We last left off two years ago when I vowed to make meditation a priority. Since then I have gained a steady meditation practice, I currently teach several meditation classes per week, and I went on that elusive Vipassana meditation retreat that I was wavering on for so long. Let’s discuss…
The lake and the meditation hall.
Several years ago an acupuncturist told me that he thought I could benefit from something called Vipassana meditation. I had no idea what that was, so, naturally, I googled around. (Go ahead, Google away!) I found that it is a type of silent meditation that you learn by going on a 10 day silent retreat at one of the many Vipassana centers around the world. This was back when I was in law school. I could not fathom being able to leave school (and later, job at a law firm) for 10 days without access to phone, computer, or communication with others. But, alas, the thought remained in the back of my head that this sounded intriguing to me.
Fast forward to 2015. I was just coming off of an injury to my cervical spine that had me recovering for 3 months. (More on that later.) This injury certainly wasn’t something that was planned, and it disrupted my ability to work. I realized two important things. Time goes fast, so get out and do the things you’ve been wanting to do. And two, I didn’t think i had the ability to take 10 days off, but then something out of my control put the brakes on my life for 3 months. If I could have an outside force disrupt my life so quickly, and be able to come out of it in one piece, I certainly could schedule 10 days for myself to do something that I’d been wanting to do for quite some time.
So I did. I packed up and went to the closest Vipassana retreat center. The drive out was lovely and gave me time to think about the days ahead. It also gave me the chance to sing loudly as I drove with the windows open. A luxury I wouldn’t be afforded for over a week! The center was serene and situated between farms. There was plenty of land for wildlife and nature. After settling into my sparse dorm room, we met for an introduction and for the dreaded release of cell phones, electronics, books and journals. That’s right, not only was there no communication with others, there was no writing or reading allowed. EEEk. After a light meal we began our silence.
I’ll spare you the details of the minutia of 10 days living in silence. But here’s a brief summary. Days were spent with a strict meditation schedule of waking up early - first meditation around 4:30 - and of course going to bed early. This meant no heinous tablet light to throw my circadian rhythm off! Meditations, around 2 hours at a time, were held throughout the day with breaks for meals, naps and walking around the property. I happened to be there during goose nesting season, so there was plenty of action around the small lake!
This mother goose was vocal about protecting her eggs!
Most meditation sessions were held in the meditation hall. We were also allowed to meditate in our rooms for certain sessions. Some sessions were guided, led by video and audio recordings of the main teacher of this practice. There was also a teacher in the room. The one caveat to the code of silence was that after lunch we could sign up to ask the teacher questions if necessary. (We could also talk to administration in case of emergency, or if we needed toothpaste, etc.) I asked a question once... it felt weird to talk.
The days went by both very slowly and very fast. By the end I couldn’t believe that it had already been 10 days. In the middle, I couldn’t believe that I had 5 more long days left! Funny how time works like that. I also wasn’t eager to get my phone back, surprisingly.
Overall I truly enjoyed the experience. More so, I really love this method of meditation. It’s said that Vipassana meditation is what the Buddha used over 2000 years ago to gain enlightenment. It’s very natural and keeps the mind focused on the breath and bodily sensations. It is not religious, and there are no restrictions to practicing it. It is suggested to sit tall while meditating, but people with physical ailments were allowed to sit in chairs, or even lay down if necessary.
One of the walking paths at the center.
During the first part of the experience, the hardest part was probably sitting for so many hours a day. It takes great effort to sit - which is why yoga is so very important to meditation. They are linked in so many ways. We had access to many cushions, blankets, pillows, benches, etc. I had a pile of 5 blankets, a meditation bench, and several cushions so I could try different ways of sitting and to just alternate which way my legs bent. We weren’t allowed to do yoga asana (poses), per se, but during breaks stretching and walking was a must for me.
I have carried these teachings with me since my time at the center. I continue to practice and teach a variety of meditation techniques, most of which are rooted in this Vipassana tradition. I love to share my story, especially with my corporate clients, because you never know who might resonate with this experience. In 5 years one of you might find yourself sitting in silence, and I’ll be right there with you smiling as you sit.
Vipassana means to see things as they really are. Not as you want them to be. Not as you think they should be. But as they are. This has benefitted me in so many ways and I cannot wait to share my techniques with you. Please don’t hesitate to comment below or reach out to me if you have any questions at all about Vipassana or meditation in general. There is so much we can gain by slowing down and observing. For my corporate readers: our Meditation 101 presentation is a great way to introduce your office to meditation. Of course we also offer in office a-la-carte meditation classes, or try our 8-week program to get you and your office started on a path down meditation lane!