Yesterday I signed up for my first 10 day Vipassana retreat in November. There is a wait-list for women’s spaces, but I do see this as a commitment to attending one – if not in November, then at the next opportune moment. The ‘code of conduct’ as such for the retreat is a lot stricter than the 5 day retreat I did last year at the Red Hat Temple – there are many things that I am going to struggle with. The most scary – no smoking or yoga for 10 days …
As I was filling out the form to sign up, I must have paused with my finger hovering over the ‘x’ button a dozen times. If I’m going to commit myself to 10 days straight meditation, I at least need yoga to help ease things through! And no smoking – how can I concentrate on the task if all I can think about is nicotine withdrawals. No way! And no writing? … okay, now this is just getting ridiculous. I am better off cultivating a stronger home practice at home, where I can be comfortable and supported by the familiar tropes of my life.
Ah. right there. I didn’t press the ‘x’ button, because in explaining to myself why I shouldn’t go, I revealed why I need to go.
I am a comfort addict.
I hide from my anxiety by holding fast to the familiar things that give me safety … escape from fear. Smoking for me is far more than just a habit – if it were, I would have quit long before I was paying $50 for 30g of tobacco! It is a functioning part of my complex system of anxiety management – I visualise it like someone hooked up to an ECG machine (I remember those things well) – each little wire tapping into a part of me that needs to be recorded and measured. In order to manage my anxiety – I got so damn good at locating the fear and strapping it down – one part got nicotine; another, starvation. The part that comes and goes got periodic wine-submersion. And the parts that were a little more fluid were treatable with yoga. I got so good at it – I am so good at it – that it took me most of my teenage and adult life thus far to figure out that I had anxiety at all. I had micro-managed it to the point of dissolution – but there was a cost. One I am still paying daily.
Such a complex system is destined to glitch. All these different wirings are set at precarious angles, ready to spasm if the environment changes. They thrive in homeostasis … it feels like ECT if I try and rewire the system. I pull back. I can’t bare the fear.
I am now at the point where I want some of that space and energy back. I am resisting the wiring and seeing how exhausting it all is. I want to let go … and I cannot move whilst pinned down by so many nails. I have to pick away at them one by one, and face the spasms of fear, rage and pain that come as a result. Some days it’s too hard – thus i cannot speak of this process in the past-tense. Yet.
I read an article that a friend shared yesterday about the life of Shinzen Young, titled “A Small Price to Pay for a Different Kind of Life”*, which talks about his journey to a monastic life. Something moved in me as I read it. Instead of torturing myself with the usual What are you so afraid of Sian?, I started to ask, What price can you put on your own freedom?
and , like is expressed in Shinzen Young’s piece, the choice became obvious. I will give all of it – I will pay the highest price for a Different Kind of Life. Perhaps not “One hundred days subtracted from my life” just yet … but 10 days? 10 days to try and break free from the hooks, and the wires and the damned strong convictions that keep me so stuck? A very, very small price to pay.
To be continued – the thoughts are still fresh and the path not walked on yet.