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My ten days of silence; Vipassana Meditation

I went to the Vipassana Meditation Center in Kathmandu; ‘Dhamma Shringa’ to fix myself without ever having meditated more than a few minutes before. I had no idea what I had signed up for.

The Challenge: My ‘monkey’ mind. No Contact with the outside world. No technology. Not talking. No reading. No writing. No working out. No moving during “sittings of strong determination.” Twelve hours of meditation every single day. Waking up at 4 am.

How I ended up there:

In a ‘very’ questionable moment of sanity, I decided to register myself for a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat for my birthday. Without bothering to do much research beforehand, I figured it’d be nice to escape from reality, to fix myself and to discover what exactly it is that I want from my life. A ‘happy’ birthday present from ‘me’ to ‘me’.

My inspiration: The ancient practice of Vipassana turned Yuval Noah Harari into the world’s hottest thinker. Plus, a number of people I admire had shared their fair experience of Vipassana to me and their testimony had had me hooked. I ‘needed’ to change myself. I needed to do it.

Day Zero:

I woke up super early, meaning to cross off the ‘to-do’ list that had remained unchecked despite having stayed late the night before. I was going to be away for 12 days, I was going to be meditating for 10 days, I didn’t need rest.

My flight to Kathmandu got delayed by six hours due to bad weather at Pokhara and I was feeling crushed thinking that I wouldn’t make it but I did! I missed the orientation but somehow managed to reach the contact office before the buses left off to the entrance of Shiva Puri National park. Nervous, but excited to see where it might take me.

I was glad to have made a friend before Vipassana but upon arrival at the centre, we were told to hand in our smartphones and other non-allowed items and we parted our ways.

After that, I made my way to the room I got assigned for the next ten days. The landscape, the fresh air, the structure of the buildings, the sound and the rules of the bell that was wrung, the stainless steel utensils, the dining hall, the dormitory, the restrooms, all felt familiar to me. Similar to the boarding school I’d attended till high-school. I’d done this before. I felt like I could survive!

Once dinner was over, the concept of noble silence was introduced and started.

Day One:

At the very beginning of this retreat, I had decided that my goal was not rote completion of the program — my goal, above all else, was to remain lighthearted and silence the tortured state of mind I had experienced at home. I needed the break and I would take the break, without self-judgment.

Apparently, all we had to do was to observe our breath. Sounds easy, right? Well, it wasn’t, as I found out about an hour later when we gathered for our evening group sitting the night before. Why am I here? What am I doing? ‘Have I sorted everything out? All that I was supposed to do? Shit, I forgot to give access to that project! Will they finish our in-house project by the time I get out? Will everybody in our team be able to cooperate with each other in my absence?’ I hadn’t even started properly yet and I was already thinking about finishing. That wasn’t a good sign. I couldn’t concentrate for more than thirty seconds. My hips hurt, my neck and back were sore and I had to move every few minutes.

I would close my eyes for a long time. A very very long time and sneak a peek at my wrist, expecting at least 20 minutes to have passed but no, only one minute had passed. It felt impossible! There was no way two hours weren’t over yet!

At mid-day, I figured I didn’t even know how to meditate so I went to the assistant teacher and asked for instructions. ‘Focus on the breath, and the sensations that arise from breathing in and breathing out.’ she said. The simplicity of this instruction felt incredibly futile.

At the discourse in the evening, “The first day has passed, now nine days remain”, said Goenka. Nine Days!!! How would I be able to survive the next nine days? ‘Don’t think, do not think, breathe!’ I repeated to myself. One small step at a time. Stay in the present.

When the gong signalled the end of the day, my legs were numb and as I lay in bed that evening, I kept saying to myself that everything was going to be just fine. That this was going to be totally doable!

Day Two:

Spending more than12 hours meditating in a cross-legged position took its toll on my body. From day 2, I was struggling with back pain. In addition, after about 20 min into the meditation, my feet would fall asleep and my legs went numb – being cut off from any blood supply. Every time I made the slightest move and circulation returned, my entire legs started tingling like crazy. The pins and needles I felt were almost unbearable.

To add to the torture, my unsettled “monkey mind” went crazy having no distractions. It seemed next to impossible to stop the roughly uncountable thoughts that rushed through my mind that day; things from the past and things for the future. My mind felt like an internet browser. Not just one tab away from crushing but I felt like I was at the task manager and the browser was not responding. I was going crazy waiting for a response and yet I couldn’t force quit.

Day Three:

I felt like I was officially in a Meditation Prison.

I slept through the entire breaks and I couldn’t wait for the day to end.

Day Four:

Happy Birthday to me!

It was a rainy, soggy, shitty day like the weather had decided to match my mood. That day, we were introduced to Vipassana and I was introduced to the miseries of my current life.

Every time I closed my eyes, there was pain. Extreme Pain! The physical pain, I could probably have gotten away at this point with but this was a different kind of pain. I felt isolated, small, worthless. A burden and I could not meditate at all. Old memories that I hadn’t thought about in many years just popped into my head.

