Travel Journal

10-day Vipassana, 2/12-2/22

(Thursday 24 February 2011) by Joanne Chang
I feel amazing. AMAZING. I have never felt this clear, calm, and free in my life. I don't know if 10 days of silence and Vipassana meditation is for everyone, but it is exactly what I needed, and I reached out and gave it to myself. Ok, maybe I kind of forced it on myself -- I don't meditate, and I was totally nervous and fearful and uncertain about my ability to tackle what could only be an deeply personal challenge, 10 very long days of dealing with yourself and your crazy mind. But I had no excuses -- I am fortunate enough to have the time, I had some things to work out, and I made it mandatory. I am so thankful that I did. At age 33, I'm finally learning to listen to myself.

They are long days. Wake-up bells at 4 a.m., meditation and stretching until 7 a.m., then breakfast and more meditation from 9 to 11 a.m. Lunch and working meditation until 1 p.m., then alternating sessions of walking, standing and sitting meditation from 1 to 5:15 p.m. Fruit salad dinner followed by more meditation from 6 to 7 p.m., then a teaching, then bed by 8:30 or 9. Then all over again the next day, and the next, and the next, and the next... it requires motivation, discipline and determination to make it work, to be there not only physically but mentally and emotionally, to not waste a moment, to remember why I came, to see my efforts materialize into something beautiful. Something that actually does require many consecutive hours and days of concentration and care in order to reveal itself.

The teachings are based on Theravadin Buddhism. At the core of this is learning to view life as it really is, not how you think it should be or how you've made it out to be; to learn who and what we are by investigating the mind; and to develop compassion, understanding and lovingkindness towards ourselves and others through mindful thought, speech, actions, intentions. This which brings us peace, because the ability to eliminate pain and suffering lies entirely within us, while too often we point outward at (what we think is) the cause of our suffering. It's fundamental stuff really, passed down for thousands of years, put into simple words that make so much sense you wonder why you didn't see it as clearly before.

The first couple days are the hardest, trying to get into the rhythm, trying to watch the breath, trying not to fall asleep during the sitting meditations. I follow directions to the best of my ability but I'm not here to watch my breath. I'm here for specific reasons -- to process, understand, accept, and let go of things causing me unnecessary pain and suffering. And to truly feel, not just know, how incredibly fortunate I am to have this life. So I let my mind focus on the past and things I need to work through, and on Day 3 (ish, they all kind of blend together), we get into compassion, understanding, and reflective meditation -- how fortunate we are, death and impermanence, difficulties and challenges -- all requiring active thought so I no longer feel I'm cheating. I'm working hard, turning life on its angles, letting go, having a-ha! moments that make me want to jump up and down laughing and clapping, Yay! Then it's Day 6, and I'm exhausted and ready for the retreat to be over. But there are 4 more days! Ay-ya!

The silence itself is easy, welcoming in fact, but the long hours of meditation start to make your head hurt.

When I think I've had enough, more meditation brings more realization and understanding, which creates the energy to keep working. At the end of the retreat I sit at the overlook and make a long list of things I've learned about myself. Things that will fundamentally change the way I live my life today, tomorrow, this year, next year, and hopefully the rest of my life. I am beside myself. I am free! Beaming. I have an abundance of love and happiness in my heart, so many opportunities, amazing friends and family, and the love of my life. It leaves me speechless. It's an indescribable feeling to have exactly what you want, and to want to be exactly where you are -- to appreciate everything and long for nothing. This is it, pure joy.

It's not downhill from here though; 10 days in meditation and mindfulness will not change you unless you make it a daily practice. Leaving the Wat, I am determined to protect the things I've learned here, and to have the strength and wisdom to continue on this journey. Smiling all the way.

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