My Experience at a Silent Meditation Bootcamp
After three days, inner peace is looking more difficult than I thought
Go big or go home. My group of friends coined the phrase as something of a mantra when we studied abroad here. I’ve tried to keep in mind ever since. Why quit your job and look for a new one in the same city when you can quit and move to Australia?
This time, I think I may have gone a little too big. In her bestseller Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert calls Vipassana “the Extreme Sports version of transcendence.” This appealed to my adventurous nature. But after struggling through three days, I realize that before I ever snowboarded or bungee jumped I played AYSO soccer and little league softball. Perhaps I should have taken a one-hour meditation class at the gym before committing to a 10-day silent course.
But here I find myself, three days in and feeling tortured with a week left to go. There is literally nothing to do besides meditate. The wake-up gong – seriously, a man walks around banging a gong with a mallet – is at 4 a.m., and we’re expected to meditate for 10 to 11 hours a day. We eat two meals – at 6:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., plus fruit and tea at 5 p.m. We have time after every meal to wander around the grounds, but it’s still winter and pretty chilly out. The living quarters are freezing while the meditation hall is very warm; it’s obvious where they want you to be.
Speaking of the meditation, in fairness they take the beginners into consideration. First day: be aware of your breath in your nostrils. After 10 hours, I think I’m pretty aware. Day two: feel your breath in your nostrils. Day three: be aware of any sensations that crop up in and around your nose while you’re breathing. My mind does begin to quiet and my attention grows more acute with each day, although at the beginning of each “sit” all I can think is, “Stings the nostrils!” a la Ron Burgundy in Anchorman. It can’t be a good sign that every time I try to meditate all I think of is a Will Ferrell movie.
With no clear goal yet in site, all I can think about is ways to more accurately describe this place. Here are a few examples of what I’ve come up with, for better or worse (mostly worse).