It has been a long time since my last retreat. I remember feeling absolutely calm, peaceful, and mindful at the time. I could face any situation, no matter how difficult, and be able to manage it. I was ready. I was a new person. At least, that was my thinking back then.
During my training as an emergency medicine resident, I was overwhelmed by the long hours of work and class assignments. Training in an emergency room brought me face-to-face with an endless stream of chaotic and challenging situations. As the days passed by, I was swallowed back into the stormy ocean of life. In this storm, wind and waves spun me around so much that I had a hard time finding balance.
And was I practicing Vipassana at the time? Not at all.
SEE ALSO: Our Hidden Magnificence Can Be Found
“I am tired today. I should get some rest. Let’s relax or do something fun. I have a bunch of assignments now. I need to finish them first. Vipassana is for the times when I don’t have much else going on. If I practice now it is going to be difficult anyway.”
These excuses popped into my head any time I felt the need to practice, to get back to the stage of mindfulness. I didn’t even realize I was making them – I only felt that everything was moving too fast, and I wasn’t in control of anything in my life. I was sinking back into my prior patterns of exhaustion, stress, and unhappiness. After finishing the E.R. training, I worked full-time at the university hospital and began moonlighting at another private hospital 30 km away. There was even more work, more projects, and more people that I had to deal with. Challenging situations, heavy traffic, and many sleepless nights.
I never stopped to think whether this was the way I should be living my life, or if this was even the kind of life that I wanted. I was completely lost in the current of my career. By this time, I had already begun accumulating many things: the desire to achieve, the need for acceptance, the hatred of my colleagues, the sadness and emptiness that comes from feelings of not belonging. The worse part was, even though I already carried these burdens around with me, I kept on collecting more. I had slid back to the stage I’d been in before my retreat – and maybe even worse.
It had been eight years since my retreat, and I found myself crying every day when I got back to my apartment. I was sinking and could not breathe. Even though I had a great career, my life was filled with melancholy. I was spending my money on things that middle-class society considered to be the “good life.” I ate fancy dinners and drank good wines, but the positive effects were all short-lived. I became sadder and sadder, and I always wanted more.
“I need help.”
Luckily, one day I happened upon a small hatha yoga studio near the university. I saw their sign and something urged me to go inside. I’d never liked yoga before – the practice was too slow and boring for me. I’ve always preferred energetic exercises because they’re fun and interesting.
However, this time a little voice inside said, “Why don’t you give it a try? Maybe this will work for your pathetic life. Do something before you sink down further. You are suffocating already.”
This little voice turned out to be right. The yoga practice helped bring me back to mindfulness. I’d never understood this before: Yoga is more than just an exercise. Gradually, I came to realize more about the current state of my life. I began listening to Dharma talks, I meditated even outside of Yoga classes, and the mindfulness slowly came back to my life. What started as a small trickle grew in strength, and mindfulness again became continuous like the flow of water. And eventually, two years ago, I decided that I needed to make big changes in my life.
Gains More than Losses
I quit my job in Thailand and moved to Vancouver Island. I came here to learn new things – both about emergency medicine, and myself. I’ve met so many wonderful mentors and friends during this journey and, most importantly, I’ve been able to embrace Vipassana back into my life.
Even though I’ve been living off of my savings and a little side-money I made from an interpreting gig, I gained so much: I’ve had time to live life at my own pace, to enjoy the beauty of nature, and to live a simple life free from the yearnings and desires I used to have. I have time to practice mindfulness throughout my daily activities, no matter if it’s seeing patients at the hospital, cooking, making art, or simply walking through woods and along beaches.
I notice more beauty.
Here and now, in this stage of my life, I am more aware of what comes into my mind – and then I simply let it go. I may have less money, but I am also carrying around less burden. I feel light and free. That being said, I still considered myself to only be a beginner in Vipassana and mindfulness practices. There is still so much more to learn from life. However, I will always remember the struggle of life without Vipassana.
I do not know what the future hold for my journey. I only know that Vipassana is here with me not just at the retreat center. As my teacher taught me so many years ago, “as long as you’re practicing and living in the present moment, you will live life the way you truly are.”
Latest posts by Yajai Apibunyopas (see all)
- The Most Powerful Thing I Learned From Vipassana - July 28, 2017
- How I Learned To Become Truly Mindful: Open Heart, Transformed Soul - May 5, 2017
- Buddhism And Meditation: How It Changed And Shaped My Attitudes Towards Life - March 30, 2017