Category Archives: Personal Growth

10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation in Joshua Tree, California

It had only been two weeks since I came back from the Amazonian jungle.  My first week home was spent recovering from traveler’s diarrhea, and with only one week left, I had secretly hoped that I would book a commercial or modeling job to get out of going to this Vipassana retreat.  I was mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted.  Under the circumstances, the thought of meditating in absolute silence for 10 days without being allowed to read, write, exercise, do yoga, listen to music, use my phone, use the internet, take photos, take drugs, or drink alcohol was unappealing.  Thank goodness I didn’t let that scare me off because it was my most profound experience of 2013.

I didn’t know a single soul at this retreat so I was essentially surrounded by strangers with at least one thing in common:  We all wanted to practice Vipassana.  I thought that the silence would drive me to insanity but instead it was my sanctuary.  All of the societal pressures to engage in conversation and make eye contact were forbidden.  This was surprisingly refreshing and relaxing.  I savored every moment of it.

Here’s the daily schedule:

4:00 am Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
11:00-12:00 noon Lunch break
12noon-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher’s instructions
5:00-6:00 pm Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm Teacher’s Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall
9:30 pm Retire to your own room–Lights out

 

The only required activities were the three daily group sits. Based on this schedule one could meditate anywhere from 3 to 11+ hours per day. I averaged about five and a half hours. I had experience in different styles of meditation, but I hadn’t seriously meditated in a long time. Every time I tried to practice in the privacy of my room, I dozed off right away. I made the most achievements with my meditation practice when I joined my fellow meditators in the group hall.

Now, scroll back up to the first photo in this post. Take a look at the left side of the picture. See that strange thing hanging on the wall? I started creating that on Day 5 of my silent meditation retreat. That was the day I began acting a little bit kooky out of sheer boredom. On the morning of Day 5 I felt a strong urge to break out of my monotonous routine. At this point I was wearing my dark purple, fleece robe all the time. I practically lived in that thing. That morning I decided to style my hair into two braided pigtails using facial tissue as ribbons in the hopes that I would like Pocahontas, but instead I looked more like a mental patient. I was fascinated by the possibilities of tissue. I had rummaged through everything in my toiletries bag looking for more art supplies. Bingo! I had found a pocket-sized sewing kit and an unusual number of hair ties. I grabbed a beautiful, dead branch from outside. This was the final outcome of my project:

meditation

I experienced some of the most excruciating pain of my life while I was there.  I initially blamed the throbbing pain in my left shoulder-blade on a crappy bed I had slept on while I was in the Amazon.  To my surprise, I discovered that most of my misery was coming from my mind.  I only fed the fuel of my pain by blaming it on something outside myself.  It wasn’t until the second day that I was taught how to not only neutralize but eliminate my suffering.  It wasn’t easy.  I almost screamed in agony in a room of 60 meditators at one point.  As I developed my practice for eliminating my physical pain, I went through waves of  burning discomfort and solace. By Day 6, I had considerably reduced my pain and by Day 10, I was pain-free.

I had heard of cases where people experienced such anger that they wanted to kill their teacher.  I even knew of one person who had to leave a Vipassana retreat early, because she had a mental breakdown.  And then I met a woman who had been going to retreats consistently  three times a year for nine years.  She spoke to me with the enthusiasm of an excited child on Christmas morning.  Another friend couldn’t put into words how much Vipassana had changed his life for the better.  My experience was a positive one.  This has been by far the most effective form of meditation I have ever practiced.  Vipassana not only brought harmony and equanimity into my life it also uprooted some of my suffering.  It did all of this without any religious ties or blind faith because it is based on logic, reason, and science.

My journey will look, feel, and ultimately be very different from yours should you decide to experience it for yourself, and I recommend that you do.  It isn’t about comparing, judging, or trying to make your experience look a certain way; it is about being present, non-judgmental, compassionate, and patient.   It has been one of the most profound and dare I say enlightening experiences I have ever had.

