Meditation, Manifestation, and Miami
How a 10-day silent retreat led to an experience of a lifetime
I don’t often consider myself an impulsive person, except when I am presented with an opportunity to which I can’t say no…so while I don’t consider myself one, that single fact may actually qualify me as one. Being offered once-in-a-lifetime opportunities doesn’t necessarily happen a ton for me, but an outsider would most likely notice that if I do take a risk, it’s usually a big one. The most recent example of an impulsive decision I made is deciding to go to Jesup, Georgia to attend a 10-day Vipassana Meditation Silent Retreat. On the retreat’s website, Dhamma.org, the Vipassana Meditation Silent Retreat is described as a course offered to the public where you go to a meditation center to be in complete silence for ten days, while learning the art of Vipassana Meditation, eating vegetarian food, and watching educational discourses taught by the late S.N. Goenka. Best of all, it’s free.
What is Vipassana?
A more than 2500 year-old meditation practice discovered originally by Gautama Buddha,Vipassana is a meditation technique designed to help eliminate suffering in one’s life. You do this by observing sensations in your body, both pleasurable and painful, while remaining balanced, or equanimous, to the sensations as they pass through you to be released. This is to train you to react less to stimuli in your daily life.
Buddha learned by studying his own bodily sensations that life’s suffering comes when people react with aversion or craving to life’s ups and downs. In life, when people experience praise or positive effects as a result of their actions, they tend to want more of the praise or positive effect, thus inadvertently creating suffering when they cease to acquire it again. When people experience punishments or negative effects as a consequence to their own actions, they tend to react in aversion to the painful lesson, thus also creating more suffering as they try to avoid that outcome. As a result, Vipassana teaches the best way to handle all positive and negative stimuli is equanimity, or the ability to view the stimuli as impermanent and inevitable.
This technique, once Gautama Buddha taught it to citizens around India, was known to change lives. Throughout the centuries, the Vipassana practice was passed down through India and Burma, transforming dozens at a time. Renowned late Vipassana Instructor, S.N. Goenka is responsible for bringing Vipassana courses to the United States and dozens of other countries. Goenka, a businessman born to a wealthy family in Burma in 1924, was originally brought to practice Vipassana because of a chronic migraine that the best doctors in the world at the time could not help to alleviate without addictive pain killers.
After finishing a Vipassana course at a friend’s recommendation, Goenka realized the value of the technique. He continued to study, and eventually, brought the practice worldwide to special centers that would allow people who attended the course to learn the technique, sleep, and eat without ever having to spend a dime. No, not even for food. This part of the Vipassana practice was important to Goenka because it keeps the purity of the practice without allowing for greed or corruption. However, after each completed course, people are allowed to offer to donate their time or money if they so choose. This is not a requirement. Six years after his unfortunate passing, Goenka’s vision is still being upheld in centers around the world, with new centers being built every few years.
Impulsivity Part I
I consider going to Vipassana an impulsive decision because before knowing all of its practical and lasting benefits, I solely wanted to go because I needed peace and quiet. The idea of learning a meditation technique was appealing, however the added bonus of silence sold it for me. To have ten days of complete silence where I didn’t have to talk to one person I knew so that I could just be in my own space, my own head? Absolute heaven. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t at all to say I was in any way annoyed by the people around me — because I wasn’t. The kind of person I am, is that I need to be able to retreat into my own space after a long day in order to recuperate my energy, and most of this year, I found myself unable to.
Around May of this year, I found myself without a stable place to stay. For the past six months, I’d been moving around. From couch surfing, to staying in my car, to couch surfing again, I was always in environments that either were unsafe or had a bunch of other people around. I know plenty of people live that way, but after dealing with the chaos and sadness that came after writing an article exposing the trauma I experienced, I needed ample time alone to process it. I went so long this past year without that time, and though I am eternally grateful to everyone who had helped me, I needed an escape for a while. So when the option to take a Vipassana course came up, I agreed without a second thought. I’m immensely happy I did.
As stated above, I attended the ten-day course located at the Jesup, Georgia facility — a four hour drive from my home of Atlanta, GA. After arriving a few hours before registration, I encountered cellular dead spots and quickly said goodbye to a select few in my contact list (I needed to make sure people didn’t think I was dead for the ten days I’d be away). Pulling up, my friend, Kahn, and I made shameless jokes about the facility looking like it was the grounds of a budding cult. And, honestly, it kind of did. There were scattered buildings around the lot, with dirt paths leading to each tan and brown building. There were lush fields of grass and a pond with lily pads and catfish. It looked like a paradise for someone with an entirely-too-dedicated following…so, a cult.
The first thing I noticed was that everyone there seemed to be smiling. Everyone seemed so happy. People barely knew me, yet they were talking to me as if I were a lifelong friend. It was strange, especially coming from Atlanta, where although people were nice, they weren’t always smiling. However, once I realized there was no turning back, I steadied myself to make the absolute most of my experience.
