Assorted Thoughts About My 10-Day Vipassana Meditation Course
Well, I’m back from my 10 Day Course, and so far my reintegration into ‘society’ has been great! I'm happy I went and I'm happy to be home :)
I am really only struggling with one thing: answering the question “So, how was it?” I’m stoked people are interested, but it’s kind of a hard thing to explain.
For one thing, there are so many adjectives to describe how it was! It’s really hard to give a short answer like “Great,” ya know? If you’ve ever been on a proper adventure of any kind - literal or figurative - I trust that you know what I mean.
And so, I’m a bit conflicted about how to write this blog post. I don’t want to just summarize what we did everyday, because that’s been done. Many times. In any case, here is the daily timetable if you're interested in that.
Let’s start with answers to questions peeps have been asking me. (Have a question not answered here? Leave it in the comments!)
Yes, I really woke up every day at 4am. It was not as hard as I thought it would be. It’s hella easy to go to bed early when you have no books, TV, iPad, phone, pen, crayons, food, pets, city noise, or other people around. I was staying in a cabin so I had to walk about 45 seconds to the dormitory to use the bathroom, which pretty much ensured I got up immediately in the morning. Thanks, bladder!
Yes, I would (will?) do it again. Having done the ten day course I now appreciate why it is ‘so long.’ You really do need the ten days in order to really learn the technique. I’m also way too curious not to go see what it’s like a second time through. Also, everyone at home really missed me and I’m digging all the love, so repeating that again sounds good to my ego!
No, I am not a whole new person. But, yeah, things were realized (important things!), thoughts were thunk (way too often..), and resolutions were made (which I’m actually doing so far!). The real test is being home and continuing to meditate one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. So far, I’m killing it! I’m not sure how long I’ll last but it will probably be somewhere between “sometime” and “a long time from now.”
- No, being silent was not that hard. Not making eye contact or smiling or glancing at people was actually much harder. But at times, like first thing in the morning, it was really nice not to have to chit chat with people. The weirdest part about that was on the 10th day when you can talk to each other finally. I felt so discombobulated at first! I was a bit shaky and had this knotty sensation in my stomach. After spending 9+ days doing all this serious meditation work around so many people and it’s so awkward to be like “So what do you do for work?” like any of those questions even matter anymore! *dramatic head tilt* The woman who sat beside me in the mediation hall was also my cabin neighbour so we saw each other 100% of the time. I was so happy when she ran up to find me so we could finally talk. My brain imagined people’s voices and was super wrong in every case! Weird!
Yes, I missed my family, even the annoying people ;) But honestly, it wasn’t as hard as I thought (Sorry, family!). When I resolve to do something, I do it in almost all cases. I didn’t do this on a whim - I’d been thinking about it for about 4 years - so I felt as prepared as I could have been. I kept telling myself everyone was just fine without me, which fit in nicely with the whole ‘deflating one’s ego’ theme. I told my family to call the Centre if anyone died, and since no one called, I figured all was well. Of course the fatal flaw in that plan is if they all died at once, but I figured that was unlikely. Every night around 9:30 I did a “Goodnight Moon” routine so I could spend a few minutes ghost hugging my family and friends. Did you feel my good vibes? I hope you did!
No, it wasn’t hard to give up my phone. I’ve been aware for some time that I don’t wear the pants in the relationship with my iPhone, so I was ready to say “See ya!”to that guy for a little while. But it was hella disconcerting that it took over 3 full days for my reflexes to catch up. Meaning, I would reach over to my table or into my pocket to text someone or google something and then realize I’m a crazy nutbar. This reinforced my good feelings about having a break from the phone, and resolving to wear the pants in our relationship from now on.
No, I was not bored. Quite the opposite! My brain is hella active and random, and super hilarious! The music that was popping out of my head was quite… eclectic. Like when “The Skeleton Dance” popped in one day as I was reminding myself that when I sit cross legged the right leg needs to always go on top of the left leg. Or when I left my cabin at 4:15am one morning and the song “Oh, Yoko” by John Lennon popped in and didn’t leave for two whole days! Sometimes I would just lay on my bed and think. I worked out quite a few issues with people in my mind, though I’m sure those issues still exist in the real world. But, maybe not?! Maybe my brain is magic and if I gave it more range to roam on a daily basis I would have more resolutions?
