Lesson #2: We make a lot of erroneous assumptions about people.

Posted on May 7, 2012


During a Vipassana retreat, there’s no communication with anyone else allowed. And when I say no communication, I’m not just talking about talking. You aren’t supposed to have any non-verbal with any one else, either. No eye contact, no gestures, no mouthing, “No coffee?!?” to the person next to you when you realize, at 5 am, that there is indeed, no coffee at this retreat.

Because of this, it’s really hard to get to know just what the people around you are thinking and feeling. Everyone else is kind of this blank slate on which you start to project a set of assumptions.

On the last day of the course, Day 11, in preparation for returning to the ‘real’ world, everyone can start talking again. It’s always a bit humbling, and funny too, for me to see just how many wrong assumptions I made about others during the course.

The woman who seemed to be zen incarnate during the course, the one whose aura of peace I envied greatly, tells me that this is the hardest thing she’s ever done. She thought about quitting several times over the ten-day period.

The guy who seemed to be a very serious person  is actually hilarious. Like Jon Stewart funny. I have no idea how someone with such a great sense of humor wasn’t seen even cracking a smile the whole time.

The person I shared my room with, who seemed to be the quiet, shy type, ends up staying late into the night of the 11th day telling me about the wild, party adventures of her recent past. She decided she needed a mediation course to help her tone things down a little. 

Each time I’ve sat a course {I’ve done three so far} I’m always left feeling, on the 11th day, that I really need to work on my people-reading skills. I mean, I am often totally wrong. About almost everyone.

And I’m not the only one. The 11th day is a time for everyone to voice what they assumed the others were thinking, feeling and being. Everyone, it seems, made a lot of erroneous assumptions about everyone else.

One of my roommates tells me she was afraid that I hated her because she snored. {She didn’t realize that I always bring ear plugs to any kind of community-sleeping arrangement and couldn’t hear a thing.} She spent every night making up these stories in her head about how much I probably hated her for snoring when I wasn’t even aware of it.

Another woman, who I had a few conversations with before the course started, told me that she was pissed off every time she saw me looking out on the Illinois cornfields during the breaks. “You were obviously just enjoying the nature around us,” she told me, “while I was struggling to even get through the day.” I told her that I wasn’t admiring the cornfields, but rather preparing an escape plan in case I needed to make a quick getaway.

At a course, it’s funny to see that a lot of us make these completely wrong assumptions about others. It’s so easy and commonplace to project our own insecurities onto others. Which has me wondering how many erroneous assumptions I make about people in my everyday life.