Can you imagine spending days on end, sitting on a cushion in a hall with 30 other people, listening to all your thoughts, feeling every emotion and noticing every last little sensation that shows up in your body?
On top of that, spending that week in total silence, speaking with no one, completely unplugged from the internet, the only outside stimulation coming from the food you eat and daily walks in nature?
That’s exactly how I spent last week, at a Vipassana Meditation Retreat on Samish Island, near Bellingham, Washington.
Vipassana means “insight” in Pali, the sacred language of Buddhism. During 14 sitting and walking meditation periods a day, I learned to bring laser like attention to my thoughts, feelings and body sensations, with the underlying purpose of opening up to a deeper, richer, extra–ordinary perception of Reality.
Needless to say, some of the emotions, thoughts and physical body sensations that came up during this bold journey through my own consciousness were challenging! Like the burning hot pain under my shoulder blades… Free-floating anxiety about the future… Regret over certain things I’d said or done in the past…
Since I was stuck sitting on my cushion most of the time, I couldn’t use my usual strategies for distraction; TV, Facebook, or playing with the dog were not options here!
So rather than pushing away or resisting or actively trying to change what was coming up, I had little choice but to make a Herculean effort to just “BE” with everything that was going on inside of me! I surrendered my resistance and began to get curious, engaged and to explore this inner world that was presenting itself all too vividly at times!
Fortunately, we had two gifted teachers, Pascal and Heather, to guide us through this unchartered territory. Pascal knew the challenges we were likely facing and taught us some phrases to use when the inner going got tough. I found these extremely helpful when I was getting off balance and starting to “lose it”:
I can be with this.
This is just how it is right now.
I am choosing peace.
The learning for me over the week-long retreat was discovering a capacity to sit with difficult mind states while maintaining a sense of balance and equilibrium. The big surprise was that instead of these mind states completely overcoming me (which I was so afraid of), the “generous attention” I gave towards them had one of two effects: they would either lessen in intensity or eventually disappear altogether. My miracle occurred when the intense burning pain under my shoulder blades completely disappeared after 2 days!
The big take-away, or insight, that I got from this week-long retreat was that stuff happens in life – and I have no control over it. Living a life of freedom, happiness and ease depends on one thing and one thing only: my inner response to the emotions, mindsets and physical sensations that are constantly arising in consciousness.
My response to STUFF is my one true freedom in life.
It may not always be easy, but it is simple. My experience last week was that dealing with stuff does get easier with practice. And meditation is an awesome practice!
I invite you to try an experiment:
When you feel like you’re about to “lose it” in the face of some circumstance that has shown up in your experience, try closing your eyes, connecting with your breathing and then saying to yourself one or all of the 3 statements above.
Use these powerful affirmations consistently for 7 days, and I predict you will discover a level of inner strength, equilibrium and capacity for peace that you never knew you possessed!
For your Happiness and Inner Peace,