Last January I flew to Dallas to attend a 10-day silent meditation retreat called a Vipassana.
The retreat rules were no phone, no talking, no reading, and no writing for 10 days. To ensure best practice everyone checked in items that could be used to break the rules upon arrival.
Between 4:30am and 9pm, 10 hours a day were spent meditating with short breaks every hour, and extended rest periods for breakfast, lunch, and evening tea.
I had no expectations as to how I would react to the extreme conditions of the Vipassana, but I completed it feeling very rested and with a conscious connection to many ideas that before I had only known in theory.
The following ideas and experiences stuck with me the most:
1) You can’t change everything, but you can always change your reaction
I wanted to go home on day 2. I felt trapped and didn’t realize how much I would dislike having to meditate for 10 hours a day. I began protesting by staying in my room as much as possible, not meditating. I came out only for the 3 mandatory group meditations a day, and for the meals of course. I wanted the Vipassana and all of its rules to go away. But I couldn’t do anything to make that happen, and I had nobody to cry out to who could either.
In the real world my victim mindset could get a response, but in the restrictive environment of the Vipassana it was powerless. By around day 6, my tantrum tired itself out, leaving me to see that I only had power over my reaction to my circumstances.
I still resisted by staying in my room as much as possible. However, this time I didn’t feel ashamed for resisting. I felt a sense of agency which made the whole retreat much more fun and freeing, regardless of if I should expect to feel this way at such an intense meditation retreat.
With a victim mindset, my acts of resistance were tied to feelings of disobedience. This then shamed me for feeling like I mattered only conditionally. But by owning my experience, I freed myself from anyone’s approval and decided for myself what was okay. Acts of resistance became just acts of Eric.
2) I am not responsible for the well-being of others
The retreat rule of no speaking was very freeing to me. I didn’t have to pay attention to the emotional states of others because I wouldn’t be allowed to do anything about them anyway.
The Vipassana has this idea of “leave it to Dharma” which basically means to leave it to nature. I resonated with this idea because I have a tendency to believe that others always need, or could use help, and that if able, I, or someone else, should always step in.
Though I’d like to get to the point of believing that people can figure things out on their own, the idea of “leave it to Dharma” works better for my line of thinking. It allows me to believe that some other force will watch over others so that I don’t have to.
3) Not every good idea needs to happen
In the group hall during one of the meditations, I had an idea for an animated TV show. I thought of character names, backstories, personalities, different plot lines for episodes, and even tried writing the pilot in my head. It was loads of fun and I spent hours thinking about it all.
At the end of the Vipassana I was sitting in the dining hall talking to others. I noticed that I didn’t care about the TV show idea anymore. I still liked the idea, but I just didn’t care to commit to it anymore.
Typically, I feel obliged to commit to ideas that I like, whether I can afford to or not. Feeling securely finished with the TV show idea before really committing to it struck me as different, and made feel very relieved.
Having this experience made me think of how I overcommit to ideas in normal life. I wondered if I could let things go like I did with the TV show idea. I sure would like to, but I don’t think it’s fair to expect it to be so simple of a choice.
Sometimes I think I can’t let go of things because I am dependent on them to get me through a tough time. I think that’s okay. It seemed that when the perceived threat of the Vipassana was over, so was the use for the TV show idea to make me feel better.
I don’t feel adequately safe in my normal life, so I can still expect to cling to ideas that give me hope for a better future, even if they are unrealistic or distract me from real responsibilities. However, I learned that I don’t need to feel weighed down by these ideas by committing to them so quickly and completely. Instead, I can appreciate or rely on them as an escape while continuing to look for more practical solutions to secure my future.
I definitely wasn’t the best Vipassana student, but I had my own experience and one that I feel I got a lot out of. I would recommend attending a Vipassana retreat to anyone who is interested. It is extremely challenging, but worth it in my opinion. Plus, it’s free!
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It was an opportunity to learn new ways of living and connecting with one’s self. The retreat was also a great opportunity for participants to explore their own beliefs about meditation and gain new insights about themselves.
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