After my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course

On Wednesday, August 9, I got up early, loaded my car, made a home visit to massage one of my regular clients, and drove from Austin to Kaufman, Texas, a 3.5 hour drive.

BTW, my client commented afterwards that it was really a great massage. He even had a waking lucid dream toward the end of the session. I attribute that to his learned ability to relax deeply while staying awake and to me having more presence and being more tuned into him and myself. I knew that for the next 10 days, I’d be stepping out of my everyday life and meditating quite a lot without distractions. I didn’t have my normal everyday thoughts about logistics (travel, meals, timing, errands), which made a huge difference in my ability to really be present. So it started before I even left town.

IMG_0175I arrived at the Southwest Vipassana Meditation Center near Kaufman mid-afternoon. I registered, was assigned a room in the women’s dorm, and surrendered my wallet and cell phone. I had left books, computer, and writing materials at home.

I unloaded my stuff and set up my room, which was small, furnished with an extra-long twin bed and a plastic chair and small table, with open shelves and a place to hang clothing, and a bathroom with a shower. And a big window looking out on trees and clothesline. Very simple and adequate, and yet this particular Vipassana center is considered one of the more luxurious centers worldwide. Continue reading

Day 1 of Byron Katie’s The Work: filling out the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet

Today I’m kicking off a 21-day challenge to do The Work of Byron Katie. She has invented a method that consists of four questions and three turnarounds that if used on your stressful situations, can transform your pain into inner peace.

My hunch is that if I do it deeply and often enough, it will change my life.

I saw Katie in person in Austin, TX, USA, a few weekends ago. I’ve seen her several times, and each time I get a lot out of doing The Work on whatever my issues are at the time.

Then I forget that I know how to do that!

Because it takes 21 days to change a behavior, I am committing to do The Work every day for that long so that it becomes habit whenever I find myself suffering from my thoughts.

I’ll be using the four questions and three turnarounds on her Judge Your Neighbor worksheet, which you can download and print, if you’d like to do The Work yourself.

I’ll also be consulting her book, Loving What Is, where she elaborates on her method.

Here are the questions with my answers on the worksheet:

  1. Think of a situation where someone confuses, angers, or disappoints me, and why. When I recently saw Katie, she asked if anyone was present who had never had the thought “he (or she) doesn’t care about me.” Not one person raised their hand. This is a distressing thought that everyone experiences at some point.  I’m going to use that thought to do my work.  I am disappointed with my father because he doesn’t care about me. Even though he died in 15 years ago, some thoughts about our relationship are still painful when I think of them.
  2. How do I want him to change? What do I want him to do? I want my father to see me for who I am. I want him to interact with me more, to be responsive. I want him  to show his affection and to have more fun, be playful, lighten up. I want him to give good guidance as a father about living in the world and being successful. I want to be closer to him. I want to feel really cherished. (Tears are coming into my eyes.)
  3. What advice would I offer him? He should enjoy his family more. He shouldn’t just withdraw and sit there oblivious to everything going on around him. He should spend time with just me and give me his full attention.
  4. In order for me to be happy in this situation, what do I need him to think, say, feel, or do? I need my father to think I’m special and tell me so, and why he thinks that. I need my father to feel proud of me and affectionate toward me. I need him to connect to me in a way that feel good to both of us.
  5. What do I think of him in this situation? Make a list. My father is depressed, withdrawn, neglectful, inattentive, dry, serious, selfish, closed off, shut down.
  6. What is it in or about this situation that I don’t ever want to experience again? I don’t ever want to feel so disconnected, frustrated, and helpless about someone I care about.

Okay, that’s it for today. My memories of when I was in high school, those last few years I lived at home, are so strong, I can smell the cigarette smoke in our home.

In my family, it was forbidden to rock the boat, to confront the parents. We all tiptoed on eggshells around him when he was disconnected.

Next: the first question.

How to create inner peace

This morning I woke early and sensed a shift in my energy.

Without thinking about it, I started happily organizing some accumulated clutter in my bedroom that I’d been procrastinating on. I even fixed a couple of broken things. I cleared some space, found good places for stuff, and created more visual order.

I found a business card I’d been looking for, someone who asked me to contact her once I got my massage license, which I did about a month ago. I’ll call her today. Yay.

I do care about having an orderly home, and yet managing stuff (even living in a trailer!) often gets the better of me.  I make it a low priority. It’s not that I’m a terrible slob, although I’m sure I am in someone’s eyes. I pile things up to deal with later. I start doing things and get distracted and don’t finish. I leave stuff out to remind me that it’s not “done”. Then I notice I have a lot of piles, and clearing them seems like drudgery of the worst kind.

Today I created order and completion without thinking about it, because something opened up. I felt more upbeat. I was observing myself, thinking, “Wow, I am behaving differently. I like this. I feel energized and productive. Something has shifted. What happened?”

This is what I attribute the shift to. (Or perhaps the stars had something to do with it.)

On Tuesday evening, I went to bed aware of how much I mentally obsess about problems. By obsess, I mean they occupy my attention during times when I am not actually communicating with the person I have issues with, or I am imagining how I will handle something in the future. I do this often, usually not making much progress.

