A few people knew that I was embarking on a 10 day adventure in hopes to learn the art of meditation at the end of it. I've decided that the easiest way to share my experience was just to write it down here and let everyone read it.
Why would anyone want to go on a 10 day meditation retreat over Thanksgiving........?
I couldn't think of very many people who would want to do such things so I was very surprised to arrive in Portland to find a room full of 100 strangers who I was going to silently share my 2014 Thanksgiving with.
I have had a desire to learn how to meditate for about 2 years. I have some close friends whose lives have transformed due to their practice. When my mom passed away in August my desire to meditate increased dramatically. I wasn't really sure how this was going to come pass. I had said a few prayers asking for help in learning how to do this. About a week before I had heard about the Vipassna meditation retreat my prayers got a lot more serious about the desire.
When my friend told me about the retreat I thought wow that could totally be the answer to my prayer but it will have to be something that I attend in the distant future, leaving my little family for 10 days was not something that I would be able to do anytime in the near future. I got the information and then forgot about it.
After about 2 days I was feeling really sad which surprisingly is not something that I have spent a lot of time feeling with my moms passing, I have been very comforted, so I was surprised to feel this way. After asking why I was experiencing this feeling I felt a prompting to just go look at the dates of the retreats, so I checked them out and less than an hour later had realized that going over Thanksgiving would actually make it not only possible but quite easy to find people to watch my little chillins.
So I flew out to Oregon on the 26th of November the day before Thanksgiving. I had no idea what I was in store for. I knew that I would be meditating for hours and hours everyday and I didn't think I would be able to do much talking but other than that I had no idea what to expect. I knew nothing about the technique I was going to learn, if I would have blankets for a bed or a bed at all. I also wasn't sure if I was going to be a chanting Buddhist by the time I left. I didn't want to pay $25 to check my luggage so I had to decide between taking shoes that would handle the rain or a sleeping bag. I went with sleeping bag. Which meant that I would spend the next 10 days walking around an outdoor cement basketball court as my exercise and entertainment.
When I arrived I was late so I got there at the end of registration and everyone was eating and to my joyful surprise they were all happily talking with each other. Men were on one side of this big mess hall and the women were on the other side. After they checked us in and we all ate dinner, they went over the rules and the schedule of what was to happen.
1. Abstain from Killing any being (I was sort of hoping this was a given but anyway)
2. abstain from stealing
3. abstain from all sexual activity
4. abstain from telling lies
5. abstain from all intoxicants (which was a ? I had, I wondered if perhaps they started handing out some sort of hallucigen after a few days if your meditation practice wasn't going so hot)
We were also asked to turn our phones in as well as any journal or paper and pen as well as observe noble silence the entire time which means silence of body, speech, and mind. Any form of communication with fellow students, wether by gestures, sign language, written notes, etc was prohibited. We could however talk to the teacher if we had a question. I observed noble silence about 90% of the time. As far as a silent body that was impossible with all of the gas producing foods they fed us...... as well as I realized that keeping my mouth shut for 10 days wasn't really something I was totally capable of so I found other kindred spirits who I could sense felt my same way, we would sneak in a tiny conversation every once in awhile. I also used sign language at very appropriate times.
This was the schedule that we (were supposed to) followed everyday:
4:00 a.m. morning wake-up bell
4:30 a.m. meditate in the meditation hall or in your own room
6:30-8:00 breakfast break
8:00-9:00 Group meditation in hall
9:00-11:00 meditate in the meditation hall or in your own room
11-12 lunch break
12-1 rest and interviews with the teacher
1-2:30 meditate in the meditation hall or in your own room
2:30-3:30 Group meditation in hall
3:30-5 Meditate in the meditation hall or in your own room
5-6 tea break
6-7 Group meditation in hall
7-8:15 Teachers discourse in the hall
8:15-9 Group meditation in the hall
9-9:30 questions in the hall
10 lights out
11 hours of sitting on your bumski
The center had a huge house up on a hill where the men slept and the meditation hall was located. The women slept about quarter of a mile away in bunk houses that consisted of a bunch a bunk beds and heating vents that gratefully blew hot air. We as in the women used a common bathroom that was about 1/2 block away from my bunk house. Which was super convenient for when I needed to go pee in the middle of the night.
