As I began writing, the words poured out in greater succession that expected. Probably too many words to hold the interest of many. For this reason, I’ve broken up the post into sizeable sections. Please scroll down and read the parts that are interesting to you. It is not necessary to read the whole thing, though you are very much welcome to! A good portion of it was written within hours of getting home, and the rest over the course of two weeks as I began to integrate. Lots of love. xo
The background story
The first time I heard of Vipassana was during my teacher training in Tucson. An older gentleman was also taking the training and during a share he spoke on his experiences and deep level of commitment to his meditation practice. He was and still is, one of the most genuine human beings I have ever met. He kinda reminded me of the rock man from the Never Ending Story. He broke down in tears one day in how deeply he wanted to truly awaken so he can help others. Beautiful man.
Last year when I was in India I saw a healer/astrologer named Amodini, a 65year old Indian woman who blew my socks off. To talk about her and what I experienced in the five hour session with her would be a blog post in and of itself so I will leave that be for now. Suffice it to say that one of the things she gave me as homework was to do a Vipassana course a year for three years. After that she said I would be ready. For what? That’s to be seen, I suppose. By the time I went to the course it was almost a year to the day that I had my session with that powerful woman. It was the right time.
I knew the course was going to be hard. I have yet to meet a single person who has done Vipassana that didn’t find it difficult. I have one friend who had a really hard time the first three days but for the rest of the course she swore she could’ve become a monk, she got that into it and it was quite blissful. Another friend went through hell the entire time and came home with mild PTSD that took her awhile to work through. So, I knew the course was going to be hard. I felt ready. I wasn’t. But that was perfect.
What the whole thing is about
When I went to the course, I really had no idea about it really. I knew I was going to be meditating, I knew I was going to be silent, that’s about it. Below is a rough synopsis what the deal is in terms of what the hell everyone is doing there anyways. It’s a bit wordy, a bit philosophical, if that’s not your jam just skip over it.
Vipassana is a technique aimed at seeing what is. The words repeated endlessly in the course is “as it is…see what is, as it is.” The first three days are spent practicing Anna Panna Meditation, which is breath observation where you narrow the location of the nostrils and underneath the nose. This might seem arbitrary. It is not. It not only concentrates the mind, but sharpens it and also allows for acute levels of physical sensitivity to be cultivated which is important for what is to come. On day four you learn Vipassana Meditation, which is an in-depth form of body scanning. I thought I was deeply in touch with my body. Very quickly I discovered just how dissociated I actually am/was from my own physicality. Wild. The aim of this technique, which goes beyond just feeling your body and really has to be instructed thoroughly, is to start uncovering Sankaras. This technique is said to be the original teachings of the Buddha and throughout the course you receive an in-depth yet simply explained exposition of the basic tenets of Buddhism. Sankaras are a big piece of this, which I will get to in a moment. As foundation we are taught the ABC’s of Buddhism, namely the Four Noble Truths. 1) Life is suffering. 2) The cause of suffering is clinging/avoidance. 3) There is a way out of suffering. 4) The 8-fold path is the way.
Addressing the source of suffering is the major part of what the course is about. We are constantly at the mercy of our habitual patterns of reaction to the world around us. When we come across things that please us we cling on to them, try to make them stay, hope they won’t change. When we come across things that displease us we push it away in various forms of avoidance. Now we happen to live in a world that is constantly in flux. Things are always changing. We are always changing. Our loved ones are changing. All the things we love and want to hold onto will change, and eventually die or evolve into something else. No matter how hard we try or how many horseshoes are shoved up our butts, we will inevitably come across people, situations, experiences that we would rather avoid. People piss us off. War. Death. Bad traffic. Bad hair days. Rape. Being young and stupid and make strange choices that we later look back at with chagrin. Divorce. Etc etc etc. We go about our lives at the mercy of our habitual patterns of reaction to the world around us, the things we experience, our preferences. These habit patterns are called Sankaras. They are deeply embedded into our being, though they are not actually who we are despite that we often identify so closely with them. In simpler terms: Sankaras are the mental and emotional bullshit that keep us stuck in our lives and are 100% the cause of our suffering, (though it feels nicer to blame external circumstances), and they have corresponding relations with the body and through the body you can uncover them. Even simpler: be observant + feel your body + be willing to face whatever comes up = become free.
