Meditation and water are wedded for ever.
– Herman Melville
Whether we like it or not, stress is a part of life. Whether it’s unexpected heartbreak, getting fired, feeling let down, or illness and injury, the universe gives us whatever it is that it feels we need, even though we can’t always see the underlying purpose at first. There are many ways to cope with stress effectively: physical exercise, time management, and yoga, to name but a few. Even vitamins have been proven to help, including A, B12, and E.
My friend Alice, creator of an empowering, holistic fitness movement called Bellyfit, is well-versed in healthy living. She knows that having a positive outlook is a fundamental part of approaching hectic times more peacefully. She frequently posts inspirational notes on her Facebook page, like this one yesterday:
Life has a Plan for You.
It’s the plan that will bring you to the deepest realization of who you are…the Plan that will give your soul the highest degree of understanding, fulfillment, Love and solace.
It may not always be fun. It might not always be rainbows and sunshine, but it will be EXACTLY what YOUR soul needs to learn what it needs to learn.
Soften your ego.
Surrender to your heart.
KNOW that everything is as it should be according to Source, God, Goddess, The Great Mystery. You are being held by a Divine wisdom that is FAR beyond your Earthy understanding. TRUST.
Rejoice…you are ALIVE!!! THIS is the greatest blessing.
As much as social media can, at times, feel overwhelming, or unproductive, I do appreciate it for allowing me to share in people like Alice’s daily inspirational messages. She’s living her heart – it shows through her work, her outlook, and her impact on others. She’s also a big fan of meditation, along with Soma’s co-founder and CEO, Mike del Ponte.
I’ve mentioned before about Mike’s spiritual retreat in Thailand, where he participated in a 10 day vipassana meditation. It was after this, in addition to his other travel experiences, that Mike became motivated to achieve his change-making vision for Soma. Would he have been able to do it without the self-disicipline attained from the vipassana? Quite possibly, though I infer that it likely contributed to Mike’s success, in its own way. The effects of meditation are frequently subconscious, sometimes only apparent in retrospect.
Since I live in Northern Thailand at the moment, I have many friends here who have also tried this experience. As something I’ve considered doing in the past (and really look forward to trying, at some point in the future), vipassana touches on many aspects of healthy living — self-discipline, mindfulness, and expanding our perspectives on life.
If someone told you to sit still, in total silence, for 10 days, you might think they were sentencing you to a prison term. But in the context of vipassana, nearly two weeks of silent meditation can bring a new-found sense of peace; a detox for our minds. To me, the most rewarding part of engaging in this would be the sense of self-discipline inevitably gained. Discipline is one of those qualities that, in almost any situation, can help us reach our true potential. Coping effectively with stress is much easier when self-discipline comes naturally to us – or, when we find ways to more effectively structure our time and actions.
With self-discipline most anything is possible.
– Theodore Roosevelt
Aside from a modest donation, most 10-day vipassana retreats are offered free-of-charge in Thailand. Both foreigners and locals attend these retreats for the purpose of cleansing their minds, and strengthening their sense of spirituality. Others go for the adventure of committing to living outside the norm for a pre-determined length of time: this is a wonderful way to experience an outside-the-box situation, in a safe environment. The comfort of knowing there is an endpoint can be quite helpful in persevering through the challenging times. Almost exactly one year ago to this date, a close friend of mine, Shelley, did a retreat similar to Mike’s. This was a big deal for her, as discipline had not previously been something she considered to be one of her strong points. Her experience was profoundly affecting:
“10 days of silence. 10 days of meditating for 9 hours a day. It has left me currently just a tad meditated out. It was quite significant, quite wonderful, and quite…not quite sure yet. For sure the experience of sitting for one hour in absolute stillness for the first time resulted in the most pain I have ever experienced in my life. (…) During the next morning’s sitting there was no pain whatsoever, only the experience of feeling my skin as a thin, crispy coating protecting the gooey marshmallow that my insides had turned into. Then the spinning began, and the sensation of having completely lost balance and any connection to anything…”
To get a better picture of what this might have been like for Shelley, it helps to understand more about her. An ex-professional actress, her voice, facial expressions, and body language are integral aspects of her personality: it’s how she communicates with people, and with life itself. It is, as such, difficult for me to picture Shelley sitting silently, straight-faced, for 10 days. However, this challenge was her very intent. She was determined to see herself move forward in her quest for stronger discipline. Not for the purpose to achieve anything in particular, but simply to expand her inner-self, and outward actions. I really admire this. Shelley says,
“Vipassana is focused on the concept of equanimity – of accepting without judgment, whatever sensation or thought or whatever is occurring. There is to be no aversion to the pain, nor any craving for a lack of pain, just complete acceptance with the awareness that everything passes. Yes, pretty intense.”
This goes back to the notion of mindfulness that I’ve previously touched on in past posts: accepting — without judgment — any emotions, or physical sensations, however pleasant or unpleasant they may feel at first. Simply noticing and appreciating the presence of these thoughts and sensations enables us to enjoy a deeper truth in life — in all of its gloriously complex bitterness and sweetness. I can appreciate how influential 10 days of focused concentration on acceptance might be. Life-changing, perhaps. Or, at least spurning a significant change in one’s habits: a reduction in reflexive, emotional reactions; greater self-discipline; and increased ability to deal with pain are likely results. When asked if she’s recommend it, Shelley responded,
“Would I recommend it? Oh yes. It sets you on the path to mastering your mind and it instills discipline. That’s a thing that has never featured in my life before, ever. Well, hello discipline and welcome!”
Improving our self-discipline goes hand-in-hand with practicing mindfulness: it is quite difficult to practice the latter without having much in the way of the former. Strong self-discipline is also inherent to goal-setting, self-care, and setting up a daily routine conducive to our natural need for structure. I’ve no doubt that a meditation boot-camp, so to speak, may help many people to move forward in these areas. But, like everything else in life, it’s all about timing. Readiness is imperative; for I can think of little else as painfully uncomfortable as attempting to sit silently still for 10 days if one were not ready to embark on such a journey. Patience, empathy and compassion will surely help us on our way to diving into this deep world of inner stillness.
Have you ever tried vipassana? If so, please share your experience! It might help others to take the leap into attaining stronger self-discipline and perspective.
Whether you call it Buddhism or another religion, self-discipline, that’s important. Self-discipline with awareness of consequences.
– Dalai Lama