When you tell people that you’re going to a Vipassana meditation retreat, they often say, “Have fun!”, and “Enjoy!” Words that, funnily enough, don’t spring to mind to anyone who’s ever been on one.
I think it must be the word “retreat”. It suggests calmness and tranquility. An escape from the world, and an opportunity to pamper oneself. And in some respects that’s true. Vipassana centres are situated in remote locations, away from the sounds of traffic, and when you hand over your keys, mobile phone, Ipads, Ipdos, kindles, writing utensils, and anything else that could be perceived as a distraction, you certainly feel like you’re escaping from the pressures of modern-day life.
But there’s no massage, or marble baths. No fruit platters and smoothies. No lying in, and frolicking barefoot through the fields, counting the petals of a freshly picked daisy. In fact, to pick a daisy, would most certainly be frowned upon, as a disturbance to nature…the killing of a living thing.
There’s no dressing up of the Vipassana retreat. The often misconceived “cult-like” code of conduct that you agree to prior to starting the course is presented as clearly and as succinctly as possible, and you are provided with numerous opportunities to back out, or change your mind before the reign of noble silence prevails. However, it still takes you by surprise.
This was my second Vipassana course. I completed my first in Kanchunaburi, Thailand, almost ten months ago. So one would expect the whole experience to be slightly easier, less alien. And perhaps some things were a little easier…such as sitting cross-legged for ten hours a day, and refraining from gorging myself with numerous helpings at meal times to compensate for the deep work that lay ahead. But, what I discovered is that it never gets easier. Just different.
People have asked me to compare. What was better, what was worse, what did you feel? And the whole time I was there, I looked forward to getting back and writing, what I thought would be my final blog, delving into exactly those things. And yet, as I sit here and type away, it feels like something else wants to be written. Like it’s not important what my experience was, or how I felt from day-to-day.
Yes, there were breakthroughs, and breakdowns. Yes, there were hilarious moments, and terrible moments. Friendships formed, and tolerance and compassion tested. Weight was lost, and deeply rooted imbalances raised to the surface. I embraced more of Goenka’s teachings, yet continued to resist. I wrestled with a longing to leave, and the determination to stay til the end. I wanted to share with the world, but at the same time keep it all to myself.
I can’t explain it all, because whatever significance I once placed on every moment, every thought, every emotion…is no longer there.
Perhaps a life-time of conditioning is beginning to unravel. Perhaps the words “Anicca, Anicca” are more than words now, but a reality.
I know that it will take time to fully appreciate the changes that have occurred. They will reveal themselves in situations I face at any given time. A response has changed, a pattern broken. Sensations of a particular kind lessen in prominence; obsessions and insecurities loosen their grip.
Even now, I feel a greater sense of inner-peace. The rawness of the experience is beginning to subside, and so many things I struggled with and were causing me pain have dissolved. In their place resides great hope and an enthusiasm for life.
There was a moment when I returned to something that Matthew told me. That I have the power to change the negativity within myself. I repeated after him…”this is my new world. My new universe”. On day 9, when something of intense weight and pain had been lifted, and I walked out into the fields, awash with the purest of emotions: love, forgiveness, compassion, I realised that I was, at last, experiencing my new world, my new universe – moment to moment.
Bhavatu sabba mangalam
May all beings be happy!