I Sat in Silence for 10 Days
Vipassana meditation, a journey of self-discovery.
January, 2020. I flew from Toronto, ON to Calgary, AB. From there, I drove 4 hours East, straight to the middle-of-nowhere prairies. It was icy, bare and windy. The horizon stretched for miles ahead. The sky and land blended in tones of gray, brown, pink and powder blue. Patches of ice and snow filled in the depressions in the fields, whispers of dried-up lake-beds and glaciers of the past. Every once in a while, a gnarled and barren tree would dot the rolling fields that sprawled ahead, behind and to the sides. Not much shelter from the wind that roared across the open space. My heart beat faster and faster the further I drove into that expanse. Until I arrived. At the Alberta, Vipassana centre in the village of Youngstown. Population of 154.
This was where I would sit in a silent meditation for 10 full days.
My journey to this meditation began long before I physically got there. It could’ve begun with the mindfulness retreat I had gone on the year before. It could’ve begun with my mentor telling me of the Vipassana course. It could’ve begun from a desire to quell the anxiety and self-doubt that fought to drown me.
I think it began when I realized I wasn’t happy. I knew I wasn’t happy because I was hurting myself, and I was hurting those that I love. Not consciously though, because I wasn’t really conscious most of the time. Not fully. I wasn’t in the driver’s seat. I let my ego and insecurities drive me forward, and I wasn’t even aware of it. Until I was. Until all of the darkness and imperfection I had spent years trying to shove down, boiled up and wreaked havoc on my life.
That was where my journey to silent meditation began. It took me 4 years to get from point A to point B. If any year was appropriate to lift up the rug and look at what is hiding underneath, it was 2020.
By the time I got to the meditation, I had already made peace with a lot of the things causing me strife. I was honest about my insecurities and my needs, I had soothed my anxiety so that it only appeared in mild forms, and I had spent time with my “shadow self”. The dark parts of myself that I had previously ignored and rejected, I was now able to understand, accept and love.
So what was I looking for?
After those first few years of self-reflection and self-work, I realized that how I had been living my life up until that point, wasn’t working for me anymore. I didn’t go into that meditation looking to understand my past, heal or reconcile (although those things happened too), I went into it looking for answers about my future. The big questions.
Why am I here?
What am I meant to do?
If I’m throwing everything I know out the window… Where do I go next?
In a way, those questions got answered…
Days 1-3 Rage and Rebellion.
I thought I had been ready for it. In no way was I expecting it to be easy, but I wasn’t expecting I would be so pissed off. I often find I have a deep well of anger hiding beneath the surface. It’s an emotion that I have never known how to deal with. Whenever it shows up, the anger quickly turns inward and shifts to grief and shame. I think that’s why it appears so often when I go to do this type of work. It’s an emotion with a long history of not being expressed, and so it hides in my bones.
Though I have to tell you. This anger was warranted. I was not prepared for the meditation. I’m not sure if there was any way I could’ve prepared to tell you the truth. First off, there was the physical pain.
From 4 30am – 9 00pm, we meditated.
There were short breaks, breakfast, lunch and a snack of fruit in the place of dinner. For the rest of the day, we meditated. Approximately 12-14 hours a day. Seated. Absolute stillness was encouraged. The pain was excruciating at times. Part of the whole point of the meditation was to observe the pain. Not to react to it. My mind was reeling. This however, was not the hardest part. The pain, I had been expecting, ready for. The silence, I had not.
I had been totally stripped from all of the habits, creature comforts and distractions that were the cornerstones of my daily life. No media. That’s an obvious one. We turned in our phones when we arrived. No music. No literature of any kind. Not even an information pamphlet. Nada. No journaling. That one got me. Journaling has always been a way I work out my thoughts and emotions when I’m in a tough place. Not there! No talking. No communicating at all. Hand gestures, eye contact, human touch, none of it was allowed.
Each waking moment of the day, and even the sleeping moments to an extent, were meant to be a focused meditation. It is expected that during meditation, your mind will wander, but the exercise is to bring it back to the sense of present moment and present self that is being cultivated. My mind was not having it.
I was so angry.
There was one part of my mind that wanted to focus, it tried to be the parent and coax me into cooperation. The other part of my mind felt like a caged wild animal that had been pulled from its natural habitat and stuck in an exhibit. In a way, that’s exactly what had happened.