This Vipassana Meditation course was the best meditation experience of my life. Before this, I struggled to meditate — often allowing procrastination and fatigue to block me from doing it. When I would put in the effort, I’d find that either I couldn’t meditate for longer than 10 minutes or that I couldn’t find a way to focus my mind long enough to get any benefit from it. This course helped me to eliminate that.
During the 10 days I was there, they had me and the other participants on a semi-strict schedule:
- 4:00am: Wake-up Bell
- 4:30am — 6:30am: Meditate In Meditation Hall
- 6:30am — 8:00am: Breakfast/Break
- 8:00am — 11:00am: Meditate
- 11:00am — 1:30pm: Lunch/Break
- 1:30pm — 5:00pm: Meditate
- 5:00pm — 6:00pm: Tea/Break
- 6:00pm — 7:00pm: Meditate
- 7:00pm — 8:15pm: Discourse
- 8:15pm — 9:00pm: Meditate
- 10:00pm: Bed Time
Though looking at the schedule, it seems a bit daunting, once I was there, the schedule didn’t matter. I knew no matter the circumstances, I wanted to try my hardest to get the most out of it. Plus, I didn’t want to have to go through the trouble of asking my friend, Kahn to pick me up early. Because there’s no speaking and little communication aside from with the teachers to ask questions, I had a lot of time to self-reflect and deal with issues that had been plaguing me. Before then, I allowed every distraction that came along to keep me from dealing with my problems. For the first three days, I was instructed to focus on breathing using a specific technique. This technique is meant to sharpen the participant’s mind before learning the Vipassana Meditation fully.
On the fourth day, we were taught the technique of Vipassana Meditation. Once taught Vipassana on the fourth day, it becomes completely clear why the previous three days were spent on breathing alone. On the fourth day, my mind had been sharpened so much, I started to feel sensations on my body, on the surface of my skin — sweat, heat, cold, chills, itching, twitching, etc. I also felt pain…and at times, lots of it. Some people felt so much pain, they were forced to leave the meditation center. Even though I was one of the people that felt an immense amount of pain, I was too determined to leave.
During it all, during all the different sensations we started to feel, we were expected and instructed to remain still and not react to any of it. Why? Because as stated before, this Vipassana technique is used to eliminate suffering in one’s life, and to react negatively or positively to the sensations one feels, would be to create more suffering and plant more saṅkhāras, or what could be considered a “unit” of a reaction — either aversion or craving. One develops saṅkhāras, by reacting with craving or aversion to stimuli. One gets rid of saṅkhāras through Vipassana Meditation.
Therein lies the goal of Vipassana Meditation: to rid oneself of saṅkhāras and suffering by ceasing to react to negative and positive stimuli in the day to day life.
So by sitting still through discomfort and possible pain and allowing our minds to remain balanced and equanimous, we were eradicating saṅkhāras, thus bringing us a few steps closer to a suffering and misery-free life.
The Vipassana Meditation technique is also one that allows you to delve into your subconscious to not only face the demons of your own past, but also rid yourself of them at the same time. For me, I was able to use the ten days to observe past mistakes and also past trauma I’ve experienced. As I observed the sensations in my body, my mind brought up memories that I had a strong reaction to in the past. In others, this may cause an emotional reaction or an angry feeling while they meditate, but it all rises up to their attention so that it may pass.
The Last Day
Even though during the retreat, it may seem like nothing is happening — I mean, there’s not usually a physical difference, at the end of it, I clearly understood the purpose. On the last day, we were able to talk to the people we spent the last ten days silently observing (let’s face it — of course we’re going to observe those around us, right?) and we realized we felt a whole lot lighter.
One of the many women I was able to observe (men and women were separated throughout, except in the Meditation Hall), was my now-friend named Jen. During the course, she was one of my roommates, and would always find ways to move around or dance, even during the meditation. Even though the actual course didn’t allow us to get to know each other on a personal level, her energy seemed very inviting, free-spirited, and kind from an outsider’s observation.
During the course and the internal change I was experiencing, I wanted to manifest a new experience after the course. The ninth night, I set an intention that I’d receive a new opportunity that would make me feel as if my life would change for the better after so many rough months. I wasn’t very detailed about the outcome of the manifestation because I wanted to remain as open as possible. I didn’t want to slip into an old habit of trying to control the way an opportunity presented itself.
The retreat allowed me to be in complete alignment with my body, mind, and spirit — a must for clear and direct manifestation. My body felt aligned because I was on a vegetarian diet. My mind felt aligned because I was able to clear it of thoughts that constantly plagued me so I could be present and aware. My spirit felt aligned because the meditations put my soul at ease. So then, with putting out the intention that I wanted a positive experience for myself, everything was exactly in the place it needed to be. I put the intention out into the universe, I let it go, and I allowed it to manifest before me.
Impulsivity Part II
On the tenth day, while everyone was allowed to talk to each other, Jen and I introduced ourselves and I learned she needed a ride home to Miami.
