“I’m going to meditate for 10 hours a day for 10 days”
Was the most common comment I received when telling people about the silent Vipassana meditation course I was about to do just outside of Melbourne in Woori Yallock. A sentiment I repeated to myself many times over the duration of the course as the mixture of fear and excitement gave way to boredom and hard-core endurance. The silent part means no talking or eye contact with the other course participants for nine and a half days of the ten day course, also no reading, writing….or any entertainment basically.
I can’t claim to remaining entirely silent for the 10 days, there were three accidental incidences of silence breaking:
- “This is awesome” slipped through my barricade on day 1 as I sat down outside in the sun to a huge plate of vegetarian tucker.
- “Bouncing boobs” escaped my lips on day 3 as I trundled up to the meditation hall; I guess I should have worn a bra that day.
- “AHA HA HA HA HA HA” things were getting a little strange internally by day 6 as I kept waking myself up (and I suppose my 2 dorm-mates, sorry guys!) with outbursts of sleep-laughing- I didn’t even know that was a thing! …………….
- OK there was one other involuntary breaking of silence, let’s just say I was happy the other 40 men and 39 women in the meditation hall had their eyes closed while meditating on the afternoon of day six after we ate lentils and potatoes for lunch!
The meditation technique taught is pretty structured and simple, three and a half days of preparatory meditation techniques, before the Vipassana technique is taught half way through day four.
After 15 hours of meditating on the sensations I felt on the skin above my upper lip and below my nostrils (think Charlie Chaplin moustache area), I think my mind was going a little batty. We were each called up the front to the assistant teacher where he solemnly asked us “do you feel sensations in this area”- indicating to the C.C. moustache area, and “what sensations do you feel? By this stage my mind had decided to make its own fun; I had a vivid imagination of someone reverently replying “Yes, I feel the sensation like a snail is sliding across my skin” and the teacher responding “Ummmm……actually…..yeah….there is a snail on your face” pointing to where. Well this kept my brain entertain for about 3 hours of stifled laughter. Luckily when we could talk again half way through day 10 I told the only other girl who would find that funny, and we filled the already buzzing with pent-up chatter dining hall with our hysterical laughter for about 45 minutes.
This wasn’t the only thing my brain insisted on entertaining itself with. It decided to turn the ticking clock in the meditation hall into a drum beat for it to silently sing along. While I really wanted my mind to behave and concentrate solely on the meditation, it was kind of OK for the first three days when the song it chose was a lovely Sanskrit chant ‘Om Namo Bhagavate……..”. Not as OK on day four when it spontaneous changed to a song I’d seen on the internet, it remembered only four words from the chorus and then sang it repeatedly to the drumbeat of the ticking clock; ‘Jizzed in my pants’. Thanks goodness my mind got over that by day five!
This marathon of a meditation session was one of the hardest things I’ve done, so many emotions to experience for hours on end, mainly boredom, frustration, anger…interspaced with the odd fleeting feeling of love and awe. With not an ounce of entertainment in sight (unless you count the philosophy talks every night between, yes, even more meditation) I did find myself at one stage reading intensely the back of my shampoo bottles.
Was it worth it? Yes, I got so much out of it, even more so as the weeks pass, Every days some new revelation continues to work it’s way out.
The meditation technique taught is based on the Buddhist philosophy that all feelings and sensations we feel are neutral and it’s the mind that labels them ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and then proceeds to react accordingly. In this way our mind can double our suffering. For example, there’s the initial unpleasant occurrence that we maybe can’t control, plus our own unpleasant reactions such as anger, resentment, fear or sadness which only increase and prolong the suffering, even after the initial occurrence has become history.
The technique teaches to perceive all sensations with an equanimous, undisturbed mind, without aversion or grasping, in the knowledge that all things eventually pass.
It’s heightened my ability to feel sensations in my body in the present moment, and be OK with what I find. Limiting experiences to feeling the sensations that come up without necessarily adding a plethora of analysis, judgement, worrying or craving has been liberating. I’m more able to keep my mind on task, even when the task is bringing up feelings of boredom, overwhelm or fear, which I still feel, but don’t have to react to. I can more intensely feel pleasant sensations as well, hugs, touch and music have become even more blissful.
Would I do it again? Yes, but give me a couple of years 🙂
Pretty powerful stuff this Vipassana.