Took a hike to one of my favorite waterfalls and decided to try and attempt something that scares the crap outta me: vlogging! Click and watch a short 2-minute video done by a rookie. The message is all about following the heart!
After my first 10-day meditation retreat, something within me really snapped and shifted. All of a sudden I wanted to get rid of a ton of personal belongings. I still found a few items very meaningful: my journal, coffeemaker and hygienic tools were things that were important to me. However, my shelves upon shelves of dusty DVDs, CDs, books, and random knick-knacks felt heavy. Impulsively, I grabbed a few large garbage bags and just started pulling all of these items that felt heavy to me and gently placed them into the garbage bags. Without thinking twice, I jetted the collected items over to my local thrift store and dropped them all of without looking behind. I felt a lightness in my mental and physical state instantly.
Materialism has never been my thing, but especially since starting meditation in 2011, it seems that any fractal of interest in it has dwindled even more. Almost a year into my 20-minute daily meditation practice, I was inspired to write a piece for Lightworkers World about how I feel in regards to the idea of physical things creating inner happiness. The deeper and deeper that I have gone into the depths of my soul, the further I have gotten from caring about comparing what others’ have to what I have. I have instead thought more and more about how I appreciate the things that I do have and truly taste the blessings that I am given on a daily basis. The cravings for more lessen as I see how amazing it is that I have a fully stocked kitchen, efficient means of transportation, and ohhhhhh so much more!
When I was visiting my sister on the East Coast over this past winter, I had a couple of Netflix binges and upon doing so came across an incredibly inspiring documentary entitled “Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.” The main two cast members of the documentary Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodermus also have an inspiring website, The Minimalists, which you should definitely check out if you have time. A lot of what they mentioned in their documentary was exactly the same thoughts that I had been having shortly after my first 10-day meditation retreat. They touch upon the last few decades of American culture and how it has heavily influenced our consumer mindset. We have somehow been driven to think that things create happiness, but as the late George Carlin would state “trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all of your body.”
Over the last six years, I have moved about eight times (what can I say, a spiritual awakening can cause a bit of chaos, hehe) and one of the moves was cross-country. With each move, my amount of possessions has lessened and I find myself only holding onto the things that I find necessary. Not having a whole lot of clothes makes life so much easier to me and the few clothing items that I do have are my absolute favorite, so I get excited to wear them. Everything that I own, besides some old mementos stored in family and friends’ attics, fits into my vehicle. It feels so freeing to be able to pick up and go to a new place if my heart is calling it, I feel incredibly blessed to be able to do this.
I am excited to see a lot of other people feeling the same way about materialism, how it’s not truly all that it’s cracked up to be. Advertisements are unfortunately always going to be around as long as money is around, but at least as we get more and more in touch with ourselves and remembering who we truly are, we will be able to get less swayed by those advertisements. How are you feeling about all the things that surround you right now? Do you truly need all of it? Or might you be able to donate some of those extra items that you haven’t touched in ages?
Everything that I owned in 2011 as I made my way from the Midwest to the West Coast of the U.S.
As always, please comment and share your thoughts with me, I love feedback 🙂
Take care, much peace and love! ❤
Wooh! Spring is in the air, summer is right around the corner and the collective energy feels exciting. With that excitement, there is a slight undertone of feeling scattered. It feels like everyone is making plans for the future: backpacking trips, camping trips, road trips. All of these thoughts of making future plans makes it feel difficult to stay focused in the here and now. This is how the last couple of weeks has felt for me at least. Whenever I start to feel overwhelmed and as if I am being pulled in a million different directions I try to find a spare 10 minutes to sit and meditate, adding this onto my other daily habit of 20 minutes of meditation in the morning.
