“In order to feel as though I’ve lived life to its fullest, I needed to investigate how I experience reality. The mind is the object within which reality originates, transcends and passes, and yet I had never ventured inside it”
I recently had the privilege of attending a 10 day Vipassana mediation retreat. I was not allowed to read, write, listen to music, or speak to other meditators. My days started at 4am, consisted of two meals and 10 hours of meditation, and ended at 9.30pm. This retreat was the most difficult and rewarding adventure I’ve ever encountered. Each day was harder than the last and Vipassana has changed me. I embarked on this quest for three reasons: to fully live my human experience, glean insight via stillness and resolve grief I was still holding on to.
I’ve strived to wholly experience myself and this world. As a dancer, mountain climber, gym rat and Reiki student, I’ve experimented with and pushed the boundaries of my physical being. I’ve lived in six countries, 12 cities and visited countless more. My professional life has spanned roles like artist, dancer, consultant and marketer. However, the place I had never meaningfully ventured was within my own mind. In order to feel as though I’ve lived life to its fullest, I needed to investigate how I experience reality. The mind is the object within which reality originates, transcends and passes, and yet I had never ventured inside it.
In addition to rounding out my experience of life, I was looking for answers. I wanted stillness in order to think clearly about where I want to go next. I have been fortunate to fulfill my goals in my 20s and have begun painting my dreams for the next decade. I hoped that I would find conviction and clarity through stillness.
Finally, last year I grieved for the death of loved ones. The grief transformed me but I knew it wasn’t over. I hoped that Vipassana could help me to be aware of the grief and release what was remaining.
It’s worth noting that one cannot pay to learn Vipassana. The entire Dhamma organization, which conducts global Vipassana retreats, runs on volunteers and donations. They will not accept donations from a new student. Donations can only be given by those who have had positive Vipassana experiences and wish to pass it on as a gift. Conversely, one is able to experience Vipassana because it has changed someone else’s life and that person has anonymously gifted it to you. The course is managed by volunteers who facilitate your experience with great care since their lives have been altered by Vipassana. This system relies on the manifestation of loving intentions. I feel fortunate to have witnessed people coming together in one accord to seek happiness and a higher purpose for themselves and others. This 10 day retreat is the only way to learn Vipassana, the meditation method taught by Buddha 2,500 years ago. This technique was maintained in its purity for centuries in Myanmar and resurfaced globally during the last few decades.
A diary of my days is below and as you’ll see from the difficulties and struggles, Vipassana requires commitment, persistence and very hard work. If you’re dedicated to this adventure, then it will change your life in a profound way.
My Vipassana Diary
Day 1: We won’t learn Vipassana until day four so for the next three days we’re taught breath-based meditation to stabilize, calm and sharpen our minds. This is preparation to do Vipassana and it’s not easy. Every few breaths my mind races in a new direction. I make mental notes of funny incidents, play countless 90s hip-hop songs in my head and repeatedly fret about nothing. I have a monkey mind. I’m also afraid of being hungry so I’m overeating during my meals. I’m struggling to optimize my rest periods to include eating, showering, napping and stretching.
Day 2: Today is a little better. Thoughts still come and go but I’m able to cultivate moments of silence. My break times are still chaotic as I’m not able to nap easily.
Day 3: I’m more in the zone. I learned meditation when I was 15 and today I felt I was able to go deeper than anytime before. Also, I’m finally able to nap during our breaks.
Day 4: I’m so excited to learn Vipassana today! I’m working diligently and throwing all my focus into the technique.
Day 5: My mind and body are violently rejecting Vipassana. I feel disheartened and I’m struggling. There’s a mental block which isn’t allowing me to focus. It’s been a rough day and I’m afraid of doing myself more harm than good. I decide to leave in 24 hours if I’m not feeling better. I’m in deep anxiety and pain.
Day 6: I had an emotional breakthrough earlier this morning. My defenses are coming down but I’m facing palpable grief. I spoke to the teacher yesterday who compared my state to healing an injury because cleaning and removing toxins causes pain before a bandage can be applied. I decide to stay to keep working.
Day 7: The grief and pain continue. Memories, many of which I’ve forgotten or blocked, rush back to me. I am flooded with emotions.
Day 8: Sleep has been tough during the last two nights so I’m making sure I nap as much as possible. Emotionally, the clouds are parting and I can see thin rays of sunshine coming through. I feel profound acceptance of my reality.
Day 9: I have released so much over the past few days. I feel humbled by this technique and grateful to be experiencing it. My emotions are complex but riddled with joy and gratitude.
Day 10: Silence breaks today and I finally get to meet the people in my course. It’s a bittersweet day. I put my heart and soul into the technique and am proud of how hard I’ve worked. I feel like 10 tons have been lifted off my spirit and there is nothing but peace left. I also met a handful of incredible people in my course. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be headed to the airport so I’m savoring each moment. I’ve never felt such stillness within myself and others. There is nothing but joy and peace left.