In January this year whilst on holiday with my children, we decided to create our purpose and intention boards, better known as Vision boards. My board depicted the way I wanted to feel from a mind, body, and soul perspective. More saliently, how I wanted to serve and make an impact this year, rather than focus purely on goals. The board is displayed in my room and also saved as a screensaver on my laptop as a reminder of who I set out to BE this year. There is an image pasted to attend a silent retreat, this was prior to any knowledge of what Vipassana experiences were. I first heard about Vipassana whilst attending an equinox well-being retreat in February. The second time, my therapist mentioned it to me, as an intervention one of her clients pursued to access repressed childhood memories. I was also struggling to tap into my past, as I suppressed any unpleasant experiences as a child. I had no idea that in a short four months I would be attending my first Vipassana course, a testament to how powerful purpose and intention is.
I experienced a silent retreat about five years ago, and interestingly also during the month of June. This retreat was vastly different, we journalled, created collages, and went for outside excursions like hiking or the beach. Although we practised silence during the four days, we shared with retreat participants during certain periods how we were feeling. Vipassana is practising noble silence for the full 10-day period, suspending any contact with the outside world and not having any of our usual vices like technology, food, reading, music, and exercise to name a few.
Some earlier background on my quest for self-mastery. My pursuit started as early as 16, when I decided to leave home in search of a better life. I was not prepared to accept becoming a product of my environment. My surroundings growing up were less than ideal to even think about exploring a life towards self-actualisation. The community I was raised in was, and continues to be referred to in our country as previously disadvantaged people. I preferred to think of myself as previously differently advantaged. The tumultuous and rife conditions afforded me the training ground and courage to venture towards new opportunities. At the time I had no idea I was in fact searching for liberation. A book called The Alchemist was a catalyst in seeking more than what my circumstances could offer.
This however led me on an intellectual path towards self-mastery, albeit experiencing many life events along the way. I was a firm believer that educating myself was vital to self-discovery. Over the years I completed many leadership and personal growth training, and eventually a personal mastery course. I was convinced that if I understood at an intellectual level how to apply myself, I was destined to achieve the self-fulfilment I yearned for across every area of my life. As years passed by, I ticked off a bucket list item to complete professional education, an honours degree in management and leadership. This was a monumental accolade as I had no undergrad degree. I was accepted into the honours program by producing a portfolio of evidence of prior learning and many years of work experience. Still, after all these milestones I was never fulfilled and continued to feel empty. This led me to continue probing for a deeper life meaning.
The catalyzer for my continued search was sparked when I was made redundant at work. Whilst most people shift into a deep depression after losing employment, I was somewhat elated being afforded a pause, in order to reflect deeply on the next chapter in my life. Now being the primary household provider, my reaction was somewhat absurd to the norm. I was not fretting about my family’s impacted financial position, or that we were drowning in debts. The gift of time was all I focused on. I was finally in a position to quiet my mind and stabilise the frenetic pace I was living. I felt compelled to hire a coach, not to set goals or to find new employment, nor to consider a different career path. I qualified as a coach 13 years ago, and could naturally pivot my career. Instead, I enlisted a coach to feel through the wounds of my past. This was the first time I realised the thundering noise in my head was caused by my wild untamed monkey mind. I was drowning in a mind stream of thoughts, like a wild monkey jumping from one thought branch to the next. I was swinging in the chaos of my loud excessive mind chattering.
The monkey mind is the natural state of the mind. Our mindset is high entropy when we do not work on it. Meaning that it is high in chaos. Which also is another phrase for mind wandering. Therefore, we need to TRAIN the mind.
Training my monkey mind was pivotal if I was to have any semblance of mastery in my life. This is where I decided to embark on attending the silent Vipassana meditation course. On the way to the venue, my monkey mind was in full swing again. I was reflecting on a close friend’s sincere feedback that my timing was out. This was due to my recent conscious uncoupling from my spouse after 18 years of marriage. In addition, my older two kids were in the midst of writing mid-year exams. Feelings of guilt and doubt showed up as I pondered on whether she was right. Was I deserting my children at a time they needed me the most? Yet, how could I offer them anything concrete when my loud inner critic was an almost depleted vessel. The Vipassana technique is centred in objectively observing our thoughts, whilst also tuning into our respiration and physical body sensations. The intention being, to bring the mind and body into coherence, whilst connecting to the body’s natural physical sensations. This was the perfect antidote to quiet the inner monologue, by mastering my mind and purifying my thoughts.
I had three clear intentions, although I surrendered any outcome or expectations. One was to access past memories to help me write my memoir. I finally decided to write my book to share my story to inspire others to not remain a victim of their circumstances. The second was to release myself from a past identity of being a wife and having a complete family, much like a death and rebirth of the new me and the next chapter that lies ahead. Last but by no means least. I reached out to my children asking them to share honestly how I hurt or made them feel unloved, knowingly or unknowingly. I made a solemn pledge that I want to break the unconscious parenting cycle passed down to me, so that I can do better by and for them. Phew, this was by no means an easy ask, but they each were open and willing to share.
Vipassana day 0 -3
Sila (morality), Samadhi (concentration), Panna (wisdom/insight), are the principles of Vipassana, underpinned by the universal law of nature. Vipassana means “to see things as they really are.” It is a non-sectarian approach that follows no dogma, rites, or rituals, and only focuses on the highest form of awareness and self-purification. The primary objective of the technique is to master and purify the mind, which is where all human suffering emanates from.
Evolution occurs through self-observation. A pure mind is the key to unlocking and transcending human transformation, towards a life of peace, joy, love, compassion, and harmony.
The root cause of life’s misery is due to our constant craving, clinging, seeking, desires, and aversions, to which we become attached. We are prone to project our suffering and misery onto others. The technique aids in liberating one from the deep-seated mental defilements, being the root cause of the suboptimal relationships with ourselves and others!
When I finally arrived at the Vipassana centre, I felt at ease that I made the right decision to attend the course. The centre was nestled between the most magnificent mountains, with dense lush green bushes and an abundance of tall trees. The atmosphere had a vibrational energy which oozed with peace and tranquillity, which is exactly what I was looking forward to. During evening orientation, several fears showed up. The course coordinator mentioned we had to watch out for snakes, spiders, and scorpions, which were all my phobias yikes. What I was however most terrified by, was how I was going to manage no contact with my children for 10 days?
Noble silence started immediately after dinner and our first meditation practice commenced the same evening. We were instructed to observe the inhalation and exhalation of our breath, known as Anapana. We were reminded to disregard thoughts of seeking and aversion, yet I felt like I was in my very own Matrix mind movie, much like the actor Neo being offered the red or blue pill. I was in a major mind stream, even though our teacher advised us to only observe and not participate in our thoughts. I was spinning in a web of disempowering thoughts, feelings of imposter syndrome taking centre stage. I became the judge, jury & executioner sentencing myself to “Mind jail”! I was not capable of shutting down my chaotic flurry of thoughts, what was I even thinking of joining a self-mastery movement like this…
More to come in Part II