I’m back! Yes, I realise I wasn’t gone for long. You probably didn’t have time to notice I was missing. The retreat is amazing. It is serious bootcamp for meditation. 4.30am start to 9.30pm finish, with meal and rest breaks. But mostly solid meditation practice and absolute silence, not even gestures between practitioners is allowed. Great nourishing food too. But for me it wasn’t a success.
I left the retreat 51 hours after I arrived. It appears that serious meditation and menopause don’t go together. Part of meditation is learning to set aside pain. This does not mean ignoring it, it means seeing it and acknowledging it and then letting it pass. It does too. Except hot flushes!
I was really determined to nail meditation when I arrived at the Vipassana Retreat. Probably a bit too much ego when you think about what meditation is meant to achieve, but I was really looking forward to taking my meditation to the next level. I had taken a hand fan with me to help me through the worst moments of the flushes, as I do at home. Regrettably, the assistant teacher decided that I could not use the fan as this would disrupt my awareness of my breathing. In Vipassana you maintain awareness of the soft natural breath in and out at the tip of the nose. If I was waving a fan how could I feel the breath. I was able to continue to feel the breath despite the fanning. But that wasn’t acceptable, I just had to work through the flush as I would for pain. This was said with all the arrogance and condescension of a woman who never had menopause symptoms! After my first meeting with her, and feeling especially belittled, I tried: I really tried to meditate through the flushes. I got up at 4.30am and stayed meditating in my room. 2 solid hours and minimal success, noting that this is part of the peak time for my flushes. I had breakfast and a break and then meditated for another 3 hours. I stopped for lunch and then meditated for a further 1.5 hours.
Now I have to remind you that my flushes go both ways. Freezing cold to burning hot. The TCM that I have commenced taking has taken the edges off but not enough yet for me to leave my layers on. When I am cold I need an extra layer and when I am hot I need to remove a layer (or ten). The retreat is in the mountains, and even in the middle of the day you need gloves, scarf and beanie outside and to a lesser extent inside (to keep costs down). So there I am, in my room adding a coat, removing the coat, removing a jumper, adding my beanie and scarf, removing my beanie and scarf. You get the picture. It was far more disruptive than picking up the fan and fanning lightly for a couple of minutes. Or worse, standing up and walking outside into the cold mountain air for a rapid cool down.
After all the meditation dedicated to moving past the flushes I realised that I could not maintain my focus as I would for pain, because at least once you acknowledge the pain you move beyond it. Flushes aren’t like that. Pain is constant so you can put it aside. Flushes are new each and every time. So you have to address each one as you would a new pain arising in your body. Regardless of your focus on your breathing you can feel the rapid heating of your body, skin burning and perspiration dripping all over your body. Taking off clothes brought me completely out of the meditative state and I would then need to start again from the beginning each time. With a fan I could still maintain a reasonable level of focus/awareness and not come completely out of the state, kind of like how you go to the bathroom in the night without really waking up.
So it was, with a heavy heart and great sadness that I stopped the female manager and asked permission to leave. Fortunately I do not feel a sense of failure. Only a deep sense of frustration that in a place dedicated to enhancing students practice of the Vipassana method I could not find the support to allow me to use a fan occassionally while meditating. So here’s hoping I find a natural therapy to control the flushes and can do a Vipassana retreat sometime soon.
If you are interested in a meditation retreat, the link below is to a worldwide organisation that runs on donations. It is not affiliated with any religion. It is purely designed to provide you with ten days of silence to practice your meditation skills and help you to purify your mind.