I did not realize how disconnected from myself I was until experiencing a ten-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat last November. Sitting for longer than two minutes at a time did not resonate with an ounce of my being since movement is what I do as a learner, teacher, and doer in this life. But constant movement and continuous busyness ran a direct line of interference with what my body and soul needed in order to awaken with a revived sense of self, energy, and purpose.

Going into Vipassana, I had already tried to talk myself out of it. What excuse could I make up? How do I get out early? What if I have a breakdown? 10days…WTF? It took shifting my lens of the “what if’s” that could not be controlled to the possible opportunities that could arise. The path I was traveling prior to Vipassana led me closer to experiencing a complete physical and emotional breakdown versus being a participant in a heart and soul breakthrough. It involved getting out of my own way in order to do so.

I was moving through life as it resonated; going through motions at times, creature of habit, established in routines, yet adding splashes of spontaneous adventure every so often, which offered a safety for me to feel that I was on the “normal” path. I felt content, but it was conditional. As a single woman creeping into her upper thirties, I thought most of my self-work had been completed: an established career, yoga teacher, on a spiritual path, good friends and family, occasional romantic relationships, healthy lifestyle, travel, the list is endless. But there came a moment when I found myself still chasing, wanting, craving more; however, this was at a cost that was running me down versus revving me up.

There was a true disconnect from the life I was living. Taking in experiences with an agenda, limiting pleasures due to acquired beliefs, wallowing in the hurt and frustration of failures and relationship downfalls. All of the disconnection led me down the path of witnessing the discoveries of hard truth: what am I living this life for? Why am I still not happy? What else is missing? There must be something else.

Vipassana begins.

Wake up bell 4am, meditate 4:30am-6:30am, breakfast, meditate 8-11am, lunch, meditate 1-5pm, tea 5:30pm, meditation video discourse 7-9pm, lights out 9:30pm. Ten days straight.  As daunting as the schedule seemed, I allowed myself to soften into the fact that I put myself there for reasons that were not certain at the time. By releasing the drawbridge of resistance, the process became a well-source of healing. Day in and day out, noble silence was honored (no eye contact or speaking) and we lived with the most minimal necessities. The process of Vipassana meditation allowed me to witness and physically experience the depth of my hang-ups, suffering, and debilitating thoughts clouding my mind. It exposed my heart to experience truth and compassion, my eyes to essential clarity, and my mind into a less distracted state of operation. There is nowhere to go, no place to be besides inside of oneself. These integral aspects of the vital process helped open my soul up to the true rehab needed to take place.

I share these thoughts because I feel there is a direct need to wake up to the life we are living. Within that light bulb moment, it is essential to own personal experiences of hurt, shame, anger, despair, desire, and quest for life’s overall intentional purpose. It takes courage to call out our own shit when there is a direct disconnection from the life we have chosen to live. It means to stop playing the victim and placing blame, sabotaging goodness and success by owning the place of immediate arrival, and doing the personal work required to attract and welcome the goodness life has to offer. It encourages the revealing aspects of habits and engrained patterns of conditioning in order to make a change.

Life is going to play out its course no matter how hard we try to steer or hold onto reigns of control. By learning the tools of awareness, compassion, and impermanence to help gain a rooted understand of where thoughts and actions originate from, I was able to muster the strength to sit and stay with those feelings and emotions of extreme discomfort. While at Vipassana, there were times I could not stand to be in my own skin. The experience of emotions presented themselves in forms of sensations: bodily tension, heat, bubbling, stabbing, ripping–all of which replicated the inner cellular energy that was being exposed. There was a burning away of habits and thought patterns by not succumbing and giving into reaction. Instead I sat with the experience: unpleasant, pleasant, and unexpected emotions in order to create new neuropathways of cellular growth and for the energetic unfolding of inner awakening.

By sitting through the discomfort, there was an unwavering assurance to know feelings, thoughts, and discomfort would not last forever. Through this understanding, my heart was on its path to truth, purpose, and to the bare disclosure of one’s essential nature of the ability to what it is like living in each present moment.

Considering that not everyone has 10-days of life to set aside, I have acquired, implemented and am a product of helpful tools that keep me on a path of connection. At times, there are detours and wrong turns, but each day is an offering of HOW to wake up from the disconnect in order to invite an illuminated gateway of opportunity to live with simplicity, awareness, compassion and gratitude. Listed below are just a few of my takeaways that will be shared in depth during my retreat in Idyllwild October 7 – 9, 2016:

1. Body Scan

Find yourself in a seated or comfortable position in stillness. Notice the sensation you feel on the top of your head. Allow what arises, becoming aware of the ability to identify the sensation and then move onto other parts of your body: forehead, brow, eyes, nose, cheeks, mouth, jaw, neck, shoulders, upper arms, elbows, back of hands, palms, fingers, finger tips, chest, abdomen, pelvis, back of neck, back ribs, sitting bones, upper thighs, knees, shinbones, tops of feet, arches, toes, tips of toes. Take your time with the scan and pay attention to how different certain areas of the body feels as your awareness stays focused on that region. Benefit: focus, concentration, the practice of awareness without judgment.

2. Non-reactivity

When it’s really hot outside and the flies and mosquitos seem to pinpoint your skin as a landing pad and the natural tendency is to swat the insects away, can you imagine not reacting? Or when you get a text and jump to the phone in efforts to honor text etiquette and respond in a timely way? Can you wait a substantial amount of time before the looking at the screen? That is the practice. When you experience being annoyed, irritated, frustrated, angry, unsure, or ANY emotion that takes you away from a natural state of being, non-reactivity is the primer.  Next time, allow the emotion to surface, and then, DO NOTHING. It may require some deep breaths to hold you steady, but give it a try.