In the spirit of community I thought it would be awesome to record a 10-minute guided meditation. This meditation is one that I have shared with countless friends and acquaintances when they have asked me if I could instruct them in meditating. I learned this one from the “Insight” meditation group that I joined in Portland, Oregon back in 2012. What exactly is “Insight” meditation might you ask? It is derived from one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation called “Vipassana” meditation. Vipassana involves focusing on the deep interconnection between mind and body. It involves focusing on your breath and anytime your attention wavers, you gently bring yourself back to your breath.
I start out the meditation with having us take a few deep breaths together which helps to ground us into the present moment. I then ask us to notice three touch-points, noticing your connection to whichever surface they might be on (i.e. your hands resting against your knees or thighs, your bottom on a cushion or a chair.) We then will bring our attention up to our nostrils and become aware of the cool air coming in and the warm air as we breathe out. Paying attention to the sensation of the in and out breath is the main focus for the rest of the 10 minutes. Some might not like this type of meditation, but I am hoping that it does help a few. There are an incredible number of different types of meditation and mindfulness techniques, so if one doesn’t work for you, don’t you worry because there are countless others to try.
Click on the recording below (best listened to with headphones) and join me for 10 minutes of meditation, I hope this helps you!! 🙂
Life can throw curve balls at us, some days are tougher than others. We are all in need of healing as long as we are living in these bodies, in this world. I thought it would be fun to make a list of what has helped me in healing myself from the struggles life can seem to make. I would love if you added activities/actions that have helped you to heal your mind, body and soul in the “comments” section below. Hope you enjoy! 🙂
Never Underestimate the Healing Powers of…..
–Curling up under a blanket and getting lost in a book.
–Waking up in the morning and drinking a full glass of water.
–Getting a back massage from a friend.
–Finding a new park or neighborhood that you have never been to and going for a walk in it.
–Writing three full pages of whatever is on your mind and not stopping until you get to the third page.
–Savoring a warm cup of hot chocolate/tea/coffee, drinking each sip mindfully.
–Sitting for twenty minutes, doing nothing but focusing strictly on each in-breath and each out-breath.
–Volunteering in your community.
–Playing music with others.
–Cooking a meal that you have never cooked before.
–Running/jogging for twenty minutes without stopping.
–Writing down what you dreamt of the night before.
–Drawing a picture.
–Painting a picture.
–Photography (check out my photos from Freak Alley in Boise, Idaho if you have time: Freak Alley.)
–Writing a story.
–Catching up with a friend that lives near you over a bowl of steaming Vietnamese pho.
–Hugging others fully, with two arms and for longer than three seconds.
–Caring for a furry friend.
–Having life conversation with an elderly person.
–Having life conversation with a child.
–Watching a good movie.
–Traveling to a city that you have never been to before, alone.
–Listening to music.
–Being here, NOW, over and over remembering to come back to right here, right NOW.
–Playing a childhood recess game with your adult friends.
–Getting a new haircut.
–Going for a hike in nature.
–Skating (roller skating, roller blading, skateboarding.)
–Working in a garden.
–Sampling new beers or wines.
–Exploring a new city with friends.
–Walking alongside large bodies of water.
–Writing down three things that you are grateful for on a daily basis.
–Learning a new skill.
–Having a phone date with a friend far away.
–Kissing a good kisser.
–Going on spontaneous road trips/drives/car rides with music blasting out of the car speakers.
My friend and I reached the top of the hilly incline to a viewpoint that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. The vastness of the ocean view and the sound of the waves was something to meditate on. I set my maroon colored water bottle on the ground beside me and sat down on a big boulder, asking my friend if she’d mind if I meditated for a few minutes. She gave me the go ahead, “of course not, that’s a great idea!” I closed my eyes and became aware of touch points–my bottom on the boulder, my feet planted firmly on the ground, and my right hand cupped in my left hand with the back of my hands on my lap. When I felt 100% grounded, I started focusing on my breath, the cold air gently moving up through my nostrils and the warm air moving out. After a few minutes, I opened my eyes again.
