27 January 2015

My Experience at Vipassana

Vipassana

The last thing I said to Danny before Vipassana was this: If a woman crawls into your bed at night, don't call security.

Vipassana is 10 days of silent meditation where men and women are separated. And not only that, you're separated from all human interaction (even eye contact), your own pursuits, your own habits, your ability to speak, your ability to write or read, all comforts of home and all comforts of a loving spouse. All this while you meditate for 11 HOURS A DAY. Eeeeeks!

I was shocked at how emotional I was going into it. Giving up 10 days of my life was not an easy thing to do. I even cried several times leading up to the day. (This photo was taken on our bus ride there. Don't let that smile fool you.) I wasn't sure yet if I would be completely miserable. Or if I could do it all. Or if it would be a meaningful experience. Though deep down I was willing to find out. It felt like a human experiment.



The Vipassana course took place at a beautiful Catholic monastery just outside of Quito. I loved seeing the nuns from time to time and all the vintage Catholic relics around the monastery. One night I heard the nuns singing while I was in the courtyard - with a full display of bright stars overhead - and it was one of the most beautiful sounds on earth.


Vipassana in Quito


What Vipassana is like

What Vipassana is like.
If I had live tweeted Vipassana, it would have looked something like this:

DAY 1: Ohhhh crap. We did the first meditation. What in the world did I get myself into??? Maybe coming was a mistake. This ancient form of "meditation" is not at all what I thought meditation was. 9 more days??? Crap, crap, crap.

DAY 2: Missing Danny like crazy and tearing up over it. The silence is driving me crazy. Distracted by thoughts. Hard to focus for 11 hours ONLY on my breath. Mainly thinking about loving up with my husband and Mexican food. And then every other craving I could imagine. breathe, breathe, breathe.

DAY 3: OK. They finally gave us a new thing to focus on: sensations. Best thing in the world!! It is breaking up the monotony to just have something NEW to focus on. I saw Danny across the courtyard between some bushes. Most handsome guy in the world.





DAY 4: Holy crap. Some new instructions during meditation. This time it is HELL. Mental and physical exhaustion. We now are not supposed to move a muscle during 1 and 2 hour meditations!! This is so hard and painful it makes you sweat. Afterwards people were making unlawful eye contact and cussing without saying a word.

DAY 5: Heaven help me. I want out. I don't think I could ever recommend this torture to anyone. Everybody is walking around like zombies. No smiles. No human interaction. I miss people!!

DAY 6: OK, I'm trying to see the pain and the non-pain equally (according to the instructions). And I can't believe this is happening, but the pain has gone away. THIS WORKS. I am experiencing something transformative. 





DAY 7: Thank goodness for the evening discourses each night (with the meditation Teacher). They are really, really BRILLIANT!!! They are FULL of truths that I already have come to know. This is some of the most beautiful stuff I've ever heard.

DAY 8: This still works. I am experiencing miracles. I am experiencing my own power.

DAY 9: OK, I'm amazed. And I also CANNOT WAIT TO SEE DANNY!!!

DAY 10: This has been incredibly enlightening and worth the silence and the pain. I would recommend it. I am VERY glad I came. What I have learned is worth GOLD. But I'm also so, so very ready to go.





What Vipassana is like.

THIS IS WHAT WAS SO ENLIGHTENING:

You are taught to LIBERATE YOURSELF from your misery by harnessing actual laws of nature.

Yes, it is possible.

Our misery is truly in our minds.

As you sit for hours on end with physical pain in your legs and back and with intense cravings to do something else, you are taught to notice all the physical sensations that you have (both good and bad.) You are taught that physical sensations (good and bad) are ALWAYS changing, like a flowing river. So why let a moment dominate you? This only makes the pain worse.

Instead, if you just OBSERVE your sensations coming and going (instead of dwelling on them), the pain and craving loses it's power. It's called equanimity. It's being able to see both good and bad sensations, without reacting to either - as you know that they will pass.



By not reacting, your mind becomes free.

Your body becomes free. Your pain and misery actually melt away. And in the absence of misery, LOVE AND COMPASSION are more freely able to dwell. You are more able to share your TRUE peace, harmony, and compassion with others (free of your own pain such as control, dysfunction, fear, anxiety, resistance, and the needs of the ego.)

This all may sound difficult and hard to imagine.

But at Vipassana, you experience it. The course is all about you having the opportunity to have an EXPERIENTIAL moment. Not one that you hear about. Not one that you are taught to believe in. But one that you experience FOR YOURSELF.

