wrote by Stephanie Oswald Certified Health Coach (IIN, graduated 2014) and in training to become an Registered Holistic Nutritionist.
During this past December instead of spending the Christmas holidays celebrating with the usual overindulgence, gift exchanges and fun with family; I had one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life. I attended a 10 day silent Vipassana course at the Dhamma Surabhi Vipassana Meditation center in Merritt, BC.
In short, Vipassana is a type of meditation with the base intention of releasing suffering through the observation of sensation throughout one’s body. During the course noble silence is observed, in which you are not to speak, gesture or make eye contact with one another. This silence gave me a chance to go completely internal and focus on the inner work I was there to do. Throughout the course, witnessing Dhamma (the law of nature) is a large part of the focus.
From what I had heard about Vipassana beforehand, I knew it was going to be a mentally and at times physically challenging experience. Mentally in a sense that old wounds and repressed emotions may arise while taking that much time to be silent and go within. And physically with the feeling of discomfort and even pain that can arise while sitting in stillness for up to 11 hours a day. I realized through this practice of observing the uncomfortable sensations without creating aversion, the pain does eventually pass. So much of the pain I was carrying in my body everyday was being intensified, or even created by my mind. And as I released that negative attachment to the sensation and the misery associated, I felt an incredible amount of relief from the pain and discomfort.
I was told the first few days were going to be the hardest, but if persevered it would get easier and I would reap great rewards. Well, for me, that wasn’t exactly the case. The first 4 days were not nearly as trying as I was expecting. I was enjoying the time in silence, disengaging from my phone and social media, while indulging in the calm environment and the opportunity to rest. But that enjoyment of peace and rest eventually halted to my surprise at the end of day 4. To this point we had been building up to the full Vipassana technique (body scanning and observing sensation without forming an attachment through craving or aversion), the evening of day 4 we completed the first full Vipassana guided meditation. It was incredible, one of the deepest meditations I have ever had in my life. However that night I couldn’t sleep, I felt restless but there was nothing to do, so I continued to meditate through the night.
Day 5 was hands down the hardest day though the entire experience for me. I was exhausted and filled with agitation, irritation and frustration. A deep-rooted misery started to come to the surface, consuming me with thoughts and memories of failed relationships, regrettable choices from my past and a deep needy desire for external sources love. Much of what was coming up I had thought I was done with that I had already worked through them and was free from their hold. But there they were, dug up from the deepest corners of me feeling just as painfully fresh as ever. The next 4 days felt like the longest and at the same time shortest days of my life, as I peeled away the layers and continued my deep inner work.
On the 9th day, something within me started to shift and I felt relief from the agitation and frustration I had been experiencing over the days. Those troublesome days before had me counting down the hours until I could pack my bags and run out the door, but at this point those feelings lifted and my heart started to feel lighter. My thoughts shifted out of the deeply dark and negative space I had become consumed with, and my mind felt clear. The 10th day I awoke feeling different, much calmer, more self-aware and quite peaceful. We did a Metta meditation (loving kindness meditation) that morning, and it was like a soothing balm over the wounds I had been working on the previous days. I felt like rays of love and compassion were filling my body and a warm gentle light was pouring over me.
After the Metta meditation, the vow of noble silence was lifted and we were allowed to communicate with one another. This was very strange, me a total social butterfly who loves conversation could barely get words out at first and I had to be nudged into conversation. My voice was the most startling, it sounded so foreign, so alien. “That’s not my voice,” I thought, “I’ve never heard that voice before in my life”. Slowly we all started to warm up to one another, filling halls that we once silently walked with excited conversation and foreign noise. I felt so much love and kindness all around me, although I admit, at times I was overwhelmed by the interaction after so many days of silence.
After the retreat ended I felt different; my energy was calmer, I felt very steady and had an increased self-awareness. My partner noticed this as well, “you’re different,” he would later say marking that my energy felt as if it had a new level of maturity. These feelings have carried over the past 2 months as I have settled back into regular life. What I worked through during that difficult time has freed me from sadness I had been carrying for a very long time, sadness I didn’t even know was separate from myself.
Meditation has great health benefits, whatever the particular practice may look like. Decreased stress, improved sleep and increased self esteem are some of the possible perks of a regular meditation practice. I know meditation will always have a place in my life, and I know I will return for another 10 days' Vipassana course as I continue to grow as a person. I am not fully healed from all wounds or past hurt, but this experience has given me a valuable tool to lessen my own experiences of suffering and carry my baggage a little lighter.