Thursday, December 5, 2019

Me, Myself and I

What's the hardest thing you've ever done? Definitely in my top five is attending the ten day Vipassana silent meditation retreat this past June. It's also one of the BEST things I've ever done for myself.

I've practiced meditation on and off for many years. From Thich Nhat Hanh inspired walking meditations at a solo spiritual retreat in Hawaii to weekly guided meditations & dharma talks led by Tara Brach at the Insight Meditation Community of Washington with up to 250 attendees. But I've never incorporated a consistent daily practice into my life. Until now.

My friend and hairdresser extraordinaire, Mychal, told me about the retreat five or six years ago. I'm always up for challenging myself and growing spiritually, but it just never seemed to fit into my schedule. Until this year.

This is NOT a vacation. This is WORK. This is a HUGE commitment to learn and experience the Vipassana technique. A way of meditation to eradicate suffering. And for me, it was a chance to truly live in the present moment, more connected to myself and others than I've felt in a long time.

Turns out, there are centers all over the world. I went to the NW Center in Onalaska, WA. There's no charge. Yes, you read that's totally free. All meals are vegetarian and absolutely delicious, prepared and served by returning students. The accommodations were surprisingly clean and comfortable and the surroundings were gorgeous and peaceful.

When I told friends about my experience, many couldn't imagine not talking for ten days. Noble silence, silence of body, speech, and mind, didn't bother me. No form of communication with another student--gestures, written, sign language, etc--wasn't allowed. And then when I added that no cell phones, laptop, internet, books, music or writing materials of any kind could be used during the ten days, many thought I was insane.

The first four days were the hardest. Despite the no talking, there was SO MUCH NOISE in my head! And oh, the mind made up the most ridiculous stories about the people around me, about how they didn't like me or were mean or some other fairy tale, people I didn't know or hadn't met during the few hours after arrival before the silence began. Once I became aware and removed myself from the drama in my head, I couldn't believe what horrible stuff my mind could create! Imagine in every day life when we're not paying attention to our thoughts, whether our own ideas or someone else's, stories that we latch on to and believe. We truly do create our reality.

And during those first four days, we still weren't practicing Vipassana yet. It took quite some time to figure out the right posture and pillows to sit still on while comfortable for an hour, up to six or more hours a day. And the many hours of focusing on one teeny tiny part of my body was starting to drive me mad. All I could wonder was: are they going to serve us Kool-Aid at the end?

But then we finally learned the technique taught by S.N. Goenka and my mind began to have longer moments of silence. The stillness became silence became awareness. The experience of fully being present is the most amazing experience ever and where every feeling, from bliss to pain, is allowed space in the moment with no judgement.

During our stay we had every type of weather. From spitting rain, to torrential downpour with hail, to breezy, sunny and disgustingly hot and sweaty. I enjoyed every moment. Connecting with nature, including the trees, ants, deer, rabbits, snakes, sun and moon, you not only know, but you feel that we are all part of one big whole.

Now that I'm back home in the "real" world with constant noise both in and outside my mind, I've incorporated what I've learned into my daily life. For the first few months, I consistently sat on the mat for an hour every morning. But then, I'd miss a day or two, here and there, and then finally climb back on the meditation mat, but only give it 10 or 15 minutes. Instead of saying "I should" or "I must", I now go with the flow of life. Most mornings I do meditate, whether it's for 10, 20, or 60 minutes. And if I don't, that's okay too.

Everyone's experience at the retreat is different. But if you have the time and feel so inclined, I HIGHLY recommend giving it a try. I've learned a skill I can always tap into. And with each passing day I find it easier to not avert the bad stuff and not grasp on to the good. I am present. I am the awareness of life. Life is amazing when you have me, myself and I.

Enjoy the Silence!

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