One hour before my flight leaves for a six-week rendezvous through Southeast Asia, I am sitting at gate M9 in the Chicago O’Hare airport with all my belongings shoved into a Glad Guaranteed Strong white kitchen trash bag. My seventh grade Lucky Brand cross-body purse and a bubblegum pink neck pillow at my side, my brand new Patagonia backpack is somewhere in nomad baggage land, hopefully awaiting a jubilant reunion 19 hours later in Bangkok. No, using a garbage bag for travel isn't some yogic, minimalist statement, but rather the unfortunate repercussions of my recent REI purchase weighing significantly over the 7-kilo limit allowed for Qatar Airline carry-ons. I learned about this weight limit at the check-in counter, as the compassionate check-in woman watched with pity as I loaded my belongings into the aforementioned trash bag.
In the moment, my eyes pricked with tears, and I took a deep breath. Despite my attempts at mindfulness and peacefulness, I haven't quite "chilled out" yet. I will be the first to admit I have a long, long way to non-attachment to material things, people, and expectations. Even with all the books I read and meditations and yoga classes, I really don't like when things don't go according to my plan. For example, I grieved a little this morning when I spilled nail polish remover and bleached a spot on the crouch of my brand new Blissed Out Culottes from lululemon that I got for this trip. As silly as it sounds, something like this would have sent me into orbit a few years ago. I am proud of myself for taking a few breaths, taking my mom's advice to color the spot in with black Sharpie, and getting over it.
Standing there at the check-in counter with my belongings strewn about, I couldn't help but laugh. The best thing that yoga did for me was to force me to stop taking myself so seriously. The image of me standing there with my eyes watering holding this huge plastic sack like a sad Santa in a strip mall was so absurd, I couldn't help but crack into a smile. "We were made for hard things," I muttered to myself, repeating the mantra I had heard in my yoga class yesterday, as I tossed the bag over my shoulder and strode to the security checkpoint. Stressed sweat flooded my black travel-friendly t-shirt, and I trudged to the nearest Duty-Free to ask for a thicker plastic bag and a roll of Old Spice deodorant. Heavy duty stuff only.
I'm halfway through my flight to Qatar as I write this, but not even a third of the way through one of the most absurd full 72 hours of travel I have ever concocted for myself to date. My parents and I woke up at 6:30 am today, May 7th, to drive to Chicago where I got on a 6:50 pm flight to Qatar, approximately 13 hours away. Once I land in Qatar, I will take a six hour flight to Bangkok and then an 8-hour bus to Khon Kaen. After getting off the bus, I must look for the organized transport to Dhamma Suvanna, the Vipassana Meditation Center where I will be attending a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Once I spot the driver, I will hop in the van, talk as much as I can over my final hour of normalcy, and hold my backpack close to my heart, assuming, of course, that it finds its way to Bangkok.
If you are wondering why go on a 10-day silent meditation retreat, you are in good company. You can get in line behind my parents, grandparents, friends, and the Apple Store employees who asked me what my post-grad plans were. I will answer this question in a long, roundabout way, but I am going to be blatantly honest and jump right to the punchline first. I wanted to do it, because it's hard. Truthfully, I can't think of something that would be more difficult for me. Except running a marathon. And I signed up to do that on November 4th. Lol.
I have begun a practice of fear seeking, one that will probably produce the most wonderful and horrible experiences of my life. Whenever I think about something, and say to myself, "Wow, that would be so hard," I do it, (given that I am probably physically and emotionally able AND it wouldn't completely ruin my life). The sensation I feel in the back of my throat- that fear, that resistance, that pain- it is a signal. A flare screaming, "Hey!! This is the exact edge of your comfort zone as it appears today. Now step out of it."
Now the long answer for the meditation retreat... When I began the school year, I named three goals for myself. They were: 1) Become a better listener 2) Be more for the girls 3) Have more fun. One month before graduating, I named a fourth: 4) Be better alone. It was inspired by one of my classmate's speeches about the difference between "Alone" and "Lonely" and the acute realization that I have never been truly alone. Extremely extroverted, I could probably find a mutual friend with a brick wall. Interacting with people energizes me, being alone destroys me.
