We are very excited to offer one Intent Blog reader an all-access pass to attend the South Bay Yoga Conference (valued at approximately $300) in Los Angeles, CA. If you haven’t already, simply sign-up for the Best of Intent Weekly Email and we’ll send out instructions for how to win this Monday.
By Lainey Teologo
Last fall, I experienced my first 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat in the mountains above Fresno, CA. Throughout the year, retreats are held at three main meditation centers in California where more than 100 people gather, old and new students, to spend days devoted to silent meditation. Most people are from the regional areas, but there are also transient travelers and vagabonds that pass through. Regardless of religious or spiritual backgrounds, everyone shares a common path to healing and transformation through meditation.
Vipassana is an ancient technique from India, rediscovered by Gotama Buddha over 2,500 years ago. It is a non-sectarian approach to reaching full liberation by dissolving mental impurities. By observing the breath and bodily sensations, one is able to directly experience how suffering is caused, and how one can be freed from suffering.
Despite the hint of hesitation, I agreed to take a vow of silence for 10 days. Also required was full renunciation of all worldly attachments–no cell phones, books, even journals. This is meant for students to create a sense of isolation, to dive deep into one’s body and mind through self-observation. A simple mode of conduct included no intoxication, sexual activity, killing, stealing, and lying. This code of discipline prevents one from being agitated or distracted.
It was a rough first three days. It was initially hard to settle in my internal world. Considering that all my life, I’ve lived in the city where noise was the default silence. In contrast, being alone in silence I have never felt before was a little shocking. Not being able to speak to others, I was afraid that I would lose my voice and would not be able to find it again.
It was a total emotional rollercoaster–a cocktail of anger, melancholy, and fear. Don’t get me wrong, I had some moments of being carried into bliss and ecstasy. Having gone through this wide spectrum of the emotional rainbow, I discovered a significant lesson: be equanimous with whatever sensations are experienced in the framework of the body, whether it’s pleasurable or not.
I’ve personally applied this practice to my life. It has helped me grow more resilient when dealing with my emotions and thought patterns. Unfortunate circumstances that used to send me spiraling into negativity have become more bearable.
At the middle point of the retreat, I experienced an anxiety attack that made me want to take off and leave. I just wanted to jump into my car and go home. It was a perfect test for me to remain equanimous with my thoughts. The fear, anxiety, and urgency to leave were overwhelming. With this practice, however, I began to center myself in breath and stillness. I observed these overwhelming sensations in my body, recognizing them as uncomfortable. They were there, nevertheless, and that was it. I felt one with my body, in awareness of breath and existence. After a couple minutes, the anxious storm left and I felt a calm sense of presence. Another lesson learned: everything is temporary as everything changes and passes. This is the law of nature that can be experienced in the physical body by observation of these sensations that come and eventually leave.
As the retreat reached closer to the end, I became more patient as my practice deepened. The meditation was more effective especially with the privilege of using the pagoda cells. The feeling of isolation in a small dark room almost mimics sensory deprivation, having less noise and physical distractions. My body awareness felt ten times stronger than in the meditation hall.
On day ten, noble silence was broken and we were all able to speak. Noble chatter felt amazing and I even noticed my voice changed a little, having more resonance and strength. Our last meditation as a group was based on sending out love, peace, and happiness to all beings. The air became thick with positive, healing vibrations; it led me to tears towards the end.
Group meditation proves to be incredibly strong. Perhaps the unification of bodies that meet at the same wavelength has a profound outward effect. I have come to recognize the power we have as a community, weaving ourselves together to make a whole—further solidifying the notion that we cannot exist without each other. Even though I could not speak to those around me all ten days, I felt an inner connection with the retreat group. Even without words, we can come together to share a space to venture inside, searching for peace that is present in every being.
Ultimately, my experience at the retreat was a catalyst to my healing process. Vipassana meditation has illuminated the integral connection between my physical body and mind. It has led me to believe the unity of mind and body essentially ties into spirit, source, of whichever divine aspect we acknowledge in ourselves.
If you are interested in the 10-day retreats that are held worldwide at international meditation centers, check out this website.
If ten-day retreat sounds too much for you and you’re in the Los Angeles area, check out the first annual South Bay Yoga Conference for a variety of meditation classes:
Friday August 10
Saturday August 11
Check out the full schedule here for many other exciting yoga and bodywork classes.
Lainey was born and raised in the South Bay. She has been serving her community and the surrounding areas as a Licensed Massage Therapist for more than 2 years. She currently works with the homeless population in Los Angeles as an advocate for recovery in community mental health. She believes in the healing power of meditation, yoga, dance, and music.