10 days on a Vipassana retreat changed my life and I learnt some very important life lessons.
Because when you spend 15,000 minutes in your own head and a 100 hours meditating, you get to know yourself pretty damn well.
The 5 key life lessons I learnt:
- Be Present
- Slow down
- Be kind to yourself
- Unpack your grief
Life Lesson 1: Be Present
Being present is like going from SD to HD.
Everything becomes brighter and more vivid because you’re able to focus on the moment you’re in.
Whether it was eating breakfast, brushing my teeth or walking in nature I was able to be 100% present, not off in my head recalling stories and memories from my past.
Or lost in a world of daydreams about the future.
I was fully connected.
I was present.
And that feeling was pure happiness.
When sitting somewhere in silence for 10 days meditating it’s a lot easier to stay present.
The challenge is when you’re back in the real world because the real world is constantly bombarding you with things that call for your attention.
And your mind very quickly becomes distracted by the busyness of modern life.
It’s busy thinking about the never-ending to-do list to get done.
It’s distracted by your phone’s notifications or by the world whizzing by.
It’s thinking about conversations with friends & colleagues.
It’s planning your next holiday, next party or next project.
It’s constantly planning, thinking and doing.
Instead of being in the moment.
Instead of being present.
So having a mediation practice can be extremely useful because meditation helps you stay focused and present with whatever you’re doing.
And what you’ll often find when you become more aware of your mind and what it’s up to, is that when you’re doing an activity or task a lot of the time you won’t be focusing on what you’re actually doing.
You’re off thinking about other things, other tasks you have to do or you’re busy making other plans.
As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn says,
‘Are you washing the dishes? Or are you washing the dishes’?The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hahn
Life Lesson 2: Slow Down
The ferocious pace of modern life made me feel anxious and stressed and I wasn’t enjoying that feeling.
Rushing made me anxious.
Meeting tight deadlines made me stressed.
So when all you have to do for 10 days is stroll a few hundred meters from your room to the meditation hall, to the shower block or to get some food from the dining hall, there really is nothing to rush for.
Nothing to stress about.
At the beginning of the retreat I saw someone eating their porridge with a teaspoon and I thought, ‘What a weirdo’! Who eats porridge with a teaspoon?’
But then it clicked.
No need to rush.
Just slow down.
So I did.
So I started eating my porridge with a teaspoon. Savouring every mouthful. And that bloody porridge was DELICIOUS.
Seriously, when I went back for my next retreat it was something I was looking forward to!
Enough about porridge…back to slowing down…
There’s a real pleasure in slowing down (and eating porridge obviously).
When you slow down it feels like you’re gliding through life. Everything feels effortless.
Sadly this feeling dissipates once you’re back in the real world.
It’s pretty hard not to get caught up in the pace of modern life. Especially in a big city like London where I was living at the time.
But that feeling stays with you and every now and again you come back to it.
You remember to take your time.
You remember to slow down.
Life Lesson 3: Be Kind to Yourself
When you have nothing to do but observe your thoughts you become acutely aware of the conversations in your head.
Aware of your inner critic.
And what you realize is that the language you use to talk to yourself is often pretty shitty, which was something I wasn’t really conscious of.
Have you noticed your inner critic?
The Inner Critic
Negative self-talk was a pretty common theme throughout my 10 days.
And it became pretty evident that it had been a constant theme throughout my life.
I’d punish myself when I go lazy or slacked off.
I’d get frustrated when I didn’t finishing things I’d started…or didn’t start the things I wanted to.
I’d beat myself up for not sticking to my exercise regime or diet.
Ruminating when things didn’t go well at work or I made a mistake.
Criticising myself for not being further ahead in my career. In life.
What I noticed is that the inner critic packs a punch.
Tough-Love and Self-Compassion
We are often our harshest critic, but most of the time it’s for shit we wouldn’t give anyone else a hard time for, so why do we do it to ourselves?
There are times when you need to show yourself a bit of tough love.
But where I was struggling, and where I feel many of us struggle, is in showing self-compassion.
I needed to be kinder to myself.
I feel we ALL need to be kinder to ourselves.
It wasn’t until I sat and listened to myself for 10 days that I figured that out.
Life Lesson 4: Unpack Your Grief
My Dad died when I was 6 years old and memories of him came bubbling up and so too did the grief.
As I sat there meditating on Day 8 a waterfall of tears streamed down my face and the release was powerful.
I surrendered and allowed the tears to flow out until they’d naturally run their course. It felt fucking great.
Half an hour later I left the hall to watch the sunrise.
My heart was heavy.
But I felt lighter.
The Affect of Grief
When you carry unresolved grief it can affect so many areas of your life.
The way you think about things.
The way you approach your life.
One of the key benefits of doing a Vipassana retreat is that you have time and space to get to the root of your pain and suffering.
You might think you are unhappy, angry or sad about one thing, but when you really dig down into it it’s usually due to something far more deeply buried from your past.
And when you uncover it you gain some clarity as to how it has shaped your life.
And for me, the root of many of my issues stemmed from my unresolved grief.
And the ways the grief played out in my life were many.
I suffocated my emotions.
Burying them with food.
Escaping them through partying.
I developed negative self-talk, depression and anxiety.
And later on it developed into an obsession with my health and lifestyle choices.
Breaking Down Bad Habits Created by Trauma
By becoming aware of these issues on my Vipassana retreat the unconscious became conscious.
I became aware of the habits and patterns created by my past trauma.
Habits and patterns that were dictating my life.
Facing pain of this magnitude is one of the hardest things you can do because it feels like you’re reliving the same painful experience again.
But each time you face it, the load gets lighter.
And each time you unpack it, you feel a bit more inner peace.
Facing my grief properly for the first time in my life during these 10 days was just the beginning.
I came to realise that by ignoring it and stuffing it away was holding me back.
And the more time I’ve spent allowing myself to feel the pain of the past, the more I’ve been able to let go of the negativity this trauma had created in my life.
Through doing the consistent work to unpack my grief, I’ve been able to let go of an experience that had been holding me back from creating the life I wanted to.
And as I’ve let go of this trauma, I’ve been able to let go of the negative lens that had been shaping my view on life so I could begin to see my life through a lens with a positive view.
Life Lesson 5: Love
Sometimes meditation can deliver a big bag of shit.
But sometimeS, it can deliver pure LOVE.
LOVE for your friends.
LOVE for your family.
LOVE for your partner.
LOVE for the person who makes you coffee.
LOVE for your next-door neighbour whether you know them or not.
LOVE for your colleagues whether you like them or not. Because by reconnecting with yourself through meditation, you connect with the feeling of love.
And most importantly of all, the feeling of LOVE FOR YOURSELF.
Because you’ve healed some wounds from the past and let go of some negative habits and patterns.
Because you’ve learnt to be kinder to yourself.
Because you’ve come to realise that we all fuck up, that we all make mistakes and get it wrong sometimes.
And that we’re all trying our best to navigate our way through life.
All doing our best to figure it out and do the best we can, and be the best we can.