“Sooooo, how do you meditate exactly?” My friend questioned. I hadn’t realized that my friend of fifteen years didn’t actually know what I was doing on the boulder. “Do you just try to think of nothing?” She asked. I felt a surge of excitement in my belly and started telling her about all that I had been learning about meditation since I moved to Oregon six months prior. Moving to a new state without a job secured and not knowing a single soul was a pretty traumatic shock to my system, but had I not pushed myself to do it, I don’t think I would have landed on the path that brought me to a practice that has brought me the most healing in my life: the practice of meditation.
After stopping a tobacco addiction, an addiction to pills, and ending a long-term relationship with an alcoholic over the course of time between my sixteenth and twenty-sixth years on this planet, coming to Oregon alone was like a re-birth into a new life. I forced myself to join community groups and among them, found a meditation group that met every Tuesday. I had been reading a lot of self-help books about meditation and listening to a guided meditation CD that my mom gifted me with before I made my trek from the Midwest to the West Coast. At the Tuesday night meditation group, I learned so much more about meditation and am forever grateful for the veteran teacher that created the group.
I explained to my friend about what I do during my meditation, that I constantly pay attention to my in-breath and out-breath (I do the Vipassana technique, one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation.) That thinking about nothing isn’t the purpose of my meditation, the purpose is to become aware. Stories, ideas, to-do lists, what someone said to me earlier that day that hurt me, someone that I need to contact later, and many other things will come up in my meditation. The point though is to not get stuck or attached to any of those things, to just be aware of them and continually coming back to breath, to presence. Eventually, with a daily practice, you truly become aware of the nature of the mind and how easy it is to come back into the moment of NOW with the breath.
The practice of meditation has helped and healed me so much, layers upon layers of my self have been coming off. Just when I think that I have come to the deepest aspects of my soul, of consciousness, new ideas and concepts come to me. Out of all the travels that I have done, meditation has been the most intense journey out of all of them. It hasn’t been easy picking up this practice, but I can definitely tell you that it has been worth it. I want to help people bring this healing modality into their lives, so anytime a friend asks me about….it’s guaranteed I will turn into a motor mouth and this blog is another avenue in how I want to help people with this. If this post has helped even just one person in getting interested in meditation….then I have done my job. 🙂
A friend in recent months told me “I’m not where I want to be in life.” Which is definitely something every human being can relate to. We all have dreams and desires, some going back all the way to when we were a child wanting to be “this” or “that” when we grew up. The only problem with dreams and desires, is that a lot of people want it right now and they don’t want to wait. Patience is for others to do, not for the ones who wants to be at a specific place right now. We are NEVER going to be where we want to be in life though if we aren’t happy with where we are right now in the moment. This is all we have, all we will ever have, this moment of now. The “not being where I want to be” attitude will get us nowhere, because that is a surefire sign that we will NEVER feel that we are where we should be.
I definitely stress and worry about not reaching goals and desires, but meditation has really awoken me to being happy with exactly where I am. For an example, one recent morning I was looking at my bank account and worrying about making ends meet. My rent is becoming much more expensive than I envisioned when I decided to move into a small studio apartment by myself and I have many upcoming travels that people are relying on me to be there for and that I am super excited for. I really started to get into this animalistic, poverty-thinking mode and then I took a deep breath and asked myself “but how am I doing right NOW?” Because really, I could get struck by a vehicle that forgets to stop at a red light tomorrow and then not even be able to go on the travels that I had planned in the coming months. I mean honestly, the more important thing is how am I doing right NOW?
Thinking in terms of being blessed where you are in the moment is a profound experience. It ends up bringing you even more blessings. That morning, I had decided to turn around my anxious thoughts about money and transformed them into being grateful in that “now” moment and it created even more positivity in my day. I went to work that morning and within a few short hours I was provided with an unexpected free lunch from business associates. Another couple hours go by and my manager asked me if I could work more hours in the coming months due to a co-worker leaving. Some could call it a coincidence, but truly I believe it’s the magic of what happens when you count your blessings. What you are thinking on the inside truly will manifest into the outer world, I state this because I have truly seen it happen….multiple times.