I felt like a fool that I had come. I imagined ways that I would get out of there, horrible accidents happening that would require me to leave. I was there of my own accord but still I felt like a prisoner. That’s how it went for the first few days, until the anger fizzled out and I was left with…
Days 4-6 Fear and Existential Crisis.
When the fire of anger died out, I crumpled. The truth behind my anger was revealed. I was scared. I was so scared of everything. Of life itself. Scared that I was inadequate, scared I wouldn’t find the answers I needed, scared of losing everything and everyone that I loved.
This is when I wanted to talk.
I wanted to talk to someone I loved. My sister, my parents, my husband. I wanted to call my husband so badly. I remember trying to psychically send him a message, to tell him I loved and missed him and that I needed him. I didn’t receive a response, not one I noticed anyway.
Without my family and friends to turn to, I had to take care of myself more than I had ever been required too. I went for walks in the yard outside the centre. I learned the meaning of “tree-hugger”, as I found my favourite trees in the yard, wrapped my arms around them for comfort and let my salty tears stain their frozen bark. As I went on these walks, I began to talk to myself (silently). I thought “Well, what would I say to a loved one if they were here to listen?” Then I would talk. I would go back and forth with myself this way until I had felt heard. I acted as my own friend, my confidante.
This form of self-talk is something that has stuck with me and is such an important tool in self-care. It’s totally healthy to turn to those that you love to talk things through, but it’s also healthy and empowering to be able to process some of your more difficult emotions without relying on others to do so. I am a big talker when it comes to emotions. It was healing to feel in silence.
Day 7-10 Inspiration and Hope.
After the dark, will come the light. For me, in the last few days of the meditation, the light came. Sure, I knew I was nearing the finish-line and so I began to feel lighter, but it was more than that. The previous 4 years of my journey of self-discovery were coming to a pinnacle. Everything that wasn’t working had been stripped away, I was bare, I was able to surrender. If I’ve learned anything recently, it’s that when you surrender, you learn.
I started getting this uncontrollable urge to create something.
I did my best to bring my attention back to body and breath but I was just so damn excited. My mind was overflowing with ideas. Ideas for art, ideas for home, ideas for my life. Then the big one came. Like a lightning bolt down from the heavens I was struck with an idea for a novel. Suddenly I was watching the story unfold on a screen on the back of my eyelids. Energy was surging through my body, shivers running along my skin. From then on, I kept returning to the focus of the meditation, but the story kept coming back. By the final day of Vipassana, I had formed all of the major plot points and built the world of my novel.
Here’s the thing. I hadn’t started writing before I went to Vipassana. Not in any kind of serious sense. My writing up until that point had been personal journaling and poetry, meant for my eyes only. Storytelling has always been at my core, and for a decade I had pursued that love in the form of filmmaking. Producing films and more prominently, acting in in independent films. I had an unhealthy relationship when it came to storytelling as an actor. It was tainted with ego, desire for approval and unhealthy obsession with how others saw me. That was one of the major discoveries that I had previously made, and now it felt like I was getting the first glimpse from the universe on the answer of where to go next.
Emerging From Silence
Shortly after I finished the Vipassana meditation and returned home to Toronto, the worldwide Covid pandemic shook the world and radically changed life for many. I was one of those people. It felt so strange to go through this life-changing personal event and come out to a life-changing global event. Upon returning home, I was inspired to alter my life and start something new. Covid literally cut me off from my previous life as I knew it. In a way, the pandemic accelerated all the changes I had planned to make.
More than anything the lesson I learned and gift I took away from the meditation, is that I Am Resilient. It was a truly challenging experience but I came out feeling stronger, more capable. I knew I could rely on myself and only myself in a time of need. I had cultivated a capacity for intense mental focus and I knew I could apply that to the things I wanted to do in my life.
I trusted myself. I still feel that trust.
Now I’m making those changes. A year later and I have been taking writing courses, I’ve published 14 stories on Vocal, I have submitted my university applications for the fall. I’m 29 years old and I have not attended college or university previously. This is a big deal for me, and it is because of those 10 days of silence I know I can do it.
Patience and Persistence.
Two of the repeated values of the Vipassana course. My personal mantra for the last year. With patience and persistence, I can do anything. Even write a novel…
Thank-you so much to the other Vocal writers who have made me feel like I have a community. Thank-you to you, the reader, your support means a tremendous amount to me in whatever form it comes. Maybe with your help, I can make it to that novel. xx
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