‘Remember what Peace there may be in Silence’ – Desiderata

Last Sunday I returned from a 10-day Vipassana Meditation retreat in Worcester.
I was hesitant about going – putting it mildly.

I knew the retreat was to learn a form of meditation called Vipassana*, but little else – other than being encouraged by acquaintances braver than me, who’d gone before. The experience promised the “magic” of the ancient Buddhist Meditation Technique – to eradicate discomfort, stress, unhappiness through experiencing 10 days of silence. And I don’t mean being still or contemplative, or toning it down: I mean total, complete and utter silence.

Vipassana means ‘to see things as they really are’.  The silence – known as the Noble Silence – meant more than no conversation.  It implied absolutely no communication or contact with the outside world, nor with any of my 60-fellow meditators.  No gestures, hand signals, eye contact or even a quick “bless you” when someone sneezed.

For a social person, a connector – a results-orientated former CEO like me – this is an Everest.  My real hesitation was that I knew that this amount of silence combined with what turned out to be just over 70-hours of meditation, there would be only one place to go with my thoughts, ideas, issues and longings – and that would be inwards.

It had taken me 3-years and 4 cancellations (the fourth by Covid) to finally drive through the gates of Dhamma Pataka and walk into the reception to hand over my cell phone and car keys (an enormous loss of control) and submit myself to whatever was to come.

As a coach, I’ve spent the past seven years actively turning inward doing the ‘work’ – therefore, this retreat should have meant a ‘walk in the park’ for me, but it was exactly as I feared – tough beyond measure.

The truth is that we all avoid the uncomfortable stuff that we’ve – knowingly or unwittingly – suppressed all our lives and find great ease in seeking distraction outside of ourselves.  It is possible (and desirable and productive) to take back control over our ‘monkey minds’, busy as they are with distraction, avoidance and incessant internal chatter. There is nowhere else to go at this retreat, but inwards and in so doing we had the time and space to empty the cupboards, sweep away the cobwebs and let go of all the ‘gunk’ that had been blocking or defining us for the past many years.

Their slogan is Be Happy! – now who doesn’t want that?

The process doesn’t simply sort out the inner being, but the outer actions –  our capacity for kindness, compassion and service to others that can change the world for the better when we become better, more aware humans.

The process appears simple but it is extraordinarily tough. Sitting down and meditating for 7-10 hours a day, simply observing your breath, brings physical pain close to torture. But you end up experiencing new sensations and being startled by the ‘stuff’ that arises. This is where the light bulb moments happen. You realise the temporary nature of thoughts, that it’s possible to acknowledge them for what they are (not always true) and to purposefully let them go.

If you’ve ever seen a seasoned meditator, or Buddhist monk sitting in stillness through meditation, you’ll quickly understand that this is how they do it.   It was quite astounding how, acceptance and the universal truth of impermanence prevented me from reacting when a tickle on my head felt like a bee sting, a darting pain in the hip, like a need for a hip replacement, a fly on my forehead – feeling just like that, a fly on one’s forehead – one of the worst sensations ever.

Then there was the sensation of a tear drop slowly making its way down my cheek or the visceral memory of something suppressed so deeply, a long time ago, making itself visible; and yet, I held my composure.  Who would believe that simply moving one’s attention away from the pain or sensation, would ultimately provide relief, without so much as a movement?
I very quickly understood why my young nephew (who, earlier this year, had completed the course) said that he was subsequently able to not blink or flinch when sparring in the boxing ring.

I, too, had just attained a Superpower!

There were times where the rebel in me wanted to rear her head– I have never longed more, for home and my loved ones. Then again, I’ve never been cut off from the world like this before.  – it may have something to do with the humility I found myself surrendering to – the discomfort of practically every circumstance.  Needless to say, I am glad I did it, delighted I stayed and I’m elated by the after-glow.  I will return to give service – it’s what all old students do – in order to ensure that the technique is learned by many and, in so doing, create a better world for all.

I know this sounds a bit like nirvana – (something only monks and rock bands understand), yet after 11 days, I can vouch for the outcome.

It’s only been three days since I completed the Vipassana Meditation Retreat. Still, stuff arises (it always will) and I still let it go.  I find that I have no pain or tightness in my body, I’m calm and serene (my husband can testify to this) and I’m very conscious of how incredibly good I’m feeling – although it remains a bit surreal.

My body is lighter – did I mention the amazing vegetarian meals or the fasting?
Like all things of intrinsic value, it’s not in a take-away bag. The experience and the discipline (like an hour of meditation every day) has to become a way of life.

PS – I should have mentioned that this course is free with the request for a donation of any amount once you’ve completed the course and experienced its benefits.

Author: Paula Brown

*The Vipassana Technique  was originally taught by the Buddha Gautama, 2500 years ago, with the aim of helping people to live moral lives by remedying universal ills.  In the real world, and in the present day, this means helping us remove dissatisfaction and stress (and everything that comes with it) from our daily lives.  

While the technique comes from the teacher, Buddha, the teachings are universal – not connected to any religion or spiritual organisations and practiced without conflict with existing beliefs.  It is an art of living that is guided by the Universal truth of nature that everything is impermanent and, when observed, can be released. 

 

For more information:  Vipassana Meditation