Silence the Mind
I had the opportunity to attend a 10 day Silent Vipasssana Meditation course a few weeks back. Kru Artur had made the suggestion to the fighters on our team that we might want to think about going. He didn’t push it but rather recommended that it might be a valuable tool for us both personally and in the ring. I didn't really know what to expect but of course I jumped on board because I am continually striving to be the best fighter I can be. What I did not realize was how amazing the experience was for my personal well being.
I decided to drive there alone. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts and fears and just in case I freaked at the last minute and turned around back to Calgary. I didn't want to affect a fellow students experience. I arrived, checked in, surrendered my wallet and cell phone but for some reason kept my car keys. Just in case? Or maybe to challenge myself - I still don't really know.
The retreat was hands down the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Harder than fighting. Harder than sparring. Harder than hitting 5 x 5' rounds with 30" rest. Sitting with yourself and only yourself for 10 hours a day is mentally and physically challenging. Every cell in your body is screaming move and every part of your brain is busy. So busy. For the first two days I could not settle my mind or my body. I was fidgety during every sitting. Twenty minutes in one position then I'd need to change scratch my face or adjust my blanket. In my mind I reorganized the gym, decorated my house, practiced Muay Thai, thought about my relationship, my friends and family and then occasionally...and I mean for maybe two minutes out of sixty I was able to find my focus and be present. I could find my breath and be there with it. Still. Present.
I was frustrated with myself at first that I wasn't a better meditator, but I quickly realized that my expectations of myself were so unrealistic. How could I be good at it?
1) I have never done it before in my life
2) My life is crazy and between work, relationships and fighting I have no time to sit with myself
3) I need to detox from my life before I can expect to be able to do anything! This is why the retreat is 10 days with no talking, no acknowledging your fellow meditators, no outside contact and no responsibility for feeding yourself or cleaning. Your number one job is to use the ten days and work as hard as you can to purify your mind, remove some layers of shit and lay the foundation for a life long practice.
Day 3 - I woke up for the first time. I mean really woke up. After the morning mediation session and breakfast I went outside to walk and experienced my fist true moment of happiness...in my entire life. I realized then that I have been mildly depressed for a long time. I have always searched for things to make me feel better - and when I do find something that makes me feel good the love affair is short lived and then I move on when the feelings fade. My other mother (aka step mom) joked once when I was younger that I start so many things and don't finish them...and in that moment I finally understood why. I would start something, invest all my energy and hope that it would make me feel better. I know that this was one of the big reasons that I crashed so hard into depression after the World Championships. I actually believed that if I won, it would fix me and I would be happy. I was clearly wrong. While I walked I was crying because I was happy and crying because I was sad that I had felt shitty for so long.
Day 4 - This was an exciting yet painful day because today we learn the technique of Vipassana. The sittings practicing Vipassana were mentally and physically tough. I actually thought I blew both of my LCL's from sitting cross legged for 2 hours straight without moving. They call meditating without moving sitting with “strong determination”. I could barely walk after the first session and was beginning to question if I should stay or if I can handle this. I mean, I knew I wouldn't quit because that isn't really in my DNA, but it still crosses your mind. I decided to change my starting position, moving from cross legged to straight, and that made all the difference. I could sit relatively pain free and actually practice.
Day 6 – The days started to feel very long because my mind was clearing and I was no longer thinking of the past or the future. I was learning to be mindful and present in each moment. It was a very cool experience for me to start to feel every minute of the day. Usually I spend most of my time obsessing about what I have to do later, tomorrow, next week etc. Those tendencies started to fade and I was able to just sit. I think I spent twelve minutes examining a leaf that day…and another thirty or so watching the clouds. It felt like I was doing those things forever but really, it all happened quite quickly.
Day 8 – I got serious. Like really serious. In the evening discourse the teacher brought up how it is such a gift that the students can take ten days away from life, come to the meditation center, be served by other students and have no distraction as they work on themselves. And on Day 8, I really understood that although this was hard as hell, this is SUCH a gift. So I got to work. If I was supposed to be meditating, I was. I chose to always mediate in the meditation hall because I liked the energy and I felt more accountable there. I would sit for as long as I possibly could…the hold on for even a few more minutes and then take a short break. Then back in the hall. Lather, rinse, and repeat. I started to feel really good. Lighter. Cleaner. Happier.
Day 10 – The day we can finally talk again. Seriously, it was too good to be true. The students are allowed to begin talking on Day 10 so that they can get used to chatting and dealing with people before they get sent home. I can only imagine if they did not do this how traumatic a trip to the grocery store could be. Once we were allowed to speak with our fellow students the happiness and emotions came pouring out of the students. Some people chatted happily, others cried from happiness and some people needed a few more minutes of silence. We chatted with one another for hours, sharing our experiences, breakthroughs, and funny moments. IT IS CRAZY how well you can get to know people without ever saying a word to them. Seriously. I could tell when people were having good days and bad days just by how they carried themselves or ate their breakfast. This shared experience was an instant bond and without knowing these people, you know these people.
My experience at the Vipassana Meditation Center was the best gift I have ever given myself. During my stay I worked through some issues that I had spent 20 years and a ton of therapy trying to fix. I found a way to recognize where my reactions and emotions are coming from, and that they are all temporary. I got to be really comfortable living in the moment. I became mentally lighter.
I realized how beautiful women are without makeup...that instant coffee eventually tastes good if you drink enough of it...how loud the world is when you are listening...that I will never be a vegetarian...how fast clouds move...that breakfast can be a dangerous game of toast wars...that chocolate balls and yams will always make me smile...that life is too short to be angry at people...
...and most importantly I learned that I CAN truly be happy :)
For more information on the Alberta Vipassana Meditation Centre go to http://www.karuna.dhamma.org