I feel absolutely rich this morning, sitting at my little studio kitchenette indulging in cup loads of home-made coffee, a breakfast made with fresh fruit from my fridge and food that’s filled in my cupboards. I have clothing on to keep me warm, fresh water beside me to keep me hydrated. I honestly feel like a queen right NOW in this moment of writing this and to be able to type away on this laptop, with internet connection. I have so much right now, so blessed with all of this right now. I am not concerned at the moment of what’s in my bank account or not being where I want to be in life.
Be happy with what you have right now, be happy with who you are right now, if you can’t do that now….don’t keep wishing for it to happen in the future that is non-existent. The only existence is right NOW.
A volunteer acquaintance and I quietly strolled up and down the streets scanning the sidewalk for cigarette butts to clean up and I went into a quiet introspection. It was hard to believe that the road trip my friend and I had embarked on to Portland, OR was ten years ago to the day. Ten years ago, I was a shy, nineteen-year-old gas station clerk that had been living in Minnesota since I was five-years-old. Back then, I smoked cigarettes as if they were going out of style. I had started at sixteen-years-old on clove cigarettes, then moved my way to Marlboro Reds, then to Marlboro Mediums, tried tasting Camel Turkish brands for a bit, then finally settled on Marlboro Lights. I smoked about a pack of Marlboro Lights per day up until I was twenty-four-years old, panicking if I was down to only five cigarettes in a pack. That old familiar panic happened so often that when I think of it now, I still get anxiety in my upper belly and sternum area.
Now here I was, ten years later volunteering with a project called “SOLVE”, cleaning up cigarette butts off the sidewalks in the Old town/Chinatown portion of Portland. The organizer of the volunteer group started the organization because he got the idea to recycle cigarette butts by using the material of the filter to make cigarette receptacles. He said he came up with the idea while disc golfing with a friend who was a smoker and he kept noticing that his friend would just toss the cigarette butt in the grass or pavement. His friend’s bad habit gave him the inspiring idea to do something with the wasted butts.
I had been chatting with a fellow volunteer named Eileen all morning. We were both new to volunteering with the organization and we instantly connected when we both shared to each other that we weren’t originally from Oregon. She was in her 70s, had grayish short hair and wrinkles that beautifully defined her tan face. She had just told me her whole history of stumbling upon Oregon herself, how when she was in her 20s she packed up her car and moved out to San Francisco from Ohio, not knowing a single soul. Soon after, she met her husband in the Haight and Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. They decided on a change a few years later, moving to Southern Oregon with their one and only child, living there for seven years and then up to Portland.
“So let’s hear your ‘falling in love with Portland’ story,” she smiled to me.
“So basically, I was 19 and wanted to do a random road trip adventure with my best friend. For weeks we had been planning on New Orleans, but then in about a three-day period, about three different people told me stories about Portland. A couple of days after that, I saw the movie Drugstore Cowboy, which takes place in Portland. I called my friend and told her that my heart was directing us to change the destination to Portland. My friend didn’t care, just as long as we were leaving Minnesota for a week. As soon as we entered Oregon, I received one of the most profound feelings of deja vu that I had ever had in my life and I looked over to my friend ‘Devona, I am pretty sure I have lived here before.’ There was just something so familiar about the state to me and anytime that I had the sensation of deja vu in the past I had the feeling that it was the universe’s way of telling me I was on the right path. Soon after that, we entered the Columbia River Gorge and I had chills up and down my body, flabbergasted by the beauty. We were both slightly bothered by the fact that no one had ever told us that the Columbia River Gorge exists in our country.”
“Yes, that’s a common occurrence, it’s one of America’s best kept secrets, although…not so much anymore,” my new volunteer buddy stated, with her head turned to the side making sure she didn’t miss any cigarette butts beside her.
