A lesson in flexibility (not failure!!)
I lasted a grand total of 26 hours at a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Which is surprising because I rarely ever quit. I’ve pushed through a 100-mile bike ride on two dodgy knees, endured a week-long juice fast and experienced tireless rejection as an actress. And yet I couldn’t conquer sitting in silence.
I trained for Vipassana like I trained for the marathon: I meditated every morning, preparing my mind and body for the challenge ahead. Sprinting off the start line, I quickly realised that this was a race I didn’t even want to run. Not so much a step too far but a leap in the wrong direction...
I sold the world a pretty pretentious mission statement: I said that I was going on Vipassana to see the inner workings of my mind. As if going backstage at a theatre and seeing all the different parts of the production: the props, the costumes, the set. I perfected this story to the point where I believed it myself and I began to view Vipassana as a fascinating psychological experiment, an exercise in deep self-understanding. Yet I quickly realised that going backstage in the mind isn’t fun or exciting. It’s a kill joy. It’s like going to a magic show and being told how the performer pulled off every trick. I didn’t realise how much I loved the façade, the magic, the smokescreen until I experienced Vipassana. One of Hollywood’s most successful franchises- ‘The Matrix’- taps into this very conundrum when lead character Neo must decide whether to stay in a computer-generated reality or take a pill to see the world as it really is. Whilst I’d love to tell the story of taking the red pill perhaps it’s only human nature to want to take the blue pill. And perhaps that's okay.
Fear of failure would have prevented this from happening a year ago. I would have stuck it out because that was what I should do. It’s what spiritual ‘somebodies’ would say and what society deemed acceptable: the world wanted a winner after all and I wanted to be a Vipassana victor. I wanted to emerge from solitude- like a solider returning from battle- and tell my survivor story. In fact, I encouraged distress and difficulty because that would add to the dramatic details of my heroic re-telling. Even though I’d prefer to say I signed solely to satisfy my curiosity, I’m certain that my ego played a big part: I wanted to wear my Vipassana experience like a badge of honour and show it off on my spiritual CV (because then 'TriYoga' would have to hire me!!) So in many ways quitting was a bolder move than braving it out because I had to overlook my ego in order to be true to me. Perhaps I had at some point desired to delve deep into my mind but now that was no longer what I wanted or needed. Just like our lives, our intentions are in constant motion and so a degree of flexibility is needed. Which brings to mind the Lao Tzu quote about a tree in the wind: if it’s too ridged it snaps, yet if it’s too slack it’s swept away.
I didn’t feel like a failure when I left Vipassana: I felt flexible and free. To leave, I had to listen to my Self and not only acknowledge, but accept my place along the path. A path that is infinite, unbounded and with no end goal, just endless opportunities to learn and grow. Spirituality is not just a process for self-discovery but a place for self-acceptance. So I'm aware that the work is working because I am owning where I am and who I am in the present moment.
Realising that the Vipassana experience wasn't what I wanted or needed, I disregarded my head and followed my heart’s hunger to leave. I followed my gut instinct to go.