My First Vipassana Retreat: A Lesson in Equanimity.
A month ago, I attended my first Vipassana retreat. Delving exponentially deeper than ever before into my meditation practice really put shit into perspective. One hundred hours of silent meditation. No talking. No phones. No distractions. Just me and my mind for ten full days, with no where to escape. It was time. Emotions needed to come up to the surface so that they could finally loosen their grip over me. And come up, they did. Like a landslide, violently precipitating first boulders, then pebbles down a seemingly stable cliff face.
Day two may as well have been waterboarding. I thought I might fucking explode if the broken record in my head stayed stuck on repeat for a second longer. I went through it all. Every difficult experience I’ve ever had. Every situation that has ever riddled me with guilt, shame, self-loathing, sadness, anger, regret. I thought of every thing I’ve done wrong, every bad decision I’ve made, every rejection, every heartbreak, every betrayal. Every. Single. One.
I thought a lot about addiction and my two favourite forms of escapism; liquor and men, not necessarily in that order.
I thought about the years spent chasing stupor. About those numb, hazy, substance-fuelled nights. How badly I craved oblivion come 5PM, and how deeply I despised it when 8AM rolled around. Waking up with heart palpitating levels of anxiety, trying to piece together my trail of chaos. Those mornings of feeling physically ill, more from self-loathing than from the poison still coursing through my veins. That over-played cycle of self-destruction that I had created and perpetuated, under the subconscious conviction that it was what I deserved. On some level, feeling unworthy of happiness, love, success. I’ve been sober a long time now, so imagine my surprise after all this time, to still taste the lingering bitterness of rum and regret.
Then I thought about the lovers into whom I had escaped. The ones I had unconsciously used to flee from my own reality. The ones who sunk daggers into my heart, and those whose cheeks I turned into waterfalls. Those whose eyes are so deeply etched into my memory that I can still see them if I close my own. Those I couldn’t save. Those who couldn’t save me. And all those in between. The ones I loved so fucking hard that I failed to love myself. Who broke me not because of their grandeur but because they mirrored my own brokenness. I housed some envy for loving the flaws within them that I hated within myself. I thought about my paradoxical relationship with relationships. How I had only ever known how to be fiercely independent or so co-dependent that I forgot how to breathe oxygen not drawn directly from beloved lips. Like highs though, the men, they always wore off. At times, a relief; at others, a tragedy.
The truths begun lighting up my mind, like bioluminescence suddenly deciding to shine. Awakening to your own toxic patterns is fucking cathartic and also, a huge slap in the face. I became aware that I had personally handcrafted my own brand of heartache, and deeply intertwined it within my sense of identity. That I had grown apart from everything that I had once let define me. That liquor was all I had in common with many friends, and a good portion of society. That I’ve been addicted to suffering, and thus the sole hindrance to my own happiness. That I couldn’t speak of my hometown without its name tasting like betrayal on my lips. That this whole self-deprecation shit is getting old, and I ought to cut it out. That I have been walking around in an armour suit made of all the hurt I thought I’d disposed of. Turns out it was simply buried within the confines of my mind. It all comes up when you’re done drinking and snorting it away, or masking it with people, places, material goods, and other miscellaneous escape mechanisms.
One hundred hours of silent meditation made it impossible to evade any remaining darkness. Luckily, I’m a bit of a masochist, and ran towards it, seeking to own my shit, so that it can no longer own me. As per the instructions, I practiced awareness and equanimity. Simply observing sensations as they arose and passed, without reacting to their presence. Every time I refrained from reacting in the fiery, impulsive manner to which I was accustomed, the emotions diminished in intensity. Come day seven, memories that on day two had wrenched my heart in pain, now only slightly perturbed me. I came to see that attachment is the root of all misery. Craving ever-fleeting external joy, is as pain-inducing as aversion to ever-fleeting external distress.
I sat for 10 hours a day within the boundaries of my body, just observing sensations, without reacting. Cold, pain, numbness, itching, expansion, contraction, pleasure, heat, lightness, tingling. All just sensations. Arising and passing. Impermanent in their nature. Noticing how illogical it would be to react with craving or aversion to ever-changing phenomena. To create a story around these sensations would be to set oneself up for suffering. And this is what we’ve all been doing.
Then, I sat for 10 hours a day within the boundaries of my mind, just observing sensations, without reacting. Guilt, shame, fear, heartache, rejection, betrayal, happiness, passion, elation, lust, desire. All just sensations. Arising and passing. Impermanent in their nature. So how illogical it would be to react with craving or aversion to ever-changing phenomena. To create a story around these sensations would be to set oneself up for suffering. And this is what we’ve all been doing.
Shit, I've been doing life wrong. Big ups to Vipassana for waking me up to reality. Reality is now. All this time, I’ve just been chasing sensations. That’s all this is. Sensations are impermanent. Therefore, I’ve been chasing ghosts. It’s no wonder I was out of breath. So long, poltergeists, turns out I’m not big into running. Reality is dope. I think I’ll live there now.
P.S. Go there, friends. It's one of the best things I've ever done. They're free and located all over the world.