Real agony, sweet ecstasy – 111 hours of sitting still, in silence. Is it even possible?
The idea is to achieve and maintain a cool, calm + collected state…I succeeded. Well, for a few seconds, at least.
I hadn’t planned to write about my time in Vipassana, and instead keep it as a personal experience. On occasion there has been movement to discuss it amongst friends and clients. I’ve been asked: ‘All those hours of silent meditation – what’s the point? That is just CRAZY’
Well, what is the point? The intention behind this post is to outline why anyone might consider doing it, rather than try and describe my own experience. From the outside, it can seem plain impossible, akin only to lunacy. It is how it seemed (or rather how I judged it) was precisely what stopped me from going in since 2015 when I first heard of it.
I often find myself in train/tube/metro stations around rush hour, fascinated and often swept in by the intensity of it all. The rush, the churning slog we put ourselves through – the non-stop-ness of it all – the relentless rush to push and move through. Achieving more, doing more, having more. All that force. All that need. Surely that is truest expression of un-sanity?
I raced multiple endurance events, lasting up to half a day. If I could move for twelve hours, then why would I not be able to sit still for eleven?
A good idea at this stage would be to describe, the so-called ‘rules’. When I hear the word ‘rule’ I immediately want to rebel, so for anyone else who struggles with conformity, let’s consider them more as ‘points of guidance’: No talking. No reading. No writing. No eye contact with the other participants. For previous attendees of Vipassana, the goal would be to only use the eyes for walking safely. Sounds scary? Yeah, I really hear that.
Eleven hours of sitting. Every day, for TEN DAYS. Guided in gradually, the meditation technique brings attention into the body, rather than it exisiting solely in the mind, as it can do for so many of us in daily life. With a very specific technique using the attentive field, the goal is to achieve total detachment from arising thoughts, and distance from the influence of sensations in the body.
There was a craving for both silence as well as true stillness – in both body and mind.
There was a craving for silence as well as true stillness – in both body and mind. For a long time I’ve wondered what that might actually feel like. I asked myself from the get-go – surely it isn’t actually possible? The answer is – it is bloody hard work. How hard the ego battles when it is truly challenged. It will tell us to itch (I had full body sweats), move, think about something you did 8 years ago, worry about the future, hear a fly, wonder when it will all be over… ANYTHING other than free us to sit still, in silence. It wants to keep us distracted, and that is precisely its job.
In any type of meditation, the thoughts will jump, clever and cunning as they are, through time. The body will provide us with enough pain to force movement, if we let it. In all those hours of sitting, there are nanoseconds of delicious space between thought and sensation, between the untruth of the past and the not-yet-real-future.
For me, each tiny moment of still silence offered me a profound sense of joy. Like nothing I’ve felt before or since, it was well worth the ten long days of dedication and the irritation of discipline. Vipassana is really about not giving up – on peace as much as anything else.
In closing, a question (or four) for you:
1. What are you distracted by?
2. How often do you find yourself distracted?
3. Are you actually aware of when you get distracted by something?
4. When was the last time you sat truly still – no TV, no phone, no chit-chat?
Who knows, maybe someday you might find yourself in Vipassana… For now, can you give yourself permission to sit in stillness, in observation of the arising thoughts, for just five minutes per day?
It’s a powerful word, permission…
Vipassana style mediation was practiced in India 2,500 years ago.
With centres all over the world, the organization runs on donation, so anyone can partake, regardless of wealth.
I practiced Vipassana in Blackheath, Blue Mountains, a short journey from Sydney.