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10 Days of Silence: A Vipassana Experience

I listen to their steady snores at night, walk with them to the shower block in the morning, stand behind them in the line for lunch, yet we never speak.

It’s day 3 of a 10-day Vipassana mediation retreat, where 150 participants are asked to live 216 hours in total silence, free from digital devices, pens, paper and books. Instead you spend five to ten hours per day sitting in a large, dimly lit hall, meditating.

It wasn’t the meditating that I found most difficult. It was the dead space in between. You’ve been up since 4 in the morning, it’s now 10am. You’ve walked around the grounds, filled up your water bottle, gone to the toilet, sat on the brick wall in the main square, sat on the wooden bench beside the mediation hall, laid for a while on the green grass, and there’s still 45 minutes until the next meditation session.

You stew. Your mind is in turmoil. What day is it? How long till lunch? What are my family doing right now? Is my watch broken? Did I turn off the lights before I left? What’s happening at work? How long have I been sitting here? How have only three minutes passed since I last checked my watch?!

You’re fed, clothed, sheltered and safe, yet you sit and suffer. Your mind is locked in a cycle of craving and aversion. Aversion from this boredom, craving stimulation. You’re in pain with no-one to blame but yourself.

According to Vipassana, craving and aversion lie at the root of all unhappiness. They draw the mind away from the real and into the fantasy, causing suffering that has no basis in reality. It’s only until you sit and witness the mind fabricating so much unhappiness that this becomes clear.