No, coming back to ‘civilization’ was not hard. It was great! It was so awesome to finally see Nycole and my cats, and talk to my parents. My cats had just eaten when I got home and so did not give a crap about me, and - let’s be honest - cats are vengeful jerks when they are mad. Anyway, that also helped deflate my ego, so thanks guys. At least humans were stoked to see and hear from me. I admit I got too excited to be home and decided we should go to The Island for a beach day. I got too much sun, drank a shandy, ate oysters, steak and pork (at different times!) after ten days of vegetarian eating, and in the end I became very tired, got a wee headache and had a sleepless night. Worth it though!
Existential Questions Answered
Is boredom even a thing?
I’m now convinced it’s not really a thing. Something I realized is that if boredom is an absence of having something to do or think about, then I don’t have it. When I say I’m bored, I’m just craving a different experience and / or experiencing aversion to the reality I’m in. Like if I’m bored at a party because everyone is hella drunk and chit chatting about dumb stuff… I’m not bored, I just want to be somewhere else. And if I ever manage to develop enough equanimity, I’ll have less craving and aversion and more acceptance of what is. But that’s something for Future Vanessa to work on ;) For now, I’m going to take boredom as a clue that I’m not accepting my current reality and go from there.
Is it possible to peel an orange without once spraying yourself with juice?
In my experience, no. It didn’t matter how slowly or intentionally I peeled my daily orange, I always got myself with at least one squirt. My theory is that it’s nature’s way of laughing at humans. “Oh, enjoy using your opposable thumbs to eat this delicious orange, I hope you don’t get acidic citrus juice in your human eye, oh you did, oops... ha ha ha.” The universe is a worthy foe.
Will intense foot pain caused by sitting uncomfortably for an hour cause my leg to fall off?
No, but my brain will convince me that such leg loss is imminent. The crazy train of thought went like this: “You’re causing permanent nerve damage right now… your leg will fall off and then you’ll be a one legged life coach…. You’ll never succeed in life because you’ll only have one leg and also no one will love you” Oh, brain, where to start with this malarkey? Literally none of it is true. Sitting still and observing all the sensations, even the unpleasant ones, is not supposed to be an exercise in torturing yourself, but I had gone too far and fell over the edge. I didn’t do that twice! I realized I can only have my right leg on stop of my left leg, and never, ever the other way around, unless I’m sitting for a shorter period of time. Hooray for learning!
Existential Questions Remaining
Can I really keep meditating for two hours every day forever?
Sure, I can - meaning I am capable of it. It is possible. Will I do it? Honestly, probably not. I can’t foresee that nothing will get in my way and knock me off my habit. Fortunately re-starting habits is one of my strengths and I’ve managed to develop enough self-compassion not to shit all over myself when I find myself in one of those situations where I need to circle back and rebuild. They recommend a ten day course every year, but since I hate mosquitoes I plan on going back within the year before the next season of itchiness :)
How much equanimity did I develop in 10 days?
Surely not as much as I need to deal with all of “life’s vicissitudes” to borrow a line from Goenkaji. However, it is as developable as anything else, so as long as I keep working at it, it will come. Within the ten days I did notice a lot less aversion to being hungry and not being able to snack at will, having nothing to read or write with, and being very cold or very sweaty. I had a lot less craving for my phone, chocolate, talking, and knowing the weather forecast that I usually do.
How much will this change my life in a lasting way?
This remains to be seen, of course. The major themes of the teachings were: accepting the impermanence and ever-changing nature of life (cool!), being equanimous by accepting reality instead of having aversion or craving (I dig it!), developing wisdom by becoming deeply attuned to yourself and your own body (agree!) and being a good person (duh!). If I can shift further towards all that good stuff, then I’d call it a success. And I also managed to slow down my eating and brush and floss 4-5x a day, so if I can keep up those habits that’ll be great too :) Even though 10 days feels like a huge investment of time, it really isn’t, in the grand scheme of things. So either this was either: a cool adventure I once had, or just the beginning of something big in my life. Either way, good will come of it :)