I vividly remember Days 7-9 of my Vipassana course thinking and feeling it would never end, yet, here it is over a month later and the course already feels like another lifetime ago. Since returning I have fielded countless questions about the experience and I’m not sure I’ve ever be able to accurately put it into words.
The most prominent personal insight I pulled from the experience is that I have an imbalance of pride and humility. If you guessed that pride is dominant, then you are correct. A spotlight shown on this when I asked myself why I stayed when I was miserable and the best answer is that I didn’t want people to think less of me because I didn’t follow through. This was highlighted again when I was given a meditation chair on Day 9 and my instincts were to refuse it. Why? Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than being pitied. However, during one of my many walks in the woods, it hit me. What I have failed to see these past few years is most people are offering me compassion, which I translated into pity. There is a difference.
I love to suffer. I would rather suffer alone in pain and discomfort than look weak. It goes against every cell in my body. BUT, I need to remember it takes more strength to ask for help, be vulnerable and weak than it does to suffer, in pain, silently.
That being said, I learned I struggle with other’s emotions and reactions. I often sugar coat my health situation because I don’t want pity, but also because I can’t handle other’s crying, being upset, hurt or angry at my expense. I’m not sure there’s anything specific I can do to make this urge go away, other than continuing to strive to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. I can not control others reactions, but I geeze, I really want to.
Now, some lessons for the general good.
You can pretty much do anything (within the laws of nature) with patience, persistence and practice. When I told people I was going on to spend 10-days meditating in silence without my iPhone, a typical response was, “I could never do that.” And I’m here to say, yes you could, if you wanted to and I totally get that not everyone wants to.
Let it go. Let it go. Let it go. 99.9% of people I know have experienced a trauma in their life. And of that 99.9%, most of us (myself included), strive to not relive those bad experiences and push them deep down inside our brain. We all know this is not a good coping mechanism. In fact, I’m here to tell you it can be downright dangerous. In my case, I do believe stress and trauma contributed to cancer. Before the course, I received a call from a staff member at the Center who wanted to talk about my application. One of the things she said is that all those traumas are going to come to the surface and she was right. What I realized is the only way for the traumas to get out is through the surface. If you truly want to be free, you will let them come to the surface, deal with them and then, let them go.
The internet is the devil. I knew that social media and the news caused me anxiety and a 10-day Vipassana course was an excellent detox. So much that I’ve continued to limit my exposure and let me just say, OMG – living in the bubble is so nice. I have no idea what is going on in the world and I love it. While I agree there are many important issues to fight for at the moment, I’ve decided the best thing I can do is make sure I am happy, which makes me more kind to others and (hopefully) in turn makes those people pay the kindness forward and so on.
Isn’t it boring? More than I could describe. You think you know boredom, but without talking, technology, books or journals, this was a whole other level.
Why 10 days? I’m sure I could’ve found a shorter meditation program, but it wouldn’t have been the same. If you read my last blog, I was having fun for the first half of the course. It wasn’t until the last half that I settled in and the hard, rewarding work began.
No talking, really? Noble silence means no talking, eye contact, gestures or communication of any sort. The quiet is necessary to focus. I realized this after silence broke and I tried (unsuccessfully) to meditate. You may talk to the teacher and course manager, which I did a few times.
What were the discourses like? Every evening there was a philosophic teaching video featuring the late teacher, SN Goenka, the Burmese man who brought Vipassana meditation to the western world. Some of the concepts really connected with me (impermanence, compassion, love, acceptance), but others, not so much. Specifically when he talked about craving and aversion. Naturally, I thought of cancer and questioned…when I was really sick from cancer, was I just suppose to not have aversion to my situation and not crave feeling better? Every video is concluded with a wish for all beings to be happy – is that not craving? Basically, take a seat, Goenka.
Is the food good? Breakfast and lunch were excellent vegetarian dishes that included tacos, pastas, soups, salads, etc. “Dinner” was only fruit and tea. I learned the first day that a full belly and meditation do not work well together. Those with health conditions can arrange for dinner, but I decided to try the holistic plan and was fine.
How much does this cost? The course is free and runs on donations from students who have completed the entire 10 days. I did give them a financial donation and a shipment of squatty potties to help future students with the digestive slowdown many of us experienced as a result of sitting for 11+ hours each day.
What were the other people like? The course consisted of 35 men, 35 women and a handful of people who were volunteers in the kitchen. Wait lists for each course are equally long. Approximately 20 were return students. One guy was attending for the 14th time. We had a bank CEO, sitting for the 3rd time. A Buddhist nun. Many yoga teachers. A few college students. Stay at home mothers. Retirees. A couple on their honeymoon. Immigrants from Colombia, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Germany.
What do you do all day? Meditate, sleep, walk and eat. The daily schedule is shown to the right, but basically the day is 4am until 10pm, with many opportunities for rest and solitude. There are three, one-hour “mandatory” group meditations each day.
Can you leave? Of course and I was surprised that only six out of 70 people left before the end of the ten days. The teachers and staff really try to accommodate people and encourage them to stay the entire course.
In conclusion, I’m so glad I did it. I felt that I knew myself well, but after sitting alone for ten days, I learned some new things. I’m also happy to report that I have continued my meditation practice and think the technique will be very useful. During days 6-9, you couldn’t have paid me a million dollars to do another course and I constantly told myself, I never want to do this again. However, when I left the center I thought, I might do this again. And now that I’ve had some distance from the experience, I would do it again… but not anytime soon.
To learn more about Vipassana, click here.