Recently, I attended a ten-day silent meditation retreat. At a Vipassana retreat, your aren’t allowed access to books, journals, iPhones or even eye contact. The intention is to eliminate all external noise in order to create a conducive container for meditation.
Left to my own devices, I’m the type of gal that reads three books a week, listens to podcasts constantly, and compulsively checks social media. I knew this was going to be a challenge. My neurons were habituated to constant stimulation and the transition was rocky. On day three, I was sitting on a bench outside and a mosquito bit me. I was elated---finally some stimulation! On day four, I found myself laughing a little too loud at the nightly dharma talk, reaching desperately for some comedic relief. I read and re-read the course rulebook. And, eventually, I gave up. I finally surrendered to my inability to control my sensory input and started tuning into my surroundings.
So, what was underneath my constant need for stimulation? Lots of boredom. Emotions: some pleasant, many not. A mind that is obsessively interested in replaying past memories (mainly regarding ex-boyfriends and even some reality TV episodes. Careful what you take in folks, it stays there.). And a persistent feeling of emptiness that I’ve all my life felt compelled to constantly fill with noise, busyness, and persistent stimulation. Pema Chodron talks about making contact with the fundamental slipperiness and mystery of our being, which has no fixed identity. She calls this place the fundamental “groundlessness” of being. This was the place I’d been running away from.
But, is this “groundlessness” to be feared? What compelled me to persistently run away from it? As I continued to sit with this groundless feeling in my meditations, I realized that it is extremely threatening to the part of me that believes I’m in control, the part of me that’s attached to a fixed identity, and prefers pleasure, and resists pain. Sound familiar to anyone else? These are evolutionary mechanisms our brains have evolved to protect us, so moving away from these instincts naturally brings up resistance. As I began to feel more comfortable with and even to befriend the sense of groundlessness, I found a newfound fearlessness arise. If I could stay with the discomfort long enough to notice that all my sensations were in constant transformation, I felt braver to sit with whatever arose. Also, as I was able to sit with the direct experience of groundlessness, there was, in fact, all the stimulation I could ever crave. Here, everything constantly arises and falls away. There is nothing stable in sight. Everything is always new.
Tuning into this constant flux, with neutrality and kindness, offers wisdom about the very nature of reality. Sit with this direct reality long enough and you may even make contact with that which is eternal and unchanging.
To experience the raw nature of reality for yourself, I’d highly recommend attending a course. They are free (donations accepted) and one of the best investments of time you will ever make. In a culture that is hyper-focused on the value of the mind through education and accumulation of knowledge, we are not given tools to understand the mind’s limitations and train it for liberation. Vipassana is Bootcamp for mind liberation. For more information visit: https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/index
I recently sat a full Vipassana Meditation course in Menomonie, Wisconsin and loved it. I highly recommend it, even though I wanted to quit everyday because it was really hard work. Today I going to make a St. Patrick's Day post on Instagram and was going through some images looking for something good. The first thing that came up was an image of a shamrock and I immediately remembered when a fellow meditator gave one of the best gifts I have ever received.
If you ever sit a Vipassana course you will take a vow of noble silence, which means that for most of the time you are there you will not speak to anyone or touch anyone or make eye contact with anyone for the duration of the course. During your time there you really have an opportunity to become very quiet and very clear. I honestly recommend it and think you should do it when you feel called to sit your first course. I loved it and have been vibing out on the benefits of Vipassana meditation all winter long.
After days on end after being silent for so long, deprived of human contact & connection, it must have been day 7, 8 or 9, it was a beautiful day outside and we were on a break between meditations. During breaks you are encouraged to take a walk on the path on your designated side of the retreat center, or rest in your dorm. I was outside deep in thought and out of nowhere the woman who sat behind me in the meditation hall, walked up to me and made eye contact with me with her sparkling blue eyes, and took a breath and handed me a four clover and then continued her walk.
I was completely overwhelmed by the human connection of eye contact, the touch of her hand and also overjoyed by the sight of a four leaf clover, which I had never seen in real life before. My current meditated state allowed me to feel all of the emotions of human connection and receiving gifts in this way that I had never experienced before. I felt a myriad of emotions: overwhelming joy and gratitude, longing, peace and complete overwhelm, along with the fear of tarnishing my Vipassana record with now having broken my vow of noble silence even though I was just sitting there and my gift giver broke it for me. All of my joy of receiving this beautiful, lucky gift took over and I decided to not create more drama by fretting over this brief encounter of human connection and just let the joy flood in.
Peace, and then more anxiety started forming. At that moment I felt like I had never received such a pure, authentic, beautiful and genuine gift. I didn't know what to do with it. I couldn't take a picture of it, because that wasn't allowed, and I was following the rules. The question that came to me was "should I keep this to myself or share this beautiful gift with someone else?" I ran through the different scenarios in my head if I kept it, then I'd be the only one to knew the true bliss of this shamrock. If I gave it away perhaps the recipient would also pass it on and so on and so forth until it got back the original gift giver and then all the women in the camp would have experienced my joy and gratitude.
