its been about fourteen days since I got back from the meditation retreat, and those days have been pretty intense.
after getting home from the retreat with the instructions from goenka to meditate twice a day for an hour each, I did a pretty good job for the first day or two. All I really had on my plate (other than writing the next great American novel of course) was working on moving since joe and I were headed to the second floor from the third. It was easy to make time for meditation, but the meditation itself wasn’t easy. My intention was there, but my focus wavered. I was no longer able to tell time with meditation (of course I always overestimated — “it’s been 40 minutes!” Nope. 20.). And the sensations I got were different. From sounds to temperature to a different posture to the brightness and darkness, it all felt different. All my sensations were also dulled, harder to notice, which I kind of expected.
Then, a day or two after getting back, I started getting angry again. I was still unhappy about the things I mentioned in the last post, and a few other things started nagging me. In his discourses, Goenka had noted that vipassana was the “true, undiluted” meditation that the Buddha himself had taught so many years ago but that had been lost for ages. He also alleged that vipassana was the only true way to reach enlightenment.
It took me all of the ten day course and three days after to realize that I thought this was kinda bullshit. So I got angry. I talked to Joe’s sister, Sarah, about it, and she agreed that the idea vipassana was the only way to enlightenment was pretty ridiculous. But, she asked — did it do anyone any real harm to believe it? No, not really. And did vipassana help me anyway even if it wasn’t THE path to enlightenment? Indeed, tons. Sooo…..does it really matter what was said?
But what? But I felt foolish! Like I’d been taken in and it took me what felt like forever to even question it. April, who it turned out was having pretty similar thoughts to mine, put it best:
There’s a lot of different kool-aids out there and that one tasted pretty good, but it was kind of the first kool aid for both of us, so of course we’re going to think it tastes the best. And of course everyone that sells the kool aid is going to think its the best.
Maybe vipassana is the only true way. And maybe the only way to know for sure is to take it to its limits — to do a 45 day course, or become a nun or something like that. maybe the only way to know is to try every type of meditation out there and see what happens.
Or, maybe I can forget all that stuff, all the old stories and the buddha and karma and past lives and true enlightenment and everything that felt wrong to me. Maybe i can just use the vipassana techniques i know and see how they better my life.
And they do better my life. What I do know is that days I meditate, I’m happier and calmer. I know that when I sit for a hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, it feels right. I know that I feel more patient, that my anger and sadness are over more quickly, that I’m more likely to deal with “annoying” situations as if they are just neutral ones. I use waiting in line as an excuse to meditate.
And, I see the world a little differently, and myself differently. Now, when people say something unkind to me, I am aware of whether or not I wallow in sadness or anger about it (and sometimes I do wallow). When I get sad or angry or I panick, it passes more quickly. When pleasant or unpleasant things happen, I’m aware of anicca, that everything changes, and while I enjoy or dislike them, I try to temper my reaction. It’s as if the world I saw before the retreate was slightly off-axis, unnoticeable until attention was drawn to it, and now it feels like I’m seeing straight. Or maybe like now I feel like I can take a step back and see situations for what they are, instead of feeling as overwhelmed by them.
Its a good, stabilizing feeling.
So, ten days after my ten day course, I’ve moved, got a new part-time job teaching at-risk middle schoolers science in an afterschool program, starting writing again, and established a wavering but good meditation practice that improves my overall well-being. My meditation is also helping now that I’m in Orlando, planning to stick around for a few weeks to take care of my mom after a surgery. I had to take a leave from the teaching job, and writing will be more difficult to fit in, and sometimes those things are stressful to think about. But the reality is I want to be here now and those other things are less important right now. Anicca. Everything changes.
So, I’ll keep you updated here and there on how the meditation is going, how everything is going, but if you have any questions about or the retreat, please feel free to reach out. And thanks for reading…I’ve enjoyed sharing very much.