10 Days in Silence

Do you think you can go 10 days without speaking to anyone? In person and without your phone? Not scrolling through social media for 10 days looking at people's brunch posts? I recently completed a 10 day silence and meditation retreat near Barrie, Ontario and was it ever a wild ride.

“Why would you do this?” “What’s wrong with you?” “I wouldn’t last.” These are a few of the reactions I got when I was telling people I would be out of touch for 10 days.

In fact, not speaking to anyone wasn’t even the hardest part. Not having dinner and not being able to do pretty much any other activity other than meditation (no reading either!) is what made it one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done. There wasn’t even coffee (obviously bacon and a latte were the first things I indulged in upon return).

I have a few amazing friends and mentors who have completed the Vipassana Meditation course in the past and their consensus was that it was the hardest thing they've ever done, but they recommended it and would do it again themselves. That intrigued me so much. Highly valuing their experiences and recommendations, I signed up. I needed to see what this was all about.

I’ve done simple meditations in the past, using apps such as Headspace, and not to take away from their impact because they really are wonderful apps, but they’ve got nothing on the wild beast of Vipassana Meditation. Visualizations, soft music, breathing while day dreaming for 15 minutes at a time - isn’t this what meditation is? Ha, I wished.

Vipassana is far more rigid and requires ridiculous self-discipline. Silence for hours at a time. Heck, for the first 3 days our only instruction was to focus on how the breath left the nostrils and hit the upper lip. Gah, how was I going to survive 10 days here? I looked forward to my favourite part of the day which was the theory lesson every night, based on Buddhist principles and ancient Indian and Burmese teachings. Intellectual entertainment - yay! I soaked it up like a big sponge.

The theories that resonated with me most are as follows:

1. Anicca - The Law of Impermanence 

We must lose attachment to our past and we need to understand that everything is always changing. You are the master of your present. We are not to dwell on the shame of our past failures, and likewise, we must detach from the pride of our past accomplishments. You are who you are at this moment in time. This too shall change. 

2. Developing an Equanimous Mind

The way we react to things is a result of our past experiences and memories. Some of these reactions are negative. If we become aware of these responses and consciously choose to react equanimously, or with a balanced mind, this reaction process will soon become unconscious and you will be at peace at all times.

3. Removing Sankharas

Sankharas are a build-up of experiences which lead to the conditioning of the mind and therefore influence how we react. Imagine an onion with several layers. Our job is to work on removing all the layers, the built-up sankharas, so that we are left only with a strong core; a balanced, unconditioned mind, happy on its own. To be happy at the core also means not relying on external factors or satisfaction from cravings to bring us happiness. Happy and grateful at the core, and you will be gifted with more (hey, that rhymed!).

4. Compassion Towards the Suffering of Others 

Other people’s reactions are a result of their own experiences and memories. If someone responds to us in a way that is hurtful, simply do not accept their reaction as the truth and do not respond in an equally harmful way. Their negative reaction has nothing to do with us or with the truth, but rather is a reflection of their own pain. Be compassionate to these people for at this moment in time, they do not know any better. But remember "anicca" - this too shall change and they can come out of their suffering if the will is there.

You can see how these 4 principles are all related: being aware of past experiences, changing the habit patterns of the unconscious mind, leading to liberation. Pretty heavy stuff, yet very simple.

So in retrospect (always easier) I can say that the question shouldn’t be if you can give up 10 days of your life without your phone or speaking to anyone. Ask yourself if you would give yourself 10 days to invest in changing the habits of your mind, which I guarantee will immensely impact you for the rest of your life.

If you have any questions about the retreat and are interested in attending, feel free to reach out and I’d be happy to provide some more insight.

Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam. {/May you always be happy.}

n*

(This was part of the walking path in the meditation grounds. The heart was carved into the tree by a beaver. Photo taken when I was picked up and reconnected with an iPhone.)