My Vipassana experience part 2: "Free yourself of all your miseries"
I have written down so much about my experience, I needed to split it into two blog posts, and here comes the second one, I hope it makes a little clearer what I went through. However, it is always a really personal experience so in case mine sounds too intense/hard/weird to you, please don't let it influence you in making the decision if you should go and try it for yourself ;)
At the very beginning when we had to start focusing on the breath (and nothing but the breath), I realized (and not for the first time in my life) how my breathing pattern was completely chaotic. There is absolutely no system to it, sometimes I take really small, short breaths or I breath in a way that seems non-existent, then suddenly I take a desperate deep breath, other times I hold my breath unconsciously, then again a huge one and later it goes back to small and short...
Just like my personality. Many times I am too humble and act as if I wasn't even there, or I try to please others and don't talk about my own needs, then tension builds up in me and I take a sudden desperate action, then I apologize and go back to non-existent mode/people pleaser mode or escape the situation. Other times I am totally self-confident, sometimes even arrogant. Not to others, only in my head though. And there is no middle path. Only extremes. Plus mostly I think and act in quick, vehement, keen, intuitive ways. I don't take enough care of myself and my things. I can't be bothered. On the other hand I am very mindful of how I speak to others and how I react in social interactions. In other words, more often than not I worry more about others' wellbeing than my own which has always caused many internal conflicts. I seem calm on the outside but feel tormented in the inside. More extremes.
Lately I have been working A LOT on this (and then I got the feedback that I was being too selfish). Nothing's ever perfect... Anyhow, I have become much better and more confident at conflict resolution. My people pleaser & conflict avoider base is still there though. At least I have learnt to accept myself the way I am and be patient with myself and my processes. Honestly, it has been one of the most important achievements in my life so far. I don't beat myself up for anything. It makes me much calmer, less stressed and basically a happier person. Vipassana has helped me to consolidate this notion even more. And not only in accepting my breathing pattern the way it is ;)
In any case, I do not think any of the self-improvement processes ever ends for anyone. We never reach a stage where we are perfect individuals. However, I feel this 10-day course has come into my life at the right moment in order to find solution to all my current issues. The solutions are found, the rest will depend on me and on how hard I can work on them. And if I find them important enough, of course. Also, I don't think the topics I am going to tackle here are only my issues, but I am in the position to judge only myself, not others, so I am obviously going to write about myself.
I'd also like to mention that I did not make any conscious effort to work on any issues or to find any solutions, they all came up by themselves at different stages during the 10 days. I simply listened to my intuition and inner voice all along. And never questioned if any of the arising thoughts or feelings was just bullshit or not worth taking into account. It felt like I had small "enlightenments".
The first one was about those thoughts I silence deep down in me, that apparently do come up to the surface when I spend enough time in complete silence and pay attention to myself. At different moments of the course I remembered several "unwholesome" actions I did in the past which hurt and harmed others and I decided to send messages to these people to let them know I was truly sorry about these actions (without expecting their forgiveness).
I also had the brilliant idea of giving time to my family members as a Christmas present. Spending a day or two of quality time with each one of them separately, doing something we both enjoy. They all thought it was a nice suggestion, so we are doing it this year :)
After a few days, I also started listening more to (or hearing more of) my subconscious, which was "sending me messages". I was basically monotonously repeating some short sentences in my mind for a while until I noticed and started thinking about it. Things like "It's ok, I don't have to care" or "I have it all" or "Love is all around". I took my conclusions about all of them.
As I mentioned in the previous post as well, all senses became purified in such silence. I could notice anxiety and fear building up in my chest every time, even before aknowledging consciously that there was something wrong.
