June 27, 2012 – Doing what Terrifies Me
“Well?” I demand impatiently of my sister Jesse, “How was it?” It’s February and she’s just returned from a ten day Vipassana meditation course held in Kaufman, Texas. She’d told me she’d be going and I’ve been living through the time with curiosity.
“It was the best and hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she replies. “You should do it too!”
“Tell me all about it,” I say. If Jesse says something is hard then I know to watch out. She’s hardcore. Tough is her middle name. If she says something’s good it probably is. Her recommendations for books, films, articles, and life adventures have always been spot on. A new passion and joy vibrates through her words as she tells me about her experience. She’s caught something that’s making a difference in her life and she wants to share it. I’m intrigued. Our conversation is long and I ask questions throughout.
“What’s the point of it all? How does it work? What do you have to do? What does it all mean? Why is the path to good stuff always seem to be through pain?”
She answers through her experience, says “I don’t know” several times, and discusses life, philosophy, religion and trees with me. As a follow up, she sends me the booklet Mindfulness in Plain English and the link to the Kaufman Center’s website (http://www.siri.dhamma.org/).
I read through it all. According to the book and the site, the Vipassana technique teaches mindfulness, awareness, and gives one the ability to live a fuller and more vibrant life. I’m for that. It’s the way I’ve been trying to live my life the past few years. I don’t find anything in the information that freaks me out or makes me think Vipassana is some crazy cult religion. But at the same time it terrifies me. The course is ten days of intensive meditation during which meditators take a vow of noble silence (though at this point, sitting in front of my ironing board desk with the omnipresent sounds of Lima pounding into the room, the noble silence sounds like heaven), can’t communicate with the outside world, can’t communicate with other students and can’t take any reading or writing materials along. There is a strict code of discipline that lasts at least as long as the course. And there’s the frightening possibility that my life might be so changed that I’ll never be the same again.
Of course, that’s also the draw.
Change is scary.
Change is exhilarating.
Because the idea of this course terrifies me, I figure that means I should do it. So I send off an application to the Kaufman Center. A few days later I get an acceptance and I think with a modicum of alarm, “Now I’m really in for it. What in the heck have I just done?”
The course I sign up for is in June which works out perfectly since my Lima apartment lease is up at the end of June and I’m planning on heading back to the States then anyway before heading off to Europe for the summer. Because vegetarian food is served, Kaufman is less than an hour from where my folks live, and the course is free (made possible through donations from past students and the center being run by a full volunteer staff) I can afford to go.
Jesse is ecstatic when I tell her I’m in. “I’ll see if I can serve while you’re there!” she exclaims.
When I talk to my mom later in the week she says that my dad has signed up for the course too. My sister’s Vipassana talk up has infected the family. After I get off the phone with my mom, I email Jesse and my dad: “We're all gonna be ignoring each other at the Vipassana thing! I'm excited and slightly apprehensive. Like Jesse said, ‘the family that ignores each other stays together...’ or something like that.”
Jesse responds: “Dad is going too!? Yay! I'm still waiting to hear back if I've been accepted. Fingers crossed. The family that doesn't interact together stays together.”
And Dad says: “Mum's the word.”
We are all eventually officially accepted into the program and the day finally comes when we leave Dallas and drive east to Kaufman. As the miles spin away, my dad jokes about monks in saffron robes beating us with sticks or chasing us around the Center’s grounds if we break any of the rules or try to run away.
I have a moment of panic before I remember there was nothing about monks in the literature. I’m already eager to embrace silence. I’ve been activied and peopled out. I’m exhausted and stretched thin by noise. I want stillness and peace. But I’m wondering if I can survive without writing things down for ten entire days and if it’s too late to back out. Backing out isn’t in my nature. So I take out my notebook one last time and write:
Heading to Kaufman
to sit in silence
with Dad and Jesse
I have no idea what will happen over the next ten days. I don’t know if I’ll come out violently changed or mostly the same. I don’t know now, but I’m diving into this and am eagerly terrified to find out what’s on the other side of Vipassana.
“Catch you on the flip side world,” I think as we drive through the gates and leave civilization behind us. A trio of buzzards circle a neighboring property. “That’s an ominous sign,” Dad says with a twinkle in his eye.
I glance up and take a deep breath.
Here we go.
Catch you on the flip side.