This ruminating helps me get clearer about my feelings and what I want, but it also distracts me from being fully present. I’m “in my head”. I’m feeling tense and anxious. I’ve become a slave to my thoughts, especially my fears. I get stuck and then don’t know how to stop. And then I become aware of my state.

It’s a way that I create my own suffering. I’d like to get out of my own way.

I vowed to myself that night that since this habit doesn’t really serve me all that well (except when it does give me insight and direction), that I was going to do something different yesterday.

I decided to dissolve my preoccupation. That is, when I realized that I was not feeling happy and present and content because my mind was rehashing some issue and I was feeling lack of joy in my body, I would take an impression, a snapshot, of my full experience—the images and words in my mind and the feelings in my body representing the person or the problem—and imagine that whatever power gave it substance (Higgs boson?) simply withdrew from it.

I saw, heard, and felt it fall apart. Images of faces and places, my own internal dialogue about it, and the worries, fears, and stuckness I felt in my body all lost coherence, dimensionality, reality. They fell apart into a pile of atoms that were swept away by the solar winds.

If it’s all illusion anyway, you might as well make it work for you. You can dissolve the illusions that don’t bring inner peace, joy, and freedom. It’s like dissolving whatever is within that keeps me from fully occupying and experiencing myself in this moment.

Mind you, I’ve just been doing this for one day, and I only did it a handful of times, but that was enough to create the energy shift I felt this morning.

If you’d like to try this, here you go:

  1. Think of something that’s been worrying, preoccupying, or troubling you, something you feel anxious or disturbed about.
  2. Take a snapshot of your whole internal state, and notice how you represent it. Is it a memory or something you imagine happening in the future? What does it look like? Are you telling yourself about it in an internal dialogue or monologue? What sensation are you feeling and where is it in your body?
  3. Just like a movie scene dissolves or fades so another scene can begin, allow the images to dissolve into pixels, dust, atoms. Turn down the volume of the sounds and words until you hear silence. Tune into your body and the sensations you are actually feeling. Let the feelings drain down into the ground. Note: It’s important to really take your time with this step. First you acknowledge your internal visions, words, and sensations. Then you allow each one to exit in a way that works for you.
  4. Notice the absence of the preoccupation. What are you experiencing? If there’s anything else related to the original state, allow it to fully exit.
  5. Bring back the images, words, and/or feelings. How is this experience different from the first time?
  6. Dissolve them again. How is this different from the first time?
  7. Imagine that any time in the future, when you notice you are not being present/feeling happy/being preoccupied, you have this powerful tool to create inner peace at your disposal.

Reframing trauma recovery as detoxing the whole system

These days I’m thinking of trauma recovery more and more like detoxing.

We all know people — or even do this ourselves — who do fasts or cleanses to rid their bodies of toxins from too much sugar or alcohol, meat, or junk food, after taking drugs, after food poisoning, and so on. I’ve written about the colon/parasite cleanse and the liver/gallbladder flush on this blog. I’ve also done the Master Cleanse, once.

There’s a lot to be said for cleansing for getting rid of recent toxins as well as those that have accumulated in our systems over the years. The proof is feeling better afterwards. If you don’t feel better after doing a cleanse, don’t do it again. Try something else. Be good to your body. It works hard so that you may live and is taken for granted a lot.

Well, trauma recovery is like detoxing your entire system. It’s not so much getting rid of the toxins in your digestive system as letting the harsh, non-nourishing behavior and events that your whole system took in make their way back out of your system.

It may not be pretty, but it’s actually a good sign — it’s so much healthier than keeping it locked up inside, repressed, frozen.

I’m thinking now that there is a natural period after you are safe when you detox, unless you get stuck in a situation with no support for your detoxing, and that’s another story. You have a basis of comparison — safe versus non-safe — now. Because you are safe, you can start to relax. You might want to think, “Whew, that’s it. I’m safe now and can get on with my life.”

Well, that is true, and you will start to bloom. But you might not be prepared for stuff from the past unpredictably sneaking into the present and biting you on the butt. You might not be prepared for intense emotions that may arise. You might not be prepared for the cognitive reframing that occurs as your identity changes from victim to hero of your own journey.

You may sometimes feel pulled in various directions. It is unsettling.  It’s good to find a physical outlet that grounds you. Yoga, bicycling, and walking were all helpful to me. Those things are healthy to do anyway, but it really helps to feel like you have control of some part of your life (your body) at a time when your mind/heart/spirit are in such flux. Exercise/movement is grounding, and the sweat help you detox. Your system wants to release that stuff.

You may reach equilibrium that feels like a few days of inner peace, and then something else — a memory, a dream, a trigger — may come up for you to experience and integrate, bringing you to a new equilibrium, and that cycle repeats, with the periods of equilibrium getting longer and longer. Actually, it’s life.

You  eventually reach a state where the past pretty much stays in the past unless you decide to delve in.

My advice: Let it arise as it arises, because it will do that anyway. It’s a process; it takes time. Notice and honor it. Document it, even — at least write down your dreams.

And it might be good to let a few people know. Ask for help if you need it, and definitely ask for support. You have mine.