I know it sounds strange. Who actually signs up to mediate for 100 hours and not speak for 10 days straight?!
Me apparently! And Richard Branson according to my Vipassana teacher. Ha!
So in 2008 in late February, there I was, slightly nervous and trembling in the moist aromas that only the air in Kerala (Chengannur, India) can produce hoping that I’ve made the right decision. I was about to undertake a journey of a lifetime, a journey into my mind, into my being and I was uncertain of what I might find.
All the participants, about 30 men and 30 women, arrived by about midday on the day before, and I think everyone was quite shy and nervous as no-one really spoke too much to one another. A meal was prepared for us which we shared and then we had a meeting with our Vipassana a teacher, an elderly gentleman who had been practising and teaching Vipassana over for 2 decades. He told us that from this afternoon on, we would be practising noble silence which meant silence in our words, actions and thoughts. Then he provided us with a timetable which went like this:
- 4am – Morning wake-up bell (Yes, I know! 4am!!!)
- 4.30am – Group meditation in the meditation hall
- 6.30am – Breakfast
- 8am – Group meditation in the meditation hall
- 11am – Lunch
- 12pm – Rest and meetings with the teacher
- 1pm – Group meditation in the meditation hall
- 5pm – Tea break
- 6pm – Group meditation in the meditation hall
- 7pm – Teacher’s discourse in the meditation hall (this bit is so fun!)
- 8pm – Group meditation in the meditation hall
- 9.30pm – Retire and lights out
Shocking, yes! Exciting and adventurous also! I was going into unexplored territory and this alone was terrifyingly gripping and enthralling. I was about to serve 10 days of Dhamma.
Then we were shown to the meditation hall and where we would sit for the next 10 days. We were each assigned a cushion on the floor which was to be ours alone and we would return to exactly the same place for every meditation session. I thanked my lucky stars that I was placed next to one of the only girls I had spoken to during lunch, a pretty, curly haired brunette from French Canada whom I immediately liked. I felt I had an ally is this misadventure of the mind and soul!
Boys and girls were separated (as was our accommodation) boys on the left side of the hall, girls on the right. We were not to have any interaction with the opposite sex, nor with one another. Not even a glance. No eye contact. Nothing. We were to focus our eyes to the floor and deeply within ourselves.
Accommodation was sparse, we had four girls to a room and were given basic clean sheets and a mattress. Anything additional we had to provide ourselves. I must add here that not all Vipassana Centres are like this. It just happens that I went to one in one of the poorest areas in one of the poorest countries in the world. (Vipassana Meditation centres exist all over the world in almost every country and attendance is free, it is simply suggested that you give a donation when you leave.)
We all settled in, and prepared for, well, who knows what! Something. And that afternoon we started. We sat still. On our cushions. And TRIED to will away our thoughts. Mostly unsuccessfully. And I’m pretty sure many of us wondered what the hell we were doing here. I knew my friends were somewhere in Goa, probably drunk, possibly taking some concoction of chemicals and partying the days and nights away. And I was here, feeling like a demure nun, and had take a vow of silence.
It turned out that being silent was certainly the easiest part of the whole process. What was most challenging, even more challenging than stilling the mind and allowing thoughts to come and go without attachment, was sitting still, without moving, or at the very least moving very, very little for up to 3 hours at a time. My body produced aches and pains I had never experienced before. Something that our Teacher called Chankaras: spiritual/mental blockages or painful experiences that have settled into our bodies and that were being stirred up and released by our meditation practise.
Days 1 to 3 were okay. Days 5 & 6 were the peak of my aggravation. My inner turbulence took over and plagued my mind and my body. Day 7 I had a breakthrough. Day 9 I cried. I cried for all the pain and suffering of humanity. Mostly for mine. I cried for the people who had hurt me and the people I had hurt. I cried as a release from all that was pent up inside.
After sitting still in the only one or two positions that remained comfortable for 10 hours a day, the revelation was the 20 year old video by S.N. Goenka that was shown every evening before our last mediation session prior to bedtime. This was the fun part! After being in my own head for almost 10 hours, any kind of external input was tantalising. It was like ice-cream for the brain! What was amazing about this video as he outlined what we had processed throughout that particular day of Vipassana was that on each particular day he was spot on! He expressed exactly what had happened within each one of us throughout the day. He was right on day 3. He was right on day 5. Even on day 7 it was as if he had spent the day in my mind! Here is a couple of little clips of him explaining what Vipassana is and how it works for your curiosity!
(Yes, he ALWAYS talks like that!)
Yes, it was fucking hard. And yes, it was bloody amazing!
On the 10th day after our mediation session before lunch our teacher told us that when we were ready to leave the meditation room we could finally talk to one another. After all this time when we finally could communicate, I was afraid to. I didn’t want to. I wasn’t even able to! Once I finally left the hall and joined the other girls who were laughing and hugging, unified by a powerful experience that no words could fully describe in its entirety, I was literally speechless. Different girls asked me the basics; my name, where I was from. We didn’t know anything about one another despite having spent 10 days in such close proximity. But I was literally numb. Tears crept to my eyes and I was overwhelmed by the experience. The girls hugged me and told me that I had inspired them with my silent determination, sitting still and straight every day. When they felt they couldn’t go on they would look to me and persevere. How much we can affect one another in such great silence. I was filled with wonder and joy for the world. Finally when my voice started to warm up and accustom itself to speaking again, I thanked my Canadian friend for sitting by me for all that time. She expressed the same. We were on the same team.
We continued our mediation in silence for the remainder of the day, however spoke in our breaks, however it was clear that once we had begun speaking again, the depth of our mediation practice was incomparably to that during the days in which we all observed noble silence.
The following day we all went separate ways, with only one another’s email contacts in hand and special memories of a bond built in silence.
I was high for at least a week following the mediation. Like, fucking high! Pure happiness emanated from my soul, through my body and there was nothing that could possibly bother or burden me. My mind and soul had been entirely cleansed out – a mental detox – a purified self. Everything was fine. In fact, everything was perfect. My entire existence was in absolute ACCEPTANCE of what was. Compassion. A deliciously deep sense of peace. No resistance. No self-doubt. Just pure trust, love and peace.
Unfortunately this sense of self did not remain forever however I do carry it with me and can go back to this place whenever I still my mind long enough to let go.
Would I do it again? Absolutely.