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