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I Lost My Mind in the Trees

Overcoming anxiety with meditation

Ten years ago I lost my mind. I held my knees to my chest in the corner of my bedroom. I couldn’t catch my breath. My chest was convulsing, and I started to cry. I felt like a leaf floating in the air. Twisting and turning with the will of the wind. I couldn’t find my footing. I was dizzy. My sister brought me thick warm soup, and my hands shook as I drew it to my lips. I took a sip and felt the burning on my tongue, down my throat, and into my belly. I put rocks in my pockets and rubbed my hands with warm sesame seed oil. As much as I tried, I couldn’t get grounded. I was fortunate, at this time in my life, to have ten different opportunities to pursue. I had ten different paths which I could walk down. All of them just as good, but the fear set in, as what if I chose the wrong one? What if I walk so far down one path, and it is too late to turn around? Instead of walking, I sat, in the corner and drank soup.

I knew that I couldn’t see past my thoughts. I knew that it was a lifetime of past scars that stacked one on top of the other to barricade my heart from leaping onto an unknown path. My body was viscerally objecting to me taking a chance. I had two weeks to decide which path I was going to take at this juncture in my life. 

That night, my sister came into the room and said: “get packed.” 

She had signed me up for a 10-day Silent Vipassana Meditation Retreat. 

“You leave in the morning,” she threw my suitcase towards me. 

“What? I don’t understand?” I replied, as I started to fold yoga pants and a few t-shirts. 

“I signed you up for a ride-share. You’ll take the 8:20 ferry to Seattle, and a man in a white honda will pick you up and drive you to Onalaska, Wa.” 

I stuttered over words trying to make sense of my new orders that pushed my tired body into movement. 

“Just go. You’ll figure it out while you are there,” She insisted. 

So I packed my clothes and waited until morning. I knew nothing of Vipassana, except that my sister had gone a few times and got a lot of benefits. I welcomed anything that would pull me out of my drowning state. The next day I went.

I walked in the old, wooden meditation hall. Volunteers checked me in, gave me a key to my dorm room, and a few instructions. They took my phone, any paper or writing utensils, and personal items. They locked them in a trunk in the main office, while explaining that I will get them back after the retreat. I followed the other students into the dining hall. They explained that from this moment forward we were to be completely silent. They continued to say that, even if you walk through a door, you are not to hold it open for another student, because that is a form of communication. This retreat was to be completed, and be only about you. The introductory talk lasted five minutes, and over the next ten days, we were silent.

Every morning at 4:30 AM a volunteer would walk through the courtyard hitting a gong. It sent thick vibrations through the camp to gently wake up those that wanted to join the morning meditation. I zipped up my hoodie, and headed towards to temple. It was dark as the students shuffled sleepy feet along five grass pathways that converge at the temple door. The morning mist lifted scents of chamomile chest high, and I breathed it in, and the mist dissipated, resting along with morning dew. Although we were in the temple meditating ten hours a day, there still seemed to be so much time. Afternoon hours lingered, almost stopping. In the afternoon, after a home-cooked, vegetarian lunch, I found myself passing time by noticing the little things that I never had much time for outside of this oasis. I watched a slug crawl from one side of the pathway to the other. I was entranced with the methodical movement of its body curling and sliding along the rough cement. It left its slime behind it. It didn’t turn back. It just kept moving forward. My favorite afternoon activity became inspecting the way my orange was constructed. I slowly peeled the rind away from the pith, and released each section away from its center. I almost felt cannibalistic as I ripped into the fascia-like casing, and popped each juice sac into my mouth, busting them open when I pressed my tongue against the roof of my mouth. Instead of juice, it could have been blood. Instead of pith, it could have been skin. This was the moment that it hit me how closely interconnected everything is in this world. We are made up just as an orange. The only difference is that an orange does not have the conscious thoughts that flood our mind with anxiety, worry, and what if I make the wrong choices. An orange just is. I asked myself, “How can I just be? How can I be more like the orange?”

I am not going to tell you much more about Vipassana Retreats, because it is something that one should experience for themselves. I am not going to tell you about how on day three, I convinced myself that I could hitchhike back to Seattle, but didn’t. Or how, on day five, I went far into the woods and screamed at the top of my lungs just to hear my own voice. Or how, on day ten, when the retreat was over, and we were told that we could talk to each other, that it was not only me that came to Vipassana, because I was losing my mind or overwhelmed. Everyone else was there because they were at a juncture in their lives, and they couldn’t see past the trees to make a decision.

Fortunately, we live in a world in which we have an abundance of opportunities. Unfortunately, often we cannot see them. A few years after this experience, I decided to become a life coach. I realized how my soul’s purpose is to guide clients out of the trees. To help them see all the possibilities that life has to offer. I realized what a great service it would be to pull people out of their conscious thoughts, drop them out of what others tell them they should be doing, and help them focus on the answer that thrives inside us all.

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