I didn’t go on to tell her the even longer story of my history of addiction to cigarettes in the past, how driving into a new state that felt like home inspired me to make major changes in the coming years. Feeling that from that point on that, Oregon would always be there waiting if I ever chose to make a new start for myself. I didn’t tell her about how just five years later, the same friend that I took that road trip with collapsed in front of me with an erupted brain aneurysm. After visiting her for weeks in a dark and dingy old hospital in St. Paul, I reevaluated the health choices I had been making since a teenager. With no family history of aneurysms and no other explanation for a 25-year-old with a burst brain aneurysm, my friend’s neurologist urged her to quit smoking, attributing that as more than likely being the cause. She never touched a cigarette again and I joined her in quitting a short few months later.
The couple of hours of volunteering cleaning up cigarette butts, while sounding daunting and maybe a tad monotonous, was truly inspiring. I got to hear two people’s amazing stories, talk with passersby who were curious what we were doing (the funniest ones were the smokers themselves), got thanked multiple times and even got one “fuck you” from a bum that looked like he just walked out of one of the Mad Max movies. It made for a very interesting day and made me realize how much I love this community I live in. My nineteen-year-old self never would have imagined my twenty-nine-year-old self being a non-smoker, moving halfway across the country not knowing a single soul, and talking to random strangers without being nervous. It’s making me so excited to think of the other future transformations that will occur.
We never have to remain stuck, I can promise you that. There are things that happen that are out of our control, but with our freewill, we can choose in each moment how to react to situations. I feel so grateful that my nineteen-year-old self followed her heart and took a road trip to a seemingly random destination. I am also so blessed that the friend that I took that road trip with, my soul sister, inspired me to quit smoking five years later. There are so many changes yet to come, there are always ways to better the self as long as we’re here. We are all a beautiful work-in-progress.
I woke up today with intentions to get all of my “adult” stuff in order. There are certain forms that I need to fill out, emails that I need to respond to, and passwords that I need to remember. Then it hit me that all of the paperwork that I need to do is in my car which is miles away from where I am and a record breaking snowstorm that hit Portland two days ago literally has me snowed in. My egoic mind was very displeased with this “but you have to do that paperwork now, if you don’t get all of that in order now, your world will come crashing down.” I laughed out loud when I heard that one and then a more gentle feeling came over me. The knots in my stomach released and a soft voice said “write.”
I haven’t touched my blog in months and it has been painful not doing so. Every time that I leave my writing hanging, it feels as if there is a gaping hole in my soul. I journal pretty consistently which helps, but there is something about blogging that fulfills that feeling of emptiness that ensues every time I drift away from it for months. So here I am, showing up to it and it is feeling great so far.
The last month and a half has been filled with many adventures that I have been blessed with. My heart called me to a few different places that I didn’t think I would ever actually get around to going to. In this was: The Redwoods of Northern California, volunteering at a 10-day meditation retreat, Iceland, Ireland, New York, New Jersey, New York once more and then back to home sweet Portland, Oregon. All along the way trying to come back to the breath at every moment, despite how uncomfortable it felt at times to be completely out of routine and not knowing where I was going next.
The Redwoods of Northern California was a welcome bliss after having worked for the last year in Portland and taking classes simultaneously. I packed up my car, jetted down south from Portland and arrived at the cutest little Air BNB in Crescent City. My first full day was spent at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park hiking the beautiful Boy Scout Tree Trail, a 5.6 mile jaunt through peaceful and quiet Redwoods. I found the most perfect tree to sit in and meditate halfway through the hike. Afterwards I opened my eyes to pinch myself and double check to see if I was dreaming up this amazing solitude in the trees, but the pain of the pinch reminded me that this was indeed the material world.
