So, in the last post I talked about these strong determination sittings, in which for an hour, you’re supposed to do your very very best not to move. The purpose is to train your mind to be equanimous toward pleasant and unpleasant sensations — to treat them as sensations only, without feeling craving or aversion toward them.
In the last post I noted:
When we first started these “strong determination” sittings, I was all like, I got this! Sitting for an hour in one place. that’s cake. And then around minute 35, I got a twinge of pain in my hip, and I was like, psh, i can handle pain! and then by minute 45, I was in the throes of what felt like the most immense pain of my life. I was dizzy and sweaty with pain. It burned and shot up and down my legs and bag, creating what felt like electrical hot wires all around my hips. so I moved because SCREW EQUANIMITY. that shit hurt.
One thing I didn’t mention that comes into play here is that on my first day at the meditation retreat, Judith, the teacher, requested an interview with me via a little note taped on my and April’s door. In this interview, Judith reiterated what I’d now been told what felt like 1000 million times (but was really twice): people with anxiety often have a tough time with vipassana. Judith said that a lot of people with anxiety have really intense experiences during meditation, that if i was to have these kind of experiences, not to worry, that if I started to feel anxious, to feel free to come talk to her. I nodded politely, disliking that my anxiety was being brought to the forefront by someone who was basically a stranger. I didn’t like being told I was going to *freak out*, especially when I felt rather calm.
Day 6 – Night
Five days later, though, Judith’s prediction came true. I was over being angry about the whole robot thing, and was probably 20 or 30 minutes into the 6 p.m. group meditation in the meditation hall when the pain in my hips started. This time I was doing a better job managing that pain, not giving it the power it demanded previously, viewing and searching the sensation, finding its edges, its intensities.
Now, for those of you who have done yoga, you may remember that a lot of teachers say emotion is stored in the hips. Goenka and vipassana takes it a little further — they believe that the pain (and pleasure) people feel during meditation are really manifestations of what they call “defilements” — anger, sadness, anxiety, old wounds deep within you. One of the reasons you start on the surface of the skin with your body scan — besides being a way to train your mind to feel sensations — is because the sensations you get on the surface of your skin are often less intense than the ones you get inside. Compare an itch on your nose to a muscle cramp, for example.
So anyway, i thought that was all pretty ridiculous (even though there’s research that’s changing our perception of the interplay between pain and emotion). But on the sixth night, half way into the hour-long meditation, humming along as I searched the intense sensation in my hips (forgetting to stick to the skin), it all changed.
It’s difficult to describe what happened, partly because it was a very intense experience which defies some explanation in words, and partly because its hard to write at all about the realizations that I had during the meditation course: they’re personal, they’re deep, and they, for most of my life, made up the foundation I stood on. But, just like I think it was important to share my experience with anxiety — because anxiety should be something we can talk about as a culture without fear or concern — I think it’s important to share what I think a lot of boys and girls grow up believing, subconsciously or not, about themselves.
Anyway. I’m not sure which came first that night as I scanned deep in my hips — the tears, or the reason for them. But all the sudden, a thought barreled into my mind, smashing across my consciousness: “You’ve never liked yourself.” And once this thought hit me, unbidden, from nowhere, I knew it was the absolute truth. And the tears began, tears that wouldn’t stop, tears that brought with them memories of the past, flash after flash of how my self-hate had manifested. I watched myself in fifth grade, as I started to realize that other people didn’t seem to be paying me much attention. I watched myself at summer camp, trying to make friends with the older kids, looking to them for acceptance. I watched myself as I hit high school, how my hate reached a new low, how I hurt myself for not being good enough. I watched myself in college, trying to be someone I wasn’t. I watched myself internalizing, over and over, all my life: i was no good. It came to me that so much of my social anxiety in the past had hinged on the fact that I knew I wasn’t good enough. I knew when people didn’t like me, it was because I was unlikable. And when people acted like they did like me, I knew it was because they felt bad for me, or they liked me in a tenuous way – one weird remark, one misstep and I’d be out.
I cried that night for the pain self hate had caused me, for the choices it caused me to make, for the fact that for so much of my life, i hadn’t realized that this dislike of myself shadowed every interaction, every choice. I cried for the time I’d lost not believing in myself, not knowing myself. I cried as I realized I’d been wrong all along: I was good enough.
Writing about this now brings tears. It’s…painful. Had you asked me before the vipassana course, do you like yourself? I would have said yes. of course. but during that silence, deep inside myself, I found a different answer, and it was shocking, jarring, devastating.
but, as I cried, it was also good. I could let go of the shadow that had dogged me my entire life. I could recognize it for what it was: a falsehood, an untruth. I could leave it behind. i could be free.
day 7 – Night
Day 7 had gone well. new parts of my body were blank that hadn’t been blank the day before — like the tears had somehow wiped some of my sensations away. But I felt more equanimous. I felt more ME than I ever had. And, strangely, the pain in my hips was less. Still there, but less. Each sitting felt easier, like I could sit for hours.
The night of Day 7, I had another realization during the 6 p.m. meditation session, one that built on the realization that I hadn’t liked myself: my whole life, I had been looking to others to like me instead, to fill that hole inside of me. maybe this was obvious, but it still surprised me, it still brought tears. it answered the question of why i acted like i had in high school and college, why i had and still did crave so much attention — mostly from guys, why it was so hard for me to handle it when people didn’t like me, why so many interactions with friends felt so wrought.
This night, I cried tears for myself, for how much i had grasped toward others for love instead of finding it inside myself. I cried tears for the person who had believed that she wasn’t worth it unless others said she was.
And then, finally, my tears stopped. and again, i felt free.
Now, I don’t know why, but after these two sessions of realizing these deep, difficult things about myself, my hips no longer hurt. the pain that shot up and down them on hot wires, radiating heat and electricity — it was gone. completely and utterly gone.
it hasn’t come back.
days 8-10 later…