I loved that. Because I think too often when it comes to religion, you are taught to just believe in something. And too often you don't actually experience the truths or the spirituality for yourself.



Danny and I both left Vipassana feeling EXTREMELY at peace and EXTREMELY calm about life and any fear or doubt that we might have. (For me, those fears and doubts at the time were related to our state here in Ecuador and the uncertainty of my future and what I might do with my life, time, and occupation going forward. And also, we were weeks away from hosting our first retreat.) Also, the 10 days sharpens and exercises your mind and focus like nothing else. And being 100% separated from distractions and screens was extremely cleansing.

Vipassana is certainly not for everyone, but I can highly recommend it to anyone seeking greater ways or tools to be happy, to feel liberated, to feel powerful, to feel spiritual, to feel true peace instead of pain, to feel true love instead of misery. This experience is helpful for life, suffering, uncertainty, healing, forgiveness, marriage and all relationships, religious or spiritual uncertainty, or drama of any kind. (Note: They have Vipassana centers all over the world, including a concentration of centers in India.)




Do you have any thoughts about Vipassana? Could you see yourself doing something like this? 

24 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post, Mara. I would be very interested to one day read any reflections you have on how these recent experiences you have had have (or haven't) helped you process your journey with infertility and IVF. I am just curious whether or not they have helped with any kind of acceptance, or coming-to-terms, or new perspective and understanding. I ask because I am nearing the end of a very similar journey and while this is only one path of many, I think coming to the end of any one path requires a kind of processing and healing before one is ready to embark on something new. You may not plan on exploring that at all here, but if you were, I for one would be keen to read...

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    1. Julia, so glad you asked. It turns out that my original spiritual healer in Manhattan had been to a few courses of Vipassana and her teachings to me actually included many of the same ideas. (Basically, if you like some of the concepts I write about here on the blog, you'll like what is taught at Vipassana. :) I knew my teacher highly recommended Vipassana, but it wasn't until I actually had experienced it myself that I realized that through her, many of those teachings totally helped me to progress and heal from infertility!! Honestly, that realization was really amazing. And I found myself knodding my head during the discourses and thinking to myself - yep - that was it - that was what helped me to heal!! So YES, I would recommend Vipassana wholeheartedly to someone who is interested in tools to heal from infertility. It is all there -and if applied, I really, really believe it could be transformative.

      As for my current journey with infertility - I guess the acceptance or coming-to-terms is not something I think about much anymore as I've just been at this for so long. I feel like that healing process for me was taking place more actively many years ago. So I didn't necessarily go into Vipassana with infertility on my mind. But I did go there with thoughts about my next phase - and how I can make the most of my life now. So in a way - this new life, and trying to redefine my path is all still connected to infertility. And the tools learned at Vipassana still definitely apply to this, too.

      I send you all the good energy and love and sisterhood I can muster for you and your journey ahead. I know that your life can be full of wholeness and meaning. Much love, M

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  2. Do you have any recommendations for good meditations? I am interested in meditating but I have no idea where to start!

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    1. It's hard to recommend where to start, especially because meditation takes on a completely different form depending on which version you subscribe to. Vipassana meditation has very little to do with every type of meditation I'd personally been previously exposed to. In that tradition, there would be no such thing as a "good meditation", because most of it is about the absence of guided thought and visualization. There is a portion of the meditation to be performed at the end of an hour long sitting, where you actually do use words and thoughts to sort of become love. It is called Metta, and Mara and I both loved it. But it was not the focus of our 10 days.

      There are other meditations that Mara has recommended in the past from Bellaruth Naparstek which would be along the lines most people are familiar with. You can find some of her products here.

      If you are religious, it also might be helpful to find someone that speaks about meditation from the perspective of your religious tradition...just because it can often be difficult to jump right in to a very different "eastern" way of talking about it all. For example, one person that helped me understand meditation better (Phil McLemore) was a Mormon who had been practicing it for years and had done extensive training, and is now a practitioner/teacher. He was able to speak about the experience in a way that I very easily related to. If you have a strong religious background, it might help to find someone who shares that "spiritual language" that is unique to each group to better understand.

      Finally, there is one that we've posted before that we love. It is an excerpt from a talk called "Unleashing the Dormant Spirit" given by a religious leader in our church who is known to have a deep meditative practice. I would consider the content fairly non-denominational, but definitely christian. Mara and I think it is beautiful....you might like it too if it is a background you identify with - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snAjZ8mfoYw

      I think Mara might be personally responsible for about half of the views based on how many times she's listened to it :)

      In all of these recommendations, please know that Mara and I are total novices, and only beginning this part of spiritual development, and have oh so much to learn.

