My One Year Vipassana-versary
The other day I was thinking, ‘Wow, it's been nearly a year since I went on my Vipassana course.’ Thanks, brain, for kicking in at exactly the right time so I didn’t miss this anniversary that I totally didn’t put in my calendar. It was, in fact, the half way point of my course when this dawned on me. So, time for a blog about it!
Let me catch you up on the highlights of my crazy roller coaster of a time in my life since July 2018.
After the course ended, I really wanted to make a concerted effort to do the homework, which was to meditate twice per day for one hour, once in the morning and once in the evening, for… ever, I guess. That wasn’t specified. I thought that maybe forever was a fairly long time so I set about to do it for at least 6 weeks and then re-evaluate at that point.
I’m happy to report that I did my homework, even on the very first day back home (YES, I am bragging about doing meditation homework). It was a tough transition from the peaceful, quiet, structured environment of Vipassana to being at home, what with the noise of the AC, two hungry cats that were walking over or laying on me, and other such unavoidable distractions.
It was also tough to fit the evening meditation into my schedule since my evening activities are very wide ranging. I could be doing nothing, working until 9pm, be out doing stuff, or at an event. After a couple days where my ‘evening’ meditation took place at 3pm, I thought, ‘Hmm maybe this second meditation doesn’t really work for my lifestyle’. When those 6 weeks were up, I decided to scrap the evening session. It wasn’t contributing to my quality of life, it was straight up stressing me out. Kinda not the point of meditation, so I bailed. I firmly believe that giving up intentionally and intelligently is a hugely important life skill (but that’s a topic for another post!)
On the other hand, the morning meditation session was doing a lot for me. Despite having to get up extra early and deal with the cats factor, I felt consistently better throughout the day after I meditated. I really believe that if you do anything for yourself straightaway in the morning, and set aside enough time to get ready without feeling pressured for time, that is the best way to start the morning. If you include any type of mindfulness, then you got yourself a solid morning routine, friend!
In any case, I know and understand and appreciate the benefits of mindfulness generally, and felt like I had a good handle on it before I went to Vipassana. The main difference I can see for myself is that really having to live out these concepts for 10 days in a row without any other life stuff getting in your way is a super accelerated way of integrating this knowledge. It’s easy to understand things intellectualy, it’s much harder to really embody those things. That bit takes alot of time and patience.
The objective of Vipassana is to develop equanimity and compassion. I felt pretty good on the compassion side of things, but I’d been eager to develop more equanimity since forever. Okay, the last few years. I admit I’m impatient AF. The reason I was so commited to getting on the equanimity train is that I have a lot of feelings, sometimes they are very big and feel like they are taking me over. Equanimity was totally the thing I needed, but I could never really call it up when I needed it the most.
I was eager to see if Vipassana has helped me in the equanimity department. The trouble was, my life was pretty trouble-free for the rest of summer. I know, first world problems. I decided to feel grateful for that and know that one day things would get crazy somehow and my equanimity would be tested. I was super curious about how it would all go down.
That first test came when my partner and I heard about a great apartment for rent and quickly decided to move. ‘Quickly’ is the only way to decide to move in Toronto, which is stressful enough. And, the situation was a bit unusual and we were entering into an ‘unofficial’ sublet with no lease (because the Toronto rental market is a nightmare and you gotta do what you gotta do.) It was generally a hectic time, and I especially get flustered when timelines aren’t clear, which was a thing for quite a few weeks.
I remember feeling very anxious and stressed and worried, and still being able to go about my business with the awareness of all of that but not reacting (or more specifically overreacting). I was so busy with everything I didn’t really notice this until one particularly frustrating day in our new place where I was cleaning and dealing with frustration after frustration and… that was it, just feeling and dealing! I thought, ‘Hey wait a minute! This accumulated amount of frustration and stress normally would have had me crying or snapping at my partner or angry venting to someone and I haven’t felt compelled to do any of that shit. Cool!’ It was like my first real equanimity test had come and almost gone without me noticing, because my energy was going towards dealing instead of feeling run off my feet by my emotions. I felt proud! But also annoyed at my present circumstances. Equanimity isn’t about pushing your emotions away or always feeling calm or happy. It’s about feeling everything, allll of the emotions holding it in your awareness, and still feeling grounded and able to function.
Towards the end of the year, and continuing into the present times, I gradually started noticing more synchronicity than usual.
