My sis took this photo late last summer while we were digging up some potatoes.
If you have any questions this week about my:
…my sister is going to do her best to answer them for you.
That’s because I’m currently in the middle of a 10 day Vipassana course.
As some of you will know, what that means is that I’m in a place with no access to phone or internet or even a pen and paper.
And I’m meditating.
I actually wrote this post early last week, a couple of days before leaving, and scheduled it to go out to you today, so by the time you’re reading this, I’m probably sitting as still as possible, trying to not let my mind wander.
Every morning, close to 100 other meditators and I wake up at 4am and proceed to meditate for 10 hours throughout the day.
Well, we’re supposed to wake up at 4am – I’m still hoping that part is some kind of joke – but I’ll try my hardest. (Update: it wasn’t bad at all – in bed just after 9pm and up at 4:20am)
Each meditation session lasts for 1-2 hours, with occasional breaks in between.
We get some instruction every day to keep us on track. Other than that, we’re not allowed to talk or exercise or do much of anything.
As I write this a couple of days before embarking on this, I feel very lucky to have the opportunity.
I’ve met a few people in the last 9 months who have told me about this course and how much of a positive impact it had on their lives.
And I believe it, because I’ve seen the benefits of even a modest amount of meditation over the last couple of weeks.
I’m going through a challenging situation in my life right now so I’ve been doing more meditation than I’ve done in the past, and it often leaves me feeling full of joy, so I’m optimistic that this very intensive course will continue that path.
Actually, I should clarify something in case you’re going through your own challenges and wondering if meditation might be helpful.
For me, it’s not just the meditation that’s helped – if I had just started meditating at home every day I don’t think I would have gotten very far.
For me, it’s doing it with a group of supportive people, and it’s the teachings that go along with it that have made all the difference.
In my case that’s been mostly Buddhist teachings, and while a lot of them don’t resonate with me and some of them I don’t particularly agree with, the overall ideas about how to be happier in the face of life’s challenges have brought some definite aha! moments.
Anyway, just thought I’d mention that – if you’re thinking of meditation, it might be cool to try out a couple of different places in your area where you can do some group meditation and learning (doesn’t have to be Buddhist or religious).
(By the way, since I still get emails from you guys to this day offering your support in light of my separation from my ex-wife Heather, I know some of you will be wondering if this current challenging situation has to do with her and the answer is no – we’re still friends and all is well there.)
As for these 10 days – I know they won’t be easy either. It’s hard work, not a vacation by any means.
The main thing I’ve been wondering is if I’ll be able to handle the physical challenge of sitting in a meditation pose for 10 hours a day, as the most I’ve ever done is 2 hours. I hope that if I can get through the first few days, it will get easier.
But for some people it apparently gets more difficult further into the 10 days because the mental aspect gets to them, the boredom or the solitude. I’m not too concerned about that at the moment, but we’ll see how it goes. Which do you think would be harder for you?
I mostly wanted to post this just so you know why I’m not responding to your emails and blog comments this week, and just to say hey 🙂
I’d love to hear your thoughts below:
- Do you meditate?
- How do you handle challenges in your life?
I’ll be back on April 20th, looking forward to reading what you had to say down below. I’ll also answer any other emails and comments at that time that my sister wasn’t sure of.
April 25 Update
I’ve been back for a few days now and wanted to jot down a few notes because some of you said you’d like to hear how it went.
The slightly disappointing parts:
- My challenging life situation didn’t magically disappear during the retreat. In fact, it made it difficult to get through the course because my mind wandered to it all the time rather than staying in my meditation zone. I would have preferred to take the course in a more joyful state of mind, but at the same time, my situation made it even more important for me to try my best at every meditation sitting, to really work hard, so I think that was an advantage in some ways.
- The course seemed to have such a positive impact on the lives of the 3 people I already knew who had taken it before that I put a lot of pressure on myself to leave the course feeling like “why isn’t everyone dancing in the street right now?”, as one friend put it when she told me about it last fall. I didn’t quite have that ecstatic of a feeling, and in hindsight, that was quite a lofty goal considering what’s going on in my life these days. I now realize it’s best to go into a thing like this without expectations, because obviously there are many factors that will shape the experience each of us has. If you’re thinking about doing the course, I say don’t do too much research going in – just go do it and it may change your life or it may just be an interesting experience.
The uplifting parts:
- By the end, I was victorious over the physical pain of sitting cross-legged without moving for an hour or more. It was impossible at the beginning, but by the end I could do it without much trouble and it felt great (fyi, you don’t have to sit cross-legged if that’s too much for you – you can even sit on a chair).
- I had some success with quieting my mind and learning how to feel sensations throughout my body, which is one of the main goals of Vipassana meditation – I didn’t get the strong feeling of electricity flowing through my body that some people got, and I must admit I felt pretty bummed about that at first, but I got just enough of that to want to keep practicing now that I’m back home.
- Since moving here last summer and living in a basement for the first time, I’ve gotten in the habit of sleeping in until 8am, when enough light finally comes through my little window that I feel like getting up. I’ve also been staying up until past midnight most nights to compensate for that. I never felt great about that routine, but just thought I’d stick with it until I moved somewhere with more light. Anyway, since coming back, I’m now up at 5:30 every morning with ease, meditating for an hour, and it just feels so good to get that jump on that day.
- On day 10, when we were allowed to start talking again, I got to meet most of the guys I’d been meditating with (they segregate the girls and guys to keep our minds focused, which it turns out is definitely a good idea), and I made some new friends who I’m excited to get to hang out with going forward. There’s something special about going through this course and making it through to the other side – it’s really a bonding experience, even though we didn’t get to talk for 95% of it.
- Even though I didn’t walk out of the course wanting to dance in the street, my whole outlook on life is definitely changed (partially from the Buddhism/meditation stuff I was already doing and partially because of this course). I’m very excited to continue with this meditation technique, feeling better able to handle my challenging situation, and more positive about life in general.
If you’re intrigued by this, I encourage you to go here to find the Vipassana course closest to you and sign up today (it’s free by the way, including meals and your room and everything – you can donate after if you feel so inclined).
I could go on forever, but those are the main things I wanted to share today – thanks very much for your support 🙂
Think you might go try this? Or if you’ve been before, maybe go back and do it again?