After dinner we all were told to head up to the meditation hall, the men staying in their designated area and the women staying in theirs. The entire camp was very well segregated. We only saw the men during meditation time in the meditation hall. Off we went still chatting happily until we got to the door of the meditation hall. There was a small part of me that wasn't totally convinced that I wasn't about to walk into some kind of gas chamber. They led us in and showed us where we would be sitting (living) for the next 10 days. We all sat about 6 inches away from each other on a little pad that was about 2' x 2'. There were 100 of us all crammed together in a room that we barely fit in. All the men on one side all the women on the other. On the first night we all just sat on the pads. By the second day we had all scrounged up all of the pillows blankets and little stadium seats we could find stashed around the room and built forts in an effort to try and survive sitting on the ground for 11 hours a day. Anyway we all get seated and this caucasian guy about 40 lbs overweight with a strange gotee that is kind of a beard in about his 70's comes walking in and sits down on a table with a little ipad and presses play, next thing I hear are the strangest most gutteral sounds that were hysterical to me, to the point that perhaps this was all a joke and they were going to say just kidding shut it off and the white guy would actually start talking to us. That did not happen, after a few minutes of the anything but relaxing and inspiring sounds I was instructed to focus on the triangle area of my face where my nose was located and focus on my breath. I did my best to focus only on that area for an hour. When were done the little Indian man on the recording told me to rest rest and then white guy copies him "rest rest" and we all file out of there assuming rest rest means go to bed.
On the first full day I started to realize that the very small room that held all 99 of us had a very distinct smell. It is called B. O. Most of the people who were attending fit into the Hippie category. Lots of free feelings of love and free body smells floating around, not to mention the results of the gas producing foods. At times the room sounded like some kind of strange orchestra created by bodily noises. One of the guys didn't even try to hold back, he let them go like he was all alone. How am I honestly supposed to calmly focus on breathing through my nose in a moist body odor smelling room for hours upon hours and continue to focus when fart noises were going off every so often. Every morning when I would get out of the shower I would put on extra deodorant hoping that it would some how have an osmosis affect on the rest of the humans. There was however one very redeeming quality about being among the free minded. I didn't wear a bra for nearly 10 days and I fit right in!
I only had to share my bunk with one other girl, most people had 3-4 in each room, I was very happy about this. I quickly fell asleep on the first night and was actually just fine to wake up at 4:00 because I really had to pee so I got out of bed put on my shoes and my coat and walked out into the freezing cold rain to walk about 5 houses down to go to the bathroom. Came back to my bunk sat on the top bunk and meditated/ focused on breathing through my nose for about 45 minutes then went back to sleep. Woke up at 6:30 to the morning bell and put on all my garb again to walk to the mess hall. The mess hall was similar to a small lunch room. It was full of lunchroom tables. I got some awesome oatmeal that was supposed to be topped with cooked raisins and prunes to which I said no to gas and passed on. So I was sitting there thinking about how this felt much more like Prison than a meditation retreat. I was tired and cold and I couldn't look at anyone and it was silent. So I started looking around the room trying to pick out the women who would most likely be the "daddy's" of the prison compound. Then I realized that if someone came up to me and started yelling at me like they do in the movies, I would have totally started crying. I was definitely not "daddy" material. I sat there and had a get your crap together conversation turned off the I want my mommy thoughts and enjoyed the rest of my delicious oatmeal.
