10 DAYS OF SILENCE. My invaluable experience of a Vipassana meditation retreat.
Okay guys this is a long one but PLEASE bear with me….
Over the past couple of years I’ve dabbled in meditation (15 minutes here and there) and have always been pleasantly surprised at how it calmed my busy and racing mind. Towards the end of last year when I stripped away any form of distraction such as social media/ drinking/ relationships I realised that I wasn’t truly fulfilled and I was masking how I felt through all these forms of escapism.
It probably seems hard to believe right? Especially when it looks like I’m leading the best life through Instagram, going on holiday every month, eating at the best places and wearing the nicest clothes? In all honestly I believed I was until I stripped it all back…(it’s important for me to be as transparent as possible that what you see on Instagram doesn’t always correlate to how you feel on the inside…I think we all know that.)
On top of all of this I had suffered from tiny bouts of anxiety here and there that seemed to be getting worse over the past 6 months, I’d also developed a health issue, derived from stress, my body was clearly telling me that something needed to change so that is when I decided to take time for myself and give myself the best medicine possible; a Vipassana silent retreat.
For those that don’t know Vipassana meditation (the oldest buddhist meditation practise) is another method that develops self-understanding through mindful training. Vipassana means “to see things how they truly are” by acknowledging the body and mind in the present moment it develops and strengthens momentary concentration.
So after a family holiday in Phuket, I flew off to Chaing Mai to a monastery called ‘Watrampoeng’ that my brother and friend had tried and tested and highly recommended.
On the plane over I started to feel slightly apprehensive, ‘could I do 10 days without talking? Would I get lonely? What will I do without my phone? What have I signed myself up for? Lots of my friends thought I was a little crazy for doing it but I had an overriding feeling of excitement and determination.
Once I arrived at the temple, we were layed down with THE RULES:
No talking, no phone, no books, no reading, no writing, no electronic devices, no wearing makeup, hair always to be tied up, no walking and drinking and a few others….(Wow!)
I was given 2 sets of linen clothing to wear for the next 10 days, an alarm clock (which the nun took off me after day 2, so I had no concept of time apart from the sound of the gong to signal lunch time) a stop watch and a key to my room. My room was basic, bear and uninviting, what had I got myself in for, I thought, but as the days went on, I realised I didn’t need anything else…
The whole 10 days were very much Do-It-Yourself. There were around 15 of us on the course, we were shown how to do the walking and sitting meditation which we would do ourselves over the next 10 days, we were given a certain number of hours of meditation to complete each day before reporting back to the teacher every afternoon to discuss our progress. (I was doing 13 hours a day by the end!)
THE DAILY SCHEDULE
4.30am - The GONG goes off, morning chanting and meditation (voluntary)
(Continue meditating in place of choice)
6.30am - GONG goes off for Breakfast (After 2 days I skipped breakfast, I wasn’t hungry and it only disrupted my practise)
(Continue meditating in place of choice)
10.30am - GONG goes off for Lunch, last meal of the day - The food was bloody delicious and caters so well for vegetarians, lots of vegetables, wild rice, tofu and seitan
Continue your practise for the rest of the day until bedtime (usually around 10pm) with reporting at 4pm.
It was mentally exhausting but what I experienced over the next 10 days was profound. I acquired an inner calm I had never felt in my life, a real inner peace devoid of negative thoughts and mind chatter. During those 10 days, I felt so alive and healthy, I remember waking up every morning at 4.30am to the sound of the gong, not even tired, looking in the mirror and for the first time looking vibrant with no bags under my eyes! Winner winner, chicken dinner!
So when I say a “silent retreat” I spoke briefly with the teachers, crumbled at points and exchanged a few words with my fellow yogis BUT it didn’t disrupt my practise as such, as long as I was still being “mindful” and not letting my mind wander, a few words here and there didn’t hurt anyone!
To be honest I did find the “no” talking quite challenging, being a naturally chatty person I found it weird and pretty awkward not being able to talk at meal times…this feeling quickly dissolved.
Bear in mind that every body’s journey is personal and so my experiences could be completely different to other peoples. Weirdly I didn’t miss having my phone at all, in fact I hardly remember even thinking about it, nor did I feel lonely or sad, on the contrary, I felt at home, safe and exactly where I should be. My unassuming/ bear bedroom became my sanctuary…
A FEW STAND OUT MOMENTS
Day 6 - Every day was different but (after doing around 65 hours of meditating) my senses were heightening so much that I felt like what could only be described as being on a trippy MDMA experience. Haha! My mind was playing tricks on me. I could see things moving from the corner of my eyes and I remember doing the practise in the dark and looking at a leaf that I could have sworn turned into a mouse! Ha. After asking my teacher if that was normal, he laughed and looked at me in a slightly funny manner… clearly not then. Just my mind playing tricks on me. None of the other yogis shared that experience either.
