On Second Thought

Shayne Larango turns away from her corporate life to join a Vipassana retreat – only to find the transition more difficult than anticipated. 

By Shayne Larango

Photo by Valentina Yoga

Things were not good with me, but little did I know they were about to get worse. Some­thing was pulling me from a self-destructive relationship with my job. I had started wearing flip-flops to my corporate office, I developed an eye twitch, and my blood pressure was ris­ing. Every day, I felt as though I was walking underwater against the current. But instead of taking all the pills my doctor had recommended, I started seeing an acupuncturist who gently sug­gested I try meditation.

So I quit my job and signed up for a ten-day vipassana retreat. Ah, ten days of solitude. Ten days of silence. Ten days to freedom.

As I tapped the heels of my bare feet together in the meditation hall, I knew things would get better. I was shoeless and jobless, but not hope­less. Not yet, because I was learning how to meditate.

Vipassana means seeing things as they really are. I thought I wanted to see things as they really are more than anything else in the world. I thought the ten-day vipassana retreat would immediately calm my mind, center my soul, open my eyes, and enable me to move on with my life. It never ceases to amaze me how wrong I can be.

Although I was seeking to know myself, somewhere deep in my psyche, I already did. Because instead of driving to the retreat and leaving my vehicle parked with the keys in my pocket, I had someone drop me off. That turned out to be a wise move. Otherwise, I might have made a fast break out of there, keys jingling in my hand as I ran toward my car. But that would have created a scene, and good girls like me don’t create scenes. Somewhere inside me I had the will to stay, but on the outside I was constantly plotting my escape.

Although I had voluntarily walked in and could leave at will at anytime, I began having elaborate fantasies about how my real friends (and this was how I was going to tell who they were) would come rescue me from this place in a high-speed, tires-squealing, Dukes of Hazzard stunt-driving move. No real friends materialized.

So I turned to Mother Nature for help. A little family of skunks had been wandering around after dark between the meditation hall and the women’s dorm. I imagined that if one of those skunks sprayed me while I walked back to the dorm, the retreat leaders would have to send me home. Even though I knew I needed to be here, I would have no choice but to leave. I was trying desperately to find a way to blame someone else for my departure.

Thoughts are powerful things. About four days into the retreat, the absurdity of wanting to get sprayed by a skunk in order to escape finally hit me when a skunk pointed his ass at me and raised his tail. I had a moment of insight. I decided with absolute conviction that I would rather sit still in silent anticipation of seeing things as they really are than be sprayed by a skunk and sent home. So I carefully backed away.

Now I was getting somewhere. Hell, I had seen one thing as it really was: I would rather meditate than be sprayed by a skunk. It didn’t matter that I likely could have figured this out without a ten-day meditation retreat; I just put that little nugget of insight in my pocket and claimed a small victory.

Shayne Larango

Shayne Larango is a personal consultant and coach. She practices at the Dallas Meditation Center.