An important lesson I learned in Vipassana

An important lesson I learned in Vipassana


This week has been rough.  I injured myself falling out of a fancy yoga posture in class.  It’s been interesting to reflect on the ups and downs involved with dealing with an injury.  I’m still processing it, reflecting and journaling while working through the exercises my physiotherapist gave me.  I’ll be blogging more on my yoga injury next week as I’d to share some advice from my perspective as a yoga teacher.

This experience brought back a big lesson I learned during my first Vipassana.  And what is Vipassana you ask?  It’s a 10 day silent meditation retreat, where you commit to not talk, make eye contact, and focus on learning the meditation techniques.  There are no distractions, so when you arrive, you check your Ipod, cell phones, lap tops, books, journals, everything and cut off your communication to the outside world. I had been curious about Vipassana for many years and jumped at the opportunity to try it.  Vipassanas are held everywhere but I went to a Thai monastery in Chang Mai called Wat Ram Poeng. The only time that you ever talked or made eye contact to anyone was with the abbot (the head monk) for ten minutes a day and he would guide you on your meditation practice.  Here’s a link to the blog post I had written called 10 days of Vipassana back in 2010.  This was before I was a yoga teacher.

And so why would you put yourself through the struggle? Here’s an article posted by Elephant Journal on “10 Reasons to give Vipassana a try.”  And also “The Big Brain benefits of meditation.” shared by Yoga Journal.   What you’ll find is that there is hard scientific evidence that proves meditators are “better at controlling their attention, managing their emotions, and making mindful choices.”

Vipassana is so challenging for Westerners that there are common drop out days. Day 1 (of course), Day 3 is a popular one, Day 7 also. But don’t let the drop out rates deter you, all you can do is try your best. I met a guy who had dropped out on Day 3 the first time, and returned and completed the full 10 days a few years later.  And he was so happy that he did it.

Day 6 is when I got really sick.  I mean running to the washroom every 15 minutes kind of sick. I won’t gross you out with the details, but let’s just say it really wasn’t pretty. Imagine having stomach trouble when everyone around you is quietly meditating, and on top of that you are wearing all white and hardly anyone around you speaks English.

Eventually I had to retire to my bedroom.  And as I was lying in bed, all feverish and sweaty, I remember feeling so helpless and weak. Surprisingly, the place my mind went was “Oh my God, I told the head monk that I would meditate for 8 and a half hours today.  And I don’t think I can do it. What is he going to think about me? He’s going to think I’m not serious about this.  I can’t quit, I’m almost there. How embarrassing would it be if I quit now?”  It was serious business.

I was so disappointed in myself for getting sick. And so when the time came for me to talk to the monk, I was dreading it because I was afraid he was going to shame me for not fulfilling my commitment. But instead he did the opposite.  He looked at me and kindly said (with a big smile on his face)

“Ahhhh this is very good.  You learn what it’s like to be like an old person, but you not old.  You young.  When you are sick, you can’t meditate.”

This was a simple lesson that I will never forget.   Sometimes we get sick or injured and we get scared, maybe this is going to last forever – “poor me”.  It can be difficult for us A-type busy bodys to sit still, but there are times that it’s absolutely necessary to slow down in order to heal.  And it’s during these times when you have no choice that but witness where your mind goes.  Why do we push ourselves so hard?  Sometimes it feels so much easier to be nurturing and caring towards others, then we are to ourselves. Our minds can our best friends or our worst enemies. The most important relationship we will ever have, is the one we have with ourselves.  The same guy who had dropped out previously, had told me (once the course was finished) that sometimes meditators get sick during the practice, because it is a physical cleansing of the impurities of your system.

According to the Bhaghavad Gita nothing in nature (prakriti) is permanent.  Our bodies are temporary and ever changing.  We shouldn’t get too attached to the techniques (the meditation, the yoga, etc.) because at some point, we might not be able to physically do them anymore. That’s a fact. If we are too attached, we will be subject to much suffering as we grow older.   It’s a reminder that our bodies are temporary but our souls (purusha) are eternal. And behind every challenging situation is a gift.  The gift is the opportunity to cultivate more knowledge, compassion and self growth. To become closer to the highest Self and tap into our infinite potential.

I love the Vipassana experience.  I have gone two times and  each time I return, I go deeper and deeper into the practice.  In fact, I enjoy it so much, that my goal is to go on a vipassana every year.  Luckily there is a Vipassana centre called Dhamma Surabhi right here in Merritt B.C.   Maybe I will see you there?

And NOT for the Merrit Mountain Music festival!