And that time when I got really anxious about something I had little information about and seemed like something really difficult and fearful beforehand, I could pay close attention to the whole process of fear building up and taking over me. It was basically fear of the unknown. A very intense experience. The fact that there were no clear instructions about the next stage of the course created that fear in me. I knew that having to sit for an hour without moving at all would be difficult, as I hadn't managed it previously, not even for 45 minutes, and I didn't know when and how it would happen exactly. So the unpleasant, upsetting feeling of worry was building up in me little by little. And when the moment came, the instructions mentioned sitting for about 2 hours and I became frantic. About 2 hours? For the first time? How on earth could THAT be possible? I started crying after a while as I felt the pain was unbearable. In fact, I was so emotionally charged, I thought the world would end in those 105 minutes. It wasn't even an entire 2 hours. Even though I was upset, anxious and suffering as hell, I could still pay close (not exactly scientific but something similar) attention to the whole process. I noticed that my breath was much more limited. One of my nostrils was simply "out of order". My heart was beating faster. There was a huge ball in my chest. I was very afraid. All the negative became magnified and my suffering seemed more important than it actually was. All I could think of was WHY? Why would we all cause such pain to ourselves deliberately? How stupid could we be? Then I realized we actually do the same emotionally. All the time. We just have a different approach to those emotional sufferings like wanting what we don't have, refusing or not being happy with what we have, wanting to evade our reality, beating ourselves up for what we are or what we aren't...
I finally managed to calm myself down (partly) by taking deep breaths, but I needed great willpower to do that. It is incredibly hard to gain over fear. But it IS possible.
Before the next time I had to sit for an hour I was still anxious and fearful. Obviously. A negative experience was connected to it. I still cried that time and it didn't really go any better. However, I was strongly determined I would eventually beat my fear and succeed. And so it happened. Not all of a sudden and not easily though. I still touched rock bottom, wanted to rebel, wanted to leave, I had such a strong negative feeling I almost couldn't fall asleep on the fifth evening. I had pain all over my body, felt afraid of how I would cope the remaining five days, I could barely control myself... I could only think of leaving that crazy place the next morning. Also, as I was lying down in my bed, I felt my heart beating so strong I thought there were earthquakes. This method could not be healthy! My heart was going crazy, I needed to leave! Eventually, somehow I managed to fall asleep.
The next morning I woke up more relaxed and decided I would give this course another chance. I also talked to the teacher who calmed me down by telling me how in this seclusion and silent environment it was normal that I could feel my heartbeat this intensely. So I went and sat again for an hour without moving. And this time I actually managed without any problems. And when the "breakthrough" happened, I was so relieved, so happy... so proud. I did it. It was my own battle that I fought and won. I managed to sit for an hour three times that day without anxiety, fear, pain and the third time I even experienced a miracle.
That miracle was complete peace & bliss, I utterly enjoyed sitting for an hour, I felt total equanimity (towards the negative) and pure joy. I was in the middle of nowhere, actually in the middle of the Thai wilderness, just happy that I could sit here without moving, with an angelic smile on my face (or at least that's what I would have liked to imagine) expecting nothing, craving for nothing, hating nothing. I discovered something exceptional: Inner peace exists!
It does. This happiness felt so different. It was peaceful. Whenever I had been happy in the past I had always been overwhelmed by feelings, but this was different, so pure, so peaceful. I was thinking: My wish for 2020 (=finding inner peace) was fulfilled in the first 2 weeks, so what about the rest of the year? Also, the rest of the course may I just enjoy this feeling? No more struggle, right? I was not sure if I believed in this "purify your mind by meditating more and your deep routed 'sankaras' will come to the surface and you'll be freed from all your past unwholesome actions" stuff Goenka was talking about anyway. I was beyond happy with the result. That's what I came here for. Well, actually I went out of curiosity, didn't expect anything in particular, but I felt I could deal with inner peace as my main takeaway, thanks. "Do I still have to meditate 8-10 hours a day, really?" - I was asking myself.
In any case, before going to the course, I hadn't really researched Vipassana, I had just heard from several friends I respect and look up to how it was a very special experience. So it was basically blind faith that led me there. I wanted to prove to myself that I would have the strength and persistence to complete the course and I was curious to try.
I was on cloud nine in the coming days, I felt like I had reached nirvana. So my train of thought went like this: "Please please let me just be utterly peaceful and as a consequence perfectly happy (together with my peace of mind, daydreams and promising ideas for the future) for the remaining days!" Two days before the course ended I actually wanted to leave, I thought my job there was done but then I found peace (nirvana?) again. Well, I did not do meditation so much anymore, just enjoyed this newfound tranquility. For a restless mind like mine it was unbelieveable. It felt like paradise. At the end of day eight I almost fell asleep while sitting in the same positin for an hour. With all the pain, numbness and itching I was feeling everywhere in my body. I couldn't believe it. So it actually IS all about the mind. My insomnia problems suddenly seemed to be over. Or at least I could look at them through totally new lenses.
