It’s been over a week since I returned from my vipassana meditation retreat. I haven’t fully processed the experience, but I figure it’s time to put some of it down in writing.
Vipassana is a ten day, silent retreat. Students are trained in the style of meditation that the Buddha taught. This practice is all about being with your reality with equanimity. As you learn to be with your breath and body sensations peacefully, you begin to observe some key universal laws. One such law, anicca, or impermanence comes up. Things rise just to pass away.
It’s true. Every day my body experienced different sensations–aches, pain, pleasant feelings–things gave rise and then passed. Yet the stories in my head felt so fixed. That’s what made this experience so challenging. I watched the fear places that my mind went to and much like an addiction, I kept revisiting those places again and again (and again!) I watched myself experience one fear thought and then I’d add another fear thought to it, like putting more logs on the fire. When you’re in total silence, without any distraction (no phone, computer, journal…) emotions like fear can feel overpowering. It made me realize how driven to distraction I am in my normal life, just so I don’t have to be with such negative feelings.
Vipassana gifted me the experience of turning into my feelings with friendly curiosity. Because I couldn’t turn away, I had to lean in. I admitted things that I never had before. Being vulnerable with myself like this allowed me to invite tenderness in. I was able to be honest, validating, and loving. The amazing part about being vulnerable with yourself is that you begin to feel an openness to all life, a connection to everyone who came before you, and those who will come after. The stuff I admitted to myself wasn’t uniquely mine, but more a reflection of what it’s been like to be human over eons of time. I secured my sense of belonging to the human family. Pretty cool, right?
Though it seemed fixed, my mindset was actually impermanent. Sitting with the waves of difficult emotion brought me to a place of total belonging–I never would’ve guessed that’s where opening to the painful feelings would lead to. Ram Dass teaches, “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” If you were to get really quiet, what would life whisper to you?