What does the sound of silence look like? How does it feel to observe silence for an entire 10-day Vipassana meditation course?
One thing is certain: going silent for the Vipassana retreat increased the level of gratitude of everyone who knows me!
Vipassana Meditation and Noble Silence
Vipassana is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation, rediscovered by Gautama Buddha 2,500 years ago (https://www.dhamma.org/en/index). The technique aims to eradicate impurities of the mind and help you reach a state of happiness and liberation: otherwise known as Enlightenment.
Over 10 days, you gradually learn the meditation method and to support the learning practice, students commit to a code of disciplines that includes a rule of noble silence. Hence why people often refer to Vipassana as a silence retreat.
Silence means silence of body, speech and mind, therefore gestures and written notes are also a no-no. You can speak to your Teacher during certain times of day or when she addresses you, and with your course Manager, in case of any problems.
Surprisingly, the silence wasn’t the toughest part of the course.
Why I Did the Vipassana Course
Life coaching and solo travelling have taught me the power of silence. Add to this the many benefits of meditation, and I knew Vipassana could do no harm. Quite the opposite, its goals aligned perfectly with my Freedom Coaching objective of freeing ourselves from mind gremlins and limiting blocks.
If a place, book, experience, or anything shows up to me in some form 2, 3 or more times, and it somewhat resonates, I take it as a sign to investigate it further and go for it.
Recently, many friends experienced and mentioned Vipassana to me, then while in India, I found a copy of ‘Siddhartha’ (Herman Hesse and Paulo Cohelo) in a café overlooking the Ganga, in Rishikesh, and read about how Vipassana was key to Siddhartha’s attainment of Enlightenment.
I wasn’t ready for the Vipassana during the one month I spent in India, so I set an intention to find a centre once back in Europe. My vanlife adventure offered a great opportunity to fit the course. I picked a period and location that worked with my sketchy itinerary, and I applied for a place as soon as the list opened, four months in advance.
My Vipassana Experience in Lutirano, Italy
The only official Vipassana centre in Italy is in Lutirano (FI). The natural and peaceful location (and the mild, sunny weather) helped, because the course is NOT easy.
Overall my experience turned out to be more pleasant than I anticipated. The special moments overrun the struggles.
I woke up at 4am for 11 days. For a late sleeper like me, I was surprised at how I’d bounce out of bed at the first gong, shouting “Good morning, Everyone!” – in my head.
The only reading material allowed was the welcoming leaflet: “Introduction to the Technique and Code of Discipline”. Here’s when I took on board the daily programme of 11hrs meditation.
Individual, group, in the hall, in your room.
The long meditations were challenging, physically and mentally, but ultimately rewarding.
You start by focussing on your breath, in and out of your nose, then very small areas of your body (i.e. between your nostrils and your upper-lip) for 2/3 days. From day 3, you widen your focus and practice meditating without moving for a full hour, 3 times a day. The pain from sitting in one position for that long was excruciating at times. With practice, it becomes more comfortable and the meditation deeper. And the healing starts showing its magic.
Doubts only emerge on the first evening, before entering the hall for our last group meditation of day one. “What am I doing?”. I needed a validation it was the right thing. I looked up to the starry sky and hoped for a beam of light. Nothing. The shooting star manifested the next morning, at 4.25am as I stood at the same spot, for the first meditation of day two!
I didn’t struggle to disconnect from my phone and communications. I was longing for time-out from social media and mindless phone usage. That said, I did miss taking notes and music.
I confess to little cheating on the course. On one occasion, I noted a few words buzzing in my head on a corner of the leaflet with a make-up pencil. Another time, I sang (“Russians” by Sting!?) while walking on the dedicated paths on the green hill, which offered amazing views. Perhaps singing to yourself was allowed.
The meals prepared by volunteers were tasty and healthy. Breakfast was served at 6.30am, lunch at 11am and a light snack of fruits and tea at 5pm. I imagined skipping dinner would be tough but I never felt hungry. The food was perfect.
Silence for Powerful Communication
When you go silent, your mind and body are anything but silent.
Silence helped me raise my awareness of my surroundings. Without distraction from words or noise, other senses are heightened and you become more mindful.
Silence helped observe the mind and body sensations at a deeper level. Through this observation, the healing and clarity takes place effortlessly.
“Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” – Hermann Hesse
I really appreciated the ‘noble silence’, and when it switched to noble chats on day 10 I wasn’t ready to speak for another 30 minutes. I feared letting go of the inner freedom and peace I had reached.
The first fellow-student who spoke to me asked if she could give me a hug. She wanted to thank me for the light and joy I added to her experience. Then more people said the same. I was known as the Big Smiler.
In spite of the silence and staring mostly at the floor or the skies, avoiding eye contact, my being carried on communicating through body movements, and a smile stuck on my face.
On my 10-day Vipassana, the sound of silence spoke louder than words. It was enriching, peaceful and freeing.
To find out more about this incredible Retreat, please visit here: https://atala.dhamma.org/pub/en/index.php.
To uncover the hidden and powerful silences inside yourself, please get in touch here: http://gr8fool.com/getintouch/.