Two full days were spent hiking different trails in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and Tolowa Dunes State Park. I also had a brief stop into the city of Arcata where I picked up some delicious coffee and some new thrift store threads for the coming winter months. Between Crescent City and Arcata, as I was speeding along Highway 101, I came across a herd of wild elk that were peacefully gazing to the side of the highway, reminding me to slow down and enjoy the journey. I had never seen anything like it, it was pure beauty with the sun setting behind them.
After giving a gigantic hug to my Crescent City, amazing Air BNB host, it was back to the road again to embark on a four hour drive to where a 10-day meditation retreat was awaiting me. I arrived to the location a bit earlier than everyone else, I set my giant backpack down in the quiet home where us volunteers would sleep. I had initially signed up to sit the course as a student and not volunteer at it, but I had a sudden inspiration to change my registration to volunteer instead one week prior. Even though I knew that the next 10 days was going to be a lot of strenuous work, mentally and physically, I had the feeling that I was exactly where I needed to be.
This would be my third time at a 10-day silent retreat, my second time as a volunteer. After sitting quietly and meditating with my fellow bodhisattvas the next morning after my arrival, down to the kitchen we went to unload the first delivery of fresh produce. We started cooking up the meal that the students would get upon their arrival. Having had worked the kitchen at that location the year before, everything came back to me with ease and I was able to assist the new volunteers instead of standing around looking confused as I had the first day I ever started.
It was intense work as I had remembered before, waking up between 4:30 and 5:30am to get breakfast ready for the students and being on our feet for the whole day besides the three group meditation sits that we sat in with the students. Despite the madness that can go on in the kitchen, my practice was always in effect at every moment, always coming back to my breath and centering myself. We started to get into a groove in the kitchen, with all of us volunteers seemingly floating through all the tasks that needed to get done. Hiccups came up, of course, but the fact that every single volunteer there had sat a 10-day meditation retreat created an empathy in the kitchen like no other.
Halfway through the meditation course, the courses’ female manager/assistant to the meditation teacher fell and had a concussion. This threw things of course, quite literally as I was catapulted into the position never having done it before. All of sudden, instead of sitting up front meditating with my fellow volunteers in front of 70 pairs of eyes, I was to keep track of 32 of those 70 pairs of eyes. Anytime a female meditator cried, made significant noise or walked out of the building I was to open my eyes and get direction from the female meditation teacher on how to comfort the meditator or track down where they went.
“A new female manager halfway into a 10-day silent meditation course, there really is no other worse thing that I can think of to happen. Every student is such in a difficult spot, I really can’t think of a more challenging situation occurring than this” the kitchen female manager stated to me as I walked into the kitchen on my first “official” day of being the female students’ manager. I took a deep breath and realized that my meditation practice had prepped me for that exact kind of situation to arise. And from that moment forward I stayed present with every single situation that arose, including assisting with five ladies over the next few days that made the difficult decision to leave the 10-day retreat early. I was constantly on my feet and always alert during the group meditation to make sure I wasn’t missing any direction from the meditation teacher.
Before I knew it, the last morning of the meditation retreat arrived and I decided to go AWOL as soon as the last group meditation was over. When the ladies at the retreat were able to talk on the previous day, I graciously accepted compliments from them, but I decided I wanted to take off before any more compliments could be said. It hit me that I completely followed my heart correctly with that retreat, coming in to volunteer instead of being a student was exactly what was needed. In the spirit of modesty though, I didn’t want to hear any more small talk/compliments as I truly just wanted to serve and move on.
Into the foggy clouds I went back up to Portland where I reorganized my backpacks and tied up a few loose ends before taking a flight out to Reykjavik, Iceland. The flight was booked rather impulsively months prior when a friend invited me to travel with her and her husband throughout Ireland, Reykjavik was a relatively cheap stop-over flight to Ireland. Reykjavik had been on my radar for a while as some friends had recently told me about how amazing it was and it was a quick stop over flight before Ireland. I figured that it would be great to have some solo travel before joining them.
