When I arrived at Vipassana I felt like a walking zombie. I still wasn’t sure why I was there. And I definitely didn’t know how ten days of silence could possibly solve all my problems and misery. Damn, I didn’t even know if I’d last the ten days.
But there I was.
Somewhere out in the middle of Pomona.
Checking in for ten days of silence.
And signing an agreement to follow the strictest code of discipline I’ve ever read in my life.
- following the five precepts for the entire duration of the course: to abstain from killing any being, stealing, all sexual activity, telling lies and all intoxicants.
- discontinuing other forms of worship, meditation techniques or rituals (burning sage, tarot cards, reciting mantras etc)
- honouring the nobel silence
- no physical contact
- dressing in plain loose clothing
- no yoga and physical exercise
- no writing, music or reading
- no technology or electrical devices
- no contact with the outside world
- no religious objects, rosaries or crystals, and
- adhere to the course timetable
While people were introducing each other and starting to make conversations with one another, I immediately went looking for my allocated room. I was not in any mood for any introductions. Or any smiles. Or any eye contact. And I definitely wasn’t in the mood for a roommate.
So when I finally found my allocated room and discovered she wasn’t there yet, I was relieved. So relieved that I dropped my bags at the end of the bed on the right side of the room, pulled my sleeping bag out, curled into a fetal like position and quietly cried myself to sleep.
Meeting my roommate.
I awoke abruptly to the sound of my roommate blasting through the room at a hundred miles an hour. The room was almost dark. She didn’t see me until she flicked on the light. And when she did, my presence scared the shit out of her.
It was then that I realised it was ‘her’.
The girl who caught my eye while I was walking up to my room.
The girl whose laughter echoed in my ears longer than I desired.
The girl whose presence left an imprint on my brain.
The girl who spiked my curiosity in more ways than I can explain.
And now she was my roommate.
This was the moment I started to question if the Universe was seriously messing with me. I was already questioning everything I ever thought about love and relationships and marriage and monogamy. I didn’t need to add any more confusion to my already complicated life. That’s why a ten day silent retreat was such a great place for me because the chances of connecting with another human being were near impossible.
But it had already began.
From the moment I first noticed her to the moment I learnt she was my roommate, I could feel my attraction towards her…especially when I learnt she was a lesbian.
Do I stay or do I go?
After our formal group introduction to explain the purpose of the next ten days, we all congregated out the front of the Dharma Hall. Men were on the left side of the hall and women were on the right. We were called on one by one and silently shown our allocated meditation spots. I was in the second back row.
Some moments passed before the teacher entered the room. He took his meditation seat front and center on the stage. Then he scanned his eyes around the room before closing them and dropping into meditation. I assumed that was an invitation to close my eyes. So I did…wondering if there were going to be any instructions.
Suddenly, a loud chanting blared through the speakers.
My eyes shot open and quickly scanned around the room. “What the fuck is this? Where the fuck am I? Why the fuck am I even here?”
For a split moment I considered leaving. I saw myself leave the Dharma Hall, grab all my things from my room and make a run for the exit never to return again. Except, when I left the premises I realised I had nowhere else to go. Home was not an option. I only just left. Nothing had been resolved. I didn’t have any answers. I was still depressed and confused. There was no way I was returning to my life in this state.
So Vipassana it was.
In the next split moment, I saw myself walk back to my room to drop off my bags then make my way back to the Dharma Hall where I took my allocated seat. The instant this imaginary part of me merged with my body, which remained seated in the Dharma Hall the whole time, I felt a sense of peace wash over me.
There was no more fighting.
There was no more running.
There was no more denying.
There was no more pretending.
I had no idea why I was here but I didn’t care any more. I just wanted to be happy again. So I finally closed my eyes down and I whispered ever so gently, “Universe, give me what you’ve got.”
My life as a meditator.
The first three days were devoted to anapana, a technique where you observe only the breath at the inner rims of your nostrils and just above your upper lip. A small concentrated area. A singular focus. Mental precision.
The first two days felt easy. I was so numb that I barely felt anything. I had no preferences. I had no frustrations. My body just showed up at the right time at the right place. And when meditating wasn’t compulsory, I slept or showered.
For a moment there life was simple and consisted only of sleeping, meditating, eating and showering.
I liked it. Except I still felt like a walking zombie who was obsessing over my complicated and confusing life.
Breaking the silence with my roommate behind closed doors.
Just like that we burst out laughing (silently, of course!).
To this day I can’t remember what triggered that laughter. All I remember is that the harder we tried to avoid each other the harder it was to not notice each other.
Day four was the last day we lived together in silence. From there on in we didn’t go a day without laughing, the kind of laughing where you can’t breathe, your cheeks cramp, your abs get a workout like never before and you try your hardest not to pee your pants.
On day four, the technique progressed. We went from observing the breath to observing sensations all over the body. It required more focus, more awareness and more feeling.
