Hard to believe eh? Emma Lovell! The woman who runs a business called Lovelly Communications. The constant social butterfly. Was silent … for 10 whole days! And it was one of the most profound and enriching experiences of my life.
Vipassana is the practice of silent meditation. Totally cut off from the world with no phone, in a remote location and with no words being passed between you and the others taking part in the course. I chose to do mine in Jodhpur while traveling through my favourite country, India, in 2012. It was a massive turning point and I’m forever thankful for that experience.
It sounds hard – it is. But actually the easiest part is not talking. To many people’s surprise, I spend a lot of time not speaking. Because of how much time I talk to people for work, I actually really enjoy quiet time alone without using my voice.
What is hard, what’s really challenging and can almost break you, is the deafening roar of the wave of thoughts that pass through your mind. Every day we block out these thoughts with work, music, tv, talking over them and basically anything to not let them surface. Without any outside stimulations, your thoughts have free reign over your mind.
But it’s not all bad! The thoughts that come, don’t have to hurt us. They can arrive to be acknowledged and be let go. That’s what Vipassana teaches you. To observe, to be patient, to address all of the things in our mind, but not to obsess or anguish over it. We are constantly moving and changing. Things will come and go. Change is the only constant.
At some point, I would like to go back through the day to day of this 10 day experience. I have notes that I furiously wrote once I was out of the course, and I actually still vividly remember a lot of it. But right now, I want to share the top 10 things I learn from Vipassana and still reflect on regularly, five and a half years on.
- Don’t react immediately
Take a moment before reacting – so many fights would never happen if we all took a moment
Yes – I do forget to do this from time to time
- Don’t let your goals get in the way of your humanity
I was so determined to be good at meditation and be silent, that I was actively ignoring any form of human contact. You can pursue your goals and still be human.
- Eat until you are 70% full
You can’t meditate on a full stomach
- Thoughts will come and go
Good or “bad”, they will continue to come and at some point they’ll leave. Letting them wash over you like a wave is truly freeing.
- Emotions and thoughts can cause physical pain
Holding on to your feelings, pushing emotions down can actually create pain. And letting it go can feel like freedom. So don’t hold onto your hurt.
- You don’t need to talk, to form a bond
This goes for cross cultural barriers to! We can say so much without saying anything and it can be so beautiful.
- Not talking is easy
Talk less. You’ll be amazed at what you hear, see and feel.
We never know what another is experiencing. I felt so much anger and annoyance towards an older woman who was snoring and snorting and falling asleep in the meditations. I thought “Just go home! This isn’t for you!” But the course taught me to think differently. By the end I thought “how brave, how resilient of her to continue despite clearly being uncomfortable and in pain”. I hugged her on the last day, it was one of my favourite moments.
- Do your best
You may not be the best in the world, but show up. I had to work at the meditation. I had to try hard. But I did it. Everyday. Show up and give it a go. That’s all you can do.
I’m grateful to Vipassana for all that I’ve learnt and I’m excited to say that yesterday I enrolled for my first refresher. Almost six years on, and I’m going to experience it again. I’m open and interested to see what I learn.
If you’re interested in doing a Vipassana course, visit the Dhamma website and find a centre near you. Or, use it as an excuse to go to India (I would!)