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    2. If other readers see this, I would also love if they chimed in with their favorite meditations. I would also love some recommendations!

      And regarding that Belleruth Naperstak meditation - the one I listened to the most (like ..a lot...) is the one called Help for Fertility. SO, SO very good. If anyone is going through that, I can't recommend that meditation enough. Though Belleruth has other topics as well. Some I resonate with more than others.

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    3. Thank you so much for responding! I will look into your recommendations.

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    4. Anon - I would start much simpler! Just download one of the many meditation apps, which will time you (good for a beginner so your thoughts aren't straying to time as much) and if you want, you can also find guided meditations and mantras. The beginning can be as simple as closing your eyes for 5 minutes and focusing only on breath or only on whatever mantra you'd like to have in your head. No need to get super complicated at first! And remember that your thoughts will stray - be kind to yourself and gently try to return your thoughts to your breath.

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  3. Mara, This post triggers some of my fears, but I think you and Danny would be perfect for answering this question/giving me perspective that I need. This is my fear about Vipassana, and other similar meditation techniques/experiences. As emotions come and go, maybe we grow to not take them as seriously. I want love, compassion, and peace to not be emotions that pass, but truths that exists but may be obscured by misery, fear, greed, etc. My fear is that love will be reduced to an emotion that can come and go. I also don't feel settled believing that love, peace, etc, are decisions- like a work out routine- that I am more or less dedicated to depending on how tired I am or how energetic I feel. I guess I believe that love, peace, and compassion are unique among feelings, that they are truth, independent of my dedication to them, but that's not how I experience these feelings in my life. I feel these positive feelings as I dedicate to them, but I get tired and when I get tired, I feel like it slips away. I want to simply do nothing- maybe actively wait and watch- and let the love happen. I hope that makes sense. I feel stuck and would love some perspective.

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    1. That's a good question, and I feel like to some degree it was a question that was on my mind while Mara and I were at this 10 day thing.

      I hope I'll be able to explain it in a way that makes sense. I think it is hard to explain, in large part because though a long-time meditation practitioner may use the same words you and I do, the words mean something completely different to them through their actual experience.

      For example, Love and Compassion, according to them (and me for that matter), would not be characterized by the word "emotion", but would be more comparable to your underlying essence, an essence that one must work to uncover more fully and experience more powerfully.

      Sometimes we use a word like "love", but our definition of love is so tied up in attachment and craving as to be unrecognizable to someone who has uncovered the essence of Love that IS them.

      Real Love is something that is deeper, and should not be reduced to an emotion. But until someone experiences it for themselves, and experiences it more consistently, they will hear everyone else using the word "love" and assume that their dysfunctional definition is the same one that everyone else is using. That kind of dysfunctional "love" is something that comes and goes when our minds and reactions still process something in very ego-centric ways. The fact that it comes and goes at all, could be a sign that it wasn't actual deep love to begin with, but that it was based on Craving and Aversion (two words used extensively during our 10 days, and believed to be the heart of all suffering and misery).

      But there is something deeper to Love, and it needs to be uncovered. And there is a heap of egocentric thought patterns obscuring our experience of it.

      This then is the purpose of Vipassana meditation. One uses the observation of the body and the natural sensations that arise in the body as a tool to practice less egocentric reactions. Practicing less egocentric reactions on the body, will lead to less egocentric reactions with friends, family, strangers, circumstances, etc.

      Continued…..

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    2. Continued from above……

      One example....Mara described that on some days she felt intense pain during the "don't move a muscle" meditations. When a sensation like pain arises, our gut instinct is "aversion"....we want it to go away as fast as possible. That might mean giving in and moving, or it might mean obsessively focusing on the pain for the rest of the meditation and just baring it, or it might mean mentally giving up and saying "this stuff isn't for me", or we might begin to obsessively imagine how much time is left in this hour long meditation. All of these are tools of "aversion" our mind has learned that "help" us avoid pain, or at least try to.

      But what if you do as Mara did, and realize "I am not my pain" and you stop reacting to pain with aversion....and you find the pain disappears, and so do all the obsessive thoughts about it, and you from then on meditate in a new kind of stillness and calm? Mara stopped identifying with the pain, and therefore stopped needing to use the mind to combat it or imagine ways out of it, and the pain that once presented itself as so intense, turned out to only be an illusion, which once dealt with and recognized as such, revealed a much deeper and more consistent peace.