3. Thoughts…Real but Not True

The mind is designed to think, engage, be turned on, active. However, when we are consumed by compulsive thinking, the deterioration of being present takes over. The what if’s, could have’s, should have’s and would have’s pull our attention into a different direction instead of getting to the place where the deepest level of listening and truth of what’s needed is begging to be heard. I am inspired by Tara Brach who uses the statement “real, but not true” in many of her enlightening meditation talks. Well worth a listen to a phenomenal woman who is an American psychologist, proponent of Buddhist meditation and the senior teacher and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C.

4. Bare: get naked.

It wasn’t until a personal retreat in Esalen, Big Sur that I was okay with my nakedness. Being entrenched in the waters of the earthly natural hot springs, there was a soft comfort in knowing that as I soaked in the tubs, my body was being exposed to its core freedom of beauty. No shame about how I looked, no mirrors to remind me of my flaws, no one else passing judgment as personal naked space was shared with strangers. This sensual experience created a gateway of soothing acceptance for how naked exposure serves a healthy dose of reality, bodily love, and compassion.

5. Nature: be in the earth.

When was the last time you climbed a tree? Skipped a stone in the pond? Did a cartwheel in the grass? Take a breath of the ocean, mountain or morning sunrise air? Regardless of where you may reside, nature is all around, it’s just a matter of inviting nature into daily life. The grace of mother earth is a playground of exploration. It reminds me of what it ‘s like to have the freedom of a child, evoking play, pure connection to the wonderment of beauty. It also reminds me of how small we are in the grand picture of majestic surroundings. There is endless knowledge to be absorbed from the earth: the dirt, roots, trees, mountains, oceans, deserts, various landscapes, and creatures of the world.

6. Mindful Awareness: Meditate.

Many people don’t meditate because they feel it is too difficult or that it is being done incorrectly. This belief deepens the grooves of resistance not only to finding internal peace and clarity, but to other areas of life that we choose to avoid. There is not a specific length of time or “right way” to meditate, but there is a way to learn how to give attention to your breath (please find my guided breath meditation below in Summer Connection Newsletter and website).

7. Just Be: A being, not a “doing.”

I was fortunate this summer to spend a few sporadic days of lounge and leisure. There was a brief encounter with guilt as I realized staying in my bed until 2pm was something I thought only “lazy” people do, but damn, I deserve to be lazy and bask in its rejuvenating place of offering. We don’t have to stay in bed all day to just “be”, but there are times when listening to the squeaky wheels of the body, an agitated mind, and exhausted heart that some rest and relaxation is the a requirement to move ahead.

8. Question EVERYTHING: Get curious without an apology.

As a high school teacher, encouraging students to question what they know or what they think they know is a gateway to explore personal beliefs, thoughts, actions and processes. Majority of the time, I don’t have the answer for them or for myself, but by asking the questions, we are open vessels to be receptive to any form of insight, inner guidance and wisdom that may prevail. The more I know, the more I don’t know.

9. Find an Outlet: plug in to unplug.

Can you find a way to do this without calling on the forces of actual electricity and artificial frequencies? We all have something that makes us tick—play or sing music, write, cook, be with animals, walk, be of service, travel, read—sources are unlimited, but do you have the courage to explore possibility and find what you need to open up in order to reveal untapped creative healing outlets?

10. Routine.

Have one. As much as I don’t think I need structure or a plan, I am completely lying to myself by saying so. The days I am not up in the morning to meditate and drink warm lemon water, are the days I feel the most “off” or as if something went missing. We all have something that creates comfort and ease when embedded into our daily living, whether that be through action or thought. However, routine requires a balance. Routine is not meant to take complete control over life, but we can embrace the notion that it requires wiggle room to find what may and may not work. There is an art to learning how to balance the scales, which directly impacts our ability to stabilizing and create connection.

11. Be Kind.

You know that driver that just cut you off or stole your parking place? Yep, it happens to all of us and sometimes we are that “driver.” Instead of obscenities shouted or harsh words said under your breath, try wishing that person a good day full of compassion so that they don’t have to be in drastic hurry to cut someone off and continue reckless behavior. Emitting positive thoughts creates positive frequencies and vibrations. Check out Dr. Emoto’s water study for your own personal research (youtube).

12. Play.

It’s simple. We were all kids once and some of us continue to be overgrown children! Do not be afraid to return to that little boy or little girl. I am an advocate for play with the abundance of recent joy it has brought into my life. I forgot how vital laughter, playfulness and simplicity was until I experienced “play” with my nephew, Gavin and niece, Grace. From blowing bubbles, to puppet shows and jumping in the ball pool, there is an endless list of “playtime” activities I’d never do alone, but being in the company of a child’s innocence reminds me of the genuine love it brings. My brother David, and his beautiful wife Katie, brought two of the most special, heart-filled beings into this world and all these children want to do is play and be loved. In the end, isn’t that what we all want regardless, of our age?

I encourage you friends to teeter with what it means to be disconnected in order to connect. Going to Vipassana, a full ten-days of silence, is what it took for me to find my personal edge. Is it the job, relationship, family, past, control for future that takes you away from knowing who you are? It takes skills of acquiring awareness to feel how disconnected we are from self, Source, or others in order to gain insight on the depth of our wounds. With disconnection identified, the next step is to release the absorption of sensory overload by finding time to connect with oneself. It comes in many ways, shapes and forms, but there is something out there for each individual person to explore and make personal. This life is a precious gift and so are our unlimited contributions. However, do this from a place of inner wisdom, love, and compassion to feel what is means to have a healthy relationship with yourself.