Being silent has never been one of my many talents.
One day after I had just moved back to the U.S. after many years abroad, I was bickering with my husband—frustrated with an unsuccessful business model, when my mind began yelling stop! So I went online, found the nearest Vipassana center, and headed to the woods of Georgia for 10 days of silence.
Vipassana (or Insight Meditation) was taught first by Buddha 25 centuries ago, then altered, reinvented and fused with different religions.
Today, anyone can practice it regardless of your beliefs. The gist is to become aware of the daily sensations our body transmits by using our own breath. Through this practice, not only can we relieve ourselves of misery, pain, disappointment, expectation, impatience, jealousy—to name a few, but we become capably aware of our sensations these feelings trigger.
Considering we are one big bundle of energy made of stardust, Vipassana enables you to feel those vibrations inside of you, while cleansing the mind.
Before embarking on this inward journey, outward conversations with others began a bit like this:
“Can you be quiet for 10 days?”
“Is something wrong with you?”
“Why would you ever do such a thing?”
All good and valid points.
It took me five years until the time was right to attend a retreat, but after seeing six other friends complete the course and witness the positive changes in their lives, that my own inner struggle prompted me to go.
Here are five things I learned during my silent meditation retreat:
It is painful. Next to childbirth, Vipassana was the most painful, yet also the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life. Try being by yourself—really with yourself—all day, for 10 days. Your body starts making excuses for sitting on average of 10 to 12 hours. You have back cramps, your hips hurt, you begin to question if this was really a good idea. You want to flee, you want to give up—and some people do.
And then, suddenly after a few days of sitting and focusing on your breath all day, you finally feel exactly where the air from your nostrils touches your face. I had been breathing all my life—20,000 times a day for 36 yeas, and it took a silent meditation retreat for me to actually be aware of the location of my exhalation. It was an incredible feeling.
I realized all conditioned things are in a constant state of flux. Everything is impermanent, nothing ever stays the same, so observe it and enjoy life. Letting go of attachment paves the way for a flow of love and compassion which I was unaware of obtaining through a devotion of my own breath.
Vipassana forces you to think about everything. Everything. If you recall something that has bothered you or angered you in the past, you discover that these feelings stem from longing or craving something or someone. We are obsessed with our own ego. We want recognition for our efforts, our skills, our talents. We want money, love, and we want more and more…and even more of it.
Once you are able to release this mainstream conditioning, the misery dissipates. Of course, it is not that simple. But 10 days in silence paves the road to bring you back to the real essence of being.
Your perception of food changes. As a Wellness Coach and Personal Trainer, I collaborate with experts on eating disorders, and mindful eating, but it was only until I attended this retreat that my relationship with food also changed. Considering I was a first time student of Vipassana, dinner consisted of fruit and water or tea. As an athlete, I’m a hearty eater, so instinctively I raced to the fruit bowl for dinner on Day one. By nighttime, my stomach churned and growled. My “hangriness” superseded my thoughts. But by day four my “Aha” moment arrived: the mindset that I needed a certain amount of food was actually desire fueled by my ego!
Meditation is beneficial for everyone. Regardless the meditation style, whether it is TM (Transcendental Meditation), Zen, in between your yoga pranas, or whether you use a mantra or not, I strongly recommend a daily practice. But to me Vipassana is different.
Think of a tree when the branches become unruly, you prune it to keep it under control. Meditation is the pair of shears used on the mind, while Vipassana is both trimming and uprooting so that a new sapling can grow.
As the New Year approaches, perhaps you cannot tear yourself away for 10 days, but give yourself this gift:
Once a month, for an entire day, be silent, detox digitally, no reading, no writing, only being and breathing. Step away from yourself and watch what happens.
Breath is everything.
To find your nearest Vipassana location, click here and have a look at their schedule.
Author: Ashley Peeler
Assistant Editor: Tammy Novak; Editor: Catherine Monkman