I feel the best I have felt in months. It feels trite to say that some things are hard to explain, but they are – how the night breeze coming through the nearby window whispers onto your skin in just the right way; what stepping off the plane after months of studying abroad feels like (and for me, what Ghana in general feels like); the taste of cannoli in Tuscany after kicking up your heels on a moon-lit path in the middle of summer; how your best friend just knows; the need to slow dance to distant, bad karaoke music in the basement of a hotel in a foreign country; meditation.
Last week, I completed my second Vipassana meditation course. The first one was the ten-day course that Jesse and I did while in Sri Lanka last fall (you can read that post here and learn a lot more about what Vipassana is all about). This course was very different from my first, mainly because it was three days, not ten, and was in the U.S. instead of in Sri Lanka. Peanut butter tofu instead of rice and curry, mostly American women as opposed to the majority Sri Lankan, being able to chat with the other students before and after the course in English, not being able to eat anything after 12 noon since we were all old students (new students get tea and crackers in the evenings). Even arriving was an adventure — to get to our course in Sri Lanka, Jesse and I took a bus so crowded that Jes was literally hanging off the bus with one hand holding a rail for part of the ride. This three-day course was held in Blue Ridge, Virginia and I was really looking forward to the four-hour drive on my own through the Blue Ridge mountains. Well. I forgot I had never done mountain driving before, and so when I got lost and had no phone/map reception and was pretty sure I was smelling my brake pads burning, I started to panic a little bit. But I pulled over at a scenic overlook, took some deep breaths, and figured it out. And arrived at the course so ready to meditate!
I loved the setting of the course – beautiful scenery, little cabins to sleep in, picnic tables where we could eat our meals outside in quiet solitude. I decided after about two hours that I want to live in the Blue Ridge Mountains someday. Even when it was gray out, it was peaceful – and there’s nothing like a cup of hot mint tea and a warm oatmeal raisin cookie on a rainy day of Vipassana. And when the sun comes out – and we saw that happen every day since we were up at 4:30 to meditate for two hours before breakfast -, when you’re eating breakfast outside with your feet in the wet grass and you see the sun peek out over the mountains, you just know it’s going to be an intentional, restorative day.
As I said in an email to Maggie earlier this week, there is so much truth to be found in Vipassana, and it just sits right in my soul. It’s hard work – meditation is not sitting still and daydreaming (at least, it’s not supposed to be). For an explanation of what I did/tried to do throughout the course, I again invite you to read my blog post from last fall where I answer that question that so many people asked me. I will repeat my answer though, because it’s what I learned to start working on during my first course, and is what I – and any student of Vipassana – am constantly trying to do: …I’m also learning to let go of attachments. Vipassana is all about not attaching yourself to what you feel happening to your body while you meditate – and this practice translates to the things in our everyday life. It’s amazing how much we allow things to bother us, to get under our skin, to ruin our moods and days and even relationships. But we can choose not to. Our conscious mind gives permission to all those negativities, attaches to them, is weighed down by them. When I feel an itch and don’t scratch it, when I feel my leg fall asleep but don’t shake it awake, I am going against some instincts, yes. But you know what? The itches and bad sensations go away on their own. And I simply observed them, let them come, and go, without my mental state being affected at all. This has been my taste of non-attachment and of an objective mind, and let me tell you – powerful stuff.
During these three days, I was re-struck by the fact that practicing Vipassana is non-sectarian and not attached to any specific religion. The teachers of this kind of meditation make that very clear, and it comforts me to know that all over the world, people of all kinds of faith meditate to strengthen their mind and step away for a little while from praying and worshiping the god or gods they may believe in. S.N. Goenka, the leading lay teacher of Vipassana meditation, makes the analogy to yoga: People all over the world practice yoga, regardless of their faith. They do it because it’s good for their body and is a healthy physical activity. Vipassana, similarly, is a healthy mental activity that quiets and strengthens the mind – and is open to people of all faiths or no faith.
The silence, the time spent outdoors surrounded by nature, the happy glow I left Blue Ridge with that hasn’t left my face all week… these are things I wish I could share with all my friends and family. Feeling centered, solid, so refreshed — there’s nothing like it. So I was more than thrilled to hear a little while back that great friends Maggie and Will will be doing a ten-day silent Vipassana meditation course in Belgium in September! When Jesse and I returned from our course last fall, I emailed a few friends urging them to try it, especially if they had the opportunity while traveling (we found it was not too difficult to disappear for ten days while already abroad). I’m so glad some of them are going to experience it for themselves.
If you do, too, learn more here and maybe even sign up for a ten-day course. See for yourself.
♥ with metta.