On day ten we are taught Metta Meditation, the meditation of loving-kindness. Heart explosions and deep joy.
Especially in the first few days of the course, I wrote about ten blog posts in my head about the things I was experiencing, the insights I was gaining, the garbage I was dropping. But every single day was a life time of experience, and now…just a few hours after being home from the course, most of the things that I thought about aren’t prevalent and it would be impossible to try conjour them up. Below is the bits that have carried through, have importance, and/or deeply affected me.
Day one: Learn Anna Panna Meditation technique. Pretty excited about everything. Overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape. A little bored at times. A little confused as to the physical discomfort I am feeling right off the bat; I don’t experience physical pain in meditation at home. Weird. Oh well. Find myself doing silly things like standing in the middle of a puddle with a bemused expression like a cat who has discovered a cardboard box. Take lots of walks in the forest on breaks from meditation. In love with the delicious food, having two meals a day feels right in this context.
Day two: Neck has seized up. Legs going numb and on fire. Spasms along my back. Feeling very confused. I’m a yogi. I don’t feel this bad in my body as I go about my life day to day. I’m flexible. I have a regular meditation practice at home and it’s never painful. Sitting in meditation shouldn’t feel this terrible. Ask the manager if I can have one of the back support things (back jacks). She tells me to speak to the Assistant Teacher after the next sit, she is the one that gives out the equipment and will want to hear about what is coming up for me, physically or otherwise. Confused about why she would be interested in my aches and pains but agree and talk with her after the next tortuous meditation. I go up to her and mention how my neck has seized and I am experiencing quite a bit of pain. I ask for suggestions. I do not outright ask for a back jack, letting her give me the advice and support that she feels is right without superimposing my wishes, trusting in her wisdom. She explains that the mental knots that are starting to be unraveled within me through the meditation have a corresponding physical knot. The tension was always there, I am just starting to notice it for the first time. And I must face the pain and everything else that comes up for me, but I do not need to do so with an iron fist. When I am not in the group sittings, I should take extra breaks. Lie down when I need to. Take walks. The compassion and kindness with which she spoke to me, asking me to face my pain with ease and self-love… I have my first major break down. Go to the washroom and sob.
Day three: Still feeling pain. Moving around a lot during meditation and doing my best to not feel self-conscious. An emotion that I didn’t expect begins to arise: anger. That’s a new one. A friend who is studying to be an ayurvedic doctor told me I am Vata-Pitta which never made sense to me because fire and anger are the last things I ever experience. Apparently I subconsciously suppress it and now it is coming out in spades. The girl who sits next to me in the meditation hall keeps burping under her breathe every five minutes or so. EVERY. SINGLE. SIT. Losing it. Violent thoughts. Fire coursing through me. In the midst of that, also experiencing a lot of joy. Often, moments apart. Anger/joy/anger/joy. Then tons of anxiety and over-thinking. Have planned out my entire life. Written a million posts. Have a million conversations with people in my life, explaining what I am experiencing moment by moment. Strange tidbits of memory begin to arise, which doesn’t stop the entire course. Not all of them tied to a corresponding emotional response, at times just being a snapshot. Being a kid and cutting an apple horizontally to get the star shape with the seeds and then making prints of them on coloured paper. Walking in hallways in buildings I forgot about. By evening time when I am lying in bed, quite sick of listening to myself.
Day four: Vipassana Meditation technique is taught. VOLCANO. I never knew how much pain I was in. Tears and snot run down my face. Messy, powerful. Start to become aware of the depth of what I have gotten myself into.
Day five: Have no idea how I am going to get through five more days of this. Fluctuate between feeling like this is the biggest gift I have ever given myself and wanting to run away. Every meditation sit is different. I go quite deep, experience deep beauty, next moment unearths more pain. Layers upon layers of excavation.
Day six: Around here things start to get blurry. Sleep becomes difficult at night, making waking up at 430 in the morning quite difficult but I still do it. Sleep in past the gong once or twice. The work in meditation is exhausting both physically and mentally. Learning so much. Think of all the people I love in my life and how I wish they would be able to do this for themselves.
