Choose Meditation and Alternative Programs Wisely

I had a difficult experience at the Southern California Vipassana Center, a ten day meditation program known for being the "boot camp" of meditation practices, with long days of silence and sitting. Unfortunately this center had some weird rules and cultish aspects. The approach was rigid and the teacher would not allow me to leave the meditation hall to use my glucose meter or to treat a low blood glucose, without a lecture afterward that I must not allow this to happen again. Participants were not allowed to keep food in their rooms, even just emergency food stashes to treat low blood glucose. This particular teacher tried to forbid me from having glucose tablets in the meditation hall. In her view, my normal diabetes care was too disruptive to others and she proclaimed that I was not healthy enough to complete the program. I am a T1 for almost 50 years, on a pump for 25 years and now a glucose sensor. I climb mountains and work in an extremely demanding job, despite complications and neuropathy. However, I do have fears and concerns that I could end up in a low blood glucose emergency without appropriate support and I just clashed with this teacher. I also had huge concerns about what my blood sugars would do, because an odd side effect for me of deep relaxation can often be a big glucose drop. So I had no idea how my insulin requirements might change during ten days of meditation and I felt I needed to test pretty obsessively. Also, the food was wonderful, but a completely different diet than I am used to, and, no dinner. At one point I resorted to sneaking glucose tablets into the meditation hall in my socks. Also the staff in general were full of misconceptions about diabetes and thought I could be treating it nutritionally instead of with an insulin pump. The biggest problem, no cell phones allowed in the bedrooms at night and no way to call 911. I became very fearful. I certainly did have some spiritual experiences there. Alone at night, I opened up to my higher wisdom and felt almost as if I could hear my son saying, "Mom, just get out of there!" I left, breaking all the rules, on the 4th day, feeling very unsafe there and thinking that I might not be able to get medical attention if I needed it. We who live with diabetes have to persistently claim the space we need to test glucose and fiddle with our pumps and keep extra food on hand at all times. And we also need to have communication and trust with the people around us so that they know what to do in an emergency. I would just advise that people with diabetes choose these kind of programs very carefully. The Southern California Vipassana Center is not a safe environment for someone who takes insulin. That's just not the right program for us. I had to work through my own disappointment and guilt that I did not finish this task that I had wanted to finish so much. However, I did experience a "Vipassana miracle," as I've heard about, although I do not recommend that anyone take this route. The long hours of sitting exacerbated my nerve pain, and I found myself in the worst pain of my life, wondering if I needed to go to a hospital. Alone in my room, I turned again to meditation, sitting in a less restrictive seat, and the horrifying pain vanished. Seriously. So a powerful lesson about the role of fear and the mind in the experience of pain. But, I also worked through other important stuff in the weeks afterward. I realized that my fears of low blood glucose were, in my case, fortunately exaggerated and my blood sugars actually stayed pretty stable. I was the one who swung back and forth, overreacting to bg changes. Meditation, however, is an amazing and important self-care tool for living with chronic medical conditions. How ideal it would be to practice mindfulness in performing diabetes self-care, creating a space where the technology we use to stay alive, meters, pumps AND telephones, are part of that mindfulness, rather than something that is looked down up and banished from the meditation hall. So, claim your space, gently but persistently. And know that the little beeping sounds that your meter makes are not disruptions, but the joyous sound that accompanies the maintenance of a miraculous body, one that lives and thrives, even though it doesn't make insulin. That, is a real miracle.

Please post a comment if you’ve had similar experiences. Actually, I am crafting a letter to them stating that they have discriminated against me under Title III of the ADA. We need to take action when discrimination occurs.