I spent 10 days meditating 10 hours a day — In Complete Silence
This piece was written in 2018 after a heart break and a breaking open of my soul after just 10 short days that felt like an eternity.
Patiently and persistently is how you must work when doing a Vipassana. Because when you start learning the meditation technique, it’s hard… most of the time.
Let me paint you a picture.
It’s 4am, approximately 5 hours since you finally managed to stop tossing around on your thin foam mat atop the wooden cot and fall asleep. You drag your tired ass out of bed and make it to the meditation hall by 4:30 for your first 2 hour meditation of the day.
Your eyes probably haven’t fully opened yet, but through the slits you see the bright, beautiful moon casting shadows in the thick jungle.
You sit on your cushion. Your stomach is growling. You promise yourself — today: this is it, it’s the day I stay awake for the entire 2 hours! I will! You close your eyes. Your head nods.
Then you wake up to the sound of Goenka chanting in Pali, signifying the last 20 minutes of morning meditation. Dammit.
The only day I actually stayed awake and meditated for the full 2 hours was the 10th day. The final day. But somehow I managed to meditate from 4:30 to 6:30 in the morning without breakfast.
Anyone who knows me probably doesn’t even believe those words; I am not a morning person. The things my mother went through trying to get me to school in the morning… bless her heart.
Vipassana is challenging because that is only 2 of the 10+ hours of meditation you’ll do that day — that’s hours of sitting and battling with your mind.
A mind that is always so so busy
It’s incredible the amount of thoughts that whip around your head at any given moment. If your thoughts came out of another persons mouth unfiltered, you’d think they were insane.
I feel like I was going insane and finding sanity at the same time — sanity in being present. When’s the last time you really felt 100% present? Not thinking about the future or dwelling on the past. I realized that I hadn’t in a while.
Hell, I hadn’t been truly happy in a while. I mean that kind of happiness that doesn’t originate from something outside of yourself — a person, activity, words that touched your ears. I haven’t been feeling a true happiness that originates from within; from a sense of peace, self-love, and an selfless love for other beings. My happiness has felt shallow, fleeting, conditional.
This is why I felt drawn to Vipassana — I’ve had an underlying dissatisfaction and recurring depression for a long time. I know many people turn to meditation for similar reasons — they need a change and a shift of consciousness. This is what the course gives you, after 10 days of very hard, grueling mental work.
On top of the extensive hours of sitting, lack of dinner, complete silence, and early mornings, you have to completely surrender yourself to the course. This part was really hard for me in the beginning.
Giving up control over your life really messes with the ego and, to no surprise, you resist. In childhood we slowly develop a sense of ‘I’ and its relation to the world, enter adulthood, then gain more freedoms and control over our lives.
We get so attached to that control — the ability to say “No, I’m gonna do it my way”. In Vipassana there is no ‘my way’ there is only group meditation, schedule eating times, and scheduled free time.
The free time is time for the mind to wander instead of focusing on your breath hitting that small area above your upper lip.
Free time looks like that point in the mushroom trip where all your friends wandered away to look at the trees and ponder life’s deep mysteries. I cracked up so hard when I thought of that, mid-Vipassana.
We can’t limit ourselves to things that are always easy
Although the 10 days were really hard, there were so many beautiful little moments.
Epiphanies about my toxic emotional patterns, moments of joy and love so pure I cried, the tang and zest of an orange, jungle bird song, oceanic feelings of presence, a meditation that brought on waves of tingling throughout my body. Such an appreciation for this life I have, that I was able to find this path and take some steps towards inner peace.
That’s what Vipassana is — it means to see things as they really are, not how you want them to be, and find peace in the impermanence of everything.
It’s a beautiful thing to realize the impermanence of the universe and everything it contains — so liberating! And so liberating to know that all you need to consider is the present moment, because it’s all you really have. But our minds hold deep attachments to things that it likes, while trying so hard to avoid the things it hates.
Basically every emotion can be narrowed down to craving: wanting the good to continue and the bad to go away. Goenka says that we have to break that habit pattern of the mind, of craving and aversion, in order to really feel peace, happiness, love, and compassion authentically. Only then will we be liberated from the misery we create for ourselves.
Although I agree, I’m not about to become a monk and rescind all sensual pleasures. When it’s that time of the month some deeply rooted cravings surface and I need to put red wine and chocolate in my mouth — we all have our weaknesses.
Speaking of weak moments…
I have a confession. A jar of shame under my bed.
A jar of… CHUNKY PEANUT BUTTER! There I said it out loud (kind of). In moments of weakness, when the 11 hours between lunch and bed time became unbearable I would eat a shameful spoonful.
Despite this, and the falling asleep every morning during meditation, and the thinking about quitting about three times a day, I stuck it out. I am so grateful that past-Kaya didn’t quit and I got to experience this zen’d out state, with love and compassion at the forefront of my mind instead of feelings like judgment, frustration, impatience and anxiety about change.
The awareness of impermanence as the law of nature is so crucial. When my dad passed away I was an emotional wreck for about a year. I would force myself not to think about him in public because I would start crying. I was so, so attached to his physical presence and the time that felt robbed from me. My misery was drawn out for years.
What kind of love is that? To have to suppress thoughts and memories to avoid pain. That’s not an authentic love, it is a love defined by attachment. I didn’t know how to love otherwise.
This is a pattern in my life and I always feel a hint of possession in my relationships: my boyfriend, no one else’s. And with that my boyfriends time becomes my time, his attention should focus on me, his affections should shower me. And with that comes expectations.
Then you’ve found yourself in an unhappy, unfulfilling relationship where your cravings can never really be fulfilled because you are so far from an intrinsic happiness that you drag others down into the depths of your misery.
Because misery loves company and misery is never alone.
Knowing this, and knowing how impermanent it all is — life, infatuation, time — I feel like I’ve taken some steps out of the prison in my mind and see how important it is to think and act in a way that values the precious time we are given in our bodies, on this earth.
The path forward
Living with truly unattached, unconditional love and compassion, instead of judgment or aversion, is the path I want to take. I want to lift up the people around me with an infectious happiness! I’ve realized that to do this, in part, will be through my work. I want a job that’s primary purpose is to help others, but as a result provides me with money.
The first step I’m taking is a volunteer position teach English in Hanoi, Vietnam! I start April 9th and am so jazzed. This is kind of a stepping stone to try out teaching before I commit to a year in Spain, which would start in October if I’m accepted to the program.
In the mean time, Rachelle, her friend Caitlyn and I will be starting a badass biker gang and will be taking Vietnam by storm. Catch us down by the Mekong next week breaking hearts
Readjustment to society has been pretty weird the last couple of days. The stimulation from the concrete jungle of Singapore, and from conversations I’ve been having is sometimes overwhelming. Staring at my phone for too long is too much.
I’ve started to notice little things in society that feed our ego and our fears — much of it to do with fashion ads, beauty regimes, fitness, social stigmas. Singapore is a very interesting place to be aware of these things. They live in a rule-oriented society: no eating on the trains, no smoking in many public areas, no jaywalking, no riding scooters in the road.
Everything is immaculate. The windows have no smudges, no bush goes un-pruned. Honestly I’m just happy to be able to drink the tap water, eat some delicious food, and sleep in a comfy bed!
Meditating does prove to be difficult in a 20 person dorm, but I’m making it work somehow. So that’s been my last two weeks, friends. I hope this post inspires you to think about trying meditation and striving for your own liberation. I want that for you.
May all beings find peace, love, and happiness.