Nobody escapes from suffering. We all go through birth, illnesses, death.
But there is a way to live life free of suffering.
I recently had the pleasure of attending a life-altering experience thanks to the compassionate and kind people at the Dhamma Dhara Meditation Center in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.
Led by accomplished karma-yogi S. N. Goenka, the retreat was an exercise in letting go. Letting go of my phone, my journal, my books, my ego and my life. About 100 other people and I had come for a week of silence — we each took a vow of silence. On that first day I never could have guessed where this journey would take lead me.
The employees at meditation center confiscated all distractions, starting with our cell phones. I likened it to a doctor washing his or her hands before an operation; I had to get rid of all of the potential pathogens that could infect my mind. And this was indeed surgery of the mind.
Day #2 was not good for me at all. I became tearful and I wept inconsolably. At the same time I experienced such a strong anger, anger at myself — for being too competitive and for not knowing what I was looking for.
What was I looking for?
Day #2 was bad, but day #3 was extremely bad- bad beyond bad. Every single bone in my body ached from sitting for so long. Nevertheless, I did my duty and sat in silence while my mind was restless.
I found myself dreaming of ways to escape. Since I love to climb trees, I had thoughts of finding a good tree and jumping off of it to intentionally hurt myself. So I found the right tree and I started climbing. Once up there I realized how foolish it would be to hurt myself. What would I say to a student who wanted to hurt herself?
Obviously I had forgotten everything, all the tools that I teach, my coaching techniques, they all went down the toilet.
Finally, I started coming to my senses. My unquiet thoughts started disappearing and I began to understand what the Vipassana method is; it is a technique of being totally aware and using breathing techniques as my guide. I decided I was going to learn the method and leave behind my knowledge of other schools and disciplines. I would get through this by being nothingness.
As Goenkaji said, even when you’ve retired to your room, you can continue with the method. Well I started having dreams about my mother, my grandmother and all my relatives who I adore so much. I was basically continuing the method even in my sleep.
It was on the fifth day that I started feeling some healing in my body. This brought back memories of a dear friend who was fighting breast cancer (Spoiler alert: She won!). She said that during her chemo sessions she was able put her best foot forward because she knew that there is a higher power that heals.
If I had to choose one word to describe Day #5, it would be “Fabulous.”
Day #6 was just OK. Half good and half bad. I confronted many feelings that day, not all of them pleasant. I got to thinking about my three sons and how I might have done some things differently. I felt like I may have created unnecessary suffering for my boys, that I failed them in some sense and that’s when the tears came back.
Day #7 and Day #8 were wonderful. Total bliss.
I did however, begin to experience anxiety because it was almost time to go back home. I didn’t want it to end. I had forgotten my life, my kids, my spouse, my job and who I was exactly. I just wanted to stay in that place and just do nothing and be nothing because being nothing feels so good.
And on the last day when we were finally allowed to talk I heard people say “Oh my god, I did it!” But I still didn’t want to talk, I just wanted to remain that quiet — at least until another student told me that I had been her source of inspiration! No wonder I love teaching so much.
Getting back to that life I led before attending this retreat wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, especially when my husband and youngest son greeted me with the most beautiful bouquet of flowers I have ever seen. It was Mother’s Day and I was totally present for it.
Oh my god, I thought, every single person should have this experience.