Can you believe that Vipassana retreats operate on a donation-only basis?  Believe it.  Meals, lodging, accommodations, and teachings are all free.  Donations should be based on your means and volition.  10-Day Courses run all year round and fill up quickly, so try to sign up several months in advance.

Team Cracker Barrel: The Ultimate Abo Experience with Cody Lundin

Smooth, fist-sized stones work very well as a toilet paper substitute.  I would know because I had to wipe my ass with stones for nine days.  Avoid the jagged stones or learn the hard way.  If you use rocks smaller than your fist you may get poo on your hand.  Take off your underwear and pants completely before pooping in the desert.  You may accidentally get crap on your clothes and that’s just embarrassing.  Not that I would know.  I’m just sayin’.

This was one of my first lessons in my primitive living skills course.  My instructors:  Mark Dorsten, Director of Field Operations & Logistics at Aboriginal Living Skills School, and Cody Lundin, Founder & Main Instructor of Aboriginal Living Skills School, and star of the Discovery Channel TV show, Dual Survival.  The other tribe members:  10 men.  I was the only woman.  Most of them were from the South.  Several of them had a military background or a military mentality at the very least.  I was raised by a single father in the Marine Corp so I felt right at home.  What I wasn’t prepared for was all the farting.

In late September 2013 my husband, Dean, and I drove to Prescott, Arizona to partake in a primitive living skills course called The Ultimate Abo.  No cell phones; no electronic devices allowed.  We spent the first six days making all of the things we would need to survive the last three days of the course.  We made bow drill sets, which we would used to make our own fire.  We used hot embers to make bowls; cottonwood to carve spoons; notched willow branches and parachute cord to construct our packframes.  We cut, dried, and tied cattail together to make mattress pads.  We spent an entire day weaving several feet of jute which we would later use as straps for our packframe, and for some of us, a canteen strap as well.  We cleaned and carved gourds to make our own canteen complete with cork.  We learned how to process the inner fibers of branches to make cordage which would serve multiple purposes including the making of a dead-fall trap.  We were expected to hunt, gather, and forage for our own food on the last three days.  We ate cattail, dandelion greens, parasitic oak; and went clamming and grass hopper hunting.  With the help of another tribe member, I caught and ate a mouse!

One of the most important things I learned was how to properly hold and use a knife.  It’s incredible how much pleasure one can derive from making things using only a knife and some branches.  My biggest victory was making fire.  I was just about to give up because everyone else in my group had successfully made fire with their bow drill sets and tinder bundles.  I struggled.  I found it near impossible to use my bow drill set, because I wasn’t strong enough to get my spindle spinning…or so I thought.  It wasn’t until the fifth day when one of the other tribe members noticed that my cordage was tied rather tight on my bow.  He adjusted the tension and I gave it another go.  Booyah!  I was creating smoke in less than a minute and soon after that I had a fat ember in my tinder bundle.  I carefully and steadily blew until I had a flame.  I was so overwhelmed with happiness that I started to shake and cry, and as a result I blew out my flame.  Quickly, I regained my focus and produced another flame.  I had made fire.

This was my favorite trip of the year.  It helped me achieve my goals of being more self-sufficient and independent.  The camaraderie of our tribe, even if only for 9 days, was so nourishing.  We were a team.  We depended on each other to work and function as one unit.  We had to share in all of the responsibilities from fetching water to cooking meals to gathering firewood.  We all had different strengths and weaknesses so every one of us was a valuable asset to the group.  This experience brought my husband and I closer together, because it brought out the very best in us.

At night, around the campfire we didn’t talk about personal stories, hopes, dreams, or goals.  We talked about food.  The Southerners of our group started talking about Cracker Barrel and it didn’t stop until well after the trip was over.  If we had turned it into a drinking game and took a swig every time someone said the name Cracker Barrel we would all be dead from alcohol poisoning.  But thankfully, we did not.  And on the evening of the ninth day, our tribe went to the local Cracker Barrel and ordered every breakfast item, buttery biscuits, and Chicken n’ Dumplins.