10 DAYS A MONK
I recently completed a 10-day silent meditation course. I have never done anything like this before in my life, and I didn’t know much about this particular course before I signed up for it.
I had read just a few sentences about it in Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (which I recommend highly). I am inching toward 40 in just a couple of weeks and I wanted to do something meaningful for myself. This felt like the right thing to do.
Before we gave up the right to speak, most people at the course (who had all attended before or knew someone who had) told me I was crazy to sign up without knowing anything after just reading a few lines about it in a book. I, on the other hand, thought not knowing was best. I had no expectations, hence no chance for disappointment. I had cleared my schedule, I had nowhere else to be. Most importantly, I was committed.
It seemed that everyone was. But as the course went on, I noticed empty seats appearing in the meditation hall where we did our group sessions. I realized people were disappearing. Day 1, day 3, day 5, day 8…
There was a guy I spoke with during arrivals and registration, who told me he had attended before, well attended is a strong word: he ran away the first night. But this time, he was ready. He didn’t even drive, instead he was dropped off so he couldn’t just take off like he had before. He was very excited, and I was excited for him…Day 5 he was gone.
[This course is open to anyone, and having done it, I truly believe we can all benefit from but it’s not easy or maybe even possible for everyone to complete it, maybe you have to try it at the right time, or a number of times]
In many ways this was one of the most challenging things I have done, but at the same time, I felt like everything I did before this experience prepared me for it. Spending time in nature in solitude was the most important preparation.
Just to paint a clear picture for you: the rules were simple – no talking, no eye contact, no gestures, no physical touch, no reading, no writing, no electronics (except for an alarm clock in your room), no physical exercise, no masturbating. Only two meals a day (no meals after noon until 6am following day). We were basically living like monks, except for the food part, that was taken care of for us. I must say, one thing was a nice surprise; I didn’t miss my phone. I had zero urge to look at it or scroll through anything. The only time I thought of it was when I wanted to write a note to remember something. That’s it.
The schedule was packed and very well thought out. Each day started at 4am with a gong to awaken us. By 11:30 we had already meditated for 5 hours. By the end of the day, depending on your commitment, you’d have meditated for 10-11 hours. Lights went out at 10pm.
There were times, toward the end of the course when I felt my body vibrating so intensely and my mind was so sharp and alert, I couldn’t fall asleep until 1am. But I still woke up and felt rested at 4.
The meditation was Vipassana. The goal was to see things as they are, to develop a balanced state of mind and not to react, but instead observe, and by doing so eliminate misery from our lives. The techniques are simple yet challenging as the mind keeps firing thousands of thoughts tirelessly.
Here for the first time in my life, I have experiences absolute silence and clarity of mind. Not a thought, just peace and quiet. It was just for a brief moment (as one of the teachings says: ANICCA – Nothing is permanent) but I will never forget it.
My friends told me that I was going to have a nervous breakdown there, but also that I am the only person they know that could do this. I wasn’t sure about either of these claims. But one of them didn’t turn out to be true.
Day 9, after lunch, we were allowed to speak again, to help us adjust before going back to our lives. I didn’t really want to speak to anyone for two reasons:
1) I knew people were going to want to share their experiences and thoughts on the course, and to me it felt like something very individual and personal.
2) Over the time of the course I had very much observed and assessed everyone based on their habits and non-verbal behaviors and decided what kind of people they were. Aside from a couple guys the determinations weren’t great (I forgot to mention there were 35 men and 35 women at the beginning of the course we were separated the entire time except for group meditations in the hall).
Whether I was willing or not, people were ready to chat and strike up conversations with me, and in the end, I was glad they did.
Why? it was a great reminder that what people do is not who they are. I have been known to conflate the two. We all go about things differently, we forget things, we all value different things, we all have different habits…It doesn’t make us bad; it just makes us different and human. I used to take this so personally, and instantly write people off when they didn’t live up to my expectations, never giving them another chance. Clearly, I needed to be reminded of our differences. Again.
There were so many of these gentle reminders, lessons and moments of clarity during this experience that I could go on and on about it for days. But I won’t.
What I will say is that at the end of it, I cried. It was a mix of being proud for having lasted the entire time and overwhelmed by the insane effect this had on my body and mind. I felt like my whole body and mind were fully reset. I was so excited and ready to leave that I skipped the last breakfast and didn’t even say goodbye to people. I didn’t see the point of staying any longer. I got in my car, drove back home excited about the most mundane everyday tasks, excited about my job again, about everything. I felt energized and very clearheaded. There was no confusion about who I was, what I want to do, or how to do it.
Being back in the real world where there’s so much going on, it’s hard to reach the level of connection that you can in complete isolation, living like a monk. But I feel unsettled if I don’t give myself an hour to meditate every day. Even for just 20 minutes (although they highly encourage you to do an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening). It makes a difference.
Spending time alone in silence, focused, paying attention to what’s going on inside is one of the best things I get to experience. It makes me calmer and kinder to myself and everyone else around. I am forever grateful for stepping out of my comfort zone, taking a chance and this whole adventure.
If you have any questions about the course or anything else, please feel free to reach out. I will be happy to share all I know.