I did it. I got off my ass, and got on my ass.
Not long ago, I went to the Vipassana Center of Quebec, and took their 10-day silent meditation retreat. Vipassana means “to see things as they really are.” The course stripped away a lot of ignorance which I carried around as if it was reality. It is a fascinating way to grow in understanding of the body: any yoga practitioner would benefit from it. Bryan Kest recommends it, and Jack Kornfield teaches it. Vipassana is meditation as the Buddha taught it.
Anyway, STFU Fest is a symphony in silence. A rhapsody in reverie. It was life- changing and mind expanding. Here’s why to do it.
1) Awesome Food.
Vegetarian and delicious. Breakfast is eggs for the egg noshers, and a delicious morning oatmeal/porridge hybrid and a huge hodgepodge of everything you ever wanted to put on it, from bananas and raisins to nutritional yeast and Braggs, for the vegan types. There is also warm fruit compote, for those twisted enough to ingest it. It’s like being back on the commune, (and you don’t need to have lived on a commune to groove on the cellular, ancestral memory). Lunch is dinner, the evening meal is fruit. You don’t hunger, you eat well, and you grow lighter.
2) Meditate your balls off.
There are 10 hours of daily meditation. Not as hard as it sounds. The Vipassana as taught by S.N. Goenka meditation is gentle
and unobtrusive. There is no emphasis on posture or mental discipline. We were given guidance to focus on the body, beginning with three days of the breath, then moving to more subtle sensations. Check my boy out:
“When one experiences truth, the madness of finding fault with others disappears.”
I mean, hey.
Nobody bats an eye if you need to get up to walk around, or hit the bathroom. There is no roving teacher making sure you are sitting right. In my course, all the participants appeared to approach the work with sincerity, and I did not feel judged. I felt honored to be part of this community of grateful seekers. Here’s another, just for fun:
“Vipassana is not a check to be cashed later in heaven—the benefits are for this life—right here right now!”
3) It’s Free.
Yeah, you heard me right. Free as a basket of baby kittens, my love, free as pant-length tailoring when you buy the black Armani suit. The retreat includes 10 days, a bed, (dorm style) and meals, vegetarian. They charge you nada.
They are living the motto of my little studio in Mexico: “Practice First, Pay Whatever.”
The centers operate on a “pay it forward” basis. At the end of the retreat, you are invited, not ever asked, mind you, to give some money. That invite consists of a table, one of several, at the final feast, where, if you want, you sit and write a check. You are never asked to give, and if you don’t give anything, nobody confronts you on that.
I was short of funds, and very curious. I wrote them a check for a hundred bucks, for my 10-day stay, wondering if I would get thrown out, or at least a snarky comment. Not so much as an eye-roll, I tell ya. The guy smiled and said he liked my Felix the Cat check design. Go figure.
4) It will obliterate and rebuild you.
I spent the first two days ruined, weepy and convinced I was a total faker, who only came on this retreat to appear holy to other people. I had carpooled to Quebec and had no choice but to stick it out. So I did. There is a meditation teacher, and you are allowed to ask questions privately. (Highly recommended!) I told him my fears and how I thought I was out of place here, out of my league. He said to be content, and just enjoy the 10 days, like a gift. So I did. I decided that if I failed to get a moment of bliss or a glimpse of peace in these ten days, it was not going to be because I shirked on meditation time. I took it on.
Things got better. In the coming days, I became very quiet, the whole community grew less scary and warmer, and meditation grew into a simpler act. On day 8, a moment of bliss happened. I understood why some yogis never do anything to harm their bodies. Gratitude and deep joy from simple, intense observation overtook me. That moment is everything.
It gave me freedom from want, forever. It gave me long lingering joy. It gave me a sense that there is no need to grasp for anything, ever, a knowing that everything one could wish for is immediately at hand. Then a half a second later, it gave me a sense of impermanence by moving along,deserting me to my good old monkey mind.
5) You are so off the hook for anything.
No cell phones, no writing, no other practices, no non-verbal communication. The only only thing expected of you is to meditate and be quiet. You are even asked not to make eye contact. This is you, on your journey, with company, yes, but without interaction. There is a rare freedom which this bestows.
6) No religion. No cult. Nothing to do or pay or follow. Really.
“The only conversion involved in Vipassana is from misery to happiness, from bondage to liberation.”
7) It is not for advanced practitioners only.
People were piling pillows up all over the place. Some left the meditation hall for their dorm rooms. There was very little judgement in the air, it felt to me like everyone was serious, and nobody was showing off. The community I lucked into was a quiet group of guys, looking for deeper understanding, no more, no less. (Guys and gals are separated, then come together again on day nine, when we all speak once more.) When I got over my initial fear, I was as welcome as could be.
I am a genuine advocate of this course. Writing this inspired me, so that’s one. I signed up free for a 10-day this April, in Mass. There are free courses in 16 states at that link, and more worldwide. You can sign up free, cancel or attend free, and there is even a carpool forum. My ride to Quebec from New York was with a cool computer math professor at CUNY, it rocked.
From what I can see, this group simply wants people to meditate. I got one email inviting me to join internet forums and to volunteer for service in Quebec. That was it. There is something pure in this thing. No ads, no “pipeline,” no marketing. And thankfully, no freaking gift shop with yoga clothes and incense. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Give it a shot, if you can swing the 10 days, and let me know what you thought. This thing is the real deal.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta