My 10 Day Digital Detox (Inc No Talking, Reading, Writing & More)
Note: Originally I wrote this a couple of years ago but I have republished it for Medium.
I was sitting in a cafe talking to a friend who mentioned, among many things, doing a silent retreat. Intrigued, I asked her more about it and she told me its 10 days of no talking, no contact with the outside world and a lot of meditation. I thought that sounded very challenging, so I put it on my bucket list and forgot about it.
January 2013, I wanted to do something different and the silent retreat came to mind. Without thinking, researching or asking anyone else, I booked myself a place from June 5th to 17th 2013 and I now write this post the day I came out (June 18th 2013).
First off, if I had to do anything differently, I would have actually researched what I was going to be doing before I went. I did a bit of reading and asked a couple of friends who had done it before, but nothing too deep.
I did however ‘try’ to train before I left. I was going from White City to Shepherds Bush on the tube (London)and tried not to read, write and sit still. I got bored after a minute. I knew then that this silent retreat was going to be tough but I thought the surroundings would be better suited there and didn’t give it much more thought.
I headed off to Herefordshire on June 5th thinking I was on my way to a silent retreat that included some meditation, no reading, no writing, early starts and a digital detox. Within 5 minutes of arriving, I realised that it was actually not a silent retreat but a meditation retreat (Called Vipassana) with a number of rules and some code of conducts….silence was only one of them.
I had tried meditation in the past but sitting down for 10 hours a day trying to calm the mind or thinking of some religious figurine seemed a bit too much….Hmmmmmm, this was going to be harder than I ever imagined.
I won’t bore you with a detailed day to day diary but I will break down my experience with the most common questions I have been asked since I got released / sent home / got out etc. They have been:
- How are you now?
- How was it?
- How did you cope?
- What did you do?
- Did it change you?
How are you now?
When I walked into my home after the retreat, my flatmates thought 1 of 3 things would have happened to me:
- I would come out and just be like normal
- I would come out and be a bit odd for a couple of days and then go back to normal
- I would come out, turn into a nut job and kill them
It’s still early days but I think number 2 and 3 are not going to happen.
Update: I was fine after a week :-)
How was it?
Surreal!!! It’s hard to explain really as you go on a roller-coaster of emotions, experiences and events, some great, some awful. I was worried about the lack of technology but this digital detox did me the world of good as I have been stuck to a computer screen for years.
I did get an awful surprise though as the chronic pain I have with my hands due to, what I thought, typing (my repetitive strain injury aka RSI) didn’t stop. My hands were hurting, in a form of burning sensation, throughout…even though I didn’t touch a keyboard/phone.
How did I cope?
Besides the initial surprise of it being a mediation retreat, not just a silent retreat, I thought my biggest challenges would be:
• No talking for 10 days — My full time job is a teacher/trainer = Tough
• Early starts — Waking up at 4am is only a couple of hours after I normally go to bed = Tough
• No eating meat — I haven’t gone 2 days without any, let alone 10 = Tough
• Staying up to date and in contact — I’m addicted to my phone, internet and FOMO (fear of missing out) = Tough
I can tell you right now that these 4 were surprisingly easy, especially not talking. What I did find challenging was the food timetable and the fact that in your free time there was nothing to do.
Only once did I actually think about quitting and that was supper time (5pm) on day 1. The food timetable was as follows:
• 6:30am - Breakfast
• 11am - Lunch
• 5pm - Supper
When I arrived around 6pm on day zero, we had soup and bread for supper. Assuming that was what supper would be like every day, I was a tad bit upset as it was not exactly filling but it’s better than nothing.
On Day 1, breakfast was porridge, oats and fruit and that got me through to lunchtime (just). Lunch was spaghetti with quorn, which was actually quite nice but around 3pm my stomach started talking to me (obviously didn’t respect the rule of noble silence) and I was actually looking forward to the soup. By 4:30 I was famished. Who would have thought meditating would make you this hungry?? Then the following happened that I am still carrying feelings about:
• 5:00pm: I rushed to the food hall and saw some fruit and a large bowl of hot lemon water.
• 5:02pm: Grabbed a banana and a pear and stood by the door to the kitchen, waiting for them to bring out the soup.
• 5:05pm: Started thinking the helpers are late.
• 5:07pm: Still waiting.
• 5:10pm: Started getting agitated and annoyed at the helpers for being late. How hard is it to bring out soup and bread? Plus I am starving.
• 5:12pm: Had watched all 70+ guys grab fruit, drink and sit down.
• 5:15pm: Realisation hit. The fruit and the Lemon water was supper. I wanted to ask them to confirm, but wasn’t allowed to talk, so I had to use guess work.
• 5:16pm: Kept on repeating to myself “F*** this!!!! I want to go home. How can they expect anyone to live like this for 10 days? Do they really think it is acceptable for the last proper meal of the day to be at 11am?”
- 5:20pm: Went to my room while sulking eating a stupid banana and pear.
I had a lot of challenges at the Vipassana retreat and food was one of the toughest.
Yes it was hard to deal with and accept, but once done, it actually wasn’t as bad as my experience on the first day. It did make me look at food differently however, as for the rest of the duration food became a necessity, not a luxury.
At lunch it wouldn’t matter what was put on my plate as my mindset was ‘I need to eat this as I am not going to eat properly until 6:30am the next morning’.
All of a sudden, the stories my dad told me about growing up in Jamaica as a kid and not being fussy about food as you would be lucky to eat, made sense.
What did I do?
Sfter while, each day followed the same pattern:
4:00am — Morning wake-up bell
4:30–6:30 — Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30–8:00 — Breakfast break
8:00–9:00 — Group meditation in the hall
9:00–11:00 — Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
11:00–12:00 — Lunch break
12:00–13:00 — Rest and interviews with the teacher
13:00–14:30 — Meditate in the hall or in your room
14:30–15:30 — Group meditation in the hall
15:30–17:00 — Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher’s instructions
17:00–18:00 — Tea break
18:00–19:00 — Group meditation in the hall
19:00–20:15 — Teacher’s Discourse in the hall
20:15–21:00 — Group meditation in the hall
21:00–21:30 — Question time in the hall
21:30 — Retire to your own room — Lights out
The way Vipassana breaks down its form of meditation theoretically and practically was more than impressive. The best way I can describe the meditation is that it’s like a puzzle broken down into 10 pieces and you cannot work out what the final picture looks like until you put in the 10th and final piece.
Once the whole picture is together, and you see the results by actually doing and not just learning, you cannot be anything but impressed. I knew a ‘boot camp’ on meditation would lead to something but I am very happy in what I got. When asking people about it before I went in, they would describe it to me but always said its best you find out yourself. I get why they said it now. I don’t want to go into detail about the actual meditation either as if you ever decide to do it; it is worth finding out that way.
Also, I wouldn’t be able to do it justice and would probably make it sound rubbish. Kind of like when Eddie Murphy said in ‘Delirious’ about people going to work after watching his stand up, telling his jokes at work and messing up the punchlines as they cannot deliver it like him.
Did it change me?
I would love to say that meditating for 10 hours a day for 10 days in a secluded area, away from the outside world, would only equal a huge change, fireworks going off inside me and a huge halo effect but the reality was that it didn’t.
Did it change my views on meditation — Yes. Did I have an amazing experience and noticed immediate results — Yes. Will I continue meditating — Yes. Do I now believe I can walk on water, the world is wrong and I am now going to fix it — No.
Will it have a lasting change….only time will tell.
Update: It has been 3 years since the retreat and it has changed some aspects within me. I am still addicted to tech but I do have breaks from it and I think that is very important. I still mediate, but not Vipassana. I think it was great but not practical in a western world. I do Qi Gong and get the same benefits.
Did I enjoy it? I don’t know lol. If it was based on just the results I got from it then hell yes. If it was about anything outside the meditation and living like a monk/prisoner then no.
Would I do it again? Yes but I would be more ‘strategic’ so I wouldn’t get so bored.
Describe it in 1 word? Surreal.
Would I recommend this? 150%.
This was my thoughts towards the whole thing and only my views. There was around 130 other people who took part in this and they will have different views.
Ah, 1 more question I have been asked was how much did it cost? £0, zero, zilch, nada. They base everything on donations so if you complete it, you can have the option to donate and the money will go to pay for other people.
I know this was a long post but hopefully you found it useful.
Thanks for reading..