I went on a 10 day Vipassana silent meditation retreat in Fishkill, NY — it was painful.
I heard there was going to be a NY retreat a year ago and signed up without hesitation. I knew that it was pretty extreme considering I don’t meditate consistently.
Here’s why it was painful:
I’ve rarely sat still in life, I like to be constantly on the move and doing lots of things. I like to be active and on the go so sitting requires a lot of discipline, concentration and focus.
My mind is/was constantly chattering.. thinking ahead or worrying about things out of my own control. And noticing it is the first step to taking control of our thoughts.
I realized how my habits and vices of the past from avoidance, fear, resistance and more come back in my thoughts and memories.
So why did I choose to do this then? Well, I had been meditating consistently unless i was in a group setting. The maximum I’ve meditated for is 30mins, otherwise I choose to do 15mins twice a day -path of least resistance and discomfort.
The past two years of my life has been full of transition into lots of unknowns and uncertainty…all of this at times has led me to feel anxious, fearful, overwhelmed and emotional..all of which I felt it was time to challenge myself. I said, “What’s the worst that can happen?” I have nothing to lose — if anything, I have lots to gain in ways I can’t even imagine.”
And indeed, I gained so much more than I could have ever imagined.
For one, I can sit for an hour to two hours a day!
Sitting for an hour-two hours a day is hard work mentally and physically- I noticed how much resistance I had to sitting still with thoughts circling my head and the incessant internal dialogue. I realized I wanted to get out of the pain and discomfort and disconnect from my feelings and sensations. I was more aware of that I didn’t have a phone, computer, or book or person to distract myself.
What did I accomplish?
I learned I can sit still — it’s a mental game where I would tell myself return to the breath over and over again or do the body scan activity. At times the tendency to come out of my sitting position was strong — i had to let out many deep exhales to be able to find my focus.
The pure joy and relief of knowing I CAN sit still was the biggest self discovery. oftentimes, i would say to myself “i hate sitting still, this is silly, dumb, and more internal dialogue resisting and fighting the exercise of sitting.” and when i stopped fighting, resisting i found peace and calm in sitting.
The beauty of silence and how precious it is to be in silence with yourself and on a daily basis. I forgot how special it was to be notice nature without a verbal reaction. I forgot all the worries at times and the wonders of the internet too and just sat with focus, clarity and discipline.
Would I do a ten day retreat again? Possibly, but not for a while because I know it’s important for me to practice and implement the techniques before returning.
It’s easy to tell ourselves to sign up for another retreat because “we aren’t fixed” or “we haven’t attained.” The lesson from the retreat is that there’s work to be done always- the moment we think we’re done is when we’ve missed the idea behind the practice and caught up in our own ego.
My biggest takeaways were that self-discipline and focus in our lives and work become more clear when we don’t let ourselves get caught up in the distractions. It means mindfully doing one thing at time and noticing what we are doing. For me, it means when making tea slowly pouring the boiled water into the cup and sitting down to sip it slowly, savoring the flavor, smell and taste. For me, the greatest joy of learning to sit was self discovery, mastery and control over my mind.
Ultimately, the breath is an essential to maintaining calm when faced with uncertainty and unknowns that are scary.