Me, on a tuk-tuk, bouncing along a backroad in Dehradun India… getting closer and and closer to one of the most challenging experiences I’ve undertaken yet. Vipassana centers are scattered all around the globe, providing free meditation courses to the public. Though there are 3 and 5 day courses as well, the 10 day silent retreat is what they have become renowned for.
You relinquish your phone, writing and reading utensils, snacks, tools, and anything for dedicated rites or rituals at the commencement. You must also agree to their guidelines and adhere to the timetable for the duration of the course. This looks like awakening at 4 am and meditating for 10+ hours a day seated on the floor.
Intellectually I knew what to expect, but actually being in that space and watching it unfold was a whole other animal. After so much intense introspective tumult and processing of trauma these past months, I felt the need to spend some time assessing what the fuck was going on in my inner dialogue.
While there was so much contained in the experience, putting it into words effectively is impossible– in a way that speaks to its universal truth. It’s unspoken, it’s felt, it’s known without saying anything. It’s truth is experiential. It’s not an intellectual understanding it’s an experiential knowing.
Photo by funalive.com of Dehradun
I came to see firsthand the total insanity of my own mind. The constant chattering, planning, plotting, devising, arguing, explaining… etc. Endlessly concocting stories and evoking visceral body responses as a result of craving and aversion. This impulse for pleasure and fear of pain presented itself in the form of actual bodily pain and sensation from sitting on the floor unmoving during mediation. The point of the exercise was to remain equanimous in the face of any sensation, no matter how lovely or unbearable it may feel.
The technique allows you to understand this reality firsthand, through the lens of your own experience. You see how the mind torments you; how ultimately we generate our own suffering. And alternately, how we can discipline this mind to remained balanced in spite of whatever sensory input we experience, good or bad.
I can’t really emphasize how much of a gift this experience was for me. It was an awakening to my own responsibility in life, to my own responsibility for happiness. People constantly hurt and harm themselves and each other. It’s the nature of existence. This all stems from a place of misery within, the reality of suffering is universal. Life is inevitably going to hurt, and you can rarely manipulate the external factors that contribute to your quality of life. But you do have the ability to control your own internal response, and there is immense power in that reality.
If we can understand how this quest for pleasure and hatred of pain doubles our miseries, we can free our minds and start being of service to others. Seeing how the selfish patterns and grasping for pleasure played out in my own mind, I saw how deeply rooted these complexes are.
There is no quick fix. This is not a quick fix and it’s excruciatingly difficult being locked up with your own mind with no where to go, no stimulus to use as a way to avoid the reality of your thoughts. What this provides is a foundation and a structure to use to continue walking the path.
I walked into the retreat anxious, mildly depressed, bracing myself. By the end I felt quite literally transformed. I felt equipped with with the tools I needed to pull myself out of this slump. It’s empowering to awaken to these mind games you are constantly playing–because you can flip the script. You can let go of the anger and animosity and fear and overwhelm which we keep so near and dear we consider them parts of ourselves.
But really. Like anything else, they are sensations. Which come up, rise, and pass away. If we can only learn to observe these sensations without clinging or aversion, we can start nurturing ourselves, our communities and world much more effectively.
I felt so lucky to have had this experience and wanted to share that in some way. Please visit dhamma.org for more information or to sign up for a retreat. ❤️