I quickly decided to share my joy with the woman who sat directly in front of me in the mediation hall because she walked past me at the exact right moment. I called her "Secretary," in my mind because I hadn't met her prior to my noble silence vow and didn't know her name. (I gave everyone I didn't know secret names.) Immediately after I gave my gift to her I felt remorse because I no longer had my blessed and perfect four leaf clover and I also had no way of knowing what the Secretary would do with it. I was so stressed out because I felt like I had made the wrong decision. I had to process all of those feelings, all because of this gift!
I had to make peace with the fact that I gave it away, and that was that and I wouldn't know what became of my little four leaf clover until the final day when we could break our silence. I remembered that in the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo says that a once a gift has been given and received, it has served its purpose, to be given. It is gift -- its purpose is lived out.
There was so much emotion and anxiety and guilt all wrapped up, excuse the pun, in receiving this one little gift. All I could do was sort through that because I was on my silent meditation retreat so I had plenty of time to think about it.
One of the many lessons I learned during my 10 day Vipassana course was about gift giving. I learned that the joy of giving and receiving gifts does not come from creating judgement or getting what one expects, it's about receiving kindness from another human being. SO no matter if you are given a four leaf clover from a silent, unknown friend, or sapphire earrings from your husband, that you never plan on wearing, it is not about the value of the gift, it is about the value of the effort, thought and energy given from one human to another. So I thank you for reading this. Happy St. Patrick's Day! This blog is for you!
For each petal on the shamrock.
This brings a wish your way
Good health, good luck, and happiness
For today and every day.
Elizabeth Camp, Founder of Yoga Camp
I recently led the Second Annual Yoga Camp Photo Journey Retreat. It was an exceptional experience. I love this facet of Yoga Camp because I love serving women and helping guide them in their healing in the context of a carefully curated retreat. Honestly the whole retreat was outstanding.
We had an amazing time! All the activities were great, and the weather was cooperating, which was an enormous blessing. Thank you God! I can tell you about all of retreat experiences more in detail in another blog post later, and you can check my social media channels for more info and photos, but I want to focus today on something that was completely unexpected.
I booked the dates of this year's retreat over the full moon which occurred on October 15th, so we planned a full moon fire ceremony. That was amazing too! It was even warm enough to create the ceremony outside. That is another experience I would love to share more in detail about at a later time.
After our ceremony and finalé celebration, we went to bed. I woke up the next morning to take Maxime, my giant dog, outside. For some reason I followed my intuition and let her out the back door. I usually take her out quickly through the front door in the morning, but something told me to go in a different direction. I thought the sky looked pretty, and so I followed the sky down closer to the banks of the lake and peaked through the trees, only to find something I never even knew existed. The full moon on the horizon.
I wanted to let the campers that were interested in on this blessing, so I ran inside and announced eloquently, "Full Moon! Outside! Still Up!" Then I ran back outside and down to the dock.
What I saw was, the full moon, still up from the night before and it was setting over the horizon mixed with the gentle colors of sunrise floating in from East. I didn't even know something like this was a thing.
I had nothing to compare it to, and I've never seen anything like it before. I've seen the moon high in the sky on occasion while the sun is up, but this was entirely different.
The mixture of the colors and the epic landscape was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed.
I often observe that when I let go of expectations, or have no preconceived notions of what will be, I am the happiest. When I have expectations, I am usually disappointed.
The full moon in the morning surprised me, and filled me with joy! This full moon reminded me that life is full of gifts: some that I have not yet experienced, and some that I didn't even know were possible.
This beautiful moon reminded me to let go of my expectations, let myself be surprised, and to love and experience life fully.
When I walked back up to the cabin, I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite quotes about balance.
"Some nights stay up till dawn, as the moon sometimes does for the sun. Be a full bucket pulled up the dark way of a well, then lifted out into light."
Now I have experienced this in a deeper sense than I even knew was possible.
In sharing my experience with you, I urge you to follow your intuition. I urge you to take a deep breath, think about something you have expectations about and then let some of them go. If you are able, let all of your expectations go. Namaste my friend.
Landscapes by Elizabeth Camp
Portrait by Marjorie Renn Solis
Life is hard, and you deserve a break! The key to happiness is in your own hands, take a chance now and book a Yoga Retreat. Set aside what is holding you back and find a way to make it happen. There are always a million reasons and excuses in our heads telling us not to do things, I say – Just do it! You will not regret it. Here are 10 reasons to back me up! ;)
1. Meet Like Minded Individuals –
There is something magical about being Immersed in a group of like-minded people. You feed off of each other’s energy and vibes. You learn things from each other simply by listening to each other. You get to talk about things for hours on end that you are passionate about, and likely you have someone listening who shares your passion or at least understands it. Being with people who share your passions helps allow you to open yourself and your mind and to truly embrace your authentic self.
2. Eat well without having to do any work –
Really… need I say more??!!
3. Relax and destress –
This is a pretty obvious benefit! What a retreat is all about. Simply time away to enjoy.
4. Take your yoga to the next level –
Whether you are a brand new yogi or an experienced yoga teacher you are bound to learn something new on a retreat. In addition to the physical practice of yoga a retreat is about living your yoga, though showing compassion for others, for nature, and for yourself. It is a chance to truly embrace yoga in every movement of your day, and boy does it feel great!
5. Get to travel to a place you may have not otherwise gone –
Going somewhere new is good for the body and soul! A retreat is often the chance to see somewhere beautiful! Let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to do some traveling?!