Day 7 - I had what I considered a breakthrough, Whilst I was doing the sitting meditation, focusing on my breathing, my heart started to race for 10 minutes and no word of lie, a huge release of tension and anxiety that felt like it had been built up over the years suddenly dissolved, left my body. The feeling that followed….Euphoria. I acquired an inner calm, a state of tranquility I had never felt before, It was like I was breathing for the first time (honestly guys it has to be experienced to be understood.) I’d describe it as a quieting of the mind, detached from the constant mental chatter and inner critic that we live with on daily basis. I feel like I finally had that lightbulb moment that said “Hoorah, This is what life is all about!’
Day 8 - This was my happiest day. I felt so at peace and calm. I sat against one of the temple pillars finishing my practise, the morning sun hitting my face and I remember watching a little black cat enjoying the sun and thinking to myself that I could sit here blissfully all day with not a worry or a care just utter presence and calm.
Day 9- I felt very relaxed but weirdly had a pang of anxiety during lunch which made me feel a little deflated, especially as I was in such a state of calm. After 9 days why was I still feeling anxiety? When I relayed the information back to my teacher he responded ‘impermanence,’ as you are taught in Vipassana nothing stays the same and everything is subject to change. It took me 3 hours of meditating to get back to the level of calm I had prior.
Would I do a Vipassana silent retreat again? HELL YES. I was even tempted to stay and do the full 26 days because once you’ve started to train the mind, you realise that you’re only just scratching the surface at 10 days.
LIFE AFTER THE RETREAT
It was quite a transition coming straight back into busy London life, I was getting headaches after spending just half an hour on my phone and it felt like everyone was operating at 700 miles per hour whilst I was going at a snails pace, I was getting tired, really tired…
So I’m meditating every morning now for an hour, there’s no way I’m letting this practise slip. I’m going to endeavour to do a silent retreat every year now, you can hold me to that!
Oh and my health issue, (which was a thyroid one) diminished. Most diseases and illnesses stem from stress so I knew calming my mind would be the best cure for it. And Voila it was!
Practising mindfulness meditation requires work, and as my teacher kept reminding me the mind is like a muscle, the more you train it the stronger it becomes. HOW crazy that we live in a society that is so focused on training the body yet we completely neglect the mind; the one thing that causes all of our suffering but equally the only thing that will set us free and provide us with true inner happiness.
I’m not saying 10 days will change your life, I’m certainly no monk and I still have that inner critic and negative thoughts, I’m a human, ‘a thinking being’ but what it has allowed me to do is quieten those thoughts by accessing the present moment, I can look at my thoughts objectively as not being my own, which for me was liberating! (Sounds easy to be present, right? I thought I was totally present until I did this course. Trust me, not until you train your mind can you fully appreciate what it’s like to be living in the now.)
I know how much this will benefit everyone reading this especially in our society that places so much emphasis on finding happiness on the outside world whether through a job, a relationship, a new outfit, a bit of botox, but that only buys temporary happiness until it’s over, you wrinkle, you loose that job, you dump your partner…
Have you ever been constantly drained, tired or depressed from all the mind chatter constantly dictating the way you feel and in turn changing the way you perceive the world. ‘ Ah I need to loose more weight’ ‘Ah I need to get that promotion’, ‘Ah I’m getting too many wrinkles.’ We lose the present moment by constantly having these thoughts, our ego thrives of negative thoughts so we get caught up and forget about the here and now, THE ONLY TIME WE WILL EVER HAVE!
This has honestly been one of the best tools I have received, if it can help me it can help you and if there is one thing I can encourage you guys who are reading this, it’s not just to buy the latest bikini I’m promoting or lust over the last holiday I’ve been on because, non of that matters if you aren’t truly at peace on the inside…(I know) because it’s temporary, it’s fleeting it’s short lived and it isn’t the happiness (I PROMISE) that you are consciously or unconsciously searching for. It’s to get up go book a Vipassana retreat (for those committed ones) or if you’re not ready yet start making meditation a part of your daily routine, sit with yourself and stop running away from your thoughts. It will be the greatest gift you give yourself and a step closer to finding an inner peace, an inner calm you didn’t even know existed.
“Change your thoughts and the world around you changes.”
The Temple I went too:
For those that don’t want to jump the nest, here are a couple a little closer to home… (I haven’t trialled and tested these so I don’t know how good they are.. )
UK VIPASSANA RETREATS
An insightful reading list that has helped me on my journey
The Power of Now- Eckhart Tolle
A New Earth - Eckhart Tolle
The Secret - Rhona Byrne
The Power - Rhona Byrne
How to be Human - Ruby Wax
The Four Agreements - Don Miguel Ruiz