I just drove back from a three-day Vipassana (insight) meditation course. And boy are my arms tired! Oh no, wrong punchline. Hmm. And boy are my observational faculties tired! Doesn't work quite as well. And boy am I sick of spinning my wheels! Ha.
It was a short course. My first, at age 20, was 10 days, silent. You have to do the 10 days before you can do the 3 days, and when you complete it you realize why it's so frickin' long. It's because it takes 10 days to actually get a toe-hold in learning the practice.
The first part of the practice is just observing the breath. It's crazy to realize how much you breathe--but it's even crazier to realize how much you think. We're sitting (read: meditating) for 6-10 hours a day (sometimes I was sleep-atating in my bed when I was supposed to be upright) and about every other breath I would catch myself thinking again. And about really dumb stuff.
Many of my thoughts centered around my Amazon sales rank for my eBook and schemes for how to raise it. I'd catch myself and reason the whole thing out. "Why am I thinking about this dumb thing? Again?" I'd remind myself that life is really short. Imagine myself in a car accident or frozen under a layer of ice (it was cold down in North Fork), and think, is that the way I want to spend the rest of my time alive on this precious beautiful earth with the birds and the sun and the moon? And then I'd remember a few more people I could invite to download my book. The mind is a tricky trickster.
By the third day, I was really getting in the grove. Even though you're not supposed to, I would talk to myself to keep coming back to the breath or the sensations. "Good," I would repeat over and over again. Or "Keep coming back," just to return my attention. That seemed to help. A song that was featured in my meditation: One of These Nights by the Eagles. Why? I was not turned on or anything. But now I'm listening to the actual lyrics and it seems pretty interesting. More appropriate for a shamanic medicine journey than a Vipassana sit. Or more acurately, the meaning and interpretation would just be a lot different depending on which thing you were up to.
Also, on Day Two, two wolves appeared as I was walking around the pond. Or were they coyotes? I turned the other way and walked as slowly-quickly as I could. One of them started to follow me. "Don't turn around. Don't seem afraid. He can smell your fear. Make noise to scare him away. No. Just ignore them." My heart started to pound. He was two feet behind me, panting. Panting. I finally arrived at the clearing. I was about to yell out, even though the retreat was silent. He darted in front of me, sniffing around for food or water. It was a stray dog. And clearly, this was animal medicine coming right up to me. A sign. A metaphor. Something meaningful. But I don't know for what.
Actually, I'm looking at pictures of wolves online now, and he really didn't look that different from a wolf. Well then. A very personable wolf.