A couple of weeks ago, my boyfriend and I drove up to Yosemite from Los Angeles to celebrate my birthday. On our way there, we passed by a familiar road to the California Vipassana Center, located in the Sierra Mountains just 30 miles south of Yosemite.
It was exactly seven years ago that I went to my first Vipassana meditation retreat, also around my birthday. At that time I was working in investment banking, doing sophisticated financial modeling. Life was good and I really had nothing to complain about. But I’d always felt a wild animal trapped inside me wanting to come out and shake up my seemingly calm and uneventful life.
I didn’t know what it was. I was searching… It all started when I met an acquaintance who had just came back from a Vipassana meditation retreat. He described his experience as something like this: “I just felt all the knots in my body pop open and relax.” “How cool is that,” I thought, “I’d like to go one day.”
Several months passed, my birthday was approaching, and all of the sudden I felt a powerful and irresistible calling for me to go to the meditation retreat. I didn’t know why. In hindsight, I know now that I was about to embark on a journey that was going to transform my life forever.
Even propelled by the strong desire, I had fear and doubt. Up until that point, my meditation experience was limited to five minutes – 15 minutes was a real stretch for me. So I hadn’t the faintest idea how I was going to be able to meditate for 10 hours a day for 10 days, without talking, reading, or using a cell phone!
I told my office that I might be back in three days, trying to give myself a way out in case I couldn’t make it all the way through. But I stayed…
And sitting for such a lengthy amount of time without any external stimulus, I was forced to turn inward, completely.
There were times of severe discomfort, excruciating pain grinding into my back and joints. I was stunned to discover that there could be so much pain in me. There were also moments of complete bliss, a total embrace with all there is, time and space merging into the most indescribable joy I’d ever experienced…
“Anicha, anicha, anicha…” I heard my teacher Goenka G. saying in the background. In Sanskrit (the ancient Indian language), “anicha” means “this too shall pass.” And “Vipassana,” the meditation taught by Buddha 2,500 years ago, means “to see reality as it is.”
Pain and joy come and go, rising and passing away. It’s the nature of change. If we hang onto either one when its change is inevitable, we suffer unnecessarily. So the Vipassana meditation is aimed at training our mind to see and accept things as they truly are, while maintaining our equanimity.
It may be hard to believe, but this meditation retreat remains one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life, and it’s also one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.
It showed me a path that led to the discovery of who I am and what I’m here to do. And it gave me a great tool to reconnect with my center whenever I experience stormy weather in the external world.
It was the beginning of a journey for sure….
So in October 2011 when I passed by California Vipassana Center, I couldn’t help but reflect on my journey over the past seven years – how much I’ve learned and grown, and how grateful I am for this amazing journey, both internally and externally…