I haven’t blogged in an eternity. It has been difficult to share with people what I experienced a few weeks ago, and I’m still not sure I want to – or if this story will interest anyone. I feel I’ve become some sort of missionary – but please know that that is the last of my intentions. Without further ado – here’s the blog post.
Does sitting silently with 100+ strangers in the middle of nowhere for 7 days sound like a vacation to you? I don’t know if I was nuts out of my mind when I signed up, but it did indeed sound like the perfect getaway for this stressed out Telavivian.
From March 31 to April 6 I attended a Vipassana Retreat – a living meditation immersion, where from 5:30 am to 9:30 pm all time was devoted to sitting, standing, and walking meditation in the Theravada Buddhist tradition – conducted completely in noble silence.
I can say with certainty that attending this retreat (hosted by the incredible Tovana organization and led by Dharma teacher Christopher Titmuss) was one of the most moving experiences of my life.
For those who don’t know anything about Buddhism, I don’t want to go into detail here and risk boring or alienating you. What I would like to do is share with you even a small bit of what the experience was like.
Buddhism in 10 words:
There is suffering, and there is an end to suffering.
The Buddhist teachings, known as the Dharma (Dhamma in Pali), spoke so clearly to me. To even touch upon them in such brevity would be fruitless here. They tell of a “middle path,” not one of religion and not one of secular life – away from both the comforts of blind faith and competitive addictive materialism. The smallest summary – Buddhism is the most peace-loving and logical philosophy and practice I have ever encountered. And I stress philosophy and practice. Buddhism did not begin as a religion – it became one – probably contrary to what the historical Buddha would have wanted. This is not to say that all the religious Buddhists today are in the wrong. But I do want to communicate here is that you can be a good Jew, Christian, Muslim, or anything else, and still practice meditation, live by Buddhist ways. Never did we speak of God.
The meditations, difficult as it is to sit on your ass for 8+ hours every day, frustrating as it is to hear yourself silently repeating over and over, “why the fuck am I here,” eventually become incredibly beautiful experiences. I don’t think I have ever experienced such complete calm as I did then. After a few days, your senses become heightened. Smells, sounds, tastes – both within your body and without – become acutely fine-tuned. Silence, a scary concept for busy city dwellers, becomes a beautiful, no, a precious commodity.
Calmness – however – is not the goal of meditation. Vipassana means insight. If we can quiet all our voices, focus our minds, practice mindfulness, we then are in a position to really examine ourselves. Before I started meditating, I thought that it would be easy or boring or simply a tactic at reducing stress. Now I know it’s a difficult lifelong process. It is a process of learning how to end suffering. Because we all suffer in varying degrees – from the drudgery of work, to the annoyances of family, to the very fiber of our social structure of making it, making it big, buying it all, impressing the neighbors, becoming famous, seeking out the finest pleasures, and reviling all that is ugly and painful.
Coming back to Tel Aviv was not as difficult as I had expected. I believe this is because I learned to process fear differently. I wasn’t dreading the drudgery. I wasn’t scared of life after the calm. But I also didn’t know how to share what I experienced. I still don’t. I live with my sister, a beautiful human being, who I believe is governed by a lot of anger and self doubt. It would be highly unlikely that she would even want to begin to understand. Some friends gave me wide eyed, “oh my god she’s gone off the deep end and joined a cult,” expressions while politely nodding. Luckily, I found several groups to study and meditate with. I have meditated twice every day (or more, on days I have meetings and classes) for a month. For related reasons, but not ones altogether decided upon, I have not been eating any meat. I have been sleeping more, and I have found that the life I had found to be exceptionally dull, painful, and hopeless at times (time spent with yoga, wine, food, friends, good books being the exception), was all of a sudden not only tolerable, but beautiful. I wash dishes. I clean the cat box. I work at the computer. And I am fine. I do not suffer. As much. It is a process, after all. And boy oh boy, does it take time and learning.
I am stopping now. If you’d like to know more, please email me. If you’re in Tel Aviv and want to come with me to Dharma talks and/or learn how to meditate, email me. In all, dear readers of mine, please know that I am actually happier than I was. There are those few moments in our busy lives when we can stop and put a finger down and say, “here, now, I am happy.” I’m having more of those now than I’ve had in a long time.
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