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Here's what happens when you don't speak for a whole 10 days.

Ten days.

No speaking, reading or writing and only two (vegetarian) meals per day.

If Vipassana meditation was meant to be the answer to modern misery, why did it sound so much like a communist prison?

A year ago, when I took the leap into freelance video production from a full-time corporate-world job, I wanted to gain some perspective, take some time out for ‘me’ and draw a line in the sand between the old and the new chapters of my life. However, work starting coming in so quickly that I couldn’t actually guarantee ten days (twelve including arrival and departure) where I wouldn’t be disappointing my new roster of clients.

Finally after three failed attempts, my availability and their course schedule aligned. I decided that no matter how irresistible the job, how juicy the day rate, I would commit to ten days of silence at the Dhamma Bhumi retreat in the Blue Mountains.

I had heard about it from friends over the years who had good things to say, but if you’d asked me what I thought I was walking into, I had envisioned moping around an old house in the hills alongside a handful of morose, bohemians, silently staring at the carpet. What I actually discovered was a sprawling spiritual retreat nestled in the splendor of Blackheath, the second oldest of it’s kind in the world and brimming with the vibrations of thirty years worth of contribution.

One-hundred students – aged twenties to fifties, divided into the male and female sides of the campus – would follow a simple, sequential process with the aim of understanding the method and theory of Vipassana Meditation. My modern cynicism was on high alert for any trace of a cult, but to me the system is faultless.

…and this was the view. Sunset @ Dhamma Vipassana centre, Blackheath

A photo posted by Dan Brophy (@danbrophy) on

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What you are learning is a process – free from rites and rituals, free of religious dogma, or the worship of gods or godesses. It allows you to maintain your faith (and respects your right to have none) but ultimately, what Vipassana offers you is a technique that is based around the observation of one’s own breath and body.

The course is by donation, with no suggestion other than to give ‘so that a future student may study’. It was solution to studying meditation that I’d been looking for when so many other practices came with a caveat of some dogma or religious baggage. There was ‘incidental chanting’, but no participation required which I put it down to the cultural heritage of a twenty-five century old technique.

 Watch: Paper Tiger on Meditation. Post continues after video…

It is also suggested that you hand in any reading and writing materials, but I held on to my book, a journal and some pens – just in case things got really difficult and I needed some anchor of the old world. Unfortunately, the book I was reading was ‘Focus’ by Daniel Goleman, so every time I was tempted to break the code, I was reminded of the very reason I was there in the first place and relented.  

My main concern was food. I never actually stop eating at any point throughout the day, so to be resigned to two main meals and a ‘tea and fruit break’ in the evening was going to be my biggest challenge. I may or may not have taken along a bag of protein powder and squirreled away rice cakes over breakfast for a late-afternoon snack. I justified it to myself that the course was not designed for recovering gym junkies and this was my one area of grace.

Day four was easier than three, which had been easier than two – a good sign that I was acclimatizing to the altitudes on this ten day climb. I observed that the process of readjustment to a clutter-less mental space is made all the more difficult by the removal of one’s ‘safety blankets’. Food, pop music, digital distractions and endless extrovertive dialogue are basically how I get through my day. To have none of them mean that all that was left was… me.

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My thoughts, my feelings, my inner dialogue, which would then need to be calmed to the point of silence. Why are we so scared of silence? Like an alcoholic who pines for the very poison that is killing him, I would rather have pressed the eject button and gone home than seen what was on the other side of my monkey mind.

 Two things kept me there: my pride, in that I had made such a big declaration on social media that I was doing this ten day retreat (and wasn’t I such a disciplined and courageous pioneer of self-discovery?) That, and the nightly discourses by the man who started the center. Goenka, who has since passed away, is as pragmatic as the process he championed throughout his lifetime.

Each night we would hear the videotaped theory that supported and directly reflected our experience. It was enough to realise I wasn’t alone in what I was enduring and maybe everyone else there was feeling the same thing (we weren’t making eye contact, how could I know?) I turned up, ready to embrace all that the course demanded of me. My attitude going in was: even if I didn’t ‘get’ the meditation component, at least I could wake up on time (4:00am) and learn to sit up straight.

Dan survived the 10 days of Vipassana with flying colours.

As well as being mid-wived by the structure of the course, one feels utterly supported by the energy of the space - and the triumphant geography of the surrounds. The one and two hour meditation sessions would be punctuated by long breaks in which you were free to roam the grounds and the surrounding bush within the boundaries of the camp. Starved of digital entertainment, my fascination returned to the observing of nature - in a way it hadn’t since childhood. My imagination went wild.

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Sitting in silence in the mediation hall I would want to fist bump the sky as epiphanies starting flooding in and the dots joined on notions of self, past relationships and future creative projects. I’ve had friends say they would love to do the course but can’t find them time. I understand. Twelve days is a long time to take off from work / family / life. It may be hard to imagine that it would be a better investment of one’s time compared to, say, a trip to Bali. But I always look at time like money or anything else you can invest, and in terms of what I had to give versus what I have received, I can’t say the course was anything less than life-changing.  

Neurotic beach reading #stardustmemories ???? A photo posted by Dan Brophy (@danbrophy) on

Somewhere around the fifth day I was on the balcony with my evening cup of tea and two pieces of fruit, watching as the sun set triumphantly over the Blue Mountains - a daily highlight. I sat silently alongside a small handful of brethren whom I knew nothing about yet felt so close to. Inside I wanted to scream. Yet not from any place of aversion, but a scream of surrender and elation. ‘Yes!!’

As the dark red setting sun hit the horizon, I was convinced I’d never seen anything so beautiful - or maybe I’d just never looked at something in such a way. If I could talk I would have continued to make comment until I had satisfied the feeling. If I could have written, I would have tried to summarize what I was experiencing. But I couldn’t qualify it or gossip it away. I had to just sit in the experience, and observe it.

You can hear more from Dan Brophy as 'The Naked Creative', here: www.thenakedcreativeshow.com Or follow his Instagram @DanBrophyDaily

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