From the day we are born to the day we die, we will never experience complete silence. For 10 days, I did, in my practice of silent mediation.
I arrived both nervous and excited and most of all curious; curious to know what lay in silence, in this expanse of nothingness.
I woke up at 4 a.m., meditated for 11 hours a day and ate my last meal of the day at 11 in the morning, all in complete silence. Where to begin? In all honesty, this has been a truly profound experience and hard work, like I've never known before. I am in awe of all that is life.
The Noble Silence, as it is referred to, started at 7 p.m. that evening. We gave up our books, magazines, iPads and phones. The men and women were separated and all forms of communication were strictly forbidden. No talking, laughing, reading or writing. Not even a smile was allowed. I spoke to no one and no one spoke to me. I lived in total silence for 10 days. It was stunning! Truly stunning. I experienced more than I ever knew existed. In truth, words cannot explain it. Language simply does not have the breadth or the depth to do it justice. Here I give it my best shot.
The Silence was a pre-requisite for the meditation that I was to do -- Vipassana. Vipassana is a totally individual experience and the silence ensured that no other person influenced my experience. It is a technique of "moment to moment self-observation" and its meaning is to "see things as they really are" -- Impermanent. All Creation, animate or inanimate, is impermanent, made up of vibrations that arise only to pass. All that we experience is impermanent. This is life and I was to experience it, as it pertains only to me, not through the eyes of another. To know the Truth is to experience it. Otherwise, you cannot know it, you can only know of it and that means it's someone else's truth.
Silence was my gateway.
I sat semi-lotus for 11 hours each day! The first meditation session of the day started at 4:30 a.m. This is when your unconscious mind is at its most receptive.
I observed the sensations that arose, when my mind and body came together.
For three separate hours in the day, I sat in what was referred to as "Strong Determination." This meant I was not allowed to move my body -- at all! Not in response to any sensation that I felt on my body, pleasant or unpleasant. I was to sit completely still and let any sensation arise, observe it and let it pass.
A good many times I reacted. It was so difficult not to and so easy to. That is the nature of reaction. On about my fourth sitting of "Strong Determination," I remained equanimous, (non-reactive). I did not give in to any sensation. I did not scratch the itch on my nose or stretch my leg, not even just a little, I didn't move my neck from side to side to ease the strain, or even change my posture. I sat equanimous as Master of my Mind. I observed, from moment to moment, what I felt when my mind and body came together.
I have to say this was the longest hour of my life! I longed for it to be over. I waited for the chanting to start. This indicated that we had five minutes left! Just bring on the chanting was all I could think. Then something profound happened. As I observed the sensations on my body, they began to pass, without my doing a single thing. Even as I write this I am amazed at how it all just passed, without my making any effort. I did nothing and the discomfort went. I laughed. How could this be? My knees stopped aching, the numbness in my legs vanished, the itching on my face came and went, my lower back felt fine. It was like I had just sat down to meditate and I could have done another hour easily. AMAZING. Every sensation arose, only to pass, without a single reaction from me. Well I never!
To not react is to live in the present moment. To accept what is, whether it is good or bad. In this stillness lie all the answers you will ever need in life. Psychological time of the past and of the future cease to exist and it gives you the present moment to act. When you are equanimous (non-reactive) it does not mean that you do nothing. On the contrary, it means you have a choice to act. It frees your energy to do what you choose to do, instead of simply reacting. It gives you mastery of your mind with wisdom.
Now that's something.
As I observed the unpleasant sensations on my body, my sankaras (mental reactions) of the past came to the surface. Unpleasant sensations brought to the surface unpleasant experiences of the past.
The times in my life when I had reacted with anger, sadness, hurt, despair etc. all floated to the surface of my mind. The people and the situations that caused me pain appeared faded and distant. What I saw as Observer, was that the pain came from my reactions, not the person or circumstance. I actually witnessed this for the first time. I was not in denial or pretending that what I had felt was not real for me. I acknowledged my reaction and observed the experience. This enabled me to detach myself from the reaction. I was no longer interested in the reaction, but rather in the process of self-observation. I made this my focus. I exercised my will to do what I wanted it to do and not what my mind fancied getting all wrapped up in -- reactions. I chose to be Master of my own Mind and my will led the way.
I had thought having my past experiences, surface, would be painful or difficult to deal with. They were not. I felt detached. I was observing the feelings that I had felt then and for the first time I could see that I had a choice, in everything. I could always choose. Choose to act or to react. When there is no reaction, you have the freedom and energy to act -- to make a conscious and active choice. This was my greatest discovery and one that could change my life. I mean really change my life.
That morning at 7, during our designated rest period, I went for a walk in the wood. I had taken a walk in the wood many times before, maybe not at 7 in the morning though! This time however, it felt like it was my first. Everything I saw was clear, vibrant and magnified like never before. I noticed so much, without any effort at all. The raindrops on the blades of grass. Their size, positioning, the depth of each drop and its colors. I noticed the shape, color, texture and size of the petals, of a variety of flowers at a single glance. I noticed the skeleton of a dead leaf from a distance as though it were close up. I was aware of the changing landscape, density and texture of the earth beneath my feet, with every step I took. I wasn't searching, focusing or moving in close to see things better. It was all just there, right in my awareness. So clear, vibrant and vivid. It was all so alive. I was PRESENT, from moment to moment. As I walked through the wood that morning, I was aware of impermanence. It was everywhere. It is life.
I ate lunch that day and cried. I was deeply thankful to be given such an awesome opportunity. It asked nothing of me in return. No payment, no commitment to the Centre, no obligation to practice Vipassana after the 10 days. I had lived on the charity of others. There was a reason for this. It was to dissolve my ego. There is no Me, My or Mine when you live on charity. I was humbled and overwhelmed with gratitude. I could only cry.
For information on vipassana meditation, please visit www.dhamma.org.
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