I’ve been wanting to meet myself for a long time now. I guess I’ve been too scared to knock on the door. I hid behind the nights out with friends, food, movies, work; the comfortable distractions of my choosing.
I left my job to travel and watch sunrises around the world and after a lot of time facing myself, I finally felt ready to confront what I had been running from. The idea to attend a Vipassana meditation retreat popped into my brain and I signed up for one around the area. Usually there’s at least a month wait, but I somehow managed to squeeze my way into a course that started in 3 days.
For those unfamiliar with Vipassana, it’s a type of meditation rediscovered by Gotama Buddha around 2500 years ago, though the technique dates further back than that. The retreat lasts 12 days in total, with the actual course running 10 days. Every morning starts with a 4am wake-up bell and ends around 9:30pm after at least 10 hours of meditation, 2 meals (dinner is just fruit/tea), and nothing but silence. I learned a lot about myself during my course, but feel like a large chunk of it hasn’t been integrated yet. So the following are the 4 biggest mind-twisters that I realized during those hours sitting with myself.
1. How much time I spend imagining things out of my control.
For the first two days all I thought about was SEX. Yeah, I said it. Every time I had to walk up to our instructor I felt like she knew what I was thinking and was secretly judging me. Either way, that was my opportunity to learn how much time I spend vividly imagining things out of my control. I’ve spent so much time making up arguments with friends in my head, imagining how I would handle a first date or crazy scenarios of burglars breaking into my apartment. Things I have NO control over and was seriously wasting my time worrying about. These thoughts felt like giant waves, and it was up to me if I was going to get caught in them or watch them coming and duck underneath their thunderous roll.
2. The only creator and cause of misery is myself.
I was able to glimpse all the things I’ve been living with, all the negative feelings I’ve invited into my home. If I was feeling angry, or miserable, or anxious, or unwanted, it was because I *allowed* myself to. The thoughts came into my mind, and this is the most important part, *I believed them.*
Thoughts influence feelings. Feelings influence actions. Actions influence outcome.
We have a choice to be happy. A choice we have to actively work towards by choosing what thoughts we want to influence our lives.
Here’s a quote I find sums this concept up well:
“What do you believe about yourself? You may believe that you’re not good enough. You may believe you’re not capable. You may believe you’re damaged goods. But is that what you want to believe? If it’s not, then you get to decide what you want to believe about yourself…nobody can tell you what you believe about yourself.”
-Brooke Castillo (from her podcast episode: #35: How to Believe New Things, which I highly, highly recommend.)
If you take a look at our society, it’s easy to see that we’ve never been taught how to deal with our emotions. It’s all about *reaction*. If someone pushes our buttons, we automatically get pissed and may even express aggression. But if you look, there’s space in between events and our reactions. I realized that if I practice it enough, I can choose my reaction. That right there is power, my friends.
3. The thought patterns you most believe to be true are often the ones that have the strongest negative influence on your life.
I did an interview with a wonderful acupuncturist a while back and after I put my camera away I asked her for one piece of advice she could share. She responded with, “Don’t believe your thoughts.” I remember at the time thinking that was bonkers…my thoughts are me! I am my thoughts! After I dove into the world of self-development I started seeing this idea everywhere. When it came down to sitting with them, I thought I would have a good understanding of the difference between my ego and myself. What I hadn’t realized was that there were patterns of thinking I so deeply believed that I never even stopped to question their validity. For example, I’ve heard myself say, “I’m just an anxious person”, so many times in an attempt to explain or justify my irrational behavior. As a matter of fact, I am not an anxious person. My personality has been conditioned to have anxious thoughts, but I am not an anxious person. To top it off, my attachment to this belief means that feeling would only grow. Mind blown. It got me thinking, what other negative thought patterns have I been letting influence my life?
4. Experiential understanding always trumps intellectual understanding.
If I had been told all these things a week before I left I would’ve nodded my head in agreement. They’re simple and obvious concepts, right? Unfortunately, I was victim to every single one of them (and still am). I feel like to understand things intellectually is like identifying all the different types of weeds in your garden and pulling them out, never realizing they’ve grown back until your garden resembles more of a rainforest. Experiential understanding is like getting the shovel out, digging past their roots and grabbing the little sucker’s bulb and being surprised by how far its roots spread. It may grow back, in fact, it probably will grow back, but hey, at least you know how deep you have to dig. So, will I do it again? Hell f*cking yes. The only way I can describe my Vipassana experience is that it gave me everything that I’ve so desperately been searching for, but also was the same thing that I’ve been running from. Me.
If you’re interested in attending a course, search for one here.