In the previous installment of this series on the Vipassana 10-day Mediation course, I discussed the law of anicca and the second half of the course. In this fifth and final installment, I will describe the ending of the course and my return to society.
Day 10 – Here comes the boom
The morning of day 10 was upon me. I arose at 4am, quickly took a shower and was on the mat by 4:30am. I sat in meditation posture for an hour and a half straight. After a quick break, I sat for another 20 minutes before breakfast. The techniques that I was learning were working. Following the law of anicca, I was able to sit through the pain for longer periods of time. By quieting the mind and shedding the weight from so many negative past memories, I felt lightness like I hadn’t ever felt before. By noticing the thoughts that I was creating, I was thinking less critically of others and so creating much less negative energy within myself.
After breakfast, we had one more meditation style to learn. This was the compassion meditation. For this mediation style, we were encouraged to sit in a comfortable sitting position. The mediation consists of generating the feelings of peace, happiness, and love within yourself and then allowing those feelings to permeate out to everyone else. You feel your connectedness to everyone and pass those compassionate emotions out to anyone and everyone.
This mediation technique was a beautiful end to a grueling and challenging week and a half. It was amazing being in a room with a hundred people performing this technique. You literally could feel the energy and compassion in the room.
After this final and somewhat brief mediation session, noble silence was lifted. Everyone arose from meditation with an awkward glance around and casual yet hesitant greeting to those around. After 9 days of ignoring everyone one around, it was strange to be able to look at them and address them once again.
As everyone exited the meditation hall, the sonic boom of the cacophony of constant chatter swept across the room. The pent up discussions erupted one after another.
Even myself, a self-prescribed wall flower, was working the room like a presidential candidate. I felt alive and grateful to be talking to anyone and everyone. All of my usual negative mind chatter that used to come up in social situations have vanished. I was in the moment.
That is until exhaustion swept over me after about 45 minutes of numerous conversations. I felt as if I had to get away from the noise of the room. I felt overwhelmed by the tidal wave of constant chatter that had risen.
I went back to the cabin and sat on the patio hearing the distant conversations at a more tempered volume. “Ahhhh peace again”, I thought. Slowly my fellow roommates started to trickle back to the cabin and proceeded to sit with me in a calmer form of discussion. It turned out that all of them had succumbed to the same emotional overload that I had felt. Even the social butterflies of the group had felt overwhelmed by the instant snap back into reality.
It turned out that this was yet another carefully planned part of the course. The last 24 hours was designed to be a slow reentry into society and a chance to retreat back into silence when needed.
My roommates and I talked for a good hour or so about the lessons we had learned, the things that we hoped to take away, the fears and excitement that we had about returning to daily life, and joked about the similar battles that we all seemed to be fighting silently during the course.
As I talked to the fellow participants throughout that day I had yet another epiphany. This would be the fourth life changing epiphany that I had in the course. This one was regarding the judgmental nature of the mind. I had been around these people all week, but was unable to say a single word to them in order to get to know them.
It is human nature to make judgments of other people that you meet. This is a remnant of our ancestor’s protection instinct. Our ancestors needed to judge others to determine if they were safe or dangerous.
Now, we judge others on all kinds of labels, expectations, and social norms. Taking out the speech aspect of meeting new people means that you simple are relying on their physical presentation and actions to make your judgments about what kind of person they are.
The epiphany that I had here was that the judgments that I made about these people were mostly all wrong. I had unknowingly judged people, labeled them and put them in boxes according to my own expectations. When we were able to speak to one another on the tenth day, I was surprised at how different they were compared to how I had judged them.
For example, I had one roommate who I judged to be in his late teens or early 20’s. I labeled him a disgruntled youth and a slacker. I won’t go into all of the reasons why I came to that conclusion, but needless to say I had labeled him and I didn’t realize that I had labeled him.
Here is what I found out on the 10th day when I was able to speak to him. He was in his mid 30’s, had just graduated with a degree after working his way through school, was married and had a teenage son that he adored, and was actually a very conscientious, kind and intelligent person. The “slackerness” that I had associated with him was just him working through his own demons and feelings of sadness over being away from his family.
That was when the epiphany happened. I now realized how I had unconsciously judged him earlier in the course without even a word being exchanged and I realized how wrong those judgments were. This was just one example. As I talked to other participants, I realized all sorts of incorrect judgments I had made based on my own norms and experiences.
Once again, a major life lesson learned simply by quieting the mind and listening to the thoughts that are being generated by my monkey mind.
Oh Yeah, This is Society
After leaving the camp on the 11th morning, I had driven several miles before reaching a sign of modern life; a Wal-Mart store in the first rural town I passed through. As I walked into the store, I had a surreal feeling as if I was walking in someone else’s dream.
I felt like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway where he stood in front of the buffet from his rescue celebration. He stared at the piles of leftover food knowing that, while on the island, he had spent so much time scrounging to find enough food to stay alive. He picked up and pondered in reverence the tools of modern convenience that lay on the buffet table. Such tools that he struggled to survive without.
I scanned the store taking in all of the aisles of things and the people pushing their carts with an abundance of food and other items that seems important to them yet would quickly become landfill material as it lost its luster. I had lived the past 10 days with only the bare necessities and only enough food as I needed. Somehow, I had survived.
I had a flashback to that conversation with my roommates on the porch on the 10th day. We were discussing how crazy most of society and in particular we had been in the past. We pondered why we used to be so caught up in silly things that make most people in society angry and upset. Little things like being cut off in traffic, a significant other not putting the cap back on the toothpaste or things not going as planned. Why did such things that are really of no importance seem to become so paramount to most people? Now we knew it was all from cravings for things to be a certain way or aversions to things being another way.
I chuckled to myself. Here I was standing in Wal-Mart after the course was over and I came across my last epiphany…don’t sweat the small stuff. How many times had I allowed myself to become upset at my wife and kids over the smallest things that I decided at the time to make a big deal. Many of them flashed through my mind and I just thought how silly it all was. Of course, using the teachings from the course, I didn’t allow myself to become upset, have regrets or beat myself up about it. I simple noticed the thoughts, realized how I would normally let such memories upset me and then let them pass away.
Life Goes On
As I write this, several weeks have passed since I attended the Vipassana meditation course. Life has returned to normal. I am back with my family, working as I was before, and going about day-to-day life much as I did prior to the course.
However, life is different now. Not because the conditions of my life had changed or because I moved to a remote jungle to live with no responsibilities or expectations. Rather life has changed because I learned to look at things differently.
In the past, I often felt anguish and longing for big changes in my life because I thought that was what I needed to feel happy. In reality, no matter where you go or what conditions exist in your life, it’s still you. If you find unhappiness in the current conditions of your life, you will eventually find ways to see unhappiness in whatever conditions you create in an attempt to escape the old conditions.
If life is an ocean, I am still floating in the middle treading water just like everyone else. However, I am more accepting of the waves of life and create less anger, despair and reactivity to them.
Sure, those waves will still at times knock me over, drag me under, or make me work harder to get my head above water. I am no saint just because I took a 10-day course. This is a lifelong practice and the course simply gave me the tools and a jump-start along the way. Now it is up to me to plot my own course.
If you have questions about the course, feedback about this series or have taken one of these courses and have a different perspective to share, drop me a comment. I love talking about the course and the benefits that I took away from it. If you have taken the time to read this entire series, I am grateful. I hope that you enjoyed it and got something from the time that it took you to read it.