I Went to India for 10 Days of Silent Meditation
I shocked everyone when I flew to India to meditate in silence for 10 days. And rightly so! Never before had I closed my eyes in meditation, held my hands in prayer or pondered the existence of spirit animals. Although underdeveloped spiritually, I wasn’t a bad person. I admired victims who forgave their attackers and always offered my seat to those in need.
However, a major life event motivated me to look inward in a whole new way. If you’ve ever lost a job, suffered a broken heart or struggled to decide on a school to attend or city to live in, you know the kind of soulful torment I’m talking about. But difficult choices also give us an opportunity to define ourselves as individuals so when I hit the fork in my road, I went looking for ancient wisdom in India.
Was it divinity or Google that led me to Vipassana?
Was it divinity or Google that led me to Vipassana? I’ll never know. The non-sectarian teachings of Vipassana meditation satisfied my need for spirituality without imposing religion, so I was immediately interested. Of course, the mystic golden tipped pagodas were also influential in my initial attraction, but it was the 10-day silent meditation course for first time students that really sealed the deal. I’m afraid I translated the course to be 10 quick and easy days to enlightenment. Dedicating myself to meditation along with the personal challenge of no talking for 10 days?! This was my golden ticket.
Wide-eyed and eager about my path to spiritual consciousness, I was slightly disappointed on arrival. The course administrators ran the registration process with with as much enthusiasm as the folks at your local post office. As they took away books, stationary, phones, cameras and pretty much everything except clothes and basic hygiene products, I felt like a convict on my way to jail (right down to the gender segregation).
And I only felt further imprisoned when I saw my room. The 150 square foot concrete barrack included a window, single bed and bathroom. I think it’s worth mentioning that the bed was a concrete slab with a thin foam liner (no linens) and the bathroom included a sink, toilet, and bucket. Dismayed, but not detracted, I dropped my things and joined the other students gathering in the great hall.
The non-sectarian teachings of Vipassana meditation satisfied my need for spirituality without imposing religion.
As we waited for further instruction, I was surprised to find myself seated beside a fellow Canadian (well, kinda). Sofie was German but had lived in Montreal for twelve years. After we exchanged introductory details, I asked the natural next question: “Why are you doing this?” And just as we were getting into the juicy bits of our stories, everyone was directed into orientation.
Over the next hour, we were given an overview of the next 10 days and an opportunity to ask questions. When the last question was answered, the silence began and the following 10 days would look like this…
04:00 – Wake up call
04:30-06:30 – Meditate
06:30-07:00 – Breakfast
07:00-08:00 – Break
08:00-11:30 – Meditate
11:30-12:00 – Lunch
12:00-13:00 – Break
13:00-17:00 – Meditate
17:00-18:00 – Tea
18:00-19:00 – Meditate
19:00-20:00 – Teachers discourse
20:00-21:30 – Meditate
21:30 – Lights out
At the time, I was so gutted that Sophie and I would not be able to finish our conversation that I didn’t quite realize the intensity of the scheduled days ahead (so unenlightened, right?).
When the first meditation session commenced, I nodded off for a bit. Fiddlesticks! After brushing it off as minor pitfall, I was back in the game! I tried my best to follow the teachings from the discourse held the night before: concentrate on your breathing, visualize each breath being inhaled from your nose and steadily exhaled through your mouth.
My journey into India and introduction to meditation did not miraculously shed light upon a once hidden answer.
In the days that followed, I peeked at the others a few times and nodded off once or twice, but by far my greatest challenge was keep my mind from wandering off into far off places. It’s incredible how chatty our minds can be! I found myself analyzing conversations from years ago, reliving old accomplishments, wondering about people I from my past, planning for the future and anything else you can imagine.
One day I even found myself getting angry about an ancient argument with a sales clerk from years ago. Why had that been sitting in my head for all this time? And when my mind was darting around like a two-year-old on a sugar high, my legs were losing all feeling and my back was breaking. Damn, sitting is hard work!
Eventually, I was able to bring longer and longer periods of quiet into my mind. I would focus on my breathing for an hour before some random lyric from a Taylor Swift would interrupt. Towards the end of my 10 days, I didn’t feel defeated when my mind wandered. Instead, I simply aligned myself back into focus and resumed.
When my mind was still, I’d find distraction in squirming around and repositioning myself to cope with the body aches that come with sitting in one position for too long. However, I followed the teachings shared during the evening lectures and tried to observe the pain as mere tingling sensations. Like breathing, I started focusing on the numbness in my legs and the itchiness on my nose without the succumbing to the urge to shift or scratch.
With the 10th and final day of meditation complete, I celebrated my achievement with the other students. Now able to speak, we shared our experiences, challenges and sense of accomplishment. Like me, many came seeking answers and many found exactly that (typical Hollywood ending). This was not the case for me.
By bringing stillness into my overactive world I conquered fear and grew strong.
My journey into India and introduction to meditation did not miraculously shed light upon a once hidden answer. This might be an unintended outcome, but I awakened an inner strength. By bringing stillness into my overactive world I conquered fear and grew strong. In my life there would be many choices, but none would be right or wrong. Instead, I looked forward to owning each decision as a part of my personal narrative.
As for India, I look forward to exploring the country’s many cultural attributes some day. This time, my journey took me to this far off place where so many souls before me had gone to seek answers and in this fashion, I experienced India’s legendary mystique. In those 10 days, I meditated in India, among Indians. So while I might not have seen the Taj Mahal, I felt like I had a far more authentic experience in India.