding your craving for sleep and it’s robbing you of your peace by making you mad that you don’t have it. Keep noticing and observing the sensations with an equanimous mind.
Me: I’m playing mind games with myself to get through the meditation sittings. For example, one game I play with myself is, “If I just complete three more full body scans, then I’ll reward and treat myself by allowing my mind to escape into a fantasy about the past or the future for a bit.” Is this OK?
Tina: Your mind games are also a fantasy and future-oriented. We are working on being in the present, not trying to escape into the future. Keep doing the work and take it one body scan at a time, because that is all that’s happening right now.
My time with Tina is up. It’s time to be quiet and get back to the backbreaking work of more (and more and more) meditation.
Day 7: I Break Noble Silence (Five Times)
The walking area.
By this day, I’ve broken my Noble Silence a grand total of five times:
“Oooh, snake.” (When I saw a tiny snake slither out from the brush, as if exclaiming what it was out loud would somehow prevent it from attacking me)
“Yum!” (When I ate a deliciously sweet blackberry that I picked from a wild blackberry vine)
“Ouch!” (When the vine’s thorns pricked me)
“Oooh, bunny.” (When I came across a cute wild bunny eating a fern)
“Desss-paaa-cito.” (Uttered inadvertently while I was showering — damn you for being so catchy, Justin Bieber)
I’m working on judging myself less. We are told “never to be disappointed, angry, or upset” with ourselves for making mistakes. We are encouraged to “gently and smilingly come back to the practice of scanning your body from the top of your head to the bottom of your toes with a calm and equanimous mind.”
Everything still sucks.
During the discourse this night, S.N. Goenka talks about “five friends that will help you on your path to liberation from suffering:” Faith and devotion, wise effort, wise attention and awareness, concentration, and wisdom. He tells amusing stories to illustrate each point. I do my best to listen through a heavy haze of pain.
Day 8: Impermanence, a Poem
By the time
You finish this poem
You will be
Than when you began.
The pain has started to wax and wane with each body scan. It’s excruciating, sharp, and intense during one sweep, and completely gone the next. Then it’s back again before fading to a dull throb. Holy crap. This Vipassana meditation thing works. Pain really is only temporary and ever-changing.
I’m not out of the woods yet, but the glint of light has turned into a stronger glimmer. I try not to become attached to any outcome.
Be here now. That’s all there is.
Day 9: Today Was a Good(ish) Day
My favorite part of the walking area. Note the giant ant hill in the lower left corner.
I suspect I may be developing some supernatural powers. And by supernatural powers, I mean an attention span that lasts longer than five seconds.
Now that I’ve been away from the instant stimulation and gratification of my phone for over 220 hours (but who’s counting?), things are slowing down. And instead of fighting it, I’m just existing in it.
On an early morning walk after meditation and breakfast, I stop to observe a giant ant colony, crouching down to watch this fascinating drama of nature, one that I call, As The Ant World Turns:
There are like 500 ants in this photo. I could hear them buzzing, swarming, walking, and crunching. All of my senses were amplified. It was like I was on drugs, except I wasn’t.
I look up at the sky for a moment before re-entering the meditation hall. It’s a vibrant blue with sea turtle and mustache-shaped tufts of white clouds. The limbs of the sun stretch out from millions of miles away to touch my forehead and cheeks with their warmth.
Today, I meditate for all 10 1/2 hours without horrible lasting pain or terrible struggle. My mind still wanders to the past, future, and any number of creative, random, and tempting distractions, but instead of losing control of it for minutes or hours, I am able to notice and “smilingly bring it back” to scanning my body within seconds.
Whaddaya know. Discipline. Focus. Peace. It’s possible after all. Longer and longer moments of it, somehow strangely built up over the course of the past few days.
It’s still hard, but it doesn’t suck as hard anymore. And the times that it does suck pass, replaced by times that suck less, and even times that are kind of pleasant. Those pass too.
Hey look, I’m being!
Walking back to my room after the last 8:15–9pm meditation that night, I stop to look up at the sky again. The starry spread of the Milky Way is clear and vibrant, sparkling like diamond jelly on black toast.
Maybe we look up at the sky to have our faces stroked by the cosmos.
Maybe we’re all made up of stars after all.
Day 10: But My Body Didn’t Dissolve?
After the 4:30–6:30 a.m. and 8–9 a.m. meditations, we are allowed to come out of Noble Silence and enter a period of Noble Speech.
