Foreword: I am going to apologise in advance for any grammar nazis, or anyone really with any respect for the english language. This post is written in the past, present and probably even future tense there too. It's in 1st & 2nd person, maybe I’ll throw a 3rd person in just for good measure… Also I’m sure I’ve left a “mediation” in there somewhere, you know what I mean… (It's all words, no phones = no photos) Enjoy!
Yatta! 10 days, 100 hours of meditation, copious amounts of tea and an all round incredible, challenging and priceless experience.
A couple of years ago a friend told me she was going to be out of reach for a while, she was going on a 10 day silent meditation retreat. I was intrigued and impressed, I could never imagine myself having the capacity for such a challenge. Mainly because whenever I had tried meditation before I’d never really “got” it, like the majority of people who first start, I never really understood what I was meant to feel, if I was doing it right, my mind never stayed still and above all I’m pretty sure I fell asleep 5 minutes after I started or spent the entire time fidgeting and thinking about anything else to keep my mind off how bored and uncomfortable I was 😫
So as much as I knew I should have a mediation practice I never managed to make one stick. Since this time my friend has done the course 4 times (I think), I’ve met other people who have done it and I’ve read books by authors who are also students of this method, including Yuval Noah Harari the author of Sapiens. Clearly there’s something in it.
As a yoga teacher I would feel embarrassed when people asked if I meditated, I’d always answer with “not as much as I should” ie... never.
I decided if I was going to start this life changing practice I would have to go all in, an intense 10 day Vipassana retreat.
Now these course get booked up incredibly quickly, like within hours! So I put a reminder in my Calendar to be at my computer at 7pm on the opening date... and I missed it 🤦♀️ Maybe there was a cosmic reason I missed it, maybe I wouldn’t have been ready if I’d gone on that one… I waited for the next registration date to open and I was on it, the minute it opened up I registered my spot... click confirm. Done. I’d committed, in a couple of months I’d be thrown in at the deep end, way out of my comfort zone and into something I wasn’t sure I would be able to do.
I’m not going to lie, I was nervous in the weeks leading up to it, I even thought about cancelling, but I had made all the arrangements, got all my classes covered, etc. So it was done, I was going.
In hind sight I knew very little about what I was getting myself into, everything I knew about it was just the little my friend had told me and the details given on the registration page, mostly the rules, of which there were 5 precepts:
•to abstain from killing any being
•to abstain from stealing
•to abstain from all sexual activity
•to abstain from telling lies
•to abstain from all intoxicants
Pretty standard, and nothing too challenging there.
To reduce the risk of breaking these rules and to help with the meditation “Noble Silence” is observed from the beginning of the course until the morning of the last full day, meaning absolutely no communication with other students on the course, no touching, no eye contact, no acknowledgement whatsoever. For the most part this was fine, however whenever I accidentally bumped into someone you immediately apologise then apologise again for speaking, the hole just keeps getting bigger... and every time my roommate came in I felt so rude, completely ignoring her 😳 She understood of course...
I guess to avoid the risk of breaking the 3rd precept men and women were separated, eating in separate dining areas and boundaries enforced in all outside areas. And no physical exercise was allowed during the course, not even yoga! It was funny to watch people trying to sneak in a cheeky downward dog or handstand, one of the girls took to lunging around the wooded walking area (although when I spoke to her at the end she said she regretted it the next day during meditation #DOMS!).
As part of the “Noble Silence” no reading or writing materials were allowed on the course, so I’ve done my best to remember some of my more significant thoughts & feelings and details of some of the days but there’s plenty that I’ve forgot as they all seem to merge by the end... that’ll happen when every day is the same...
Day 0: Firstly this is not a straight forward place to get to by public transport. A bus, tube, two trains and a coach and 4 hours later I was making nervous small talk with other equally nervous meditators.
“First time?”, “what brings you here?”, “have you come far?”, “have you done anything like this before?”… Most of the people I spoke to were there for the first time and knew about as much as me.
An hour or so later, we’ve settled into our room, a very simple two bed, two shelves and three coat hooks each. A brief exchange with the girl who would be my roommate for the next 10 days, at least I knew her name before all communication was prohibited.
A gong sounds ushering us into the hall where we wait for our names to be called before we’re allocated our cushion where we would spend the best part of 10 hours everyday. I was so fixated on the idea of not talking for 10 days, the 4am starts, no exercise and having only a piece of fruit for dinner that I didn’t actually give any thought to the mediation we’d be doing. 10 hours a day! Thats more than I’ve probably ever done up until now!
Settling down onto my cushion I’m thankful that my hips have made a close to full recovery, but still the prospect of sitting crossed legged for extended periods was daunting.
After everyone found their places, old students at the front, new sat behind, chanting starts to come from the halls speaker system. It really needs to be heard to understand… Just give it a little listen too and you'll know what I mean https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2Vnc1Sg2DA
All around the room you could hear people trying to stifle their laughs, I think it was safe to say they were probably a bit out of their comfort zone!
Although there were Assistant Teachers present, all instructions and teachings were delivered by tape and video recordings of S.N. Goenka, aside from a very few whispered questions from the assistant teachers he would be the only human voice we heard for the next 10 days. When I first heard him speak I thought he sounded like an Indian Lovelace, the sexy soul penguin in Happy Feet. Thankfully he was so funny! I guess that’s part of why he was so successful at spreading the technique around the world after only being remembered in Burma for 20 centuries.
After being introduced to Goenka and given our instructions for the following day it was off to bed.