Cutting this short and will make a part two about Iceland and Ireland, so I hope that you stay tuned :)!
This year, my holidays were spent like no other. I spent my Christmas Eve agreeing to enter “noble silence” for ten days, this included no communicating through cell phone, laptops or any other technological gadgets and no speaking or gesturing to those around me. No reading or writing was allowed either (my jaw dropped with that one too.) My New Year’s Eve was spent meditating in a meditation hall with about 100 other people for an hour and a half before our bedtime (lights out were at 9:30pm.) The only celebration was heard from the neighboring farm lands nearby in which the residents were lighting off fireworks as I laid my worn head to bed.
I had first heard about this 10-day silent meditation retreat from classmates at a local meditation group that I attend in Portland, OR. When I had heard about their experiences with it, I was fascinated. One of my classmates compared it to a Native American Medicine Journey, a journey where you go completely within. I stashed the idea of it away in my brain as something I ought to try sometime, maybe in a couple years when I could accrue that many hours off of work. My meditation teacher kept discussing it at class as the weeks went by. I found out that the 10-day silent meditation was free and they also offered it during the holidays so you don’t have to ask for as many days off of work as you might need to otherwise. I signed up in May 2014 to attend a 10-day silent meditation retreat from 12/24/14-1/4/15, that May I remember thinking how I wouldn’t have to worry about it for quite sometime, as it was more than seven months away. As the months and weeks crept closer though, I started wondering if it was that good of a decision. Everyone else would be spending the upcoming holidays with family and friends, while I would be falling off the radar. As the week prior to leaving for the retreat came up, I received this text from my sister, who has attended a few retreats herself, but none longer than three days: “Sad, it kinda feels like you’ll be crossing over to the other side for ten days.” When I received that text, I took a deep breath, I really wasn’t sure what I had signed up for.
When I first pulled up into the land that the Northwest Vipassana Center is located on, the whole vibe of the land and the building was incredibly peaceful. After registering inside and getting the itinerary booklet (see picture below) I made my way from the building to the women’s residential suites. As I walked along the pebbled path towards what would be my home for the next ten days I saw a couple of deer eating alongside a marsh area with the peak of Mount Rainier in the back round. I remember feeling elation and getting the sense that the next ten days were going to be very relaxing.
I made my way back to the building after setting up my bed and meeting Kate, my new roommate whom I found out was also on her first 10-day retreat and had traveled down from Seattle with her best friend of years and years. I sat in the dining area of the building, sipping on hot tea and chatted with a few girls that were sitting near me. I had found out that two of them had done a 10-day retreat before and the girl sitting across from me, Lacey, was at her first retreat. Lacey and I interrogated the girls that were veterans of this retreat, asking them what we should expect, what had happened for them last time, and more. One of the veteran girls seemed a little distraught as she mentioned “I don’t know if I’m ready to go through this work again….” with a far-off look in her eyes.
The last of the meditation-goers were checking in and trickling into the dining area. We were provided a light dinner and instructed to get anything we needed from our cars afterwards, to make sure all of our technological gadgets were handed in to the staff and to meet at the meditation hall in about a half an hour for the first group meditation. There was a frantic energy in the air, it seemed that people were gabbing just for the sake of noise because we all knew that the “vow of noble silence” would start after our first group meditation. I used the time to meet a few more new people and to get acquainted with where everything was on the premises.
The time drew near 8pm, the big moment of our first group meditation and the official end to communication of any kind. We stood outside the meditation hall, awaiting the teachers to enter first. I met two girls and spoke nervously with them, one had mentioned that she and her boyfriend decided to sign up together for this, the other girl mentioned that a friend in Portland had told her about the retreat. We seemed to be talking just to talk, just to get the last words out we could, all of us knowing that in less than ten minutes we would have to be mute for a week and a half. The teachers entered the building and close to forty of us followed them in. We took off jackets and shoes and were instructed to grab any pillows, blankets or chairs that we would want to use as our meditation tools for the next ten days. One of the assistant teachers started calling out names, and one by one people were directed to their assigned seats. I remember a thought crossed my mind in which I felt that I was at Heaven’s gate or something–waiting for my name to be called to enter a whole other world.
