Morning light at Dhamma Dipa
How do you stay silent for TEN DAYS? This is probably one of the most common responses I get when I tell people about Vipassana courses - and this is exactly the way I felt before I sat my first course at Dhamma Dipa 8 years ago. The prospect of staying silent for that length of time terrified me. Would I go mad? Would I forget how to speak? What if I was in trouble? Would there be someone to talk to if I needed help? If you have never had a chance to experience what it’s like to immerse yourself in silence for an extended period of time (and let’s face it, most of us haven’t) these are all perfectly valid and normal concerns. When confronted by the prospect of a unique challenge like this the mind, by nature, will often default to self-sabotage. In this case it might say things like ‘you’re too chatty/loud/distracted to survive a silent retreat’ or ‘you’re not ready’ or ‘that’s too extreme’.
But I have some reassuring news for you.
Most people who sit Vipassana courses (or any other extended meditation retreats for that matter) are often surprised by the joy that the silence inspires and become so enamoured with it that they actually find it hard to give it up when the retreat ends! This was certainly true for me. The ease, simplicity and internal space I discovered through the silence was a revelation to me. Of course the first few days were a bit strange – resisting the urge to thank people as they opened doors for you and avoiding eye contact with people passing you on the path was odd – but as the days passed I came to savour the experience of being in the presence of other people without needing to interact with them in socially-conditioned ways. It highlighted just how much energy we spend on talking, communicating, reading body language and all the other cognitive functions that are at work when we engage with one another socially. It felt refreshing to just ‘be’ with these other humans in this beautiful simplicity.
And as I learned the technique of Vipassana (the meditation technique that the Buddha taught 2500 years ago) I realised that the silence was in fact essential. After all meditation is a personal journey, an opportunity to discover the truth inside yourself and you can only do that when things get quiet. Besides, you soon learn that there is enough chatter going on in your own mind to keep you entertained (too much!) By limiting the stimulus in your outer world, you give the mind to a chance to calm down and as the course progresses you notice your own thoughts quietening too, giving you the stability and stillness you need to gain deep insights.
Vipassana courses are challenging, that much is true, but the benefits are unquestionably tangible. Imagine a pendulum with ‘gain’ on one side and ‘challenge’ on the other. However high the pendulum swings on the challenge side, by nature it will swing to the same level on the other side. There is everything to gain. It is a transformative practice that has changed my life in extraordinary ways, giving me the tools I need to find greater balance, patience and focus in my life. It allows me to reconnect with parts of myself that get smothered by the din of life and opens my mind back up to possibilities, giving life a deeper sense of meaning and inspiring a more spontaneous, aligned response to its natural unfolding.
If you are interested in finding out more about Vipassana courses, follow this link to take you to the Dhamma Dipa website. This is just one of the many centres worldwide that offer Vipassana courses as taught by S N Goenka. Courses are 10 days long (this is the minimum length of time it takes to learn the technique) and silent but you can talk to Assistant Teachers if you have any questions about the meditation technique. There are also managers on hand for any practical needs you may have. There is no charge for these courses - they are run solely on donations given by students who have completed a course and have experienced the benefits themselves.
The silent dive awaits!