“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
– Henry David Thoreau
“If you asked my mom, she would say I was born on October 29, 1975. But it wasn’t until December 15, 1999 at 9:12am, that I truly started living. That was the morning I was diagnosed with breast cancer and thought I might be dying. Not knowing whether I would survive to my next birthday, I made a promise to myself that I would do all the things I’ve never done but always wanted to do.
My favorite quote from high school by Thoreau became my motto and every opportunity that presented itself I took just for the experience. 12 years later, I had everything I had wanted and wished for and still it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t happy. I wanted more, more, more. Opportunities and things to do on my life checklist such as playing the Star Spangled Banner on my violin for a Red Sox game, learning to dance, climbing Mt. Everest, writing a book, were endless. I couldn’t wait to finish one experience so I could check it off and move onto the next. My life had become a list where I was never quite present in anything I did.
I signed up for a 10-day silent meditation course as another thing to “experience” before I died. It was 10 days of pure torture, meditating for up to 12 hours a day with no outside contact, no reading, writing, emails or phone calls. It was physically and emotionally draining – like a boot camp for the mind. I hated every second of every day. The misery was unlike anything I had ever felt and thoughts of escaping crossed my mind daily.
I sat under a tree on the fifth day at lunch and hoped the tree would come crashing down on me to put me out of my misery. I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I went from never meditating to meditating for 12 hours a day in an uncomfortable cross-legged position and mostly I was just bored. I was bored because I wasn’t allowed to read, write, use my phone or computer, look at people or workout. The only thing to do for 10 straight days was to be alone with myself. I had to face everything about myself, my choices, my reactions to things, the way I’ve treated people and especially myself. It was the furthest thing from pleasant.
And then on the 9th day, as I sat on my blue cushion, something changed inside me. I began using the time to apologize to myself for years worth of terrible treatment and self-talk. I began to forgive myself and to forgive others. A pain unlike anything I’ve ever felt filled my entire back, almost like my body was screaming at me. I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but I began sobbing. Tears poured out of me uncontrollably. They were tears of happiness because for the first time in 36 years, I felt a genuine and intense love for myself. True, unconditional love. I realized that I had been looking for external happiness for years, perhaps my entire life. I thought I needed constant outside adrenaline to make me feel alive but I had never discovered peace and happiness within. As I cried, I began to feel a peace I had never felt before. It was the first time I ever remember loving myself so completely and without judgment. All I had was love for myself and for everyone and everything around me.
I had surrendered for the second time to something higher in my life, the first being after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I once again made a promise to myself, but this time it wasn’t about getting things done. It wasn’t about living big and accomplishing “more” but rather seeing the beauty in stillness and sometimes nothingness that I had come to loathe over the years.
It was a reawakening and a rebirth. One of living in the moment, of being kind and gentle to myself and appreciating the small things once again, something I had somehow lost track of on my mission to ‘experience’ life. Ironically, it was only now that I would begin to really suck the marrow out of life, realizing that happiness had never been external. And it was only now that I would be able to find that true inner peace that I had been searching for all along.”
written by Asha Mevlana. She has since completed multiple 10 day silent meditation courses and considers them essential to her personal growth and life experience. For more on this exceptionally inspiring woman, read more.
* For more on Vipassana meditations near you: click here.