That wasn’t a huge surprise to me - I also noticed more connections and happy ‘coincidences’ in my life when I started meditation for the first time. That was when I was taking the Centre for Applied Neuroscience Life Coaching Certification Course. I remember asking Mandy about that and she said synchronicity is a sign you are on the right path. It makes sense to me that things come more easily to you when you are in alignment with yourself, your values, and your life path. And the universe is also hilarious, so that’s a fun bonus of all of the above. I always enjoy synchronicity because it means I’m doing the right stuff and I’m paying enough attention to notice, which is key.
In December 2018, I went to Florida with my partner to visit her family for Christmas. At the airport in Tampa, waiting for my flight home, I saw a familiar face. It was someone I met at my Vipassana course in Ontario! I had such a lovely conversation with her at the end of the course, but was so mediation-y in the brain that I forgot to grab her contact info before I left. I’d thought about her a few times and wished we were in touch. And there she was! She was in Florida visiting her partner's family too (crazy!). She was feeling a bit drained because she’s an only child (me too!) and their family is big and loud (same!) and was flying back to Toronto on the same flight as me (cool!). It also so happened that she was sitting behind me (yeah, that’s right!).
When we landed I told her I was taking the train, and then a cab, because I’d left my winter jacket behind. She reminded me that the train stopped running in 15 minutes and since I didn’t yet have my bag I knew I wouldn’t make it. I was like, ‘Crap!’ but figured I had no other choice but to take a cab all the way home. My bad for not checking, I figured.
She had a friend picking her up and asked if I wanted a ride back with them, and then catch a shorter cab ride from there. I did want that, thank you! I was so happy, everything was working out and I got to reconnect with my Vipassana friend (and yes, we exchanged info this time!). When I got in her friend’s car, she asked where I lived and then said ‘Oh I’ll just drive you home.’
So I got on a plane in Florida with no real plan of getting home and no winter coat and got dropped off at my door by a lovely women I met 20 minutes earlier, after having run into my lovely Vipassana friend by happenstance… or possibly the cosmic power of the universe! You can decide for yourself, but either way it’s a pretty dope story.
Shortly after getting home in early 2019, my partner and I broke up. Like all breakup stories, there’s a lot to say, and most of it is hella personal, not to mention outside the scope of this blog post. Suffice it to say, it was unexpected, and a total upending of our life together, and generally not a good time.
I believe that going to Vipassana helped me through this time immensely. The equanimity I established, and the compasion, including self compassion, that I developed, meant that I processed this breakup so much differently, and better, than I’d ever been able to before Vipassana. I reached out to friends instead of sitting around alone, crying and freaking out. I also sat around alone crying and freaking out, and made the time and space for that. I kept doing the things I knew I needed to do to take care of myself: I slept properly. I let myself rest when I was tired. I ate healthy food, I drank water. I tried to get outside and walk as much as possible, I kept working out, but not too hard or too much. I listened to my body. I did the things that still needed to be done. I continued to work, and I was so grateful that I love my work, but I also modified my routine and took breaks and asked for help. I did my best not to overschedule myself. I stayed socially active and also gave myself lots of alone time.
Before Vipassana Vanessa would sometimes or mostly do these things, but in a ‘this has to happen’ way, and would often feel resistance to it. She would rest, but feel guilty. She would power through workouts because they were ‘good for her’ and ‘in her schedule’. If she spent the morning crying, but had shit to do (which, let’s face it, is always), she’d pack her tears away and do what needed to be done, proudly showing everyone how totally okay she was through productivity and busy-ness. Momentum is good, but not at any cost.
All in all, the best part of the whole experience was my equanimity. I didn’t feel swept away by my feelings, or out of control. I felt all my feelings, even the hard ones, and there were a lot of those. Sometimes I shied away from them but I always came back in the end.
Even now, just over 6 months into this crazy year, I’m going through a lot of different emotions, and the key is that I’m going through them - they aren’t hijacking my life. My sometimes big, intense emotional energy used to feel scary, but now it feels like messages from my body that I can sit with and get through without feeling like I’m losing my mind.
Now that I’ve moved into my own place (for the first time ever in life!), and am starting to settle, I’ve taken another look at my meditation practice and have decided to loosen the reins and make it my more own. I’ve shortened my morning meditation to 30-45 minutes and am trying to carve out some time for journaling after my session.
My original intention was to have done a second 10 Day Course done by now, but, as you already know, plans got changed. I still plan on returning to do another course in the future. I’m going to try and squeeze one in before the end of 2019, if possible. I think it would be really fabulous to do one in the colder weather. Not only because there won’t be mosquitos (won’t make that mistake again!) but because cold weather is for getting cozy, and what’s cozier than sitting on a pillow and wrapping yourself in a blanket and trying to sit still for 10+ hours a day?