S.N. Goenka calls this a “soothing balm to help heal our wounds after doing surgery on our minds.” The transition is supposed to help us ease back into the real world.
It’s strange being able to look at everyone and finally talk to them. I take a moment to gather myself in my room to enjoy a few more precious moments of peace and quiet before going out into the chatter.
Across the board, the most common question I’m hearing asked is, “How was your experience?”. Here’s a sampling of the answers I hear:
OMG MY BODY TOTALLY DISSOLVED! I WAS ONE WITH THE UNIVERSE!
Everything hurt for awhile and when I accepted and observed it, the pain went away. I started noticing pleasant sensations, like my entire body had been dipped in good vibrations.
I sweated a ton. Tina told me that this was anger and negative old patterns leaving my body. Apparently I have a lot of rage.
I’ve done this course four times now. The first time I felt nothing, the second I felt everything, the third time I felt mixed things, and this time I dissolved my body halfway.
A lot of emotions came up for me. I focused on taming my mind.
My husband passed away last year. I knew if I didn’t find something to help me calm down my mind, I’d go crazy with misery and sadness. This helped me.
I completely dissolved and my whole body became a mass of vibrating particles. There was a surprising amount of talk of “body dissolving.”
My body didn’t “dissolve,” and that’s OK. If I’d heard about that experience earlier, I probably would’ve developed a craving to have that sensation, tried to chase it, and felt upset if it didn’t happen.
It makes sense that we weren’t allowed to talk with each other until the last day. Comparison is the thief of all joy.
The day continued with talks about the importance of serving and giving back, not just with money, but as a volunteer for future courses. S.N. Goenka encouraged us to be happy and for all beings to have peace. We ended with a new meditation of love and compassion, sending out good vibes and caring intentions, pardoning those who we may have been intentionally or unintentionally hurt by, asking for pardon from those who we may have intentionally or unintentionally hurt, and wishing for the liberation, peace, and happiness of all beings. Very lovey-dovey stuff.
I was tired and not sure how strong my vibes of love and compassion were, but I did my best.
And that was it. A little anticlimactic, but it was what it was — for me, at least.
Was it a cult? No.
Was it a magical cure-all for life’s problems? No.
Was it the ultimate way and the only path to enlightenment? No.
Well then, what was it?
Three Main Takeaways and Final Thoughts
I found Vipassana meditation to be a tool. Like any tool, if you use it properly, it can be helpful. By scanning your body, paying attention to both slight and significant sensations, and observing instead of reacting to them, you can gain more mastery over your mind and a greater ability to focus, concentrate, and exist in the moment instead of obsessing about the past or fantasizing about the future. Regardless of your religion or belief system, living in the present is a pretty cool thing.
It was a powerful experience to objectively observe my mind and all of its crazy-making. By being stuck with it for hours, I noticed where my brain goes to escape from discomfort and how I avoid both emotional and physical pain. I learned more about how I cope by examining what I crave and try to avoid. I also learned that I can be in the suck and it, too, shall pass. It’s OK to feel sadness, anger, worry, pain, and suffering, just like it’s OK to experience pleasure, joy, and excitement, and that all of these feelings will ebb and flow. Nothing is permanent, and that’s life.
I was able to reconnect with my body. By noticing and experiencing soft and gentle sensations on and in my body, from the feeling of my clothing to the air on my face, I recognized and appreciated subtle feelings again in addition to stronger ones. All are real, all are valid, and I don’t need to go chasing intense highs to feel something. I’m always feeling something, I just have to take the time and make the effort to notice it. As someone who has been disconnected from my body at times, this was a seemingly small achievement, but a very big one to me.
Would you do it again?
Not anytime soon, but maybe in the future.
Did you find the experience valuable?
Would you recommend it?
Yes. Go and have your experience. It won’t be like mine or anyone else’s. It will be uniquely, perfectly, 100 percent yours. And that’s exactly what your life is supposed to be.
If you want to check out a Vipassana Meditation retreat, go here.
If you made it to the end of this article, give yourself a hand and then go out and get a breath of fresh air. And take a look up at the sky while you’re at it. It will be a different sky every time, ever-changing, and it will never look the same again.
Ivy Kwong: Psychotherapist specializing in healing, creating, and deepening your relationships — with others, and most importantly, with yourself. Link
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