Day seven: Things are lighter, though lots of deep work is happening. Periods of deep flow of integration. Understanding is growing. Things I know intellectually now become wisdom experientially. Moments of laughter. Moments of anger. Moments of deep anxiety and worry. Girl still burps every five minutes but it doesn’t bother me as much. Am able to explore my physical pain in a little more depth and work through it differently, though avoidance is still there.
Day eight: Experience a moment where as my awareness scans my body the sensations slowly becomes solidified and condensed as if being pulled together; with the next breathe it all shatters and breaks into millions of little vibrating particles. I experience myself as pure energy, pulsating. Next meditation later that day is back to pain, this time even worse. Changing, changing. I think about wanting my mom to come do a course, how I would do it with her to support her, or to serve the course while she is there. Think about my family and other people in my life that I love and how much I want them to be free. Know that my mom will likely never do this work and I break down.
Day nine: The hardest day for me. At times meditating meant me fighting against myself to even sit up straight. Noticed the development of a part of me that is able to tell myself to get up, go for a walk in the woods, then get back to the cushion even when everything else (that being the resistance, the avoidance, the anger, the pain) within me is literally screaming for otherwise. I don’t remember much of this day. Lots of shedding. Deep unconscious stuff is dug up.
Day ten: Learn Metta Meditation technique; a balm that soothes after such deep operation. Much lighter. None of the sits are unbearable. In truth… mostly I am excited that it is almost over. I see the profound work that is happening within me and am deeply grateful, yet I am ready to go home. Miss my boyfriend. Miss my dog. After the late morning sit the vow of silence is lifted and we are able to talk with one another. It was such medicine to be able to speak to each other. My roommate is amazing and felt lucky the whole time we were there together. We connect and bond. The last sit in the evening I go deeper into the body, I could locate and feel my organs. I felt the muscles of my heart beat. Not just the reverberation of the beat against my chest… I felt the muscles of my heart squeeze and release similar to the feel of your hand closing into a fist and opening. Wild. As I was heading to see if I could do that with my brain, the sit is over and time for the evening discourse. Trying to sleep that night was next to impossible. If I had the side of my head against the pillow the sound of my blood pumping was unbearably deafening. Ear plugs made it worse. And my skin had become so sensitive that the sheets felt abrasive. I had to lie there flat on my back trying to touch as little as possible and not look at the clock.
Morning of going home: Abundantly joyful. Meditation feels just wonderful. The -27 weather ain’t got nothing against the warmth of my happiness. Funny, the moment the course is over I cry, sad that it’s done. I quickly laugh at myself. What nonsense. Spend so much time looking forward to it’s completion then cry when it’s over. Silly. I feel bright. I feel light. I’m changed and don’t understand the extent. I pace back and forth waiting for Matthew to arrive to pick me up. Been day dreaming about it for a while. Knowing that I can never actually explain to him what I experienced, I take him for a walk in the woods that I went in every day to be able to have him be part of at least that. It is a winter wonderland, so magical with broken light reflecting against the freshly fallen snow. Branches heavy with ice, moan against the wind.
The effects since coming home:
★ I feel deeply inspired and enlivened.
★ I have clarity of the next steps I need to take in my career. I’ve known for awhile the things I need to do, yet always came up against a block where I couldn’t seem to actually do it. It feels as though the dam has been broken; things are happening.
★ I feel as though about 50 pounds of mental and emotional garbage has been cleared away.
★ Sex feels different. I have a bit of trauma in that area and I didn’t realize how numb/broken/in pain I actually was/am. I am so much more in my body now in a healthy uplifting way.
★ My capacity to live a fulfilling life has increased 100 fold, but further… the gift is that with every day that passes the possibility to increase that by 1000 fold, 10,000 fold, (etc etc) grows as I continue with the practice.
★ I don’t get triggered as easily.
★ Some of the knowledge I have from both academic study of yoga/eastern philosophy and personal inquiry has now become embodied understanding. The seed of living wisdom has been planted.
★ My anxious feeling of unsettled urgency has gone, I feel far more settled into my skin – not just physically.
★ If life were a video-game, I’ve leveled up. My sword has a +5 power, I’ve grown magical wings, my healing powers have increased +8.
Without question this was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It has also been one of the most transformative. If you’re thinking about it, do it. You’ll know if it’s the right time, if it’s the right thing.