I also realized at an experiential level that all the bad and the good too shall pass, so we might as well enjoy the good while it lasts. By that time, I was eating much slower in the breakfast and lunch breaks. Well, not only me in fact, everybody apparently slowed down, we took longer than 30 minutes to finish one small meal. We were present, enjoying the simple pleasures of healthy, tasty food, it was great to observe.
Then I still had one task to complete: to make an action plan about how to come out of all my miseries when the course is over. After all, that is what the Vipassana retreat is all about.
So I made a mental list of my miseries that I had previously tried to tackle but never really succeeded long-term. And the solutions to them seemed clear and straightforward now:
1. My internet addiction - I should do digital detox from time to time, after all it is not so difficult, now I see how much I can enjoy my time while being disconnected and focusing inside instead of constantly watching what's happening outside and expecting that quick fix from receiving messages, likes or any kind of feedback from other people.
2. My sugar addiction - The longest existing struggle and biggest obstacle to overcome. I have to make friends with my body, not work against it, but collaborate with it, give it nutritious fuel, not that delicious junk that is also only a quick fix. And even though I am so used to rewarding myself with sweets, I could surely find a healthier substitute. It's all a matter of willpower.
3. My craving for more business success - Do good, give without expecting anything in return.
No craving for more followers, more money, more recognition, I can just do my thing and it will all come to me. My ego is my enemy. What do I gain by always thinking of I, me, mine... I don't actually need more money, more success, more things. I am already satisfied with my lifestyle and livelihood. Sure it is nice to have ambitions and improve continously, it is just not such a vital question. Definietly not worth spoiling my peace and stressing my life away about it.
4. My craving for attention - I can definietly live happily without expecting anything from anyone and without wanting to control any situation. I realized how much pain I had ignorantly caused to others because of my ego and because of the need to be important to others, to get attention from them. I made them suffer and made myself suffer. Of course I can stop this vicious circle.
5. Stressing myself too much, multitasking too much - slowing down, remaining at peace, as I have already learned how to do it, not only in theory but finally in practice too, I could surely continue doing so in real life.
After having found these solutions I just enjoyed the very much bearable lightness of being.
I was sitting for hours, meditating a little and mostly thinking about life and all its mysteries. For example about the etimology of my name. Beata actually means blessed, blissful. What a coincidence, right? :)
I also thought about the etimology of the word enlightenment. There are actually 2 meanings to it. Light as in feeling light and light as in seeing the light (hopefully not only at the end of the tunnel). Interesting, huh? :)
Plus I put my new life wisdom together: be light, think light, live light, travel light, work light, suffer light, love light. Do not want to show others that you are special. You are not more special than them. Do not try to impress. If you can't make a good impression naturally, it does not matter anyway. Be modest. Be humble. Don't want too much, don't take too much, less is enough and you can also enjoy it more and be more grateful for it.
And while I was watching the sunrise one day towards the end of the course, it suddenly dawned on me. I had the most magnificient idea. An idea about how to help more people. How to make people more self-confident. How to help them reach their goals. It just felt like all I had been through, all the professional sucesses and hardships, all the conferences, seminars, workshops, presentations I had attended, all the books I had read and the videos I had watched, the podcasts I had listened to pointed in the same direction. This was it, my path. It was what I had to do.
(I am going to write about this brilliant idea of mine another time, or ask me personally if you are curious. Basically it is a non-profit business idea that I would like to help a vast amount of people with. It is most definitely not an "I will get rich and show you how you can do it too" kind of idea)
Everything made perfect sense. I was just wondering if I could actually implement it all in real life. I felt like I had a few extra days to make myself strong in this regard, to solidify it.
Anyhow, I know that I will never be perfect in anything, there will always be room for improvement, so I simply let go of the idea that I have to learn anything to perfection before starting to implement it with more difficult circumstances. So after getting a little stressed about it, I quickly recovered my peace of mind. Which I have basically lost in the last month since I have been back to real life, but that's also all right. Nothing lasts forever. Not even peace of mind. That's the law of nature. So repeat what worked, continue growing and always remain humble & curious. Oh, and most importantly: enjoy the ride! You can't at the moment? Well, smile and try again!