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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Vella

So... I'm Going to Jail!

In a couple days, I'll be checking myself into Mindfulness Jail. That’s the funny-because it's-also-kinda-true nickname I’ve given to the Ontario Vipassana Centre, where I will do my first (and possibly only) 10 day Silent Meditation Retreat.

Let me kick this off with the most common question I’ve gotten about this experience, which is, predictably: “So, WHY are you doing this?” And I get it. I ask myself that same question more and more often in the days leading up to this. I’m getting really worried. It freaks the hell out of me. And then I wonder “Why?” too.

Back in 2014 when I was doing my Life Coach Certification at Centre for Applied Neuroscience (where I now work!) Mandy told us all about how she had done this 10 day silent meditation retreat and my first thought was "Oh hellllll no" followed by “I’m gonna need to do that”. Not because she was telling us to do (she was just 'aggressively encouraging'). I just knew it, ya know? Let me be clear that this is a very different feeling from when you are like “I want to go to there!"

But why? (Yes, I know we are still on that part). Well, I’ve been meditating / trying to meditate / not meditating / meditating for a while now. I see the value in going off the grid and doubling down on the mindfulness. For all the reasons we meditate in the first place: clarity, calm, creativity, and other adjectives that may or may not start with the letter C that escape my mind right now.

Fun Fact: ‘Vipassana’ means ‘seeing things as they really are.’ It is a meditation technique based on self-observation, using breath to focus your mind. Since I tend to go on and on (and on!) about the benefits of self-awareness, this seems right up my alley. Their website says “With a sharpened awareness one proceeds to observe the changing nature of body and mind and experiences the universal truths of impermanence, suffering and egolessnes.” That is a pretty stellar sales pitch - I mean, who wouldn’t want that? But wait, there’s more! Vipassana teaches you how to suffer less, face your problems in a calm and balanced way, and to live in a way that makes a positive contribution to society.

I feel like having all these things would be great, and all you have to do to get it is to to the Vipassana course. You get up at 4am every day (yikes!), meditate all the livelong day (cool!), then go to bed hella early (sweet!). No problem, right? And also there is no speaking or communicating in any way, no reading, no writing, no short shorts, no music, and no birdwatching (just joking, birdwatching is okay, it’s just meditation outside with birds, according to the internet!). I don’t need to tell you that there’s also no WIFI and no electronic devices, right? I'm pretty sure that if you tried to bring an Etch-a-Sketch, it wouldn’t be allowed - you can write and draw on that thing. Absolutely not!

Back when I first registered I thought “Yes. I can do this! I’m doing it. It will be good for me to detach from my phone and being so busy and rest myself and get crazy enlightened. This nauseous feeling is totally unrelated, maybe.” But as the start date comes closer, a lot of crap has been bubbling up. Hopefully this is a good thing - the start of the self-purification I signed up for. My mind is going to be super pure by July 15th! (I hope).

I slowly started to realize this will be the first time in my entire life that I will have no way to contact my family for this length of time. I’ll have no idea what everyone is up to - whether they are happy and safe and alive or other, worrisome things like sad and endangered and not alive. I’m worried that my cats will miss me and that I will miss them, while I am birdwatching which is something they enjoy doing also. I’m worried that something important will happen and I’ll have no idea… until several days later. Yes, I know my fears are irrational, as fears tend to be. And no, that knowledge is not helping me at the moment, but thank you for asking.

I was getting pretty worked up, and truthfully, being an asshole to myself and others. To entertain myself with sarcasm, I started calling Vipassana “Mindfulness Jail”. “Ha ha I’m hilarious!” I thought, followed by the realization that in actual jail you can do many things, like read, workout, speak, join a gang, talk on the phone and reveal your tattoos (that’s another no-no at Vipassana, which is inconvenient to me as a tattooed lady, especially since many of my tattoos have words in them).

I decided to talk to my partner about it, which I had been doing almost constantly, but instead I thought it might be good to talk about it in a constructive manner this time, because they were really, really annoyed with me, and because I needed to settle the hell down. Together we re-read the information on the website and that was good. I remembered all the stories of others who have gone and told myself that Yes, it will be hard, hella hard, and maybe even painful, but worth it in the end.

They offered to help me out with my to do list, which was a crazy long, classic Vanessa list that kept growing like a weed. I've been putting a lot of pressure on myself to get certain things completed before I went away because I anticipate coming home will likely be a big readjustment and getting back into work mode might take awhile. Normally I like to do all the things myself, but in a moment of clarity I recognized that I did need to accept help, especially since I wasn’t asking, and it was being offered to me. So she did all the grocery shopping, picked up some other things and made us some food. It felt really good to have those things off my mind. They're so great!

Then the other night at dinner I forgot my cell phone at home. It was weird, in that it was very unlike me, and unfortunate in that my walk to dinner was not recorded in my health app, so clearly all those steps were for nothing (not really, but you know… kinda). In any case, it gave me a tiny glimpse into being apart from my phone and it was not pretty. I was okay at first, but every time someone else reached for their phone I felt a little FOMO ping in my brain. After an hour and a half I was jonesing to get home. That’s almost as long as ten days, but also, it definitely isn’t, so I'm a wee bit concerned about this whole phone detox thing.

Today I was chopping some veggies and trying to look on the bright side of things, by thinking about how I would get a break from cooking food (like on vacation!) and that if anything in the teachings felt really out of alignment for me, that I would just do my own thing (sure, why not?!). At exactly that point I almost cut off the tip of my finger. I had, in fact, cut off the edge of my nail just missing my actual flesh. Message received, Universe, you saucy minx! I decided that in exchange for not being maimed, I would put my faith in the process, and do exactly what I was told at all times, even though that’s not really my jam. I guess my worries can be meditated away between bouts of birdwatching, I hope.

I still have 3 more days before my Vipassana officially starts, and I’ve already learned so much. One thing I’ve learned is that this is a big fucking deal for me. I suppose I knew that it was but my awareness of just how big a deal it is keeps growing. However, I tend to stick with something once I commit to it. So, I’m doing this thing. It’s happening. Though I reserve the right to remain totally freaked out, I’m still going forward, and that’s a good thing. I’ll write another blog post when I get home, and I’m choosing to have faith that all my good ideas and insights will come back to me when I sit down to write again.


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