Tomorrow, I embark on the last of my planned adventures (self-dubbed “adventure #4,” since WFR was #1, Kili was #2 and Scotland was #3).
Starting tomorrow around 5pm, I’ll be sequestered with about 50 other people in western Massachusetts, all of whom have come together to spend ten days in silence, meditating.
I first heard about this course from former roomie and super friend Amy walker, who tried out a course in Cambodia (or was it Thailand?) on her travels before medical school. Because of her, I got to try out a lot of my questions on her, the biggest of which was: why the silence?
What I’ve learned since first asking that question is: first off, meditation is a solo activity, one in which you and your breathing are the only focus, and the inner mind is what is being affected. (This is also the reason that reading, writing and music playing are not allowed during the course, as the focus is to be entirely on the mind and the meditation. No distractions or trying to put what you’re experiencing to words). By eliminating speech and practicing “noble silence,” you can turn your full attention inward.
Amy’s additional take on the reason for silence makes sense to me. whether she came up with it herself or they talked about it during the course, I’m not sure. But when you agree to do this ten day meditation course, you agree to follow five precepts
- to abstain from killing any being; (aka you keep a vegetarian diet during the course ((though if I’m going to be difficult just a vegetarian diet doesn’t equal no killing, but anyway)))
- to abstain from stealing;
- to abstain from all sexual activity;
- to abstain from telling lies;
- to abstain from all intoxicants
Number 4 probably seems easy. But it’s kind of not. we lie all day long, small lies meant to ease social situations or make us or others feel better. Like when strangers ask how we are, and we say “good!” instead of “tired and stressed!” or “Unbearably happy!” So if you are in noble silence, you can’t lie.
Amy told me that after a few days, the fact that she didn’t have to talk to anyone, that she wasn’t expected to answer or question anyone, freed her in an interesting way, so that she really could just focus on herself. She could be freed from the need to please others and attend to them, from the expectation of being pleased or being attended to by others.
When looked at that way, the silence is really more of a gift than a rule, a way of being protected from everything and everyone. A way to build a bubble around you in which you can truly experience the meditation course.
in addition to abstaining from sexual activity, you’re also segregated from the opposite sex (which I think isn’t quite up to modern times standards given the lgbtq community, if the purpose is to reduce temptation) and you’re not supposed to touch anyone — of the same or opposite sex. I have to imagine these things are done to strengthen the protective bubble around you. You might be surrounded by people but the journey is to be taken alone.
I’m nervous to do this course, to be in silence, to be completely and utterly with myself, to be in my own little bubble.
I’ll let you know how it goes…