Click here to read Vipassana: Part One.
When I speak of my Vipassana Course experience, I am almost always met with questions of how "hard" it must be to practice silence for 10 days. It's actually just 9 but I don't usually bother fleshing out that minor detail. Because I know what is being asked and 9 days of not communicating is still 9 days without eye contact, hand gestures or words. It's also 9 days of sitting. Of course, it's not until I brief my listener--who is often a yoga asana practioner--on the rigorous meditation schedule that the question of "No yoga?" comes up.
No. No yoga. Though, I'd be lying if I didn't admit to having melted into a few ragdoll/uttanasana postures in between sittings. I wasn't alone in this, however. One of my roommates managed to sneak a foam roller into our cabin which we shared throughout the course. Once assigned a private cell for solo meditation (as opposed to the group sittings in the main hall), I absolutely put my legs up a wall. And, against the course guidelines and rules, meditated in that position. My apologies as I digress...
When I'm asked the question of how "hard" it was to not talk for 10 days (or 9), my answer is, "It wasn't."
Now, I'd never say, "It isn't hard." I'd say, "It wasn't hard." There's a clear, if not obvious, difference. I was in such a specific headspace 16 months ago and as a result, took my holiday time and signed up for a Vipassana course in North Fork, California instead of a scuba-diving lesson in Tahiti. (To be fair, I had fulfilled my island fix in Hawaii earlier in the year.) I didn't want to "vacay" and I didn't want to fly to New England where my family resides and for some reason, I had no desire to travel internationally. Which is an interesting sidenote given that just one year prior I had to all but drag myself out of India and on to a Dubai-bound plane which would eventually get me back to Los Angeles. I think I knew and still know that going back to India requires more than planning a short visit. However, that's another topic altogether. Once again, I deviate...
Long story short, a 6-hour scenic drive to the western slope of the Sierras sounded perfect 16 months ago. And not having to talk to anyone--rather, not being able to talk to anyone (Hell, both!)--sounded divine.
I remember pulling up to the Center about an hour before registration began. I parked my car. I turned off my phone and put it in the center console. I didn't break a sweat. Sure, I was nervous about the course, but I couldn't wait to completely disconnect from my phone. Where my email lived. My social media accounts. Where most communication from my family, friends and lovers traveled to and from. It's worth noting that I wasn't sick of my responsibilities or the incredible people in my life. I knew that I would miss my people. I missed creatively writing--or the ability to do so--even though I hadn't written anything other than email correspondence in years. I wasn't on Vipassana to remove myself from the world. I know that sounds contradictory given that I did remove myself from the world--if only for a week and half--but that was not my driving force. If I wanted to be alone and without cell service, there are far more luxurious places I could have been. (Though, I'll admit, the food served to us was surprisingly solid. And the bed could have been worse.)
As explained in Vipassana: Part One, I had had an interesting year that started off seemingly business as usual and progressed rather rapidly into a summer of sobriety and solitude. This is when I started to learn how to not feel lonely--or rather, when I started to enjoy my own company. I became fiercely independent. I turned down invitations to lovely parties and gatherings. I did not date. I barely made plans for anything at all. Rather, I desired for things to flow naturally. And if I felt as though I was being energetically restricted in any way, I would head in the direction that felt right. What I found out was that saying "yes" to myself more often than not meant saying "no" to others. This was revealing. It appeared that I was desiring a new kind of life experience, a new dialogue, a new relationship with the world around me.
When I arrived to the Vipassana Center in North Fork, I sat on a small deck in front of the registration hall observing my new surroundings. It was November; winter was approaching. The trees still had most of their leaves but their colors had faded to yellowish earth tones and their texture had recently coarsened. The center sat secluded in the wooded hills and thick brush of the Sierras. As I walked home to the cabin after the evening lectures, the sky opened itself up to the entire center and surrounding area. Visible were the stars at night; brilliantly vibrant were those same stars at 4:30am when I would walk to the meditation hall to hear the morning chants. I would become entranced by the phases of the moon and would take in each phase as it evolved. I had no idea what beauty I would witness during my stay as I sat on the deck that afternoon but I imagined how wonderful it would be to experience it all in silence. To fully experience it all without being able to take a photograph of it. And to have this experience with only myself. I imagined it to be divine.
And then a woman who had also arrived early walked up to the deck and sat next to me.
And then this lovely woman began chatting with me. She asked if this was my first Vipassana course--it was her first--and where I was from and what I did for a living and if I had meditated before. Once I told her I was a yoga instructor, she had many other questions about that and so I reluctantly answered those questions and then asked her some mundane questions so that she would not think I was jerk who wanted to be left alone.
The thing is I did want to be left alone. I didn't want to have to converse with her or anyone but we hadn't registered yet and orientation was in the evening and then our first group sitting and THEN after that, the silence began. I realized in that conversation with the lovely woman--she really was dear--that I had no appetite for small talk. Nor did I want to know everyone's life stories that got them to this place. I didn't care because if I cared about them then I would be using brain space and mental energy dissecting their stories and trials and struggles instead of focusing on my own stuff.
And that's why I was there. To get quiet. To see what is below the surface of my own ego--or at least examine what stories I've been telling myself that are not true. I wanted the truth. I still want the truth. I didn't want to talk about what I thought the next 10 days were going to be like. I wanted to start the process of peeling back the layers of my mind and see what that was like.