The next few days brought out the worst in me. All sorts of crazy sensations were arising in my body. And with them were coming a roller coaster of emotions.
Some sessions had me so restless and agitated that I would storm out of the hall wishing I could just scream at the top of my lungs. Other sessions had me sitting there with tears streaming down my face as I held my seat and allowed myself to be with the pain that was arising deep from within my body. These sessions walked a fine line between being cathartic and being tortuous. I’m not sure which ones I enjoyed more.
And then one day I had the perfect meditation. A full hour of stillness. A full hour of my body merging into the earth beneath me and the air around me. A full hour of total bliss. I felt like I had just discovered a new charging station where energy would pulsate over me and revitalise every single cell in my body. I had never felt so alive! Finally!!
From here on in, I took this whole meditation thing more diligently. After all, our meditation teacher reminded us every single session to, “Work diligently…diligently. Work patiently and persistently…patiently and persistently. And you’re bound to be successful…bound to be successful”.
Sounded good to me.
Awakening my soul behind closed doors.
“You are at a silent retreat. You are married. Your life is already complicated enough. What the fuck are you doing?” said the voices in my head.
Yet, there I was, in her bed, under the covers, laughing so hard and yet so quietly trying desperately to catch my breath. I was breaking all the rules, on so many levels and yet I couldn’t pull myself away. My curiosity felt like a magnet and the more I surrendered to the pull the more I felt like I was coming back home to myself.
And then it happened.
My hand met hers.
And a jolt passed through every atom of my being.
Time stood still.
And I couldn’t tell where my body started and where hers began.
It felt so familiar and yet it felt so crazy.
I was a woman.
And so was she.
But it all felt so right.
Between moments of total stillness and silence on the meditation cushion and moments of total ecstasy and soul intimacy behind closed doors, a whole new level of questioning started to enter my sphere of consciousness. The kind of questions I had heard before but never paid any attention to because I thought they were so absurd.
Yet everything was coming full circle and my sexuality was taking center stage.
The evening discourse that changed my perspective.
Just like that it hit me. Like a slap across the face.
I created this misery.
It was me.
It was all me.
I was the one choosing to lie over and over again.
I was the one choosing to hide behind the beautiful facade.
I was the one choosing to pretend everything was okay.
I was the one choosing to hold on to a life that didn’t belong to me.
I was the one choosing to live like this.
The enormity of this realisation is enough to send someone back into miserable paralysis. But when it lands in that sweet spot in that sweet moment this realisation can be one of epic empowerment. And so it was for me because the next realisation I had was this: “If I created this misery, then I can undo this misery”.
Unfortunately, my ego grabbed a hold of that concept and did what she knew best. She grabbed those reigns in one swift swoop and began to “take control” of her life…mentally. For the next few days I was obsessed with ‘mentally’ fixing all that was broken and ‘mentally’ making right all that was wrong.
(Insider note: Ahhhh…looking back now, 3 years on, I want to dive back right here in this moment just so I can wrap my arms around her and tell her the only way this is going to get ‘fixed’ is if she musters up the courage to let the reigns go all together. But this lesson was to come at a later date.)
As I was saying goodbye to everyone, I realised she was nowhere to be found. I checked the room, the bathroom and the dining hall but I couldn’t find her.
Taking in the realisation that I might not get to say goodbye, I headed for the car park as my family would be arriving any moment to take me home. That’s when I found her. Fifty meters away, heading from her car back to the entrance of the retreat where I was standing.
The moment we saw each other I couldn’t stop smiling. I was about to say something to her when suddenly I heard “Muuuuuum!”
I looked to my left and saw my kids beautiful happy faces running towards me. And then I saw my husband.
Meanwhile, she just walked straight past me and my heart dropped. This was one of those sliding door moments.
As we drove off that day, I felt like the past ten days were like a crazy dream. But something in me had changed because I could finally feel again. My heart was full of gratitude, my spirit was alive and my soul was awakened.
As for my future, it was totally unknown.
In the end.
Within a few weeks of being home my life changed.
I resigned from work and closed the door on my career as a Group Fitness Teacher.
My marriage ended and I soon moved back in with my parents.
And I took the biggest leap of my life: falling in love with a woman and beginning a new life.
Vipassana was the catalyst. It was and still remains to be one of the most profound moments of my life.
I didn’t just learn a new meditation technique; I remembered how to come back home.
I didn’t just learn how to sit still for hours; I remembered how to hold my seat and accept reality as it is.
I didn’t just learn that my misery was my own doing; I remembered that I always have the power to choose.
I didn’t just learn how to embody presence; I remembered that the real power is in the here and now.
Every cell in my body had been recalibrated and re-programed. I was not the same woman that walked into that retreat. That woman set herself on fire and rised from the ashes, like the mythical phoenix.
Finally, I heard the whispers of my heart and was living my truth wholeheartedly.
Finally, I was free.