      Love, Peace, and Compassion are unique truths! And the role of Vipassana meditation is to develop a skill set that reveals them as deep truths inherent to the human soul and the human experience, by identifying and clearing away all the other concepts that are false. I happen to love Jesus's way of describing this inherentness, when he said "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." And really, Jesus's Sermon on the Mount is one masterful teaching dealing with the need to dissolve egocentric thinking in order to uncover the "kingdom that is within".

      Hopefully that provides some food for thought. I cannot pretend that it is "right", but it is as I've come to understand it myself.

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    3. Danny I rely appreciate this comment. It really resonates with me. When you were talking about the true meaning of the word love I kept thinking of the light of Christ. I am not sure if that is what you meant, but it feels right to me.

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    4. Debs - although it wasn't what I had in mind, I think from the religious point of view it has application.

      It's true, the kind of Love I am speaking of is the same Love spoken of as an attribute, or better yet, the defining characteristic of God - "God is Love".

      Anyone taking a look at the list in 1 Cor 13 will see that often the kind of love they experience doesn't measure up to the kind Paul says we should seek after.

      "4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails."

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  4. Hi Mara, Your transition from day one to day ten remind me of a friend who did this years ago. She also cried! Quite a bit in the beginning. Thank you for sharing. What a leap of bravery, embracing this experience.

    Your comment about trying to redefine your path and how its connected to your infertility even though this wasn't on your mind during the meditation is so very interesting. We have this culture of personal re-invention, as if the past can be left behind in some concrete past way, so that it doesn't carry forward. Rather than recognizing the flow of time, versus this arbitrary clock counting of time and experiences. I'm beginning to think that everything we are, everything we have experienced, it is just a part of us, but it is not US. It's connected but not determined, if that makes sense. Finding footing among all this fluidity still means finding footing. And now I'm spinning into the abstract, when all I really want are answers so I can keep moving forward with my hopes and dreams :)). Does it sound like it's time for Vipassana?

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    1. If I understand your comment correctly, I would say I agree with you. We do want to reinvent and leave behind at times. When the reality is, all that went before makes us exactly who and what we are. Even the difficult parts need to be embraced and accepted.

      That is what divorce and infertility has been for us. Not things to hide from, nor are the things that form the ashes of previous dreams that we now try to build upon. Instead, they are the very foundation of who we are and where we want to go. They taught us more deeply about Love, Gratitude, Faith, Patience, Inner Peace, and all other good things.

      There must be an acceptance of all that has come before, the pleasant and the unpleasant, all that has made us who we are. The "footing" you describe seems rooted in this concept of acceptance. In fact, that really is what "Equanimity" is. So yeah, get yourself to some Vipassana :)

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    2. :) Acceptance, as the footing. Thank you! That clicks. Suddenly I see that shame can play a role in how we frame what appears at first glance as failure.

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  5. I highly recommend the app called "headspace" for anyone who wants to explore meditation. I've always been interested in meditation but sometimes found that reading about it or even going to some classes felt abstract and overwhelming. This app helped me to ease my way into meditation in a way that I could actually understand and handle. I feel a little strange recommending an app for meditation, but it truly did help me get my head around the concept and actually start practicing on a (somewhat) regular basis, so I figured if it could help me, it might help someone else too! If I remember correctly the app is free for the first ten meditation sessions, so you can try it out and figure out if you like it or not before actually committing to it.

    Hopefully this helps! Thanks for writing about this, such an interesting topic. So appreciate the time you both take to write!

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  6. Hi Mara, I was hoping at the end you would tell us about your reunion with Danny! Must have been some wonderful embrace at the end of those 10 days!
    Tina

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    1. Ah!! I should have written about it! It was so, so, so glorious! I mean, honeymoon material! Seriously. We had the most amazing hugs, conversations, and just "Wow!! I can see you and talk to you!" kind of moments. It was way too giddy for two people that have been married 4 years. We loved, loved sharing with each other our individual experiences. That was kind of cool - to do something together and to have that shared experience, but yet to have the whole thing be so, so individual. Very unique. Anyway, after Vipassana we did something quite special. Instead of traveling straight home, we went to a gorgeous hotel/hacienda for several days. We literally holed up in our comfortable room with a HUGE fireplace blazing each night. Normally we are the type to be out and about. But this time we just stayed put and talked and talked. The hotel had a movie room. We even ate most of our meals on the property. AND... the very, very best part of all!!!! We met our little Sila while we were there!!! She was a little stray dog hopping around the property. I wrote all about that experience in a post here: http://www.ablogaboutlove.com/2014/10/our-dog-adoption-at-hacienda-cusin_13.html SUCH a lovely time. SUCH a lovely experience all around. And now I have this little Sila with her head wrapped around my arm this very second as I'm writing. She has brought us so much joy. And she reminds us of all that power and peace and love we felt during and after Vipassana. (And luckily we still feel it now.) XOXO

