A few reflections on my days at a Vipassana 10-day course (notice how I didn’t say retreat. It aint no retreat, yo. :-)
I mean — where do I even begin? I suppose I’d like to start with a question, one that Buddha asked time and again:
How deeply can you let go?
This is what I explored for 10 days, days that started confused and cramped, bewildered that meditation for 10 hours a day could be so painful or even possible. My legs hurt, my back tightened, my hip joints throbbed. Excruciating. How can anyone take this for so long?
My cottage. :-)
And as the shock of the physical pain started to subside on Day 4, (35 hours of meditation in,) and we began to finally learn about the Vipassana technique, a ‘storm’ as the teacher calls it, emerged within me. It was the last day of my 20s. Another decade passing — I suppose just a marker, but — fuck! I was turning 30, and I was still seeking so much with nothing to show for it. Or seemingly. Broke. Single. Workaholic. and 30.
I broke down, grabbed my knees to my chest in the middle of a 2-hour afternoon session, and cried. I cried for myself. I held back as many tears as possible and sniffled quietly in the silence of fans. The anger soon subsided as the bell dung for lunch.
The days came a bit quicker after that, but they were still hard, still completely, totally the most mentally challenging days I’ve ever experienced. It wasn’t because of not hearing any words uttered to me on my 30th birthday, it wasn’t because I missed my email, or my bed. It was because I realized how little I can control in my life and how much fear has consumed me the past 30 years because of it. Isn’t it strange how scared we can be of ourselves?
Seven days in. A piercing of light, or rather, electricity, of charge, energy started to happen. I won’t go into details of what I felt, as I don’t want anyone reading this who has not done a course before to have expectations about the experience. But, I will say that no meditation session or hour of vipassana is ever easy. It hurts physically and mentally. A lot. There is always a struggle and with that struggle there is always progress in the way we deal with our inner selves, with our minds, with unlocking the truth.
In the same way, life is always hard; there are always endless obstacles, and there is nowhere else to run but inward.
There is still so much to learn about this practice, and I find myself thinking, “Why haven’t I done this before?” Deeply reflecting inward is something I’ve tried to do with gymnastics, with yoga, with meditation and breathing courses, and with bikram for years. I finally feel as though I’ve got it right. This works.
To be humbled by an experience is an understatement. I never knew that I had the potential to have so much patience and persistence, to let go, to really let go, not just on the surface level, faking it for an audience, to explore the inner depths of the mind and surface exhausted time and time again, to realize that I can and should continue to question, to remain vigilant, to seek truth. I learned what truth is and how to seek it. I learned that happiness is a long, arduous and bumpy journey. (And there’s a lot more meditation to come…)
But that doesn’t mean we should ever stop trying to be happy. And to make others happy. And to learn how to dig down deep into that swamp of yours, into the reptilian foundation of your brain, into the layers of guilt and misery you’ve piled on yourself, into the core of what you are and what you always have been.
"You are made of stardust," Carl Sagan says. You are strings of energy melodically gliding, vibrating, existing for only a moment in space. And every larger element in your body was created by explosions in and among stars, gas and dust from space.
You are made of the reorganization of destruction.
But inside of you (and me!) is so much potential, so much light, so much will to do good. I’m pretty sure I’ve only begun to understand, but what I know now is what I’ve always known: It’s always time to let go. to give. to love.
Day 10! Happy.
For more info on Vipassana courses go to http://dhamma.org. You can search courses in almost any country. I would highly recommend Thailand or Myanmar (Burma). :-) They have fantastic vegan food and are absolutely free, and you can make a donation at the end. “But your greatest gift is Dhamma.”(4)