So long, and thanks for all the bananas

Published on January 29, 2013 by      Print
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By Kaci Yoh

Foregoing personal needs in the idealistic pursuit of achieving non-attachment is commonplace in today’s spiritual world. Need has become taboo in enlightened communities. The ego attaches to non-attachment, thereby staying safe and warm from the pain of the human experience. Where do we draw the line? What is lost?

“I’ve got to get out of here,” I whisper into my cell phone.

“Seriously?” Ray replies groggily.

“I’ll call you back by 9 a.m.”

I surreptitiously hang up the phone, wrap it in my sleeping bag to muffle its inane beeping, and turn it off.  I emerge from my humid, mosquito-filled tent and spray myself with Cutter Backwoods from head to toe. My escape from a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat has been put in motion.

I strategically waited five minutes after the breakfast bell sounded to make this call. I am not supposed to have a phone, but kept a prepaid in my bag in case of an emergency. It is 6:40 a.m. I have just finished a two-hour meditation session.

I walk slowly to the dining hall to eat breakfast. My head is pounding. My vision is blurry. I am beyond hunger. All of the students have taken a vow of silence. I can only assume everyone else is feeling the pinch of the 600-700 calorie-per-day diet we are enduring. When the bell sounded at 6:30, the other girls meditatively ran to the dining hall.

I am feeling all kinds of paranoid, probably because I tend to go hypoglycemic if I don’t eat several times per day. In the blood sugar limbo, I can go much lower than others and at a faster rate. When I am low, I experience confusion and anxiety and have trouble making decisions.

I am so low that I do not know how I feel about leaving. I only know I must leave. I irrationally feel like I might die if I stay.

Last night, we watched a video lecture starring the Vipassana meditation lead teacher, S.N. Goenka. At the end of the video, he said that all of the great teachers and sages have followed one precept:

Know Thyself.

Would I truly be here if I knew myself? No, I would not. True to form, I handed the right of knowing myself to the spiritual leaders at the door. I allowed my hypoglycemic tendencies to be viewed as a spiritual rather than medical issue. The teachers were given the right to tell me which of my needs were appropriate and which were attachment. They were given the power to decide how I should feel and act. How did they receive this power? I can only guess I gave it away freely.

Know Thyself.

In an interview with John Welwood by Tina Fossella, he comments:

“Trying to live up to an ideal instead of being authentically where you are can become a form of inner violence if it splits you in two and pits one side against another. When we use spiritual practice to be good and to ward off an underlying sense of deficiency or unworthiness, then it turns into a sort of crusade. It presupposes that everything we experience, even the worst samsaric things, has its own intelligence. If we meet our experience fully and directly, we can begin to uncover that intelligence and distinguish it from the distorted ways in which it manifests.”

During his video lecture, S.N. Goenka stated that anyone who could not complete this course is weak-minded. Before “Know Thyself” came up, I might have taken this personally. But now, I understand that 10-day Vipassana meditation retreats are not for me at this time.
When I informed the leaders I was leaving, they held me with non-judgment, compassion and grace. When I left, I held myself in the same regard. In my ideal mind, I did so of my own accord. In reality, I still need to work on holding my own power, but this is the grace of being human. We must all work through our own bullshit. And in every experience, even in giving up, there is much to learn and embrace.


About Kaci Yoh

Kaci YohKaci Yoh has cried in more asanas then she cares to admit.  She teaches vinyasa flow classes.  She is grateful for the opportunity to teach and learn yoga as an exercise in experiencing herself and others.  She has a busy mind.  Since her exodus from a 10-day Vipassana Meditation Retreat on the Big Island of Hawaii, she has started meditating every day.  It helps.  When not on her mat, she can be found writing, trail running, swimming, or somewhere in the Rocky Mountains.  Visit her at








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  1. Jenifer says:

    Way to go!

    A friend of mine did a zen retreat, and we were excited for him (we wanted to do a zen retreat). About 2 days in, he was in incredible physical pain from the sitting. By the end of that day, he just decided to leave.

    I was really proud of him for that. It’s really the epitome of what this process *is*. It’s wise to take care of yourself, to know your limitations, and recognize what isn’t for you.

    It’s not like you can’t go home and meditate and get those benefits, you know? Or join a class rather than doing the retreat? Or whatever. You know. you can get there all kinds of ways. And doing so in a happy, healthy way is probably best. :)

    • Kaci says:

      Thank you for your comment. Initially, I was nervous to tell people that I left the retreat early. I believe 10-day retreats can work for people. In fact, I know a few people who have had life-changing experiences during or after attending. However, this retreat was not for me at this time. Life your friend, I am fortunate enough to have supportive network of people in my life who expressed gratitude and pride that I did what is best for me.

  2. Andrew Gurvey says:

    I very much respect your willingness to be true to yourself. It takes a lot of courage to stand up and do right by yourself instead of suffering to please others. Thanks for writing this piece.

  3. So Long, and Thanks for all the Bananas: Recovering Yogi | Simple Life. Good Life. says:

  4. Candace B Pinaud says:

    Hey Kaci,

    Thanks for writing. I have had many thoughts going through my head since I heard you left the retreat, pre-planned at that ;=). I am a bit surprised and wish I could spend some quality time with you to talk out ‘what happened’.

    • Kaci says:

      Hey Can, please feel free to contact me. I am obviously (lol) open to talking about why I feel this retreat was not right for me right now. Please know that it is not my intent to state that 10-day Vipassana retreats are a bad fit for everyone. I know several people who have benefited from the experience. As I wrote in the article, we are all just working through our own bullshit, and, tho I believe we are all headed to the same place, there are many ways to arrive.

  5. kate says:

    Just wondering how you finally hotfooted it out of there…

  6. Joshua says:

    Hi Kaci,

    Just finished reading your post about the Vip course on Big Is. and must say I believe I would relate with your experience. It blows my mind the power dynamic that I allowed myself to enter- as you say here ‘freely’. Following that I feel there is just as much courage needed to leave a retreat/situation like this one as there is needed to stay. I also remember that phrase ‘weak minded’ which even now occasionally picks at not only my ego. But I dont think I’ve ever experienced >Quitting< like I did there, I guess it seemed dramatic. Anyhow, props on your effort and post. I know it might be ancient history for you but Id appreciate a chat about it.


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