I remembered past memories, all of which were negative. Mistakes, hurt…. literally all the people in my life and my relationships with them, but only the negative part.

I felt undeserving of a good life, unworthy of my friends and family. I felt like a loser for having tried to escape reality and I needed to quit. I didn’t like the trainwreck of thoughts I faced each meditation session and I desperately wanted the opportunity to relieve myself from the pain but I didn’t have the guts to beg so instead, I just went to the teacher and cried in silence.

To add to the mental torment, I also got my periods ten days early and the cramps added to the heartache I was already having to deal with. I cried the entire day and cried myself to sleep that night. I’d never felt so bad about myself before. I had reached another breaking point. I didn’t want to be in the retreat anymore. I felt like I was hurting myself. I mentally broke.

Day Five:

Forgiveness allows you to move on with your life. What’s happened, happened. It is now your choice whether or not you suffer.

On the fifth day, I decided not to be unhappy but while I still remained sad for most of the day, I made an extra effort to quiet my mind and decided to instead open my eyes and watched the other 250+ meditators as they sat there in silence and near-stillness. It was quite entertaining to watch the ones who were struggling to sit still, as they slowly and painfully shifted their body as silently as possible. People rocking, tilting their heads, playing with their meditation cushions, coughing and clearing their nose. I knew that I looked an absolute mess…but so did everyone else!

At the breaks, I decided not to sleep and took walks instead. The air was brisk and I did quick laps to the edge of the course boundary and back. I entertained myself looking at the wild monkeys and tried to find solace in watching the jungle.

Meanwhile, I also found great comfort and guidance in the Dhamma discourse that took place that night. I came to the understanding that pain is simply part of the experience. I learned to see it as an exercise in acceptance of what is happening at the moment. And that everything changes and won’t last forever – including the pain.

Day Six:



I was determined to take any positives away from the experience that I could so I gave it everything that I could. I got up early; I sat made use of the free time by walking when I could have been napping in bed. I endured total agony, to the point that I was shaking with pain and could barely walk.

On the morning of day six, I experienced my first “sweep” of sensations throughout the body, feeling the sensations from head to toe within seconds. This “sweep” of sensations is not a sensation that can really be understood without experiencing it. It feels like shivers or electricity vibrating through the body, a little like a pleasant version of pins-and-needles (without any numbness).

Fortunate for me, my watch was also dead by now. So I stopped keeping track of the time. Just like Goenka’s advice, I focused on making the best of the remaining four days.

Day Seven:

My mind was buzzing with ideas. My mind swirled, coming up with new project and business ideas and chapters for books but I was working on judging myself less. We were told “never to be disappointed, angry, or upset” with ourselves for making mistakes.

My mind still wandered to the past, future, and any number of creative, random, and tempting distractions, but instead of losing control of it for minutes or hours, I was able to notice and “smilingly bring it back” to scanning my body within seconds. I was making progress!

Day Eight:

Sensations, Vibrations, all through the body.

I felt calm. I felt a tremendous amount of love. More love than I had ever felt in my life before. I felt at peace. More at peace than I had ever felt before. I felt compassion for all others. I didn’t know what was happening at that moment, but I never wanted it to end. It was absolutely magical.

Day Nine:

Sensations so intense I felt like I was on drugs, except I wasn’t.

But I also broke my vow of silence.

I’d thought that we’d get to go home on the tenth day and I’d started to pack my belongings after lunch but my room partner knew that we weren’t allowed out until the eleventh day and felt obliged to tell me. I was disappointed but temporarily. Anicca!

Day Ten:

Restlessness and the noble silence was broken.

It felt amazing hearing the sound of my voice again. All of the participants started debriefing on what they’d learned.

I also realized that what had happened to me on the fourth day would be very beneficial for the rest of my life. I was able to forgive myself for what I perceived to be my mistakes. I was strong. I had made it through and if there is an afterlife after all, I was happy knowing that I wouldn’t be carrying sadness from this life.

I got to know many people and realized that we all had unconsciously made a series of stories about each other and all of us ended up being different from that constructed narrative. It was quite fun to share our account.

So…was it useful? 

One of my favourite takeaways from Vipassana was that we create our world in our minds. The way we look at it, the way we’ve reacted in the past – it all leads to our own definition of our life. We create our own misery this way. I hadn’t seriously ever tried to sit down with myself in silence figure out myself but now I knew – practically – that pain and suffering are two separate things and that I get to choose my suffering by reacting/not-reacting to situations. I’m also grateful for a very special friend that I met because of Vipassana.

While some of the days were extremely painful, I’m happy I did it. It gave me the headspace I needed. I got to see how my body and mind respond to a novel situation. I’m trying to make it serve as a “bootcamp” of sorts to help me incorporate a meditation practice into my routine for a half-hour daily.

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