After I breakfast I decided to go test out the showering situation, hoping that it wasn't a community shower. It was not a community shower, it was private for the most part and it had hot water!! At this point I realized that I was going to be ok. As long as I have a comfortable warm place to sleep and the ability to take a shower I will be able to do this. For the next three solid days all I was supposed to do was focus on my breathing. It was so crazy to be forced to be quiet, I had so many conversations going on in my head about who everyone was and how they were doing and feeling etc. On the third day I was so bored I would have given anything for a piece of paper and a pen. When suddenly genius struck and I realized that I could use my eyeliner as a pen and they had given me a schedule that I could write on. I was pretty desperate, later that day I walked in to my room to find my room mate on her PHONE!!! I actually didn't care and I was really glad that I had turned mine in so it wasn't even an option. Later that day when we were in our room she was trying to do something with her head lamp assuming I was sleeping. I thought she doesn't need to do that I am not asleep she can just turn the light on. Then the battle began in my head should I say something or climb down and turn it on. I thought what the heck i'll just say this one thing and forget anything ever happened. Well I tell her she can turn on the light and it was like I opened the flood gates. She started talking and talking and talking about how hard this was and I was being so good and she was just so distracted and trying to decide if she should stay or if she should go. She didn't have a job etc etc. She was talking so loud and so non stop I was sure that everyone in the compound could hear us. I wasn't exactly sure what the "punishment" for talking was so I was a bit uncomfortable. After she was able to express herself we sort of went back to the no talking, every time I walked into our room and she was in there she would say something, I wasn't totally sure how I felt about the importance of the no talking so it didn't really bother me. The last thing I wanted to do was create a lot of tension between us by telling her to shut up.
On the fourth day we finally learned the Vipassna technique. Our unconscious mind that is actually always conscious has been trained to react to sensations. So any information that comes through our 6 senses our unconscious mind reacts to. Like when your face itches or your nose your mind automatically responds by itching it. The whole premise of the meditation is to retrain the unconscious mind to act mindfully and not react unconsciously. The technique involves you sitting perfectly still for one hour. If your leg falls asleep you observe it and then take on the understanding that everything that is in this physical plain will at one time pass away. So you observe the sensation and treat it with a neutral mind and an awareness that it will eventually pass away. So you close your eyes and you start at the top of your head where your soft spot was when you are baby and see if you can feel any type of sensation. You wait for about a minute to feel something, if you don't then you just continue to move from every single part of your body all the way down to your feet. The end goal is to be able to feel some kind of sensation on every single part of your body. So when you have been sitting there for 30 minutes and you realize that your legs are numb and you're not even sure if they are still attached your body, you're just supposed to observe them for a minute realize it will pass away and move on. While were being taught this meditation we were supposed to sit still with our eyes closed for two solid hours, after already having sat for 6 hours that day. I literally thought that I was in hell. I opened my eyes and looked to my right were my on the fence room mate sat. She mouthed the words I am going home right now to me. I just chose that time to use sign language and I put an imaginary gun in my mouth and pulled the trigger. Leaving wasn't an option for me which was really a blessing. I would have spent a lot of energy on whether to stay or go if leaving was an option.
I was sad that my room mate was leaving for her sake. I didn't want her to get home and have any regrets. I was also happy to have my own room and have the talking situation taken care of. She was actually not the only one to leave. Around day 3 and 4 people started dropping like flies. We lost 10 people in the first 4 days.
The 10 days dragged on and on and on. I can only compare it to the times when I was 9 months pregnant and every minute felt like an hour and every day felt like a month. I literally felt like I was on a mission. I called day 5 hump day. By the 7th day I was literally worried at a few times that I might be having a bit of a mental breakdown. I started counting the blinking colon that was between the hour and the minutes on my alarm clock and I liked it. I sat there for 15 minutes once counting to 60 and then starting over. After lunch when we were able to walk around I was able to sing the entire 99 bottles of beer on the wall song. I changed the word beer for fear I might be driven to go find one. As I was falling asleep on the seventh night I had this feeling that the heater was going to break. It was a terrible thought and I was hoping that I was wrong, I didn't mention that it hardly ever snows in Portland but for over half of the time I was there it was snowing and freezing temperatures. So that night when it was in the high 20's the heater really did break. I woke up freezing and went to take a shower to try and warm up, I realized the bathrooms actually felt really cold as well. Low and behold the heat went out in our entire little compound area. Naturally the men in the house who got to go to the bathroom in their socks were just fine. They had no issues with heating. It took about half the day for them to fix the heating. So I walked around with a giant rubber heating pad shoved inside my coat.