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    2. Oh my gosh, that is just so sweet and perfect! (So neat that you replied - thank you. This was my first time commenting)! I can't be the only one who was hoping to read about the reunion part)! You two treat one another like gold, and it's so wonderful to read about. Tina
      Tina

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  7. I have been waiting to hear about your experience with this. I am very fascinated with it, and will keep it on my back burner to try in the future. I know that the way I have been taught from my LDS heritage to draw closer to God and to apply the atonement, learn, grow, change, all that good stuff has, has been through prayer, scripture study, and my journal, and it has changed my life radically many times over the years. And I love that children of God all over the earth commune with the Divine in their own, yet equally powerful ways. I am very interested in learning from others on their spiritual journeys. I love this. I have a question: what it literally physically painful? You mentioned not moving for an hour. I guess I am having a hard time envisioning what exactly it is like? If you have an itch, you can’t scratch it? If your hips are in a bad position, you can’t reposition? Limbs going to sleep? Or just mental exhaustion? Just curious what you mean by the pain part.

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    1. I'm like you - I love to explore many different ways to practice spirituality. I need to find my next exploration!! (I have my eyes on India!)

      OK - the pain part...eeks. When you sit in one position (legs crossed, straight posture, on the floor) for 1 hour or 2 hours or even several minutes, your body will be begging to readjust. It's crazy how your leg will begin to hurt - and then perhaps both your legs will begin to fall asleep. Then your back will want to move back and forth to alleviate some pressure. Then even your arms may begin to feel heavy. And yes, then your nose will itch. Anyway, the first time I did this I was FLOORED at how much pain I was experiencing (literally I was sweat ing!). But then I was FLOORED again because as soon as I applied the instructions of seeing my pain and pleasure with Equanimity, the pain literally began to go away and remained that way for basically the last 5 days. It was unbelievable to me how powerful our mind is. Now, the other form of pain (for me) was boredom, lack of productivity, lack of human connection. Doing the same thing day after day IN SILENCE was HARD. I always tell people, it wasn't 10 hours of silence and meditation...it was TEN DAYS. It felt like an eternity. One time another participant at my lunch table looked at me and broke the rules to mouth these words, "I am f#*@ing bored out of my mind." And I have to say, I felt the same. So even though I had the physical pain part figured out, I then had to apply the same principles to my boredom. Doing that maybe felt less miraculous, but it still did work. And it also helped to walk like a New Yorker during the short break we had after lunch. Most people would go walk barefoot in the grass or lie face down on the concrete or gaze longingly at flowers or build altar looking things with sticks and rocks out in the field. I swear everyone looked like zombies. Oh my. But I walked my brains out during that break. There was only a very small area where we were allowed to walk, so I paced back and forth. I knew I needed to get my blood flowing so it could help me to have the energy to face the next several hours of meditation. And it also helped that on one of the WORST days (I think it was the first day we weren't allowed to move during meditation) - we went in for the snack at night (FYI, instead of dinner, you are served one piece of whole fruit and some herbal tea at about 5 pm) - and instead of an orange or an apple or a banana, they served a hot, baked apple with some cinnamon sprinkled on top!! That was the only time they did that. And I swear that hot apple saved our lives!! You could see it on everyone's faces. haha.

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    2. This reminds me of child birth with 2 of my children. After having 2 babies in the hospital with drugs and everything I wanted to to it at home. I used a program called hypno babies to help me prepare and it is basically meditations and relaxations to have birth without pain. I will say that I know it helped, but I did experience pain. It would probably take a few more times and a lot of practicing to get to that point.

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  8. I know I'm a little late to be commenting, but... THANK YOU for this post. I have generalized anxiety disorder and while I have a good "toolbox" (as my counselor says) and most people don't even know I have it, it's still difficult. Two nights ago I prayed for a way to detach myself from the need to hold onto being anxious. Then I saw this post. My counselor has recommended I try meditation, but it's always so difficult to quiet my mind. I am inspired to try again, so thank you.

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