In a few days time I’m heading about an hour north of Auckland for 10 days of silent meditation.
Yep, you heard me……. 10…….DAYS……..IN……..ABSOLUTE……..SILENCE.
The course is called Vipassana.
The name itself can be a little hard to wrap your tongue around at first. For the last 2 months my boyfriend has been informing people that I’m undertaking Savana, no wait, Matakana, Srivasana, Trikonasana……..that last one’s a yoga pose – he’s getting closer!
Willingly volunteering to undertake 10 days of silent meditation has left most of my friends and loved ones baffled. The conversations have gone a little something like this:
Them: Hang on, you’re what? You’re paying, actually paying to not speak a single word for 10 days?! That’s mental.
Me: Well technically there is no fee, I can donate what I choose to at the end of the course.
Them: But… wait, what about phone calls? You can call people right?
Me: Uh, there’s actually no talking at all – either physically or mentally. So no reading, no writing, no i-phone, no internet. Nothing that engages the brain outwardly. The whole point is that it’s just me and my thoughts.
Them: (baffled and looking at me suspiciously like I have already lost it)…Hmm, sounds like a sure-fire recipe for insanity and mental breakdown.
To be honest, I’ve got to admit I’m weirdly excited and nervous by the faint possibility of having some kind of mental implosion, whereby I’ll be institutionalised with no hint that my former personality ever existed.
I know this is weird, I really do……..let me explain myself.
Someone wise once said that for humans to be fulfilled they need both certainty and uncertainty in their lives. This is absolutely true for me. Too much certainty and I get bored really quickly. I need something new, some sort of risk on a regular basis.
To this end I’ve already ski-dived, travelled alone to India, walked 100km non-stop for charity, spent 4 weeks in an ashram chanting words I didn’t understand and eating with only my right hand.
I have loads of friends who are always signing up for their next challenge, their next bit of uncertainty. These usually combine both the physical and mental. I know people who run ultra-marathons and bike across whole countries for fun. Part of the thrill is not just completing the challenge, but the uncertainty as to whether they have what it takes to actually do it. They question:
Will they finish?
Will their body last the distance?
Can they mentally hack it?
What will it feel like to hit the wall?
For me, this 10 days in silence is essentially the same – I’ll still be pushing my body, but instead it will be the experience of sitting cross-legged for up to 10 hours a day. I suspect it is a good thing I have expert physiotherapists at the ready!
Mentally, the challenge will be being faced with no external distractions and only my thoughts to contend with – who knows what weird, wacky and wonderful stuff might be lying in wait for me to discover.
I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to react and what will come up and there’s where the thrill of it all lies.
Alternatively, there may be absolutely nothing in there at all. And perhaps that’s not a bad thing.
The word “Vipassana” means “to see things as they really are”.
The idea is that we humans spend a lot of time lost in thought – judging, analysing, worrying, liking, disliking, more worrying ..….. you get the drift. In response to the thoughts, we experience a range of emotions, sometimes good, but a lot of times, depending on who you are, a bit negative as well. Anyone who has experienced anxiety and depression will resonate with this. Fear, guilt, sadness can all be conjured up by a simple thought, or a chain of thoughts.
And the mind can be a tricky character to tame.
All too often I’ll start out with some benign thought about eating lunch and next minute, I catch myself involved in a dramatic mind-engineered story worthy of an Oscar.
Another common sign the mind has you firmly in its grip is arriving at your destination with no memory of how you got there or the things you saw on the way. Sound familiar?
Vipassana, and meditation more generally, is designed to help loosen the grip this kind of thinking has on you, and in doing so, experience more of the happiness that lies beneath.
It is said that Vipassana was the technique the Buddha taught to help people come out of suffering. Obviously no-one at Vipassana HQ is promising that us mere mortals will become enlightened by all this, but that doesn’t bother me. Although I definitely won’t be turning down any extra wisdom that decides to come my way either.
If I make it out mentally intact and can still form sentences, I’ll let you know how it goes. Stay tuned.