On day 8 I became friends with a massive spider that I found outside my window. I had a whole new appreciation for Tom Hanks and Wilson on Cast Away. The spider actually taught me a fairly needed lesson, as it just sat there spinning its web which took forever, I realized how patient it was and how it wasn't in a hurry to get anywhere it just went about its day very peacefully. I realized I needed to chill out and find a better perspective so I wasn't so miserably bored. Later that afternoon while we were on a little break between sessions but still in the meditation hall and still needed to be silent I saw a spider run from my neighbor next to me right at me and my little fort. I naturally started freaking a bit and yelling for a tissue but no one was responding so I took the little bench I was sitting on and slammed it so loudly on top of the spider. My neighbor started yelling NO Sancara you aren't supposed to kill anything! Sancara is the word that the teacher referred to a low vibration experience. I was thinking oh shiz! you're right so I hurry and lift up my bench to find that I didn't kill the spider. YEAH no SANCARA for me. Then I wondered where the spider went. I started lifting up the blanket of my neighbor to the North and there he was sitting on her blanket. I ripped her blanket off her body and sprinted for the forbidden door on the mens side. I was able to get the spider safely outside. All of the girls in the room were laughing hysterically which I honestly think might have saved some of us from a mental break.
I survived the rest of the days and actually learned how to practice the Vipassna meditation. There were a few questions that I went to the retreat with and gratefully came home with some answers.
One of the most valuable things I realized out there was how much I LOVED my life. On the 9th day we were finally able to talk to each other. My cute little world got blown open by other people realities. In the first conversation I had after we broke the silence one of the girls mentioned that she was "trimming" before she came. I thought hmmm I wonder what trimming means, maybe its a different word for fasting. Then later that day another girl had mentioned that she was trimming as well before she came. So I asked what is trimming, she looked at me like I had just fallen off a turnip truck and says "doing marijuana" Oh yes yes of course trimming. Then I also learned about a thing called Iowaska which is apparently the most powerful hallucigen in the entire world. It is all natural It makes you diarrhea yourself and vomit yourself to death and then you experience somewhat of a near death experience. Let's just say I found out really quickly that I was the only Mormon mom with three kids from Utah...... most of the people that I talked to planned to go from the retreat to live or stay in Colorado and I don't think it was for the snow...... in one conversation a newly wed was telling us how her and husband were planning on possibly going down to the jungle in Peru to try Iowaska for a week or just head to Colorado where they had a job lined up to grow weed which is what they wanted to do for a living. I can honestly say that after 10 days of isolation I couldn't judge anyone I just loved everyone. It was fascinating to see how real agency truly is. I seriously couldn't believe some of the lives these people lead. When you get married at barely 21 and then you have kids when you are 24 sometimes I would long for my freedom, I would wonder what it would have been like to have been my own person well into my 20's. I know I will still wonder that at times but from my very little perspective I believe that I have created such an incredibly beautiful life with Tyson that I am so grateful for. Living in Utah County it is easy to think that the life I have is a dime a dozen, perhaps it isn't and even if it is it doesn't make mine any less wonderful.
All in all it was one of the greatest experiences of my life because I have never been mentally and physically challenged in such a way. in fact there was a couple who came to the retreat and the wife was telling me how her husband was retired from the Air Force and had been through 4 different intense trainings and they didn't even compare to how difficult this retreat was. Will I ever do it again. Possibly if I was told that I would receive a million dollars at the end of the ten days I might consider it!
If you were able to make it through this entire post you deserve a treat!
Sunday, April 24, 2011
I realize we all look like we are in pain, with the exception of Hope, but at least we are all looking at the camera!
My mom would always put these curlers in Katie and I's hair when we were little so yesterday I went and bought some and thought we would give them a try.It is kind of hard to tell, but Sydney had all of her curlers stay in except the one in the very front. She has a habit of twirling her hair while she sleeps. I wish I could have seen the wrestling match with the curler in the middle of the night.
The finished product turned out pretty darn cute if you ask me:-)
Hope everybody had a lovely Easter!!!!