What I Learned From a 10 Day Silent Vipassana Meditation Course
November 16, 2020
This is a guest post written by James Harrisson. James Harrisson is a curious guy based in Melbourne, Australia. He's the host of "The James Harrisson Show", a podcast where he interviews top performers to share their experiences and stories. Topics centre around business, entrepreneurship and personal development.
It’s something that sounds so foreign in the modern world. 10 days of no talking, no interacting with people, no reading, no writing, no exercise. Just 10 days of pure uninterrupted silence and deep introspection.
No distractions. No stimulation. Nowhere to hide from ourselves.
What is Vipassana meditation?
Let’s get esoteric for a second...
Whenever we experience misery or suffering we often blame something external. “That person made me angry” or “This situation made me sad”. In reality the external stimulus didn’t make us suffer, it was our own internal reaction and judgement that caused us misery.
Vipassana is a meditation technique that trains the mind to observe sensations and emotions in the body more objectively, allowing us to remove judgement and remain balanced and equanimous.
What made me want to do it?
When do we go even an hour without interacting with people or being distracted by our phones in the modern world? Let alone 10 days. It sounded like an experience and challenge like no other. I love growth experiences, especially ones that are completely out of the ordinary.
What was the experience like?
There are many Vipassana meditation centres around the world but the basic setup is the same for all of them.
You arrive at the compound (yes they call it that which makes it sound super culty) the afternoon before the course commences. They take your phone and car keys, you’re shown to your room and given a few hours to set up your bed and get settled in. After this you’re given a light dinner and the teacher gives a brief overview of the course.
The schedule for the 10 days is the same each day, it begins at 4am when a gong is rung to wake you up. From 4:30am - 9:00pm you’re meditating in the hall or in your room (with rest breaks throughout the day). Each day ends with a discourse where the teacher explains the theory behind what is being taught.
There’s a lot more I could write about but a piece of advice I’m glad I followed was not to read too much about other people’s experiences. The 10 day course is a very personal journey and everyone’s experience is different, and it’s better to go in with a fresh mind and less preconceived notions of what it “should” be like.
What were the most challenging parts?
One of the hardest parts was having no one to share experiences with, you’re on your own and it truly feels like that. I consider myself an introvert and am quite content in my own company, but even I struggled with the feeling of true isolation.
When we remove all stimulation and distraction, suddenly there’s nowhere to hide and a lot of emotions and things lurking in our mind can come to the surface, and we’re forced to face them.
You have to fight your own battles, you have to go through it yourself, it’s hard at the time but empowering to know you can face emotions and deal with them productively.
What did I learn?
Experience is the key, not just understanding things intellectually.
The Vipassana meditation technique is actually very simple and easy to explain, but you have to go through the whole 10 day process experientially to get the benefits. It’s one thing for someone to say “be more objective and less reactive to your feelings and emotions”, but it’s another thing entirely to actually embody that.
Happiness is in the present moment.
We have much more control over our own happiness than we realise. We normally project out to the future or get bogged down in the past, but we have to find a way to be happy in the present moment.
During the 10 day course I literally had nothing. I had no possessions, no relationships, nothing. Yet towards the end I felt so content. It really proved to me that we have the capacity to be happy right now.
Immersion and focus is powerful for learning new things.
It’s been suggested that when learning a new skill it takes roughly 100 hours of deliberate practice to get to a level of “proficiency”, meaning that you haven’t mastered the skill but you are beyond the basic level.
Imagine learning something new such as piano, to get 100 hours of practice could take up to two years if you were only taking a one hour lesson per week. In this course you’re performing 100 hours of meditation into 10 days, essentially compressing that learning curve to proficiency into a very short timeframe.
Who should do it?
Anyone who is into personal growth, wants to understand themselves better, not afraid of a challenge and somewhat interested in meditation should consider doing this.
If you have been thinking about doing it but you’ve just been unsure, just do it. Once you’re there it will be challenging but you’ll find a way to get through it, the hardest thing is just making the time and committing.
I can honestly say that this experience was one of the most challenging things I’ve done, emotionally, physically and mentally. But it was also the most rewarding and biggest growth experience I’ve had. I learned a lot more about myself, I’ve learned a practical skill I continue to use today and it’s given me clarity on things I need to work on emotionally. I’m so grateful for the experience.
I recorded a podcast episode talking more about my experience, and I’m always happy to answer any questions about my experience or Vipassana in general, feel free to reach out if I can help!