Letters to a dear friend from a 10-day Vipassana retreat I managed, February 2023
במהלך ניהול ריטריט ויפסאנה של 10 ימים בעמותת תובנה. שיתפתי חברה טובה שגרה בימים אלה בחו"ל במחשבות ותחושות.
- Day #3 of Retreat
Sometimes you look for someone else to hold your spirit for you, because you believe you can't hold your own spirit. This is a great coping mechanism for terrible times, when one's all hope is lost. When all hope is lost within, others can hold at least some hope for us from the outside. Other times, this is not such a great coping mechanism; we have "used up" other people's hope for us, and we still are not satisfied. This is when we must turn back within. This is when if inner power is not found, we must dig deeper yet. This is when our deepest depths are within reach – dark, damp, dripping, like a stalactite cave. It is there that we can become creatures of the dark, who have night sight, and can tell up from down with no light to be found. Coming back from this place to the surface of the world, we are once again found by the universe with all its beauty and disgust, with all its pleasure and loss, with all its gifts and temptations. It is there, in bright light, after touring hell realms, that we form our skill to act and react in the most wise and compassionate of ways.
2. Day #5 of Retreat
There's something really unique about the experience of caring for 50 people who are under my responsibility during these 10 days (I am running the course, assisting the teachers). I have access to information on the atrocities taking place in Israel (tomorrow half of the country is going on strike protesting the new judiciary reform), while the yogis have no clue. They are cut off from all forms of communication, and only hear the sound of the teachers' and my voice.
Tomorrow is my birthday and I am spending it caring for 50 people practicing vipassana meditation – some for the first times in their lives hearing of Buddhist teachings on impermanence, compassion, death. This feels like I'm doing the best possible thing on earth right now: teaching and modelling compassion, loving kindness, and yes – even joy. While all the while befriending the notion that each passing moment will never look like the next.
What's next for this nation state? I am for the first time considering leaving for good, if these new rules pass. I fear that my voice will be silenced like that of many others before me. And I can't give my voice up again.
For years now I've been noticing that the qualities that will serve us best when everything else breaks down are groundedness in self and our ability to encounter all of reality.
3. Day #7 of Retreat
One of the teachers leading the retreat is sick with life-threatening cancer. This is his first retreat since he received the diagnosis and has started undergoing treatment. It's very apparent – he is bald and looks ill, however I didn't know how much he would address the issue, if at all.
Turns out he is addressing his situation in most of the talks he is giving, either as an organic part of giving examples from real life, or – as he did yesterday – directly speaking about how he has been coping with the fear of dying since he fell ill.
He gave a really long and deep talk about how humbling it has been for him – a lifelong meditator and dharma teacher – to acknowledge how deep the fear of death goes, how utterly terrifying it is for each and every human being. And he spoke beautifully about the gifts the dharma has given him, which have been a real path towards soothing inner dialogues and practices.
I was deeply touched. And wondered how many people in the meditation hall can really take it in; some of them are hearing about meditation and Buddhism for the first time in their lives. And then the teacher is like: cancer, death.
And I was thinking today about how for so long in my life I tried to be strong without being vulnerable. I thought that if I did enough things right, I could enter situations and keep my shit together and stay in control. I thought that was the only way to handle things. It took me some epic failures to realise this wasn't working for me.
I was sitting with a new friend last week and told her some of my journey through the things that I've been through. She then asked me how I can just talk about these things so openly. It was then that I realised that I don't even really have to think about it anymore, it's just the way I am now.
And more and more people see this as powerful apparently. It's a revelation. It's real power I guess? And I thought about the People in Power, the government etc., and how it's just people with guns and money at the end of the day. It doesn't make them powerful, it makes them people with guns and money.
4. Day #10 of Retreat
I woke up in the middle of the night shaking from a bad dream. Today the retreat ends. Throughout the last 10 days, even though I dreamt about things that otherwise can be triggering (my mom, my childhood home), things seemed to feel more comfortable and friendly. Not so in the case of last night.
In the dream, I encountered L. and his girlfriend, and what started out as normal – albeit tense small-talk, quickly escalated to an aggressive dialogue between me and him: he was extremely protective of her, and I was defying his behaviour in ways he didn't understand. It was painful.
Two weeks ago, I sent him an email with the transcript of my new book. I told him that I want to share it with him, as he is a central subject matter in these poems, and I have great respect for him. I wrote that he needs not feel obligated to respond. To date, he hasn't responded, and I believe this will remain the case in the foreseeable future.
Sending him the book, my intent was clear to me, but I know that it may not make any difference to him; he will have to face the Dark Matter that these poems are made of, my Dark Matter. While I believe that sharing this with the world (and with him) is one of my unique gifts to people, I know he may not see it this way at all. He may feel confronted, assaulted even.
I sat with this in the morning meditation. I was restless, a bit sad. The feeling of doom lingered. But I also had the inner space to tap into other resources, enjoying the sunlight filling the meditation hall, and the warmth of my hands in my lap.
It was a good retreat. I had the mind space to open up more, to enjoy my being, to feel inspired and inspirational. I gave service to the meditators and the teachers. I supported several people in crisis. My thoughts on the retreat management were taken into consideration. I was thanked for these actions in the most sincere ways possible.
This really makes a big difference for me, to feel that I give myself and my energy in safe spaces and relationships. You know how much I've struggled with this over the years. And I really don't want to silence my joy or my darkest of matters systematically anymore.
A friend posed the possibility that when L. receives the poems, he will see me as the crazy ex girlfriend. Well, that's just one of the risks I'm taking in this life. And hopefully, this craziness can also crack other dark matters and let some light shine through.