Why is this so? As a middle child of two brothers with the most loving, supportive, and involved parents a girl could wish for, I am the product of positive reinforcement and unconditional love.
In my first few years of college, I found myself mixed up in relationships where I sought to find this sort of "love," when, at most, they were affection and at minimum, some form of lust. A high achiever, then I sought achievements so I would be praised, bolstering my resume. I hadn't yet made the distinction between becoming something valuable and something that is valued, focusing on what was objectively impressive so I could feel some sort of accomplishment.
In the last year of college, with the constant love and support from my family, I know I have found love both for myself and for a handful of people who have fundamentally changed my life, one in particular who might be reading this blog post. Under their light, I have found parts of myself I didn't know existed. Even when these people physically leave my life, the growth I experienced under their illumination is mine to keep. I feel stronger and more whole than I have ever in my entire life. And that tells me it's time to strip some things away.
Because it's easier to love yourself when you feel loved by the people around you. It's easier to feel pride in yourself when you are reminded of your resume and accolades. But in silence and solitude, how do you feel about yourself? With no one there to affirm and acknowledge you, what does it take to feel like you matter? That is what I am about to explore.
I truly believe there is no greater act of self-love than to be brave. It is a physical declaration of the faith you have in yourself, a testament to your conviction that you can drop into trust and endure whatever occurs.
I am not doing this meditation retreat because I am seeking anything. I don't expect some sort of epiphany or revolutionary healing, or secret to the universe to appear before me. Rather, I want to take the time to listen, this time to my own self. My hope is that I might get a glimpse of who I really am, stripped of the identities I assume and masks I wear to get by in my daily life. My hope is that I can be a little brave.
My go-to joke is that this is the beginning of a deeply intimate relationship with myself- but my mom said that sounded kinda weird. So I am not going to keep saying that. But I am going to keep the playfulness and silliness that making this joke and many others about this experience have given me. It is okay to laugh at the absurdity of traveling for 72 hours around the world to sit in a room for 10 days in silence, when my parents could lock me in the basement for a similar experience and a lot less cash. It's healthy to laugh about the girl who was almost voted social butterfly of the Ross senior class not talking OR making eye contact with anyone for 10 days.
I'm no expert in meditation, definitely nowhere near an enlightened monk. But I am insatiably curious about the human experience. Without a doubt, this is an experience in which I am going to feel all of my humanness, probably cry a lot, and face my deepest thoughts and sensations. Maybe I'll be able to become a little less attached to my identity and my possessions. In the discomfort of stepping far outside of my comfort zone, I will be forced to drop into the trust that I can endure much more than I think i can. What a wonderful opportunity to be a little brave.
I'm so grateful that my loving and supportive parents made it possible for me to do this, even playing full New York City apartment broker in my absence from Wifi to lock-in my July 1 move-in date to a rocking Fidi apartment. My yoga teachers, Kara and Bryan, were the first people I heard about Vipassana from and they encouraged me to further explore it. If I make it through the whole ten days, I will be in good company. These past few months, it felt like every person I met knew someone who had gone on a Vipassana retreat or had done one themselves. Gus and Ravi, my MBA friends, Karla, my friend from yoga teacher training, the director of the Center for Positive Orgs at Ross, a partner at McKinsey- thank you for encouraging me to explore myself and fielding my endless questions.
After the retreat, my best friend Maren and her sister, Kristi, and I will explore Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia until flying through Hong Kong to return home on June 21st. Kristi is an absolute saint, has been traveling through SE Asia for 3+ years and made the most robust itinerary I have ever seen for us, completely alleviating any of my travel logistic woes. She and her business partner have launched a company doing this amazing travel itinerary crafting, consulting, and guiding. Check it out at escapeandawe.com if you are planning a trip to SE Asia : )
I am going to do my best to keep my blog updated about our travels and I for sure will write after the Vipassana retreat.
To oats and goes,
With joy and love,