Funny enough, a few hours later, on the men’s side of the course, Jen learned that there was a man who also attended the course who chartered a private plane and was allowing people to fly back to Miami with him…for free. Now…I know this sounds absolutely crazy…and one hundred percent made up. However, it is neither of those two. Jen asked me if I wanted to come along (and told me that she’d allow me to stay with her) and I instantly knew that was the opportunity I manifested. On the next morning, I packed my stuff up and boarded a private plane to Miami with a girl I knew for ten days, and two men I met that morning.
I had never been to Miami in my life, aside from on a very brief trip ten years ago to board a cruise ship that docked there. Any other exposure I had to Miami was from social media and CSI: Miami reruns. So if flying on a private plane was an experience of a lifetime, getting off it in Miami to spend a week with a woman I just met was a never-in-a-hundred-lifetimes kind of experience.
Jess and I spent the first day at South Beach, with a friend, Mike, who was from Russia. Mike attended the Vipassana Meditation Retreat and decided to fly to Miami on a whim as well. Mike was in the United States for about four months, but spoke practically perfect English. I was absolutely amazed. He was younger than I was, and foreign, but was so open and brave. His drive to find out about new cultures and readiness to live new experiences in a foreign country was admirable. Mike soon left us to go on his own adventure and Jen and I were together for the remainder of my stay.
After being in Miami for the night, I updated my parents and friends of my whereabouts. Kahn freaked out and wanted me to update him with a new picture each day. My mom wanted me to take a bus to Tampa immediately (where most of my extended family lives). My dad thought it was cool. I knew that there were certain dangers associated with running off with people I barely knew, however, the retreat truly changes you. The retreat changes your subconscious so that you actually start to believe in the beauty of humanity again. I knew realistically something bad could happen, but I knew I wanted to at least try and make the most of my time.
I felt in my soul that I was completely safe. And I was. I stayed with Jen in her mother’s home, and Jen made sure I felt completely at ease. We had fun talking about our Vipassana experiences. It turned out we both majorly struggled from trust issues. I had trust issues stemming from my sexually traumatic childhood which resulted in me not allowing myself to live fully. My whole life, I kept myself in a box, not allowing myself to feel free or to shine too brightly. The meditation helped me to identify the toxic pattern to which I had been accustomed. I disavowed my intuition and told myself I couldn’t achieve what I wanted to, so…I never even tried. I never allowed myself to try.
I had one experience at a nude beach with Jen where, while meditating, I was able to envision my entire future stretched out before me. I went to college for Theatre Performance, and all my life all I ever wanted to do was write and perform. In that vision, I was able to connect to a part of myself that saw my future career spread out before me. I was a singer, a dancer, an actress, a spoken word artist. Everything I had ever wanted to do, I was able to do in my vision. I was happy. I was spreading compassion and understanding to all parts of the world. I was fulfilling my purpose to my greatest extent. I was aligned with myself and my future selves. I knew I could make anything happen for myself. I developed complete confidence in myself.
Jen at the same time started to believe in herself as well. A dancer who was injured, she finally began to trust herself and her body in ways that she hadn’t before. She had her own vision of a life that she could create for herself. It was a beautiful moment for her as well.
I had realized after being in Miami a few days, that for the first time in my entire life I made a decision solely for myself. I didn’t consult with anyone or ask permission — I solely decided to go on a trip to Miami because I felt like it. Realizing that was so immensely life changing for me. I was truly happy. I found that I was capable of making a choice that put myself before any other person’s opinion or thought. I put my happiness, my enjoyment, and my curiosity at the forefront of my choice and didn’t care about how anyone else felt about it. Before the Vipassana Meditation Retreat, I would’ve never even dreamed of doing such a thing. It was monumental in my spiritual makeup. I could ignore other people’s opinions and have a great time — which I did. I listened to myself and my wants and I did not leave disappointed.
The End of a Journey
I am completely and utterly ecstatic that I went to the Vipassana Meditation Retreat. Vipassana is a meditation is one you can use in your daily life, but one you must learn a Vipassana center to learn properly. S.N. Goenka was a brilliant man and I will forever be grateful that he brought the Vipassana technique to the United States. I am not the only one, because even though it is free, the centers around the world continue to receive donations to build more centers to accommodate more people. IF you choose you’d like to go to one, be careful of certain centers. Some charge to be able to attend, whereas the one I attended was completely free.
During my trip, I made a new friend and I made a choice that changed my life for the better. Seven days after arriving in Miami, I left feeling refreshed and energized. Jen took me to an exciting morning yoga and dance party, then back to South Beach, where the Miami trip began. I was able to dive into the ocean one last time before saying goodbye and returning to my life in Atlanta. Part of me wishes I had stayed a while longer, but I was well-equipped with trust in myself and my choices to know that if I truly wanted to go back to Miami in the future, I could manifest my way there.
Thank you so much for reading. I have more stories to tell about the Vipassana Meditation Retreat and my trip to Miami. If you’d like to hear more about either, please let me know in the comments below. Thank you so much for reading. As always, I love you.