We met in the meditation hall three times a day, at 8:00am, 2:30pm and 6:00pm. Our days consisted of ten hours of focused vipassana meditation, the first three days we focused on the sensation of our breath and the area near where we could feel the breath the most–the area on or near the nostrils. The middle of the ten days, days four through six we started doing focused meditation called “body scanning” which consisted of placing our awareness on each body part. With body scanning, we would start at the top of our head and move down piece-by-piece (the forehead, the ears, the nose) just noticing any sensations, be it pain or tingling or anything. We were instructed not to label anything, but to just be aware of it and notice it’s changing form. The last three days we were taught of “free form” body scanning which consists of starting at the top of our head down to the bottoms of our feet, scanning up and down in more of a flowing fashion. If we had troubles with this, we were instructed to go back to body scanning piece-by-piece. We could also speak with the teachers after the evening group meditation or during lunch break if we were having any particular troubles with the meditating.
There were a couple major moments that stuck with me the most during my 10-day retreat. On night three and five, I had incredible dreams and also visions as I tried to fall asleep. On night three, every time I tried to close my eyes to get to sleep, there was a light show going on beneath my eyelids. There were magnificent colors swirling and dancing, if I didn’t know any better, I might have thought someone had spiked my evening tea with magic mushrooms. Then, on the fifth night I had what I can only describe as a deeply spiritual experience which I found to be extremely comforting. On that particular night, I had some troubles initially falling asleep, but I finally did drift off at a relatively early hour–around 10:30 p.m. or so. I had a very vivid dream (it seemed as real to me as me typing these words out and hearing the hum of the washing machine below my kitchen floor right now feels to me.)
In the dream, I headed to the group meditation hall, walking the pebbled path from my residential suite to the building, everything covered in dew from the damp weather that early morning. I sat down in my assigned seat, wrapped my blanket around me and was aware of all the other meditators around me. We all closed our eyes to start our meditation and immediately I got the sensation of no longer having a body, I felt so light and free. It felt so completely right, as if this was what I have been longing for my whole life. I then realized that I had dissolved into oneness with all of the other meditators. I then darted awake in my bed and looked at my clock–it stated “12:30 a.m.” I then fell asleep again and had this same exact dream three more times, always darting awake as my conscious mind realized the feeling of oneness, I awoke again at 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30 a.m.
I went into the ten day retreat with expectations that it was going to be easy for me since I have been practicing daily meditation for two and a half years, but it was far from easy. When I came back to Portland and was asked multiple times about my experience, the best way that I could describe it to people was that it was tormenting, yet transformative. I didn’t have too much trouble with the no-talking rule as I am an introvert, but I did miss my phone a lot and not being able to write or read was excruciating for me. The retreat really instilled into me the changing nature of reality: physical pain, emotional pain, food, people, circumstances, ideas, locations–all of this is coming and going continuously. The retreat got me more comfortable with the idea of impermanence and it also reminded me that we can start over at any moment by focusing on our breath.
I highly recommend these types of retreats for anyone, it is not affiliated with any religious sect and accepts everyone from every back round. The facilities are run off of donations, but no one is turned away for lack of funds. The way that I am going to donate and give back is to be of service at future retreats. One thing that I have mentioned to friends or family members that have expressed interest in this retreat is to realize that when you attend one of these, you are not going for the purpose of rest and relaxation (I had that wrong estimation myself.) What these types of meditation sits truly do is break down a ton of barriers within you and can create profound healing. It brings you into acceptance of what is, as the itinerary booklet states, “Vipassana means seeing things as they really are.”