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The Sounds of Silence – My Experience at a 10-Day Silent Meditation Course – Part 4

Today I share with you Part 4 of My Vipassana Experience. If you’d like to start from the beginning check out these posts: Part 1Part 2Part 3

Bittersweet Endings

On Day 10 after breakfast we met in the meditation hall for the last time. We learned the metta meditation of loving kindness or goodwill towards all. After this final sit, noble silence ends and noble speech begins.

I was excited and also a little bit sad. While I was absolutely ready to get home to my hubby and kitties, eat a burger and have a cup of coffee, I felt like I was finally starting to notice some positive outcomes.

My mind was indeed calming down significantly. My meditations were becoming deeper, more restful. I was in the present more than I was in my mind. I was feeling grateful, centered and grounded. I didn’t want to lose this.

The instructions were given about what would happen next. Noble silence ends once we leave the meditation hall, displays and resources will be set up in the dining hall, and a celebratory last meal will take place. We had the rest of the day to interact with each other to slowly ease and transition ourselves back into the real world.

I tentatively got up from my cushion, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to start speaking again. I didn’t want to loose this inner stillness and feelings of peace, love and compassion. Could I keep all of this going during re-entry into society?

Noble Speech Begins

As I entered the coat room I could sense the excitement from everyone. Once we stepped outside those doors we’d be free to speak. I was definitely curious to hear others’ experiences and share mine but I also wanted to hold onto this blissful state.

I donned my coat and boots. And with a tinge of bittersweetness I walked through the doors. Immediately I witnessed students hugging, laughter erupting and the debriefing beginning. A few others walked solitarily into the woods.

Longing for a few more minutes to savour this special feeling, I walked passed the chatter, looked up, felt the sun on my face and stood breathing in the fresh morning air. Wow I did it. It’s over. Big exhale.

And then I noticed something I hadn’t witnessed all week. Hundreds of blackbirds were in the treetops singing. Where did they come from? It was like on cue they were summoned to welcome us out of the silence back into sound. And what a beautiful sound it was. Incredible. Thank you I whispered to myself. I stood for a few more breaths in the wonder and awe of this magical moment.

I resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t be able to hold onto the bliss much longer. I saw a couple of my rideshare buddies up ahead. Already well into their tales and stories, I tentatively meandered over. A few hugs were exchanged and the sharing began.

It didn’t take long for the bliss to wear off. Our egos and mental impurities came back full force. Complaining, judging, comparing and despairing. What we liked, what we didn’t. Comparing our experiences to one another. Criticizing other participants. Airing our grievances with the teachers, the food, the rules.

The Final Day

On Day 11 we got our cell phones back. The final link to the real world. With no internet or wifi to speak of, I was able to scrape up enough bandwidth to call Mike. It was choppy but I heard his voice. Told him I was alive and that I couldn’t wait to see him. He had already done my flight check-in, paid for my bags and upgraded my seat. Tears trickled down my face. Of course he did. He takes such good care of me. I am blessed.

It was time to pack up and clean. Then after some touching goodbyes we were off. Heading back to our homes, families and jobs with hopes and intentions of taking our learnings and experiences and applying them to our day-to-day lives.

The debriefing, sharing and reminiscing continued on the ride back to Toronto.

Heading Home

With a four-hour wait at the airport, I had lots of time to get jacked up on coffee and scarf down a burger and fries.

Starbucks was my first goal. Unfortunately, in my terminal, the only coffee shop was Tim Horton’s. Sorry to all of you timmies fans, I am not. Damn, I was so looking forward to sitting down with a delicious dark cup of Java and savouring each hot rich sip.

Let. It. Go. Do not react. Be unattached.

Okay. No more cravings for coffee. Let’s switch gears and find that big juicy burger. I walked the entire length of the terminal to weigh out my options. I settled on an Irish pub.

“Do you have decent coffee here?” I asked the waiter. “Yeah pretty good,” he replied. “Okay bring me a cup with cream and a cheeseburger with fries.”

I’ve never been very comfortable eating alone in restaurants. But something was different now. After eating all week in silence, not paying attention to other people, I found this quite enjoyable. My coffee came and that first sip was like heaven. Hot, rich, creamy goodness. I felt so present. So mindful. My tastebuds were so alive. I lingered over each sip. The burger arrived and the same consciousness occurred. It started with the smell of the burger. The anticipation of how good it would taste. I chewed slowly, really tasting the flavours. I am not sure how long it took me to finish but that was the slowest meal I’ve ever eaten. And one of the most enjoyable. In the words of Geneen Roth, “I enjoyed it with gusto!”

I boarded the plane and was off on the final leg of this journey back home. I ordered a glass of white wine. As I sipped and felt the relaxing effects of the alcohol kick in, the magnitude of what I had just done hit me. I felt so grateful for the texts and emails I had received from friends and family telling me how brave they thought I was and that they’d been thinking of me. The tears began. The emotion was overwhelming. I cried the whole way home.

I knew Mike would be waiting for me in the terminal as opposed to in the car like we usually do for airport pick-ups. He hid himself away beside a plant so I wouldn’t see him. But I did. I pretended to walk by and then turned around, took a few steps toward him and fell into his arms. I’d been waiting for that hug. I burst into tears. “Why are you crying,” he asked? “I don’t know,” I sobbed. “I’m just so glad to be home. I can’t believe I just did that. It was really hard!”

What I learned

It feels good to do hard things – I hadn’t challenged myself in awhile. In the past I’ve done things like trained for a marathon and long running races, left the security of a good government job, started my own business, backpacked through South East Asia and Australia, but I hadn’t done anything really hard or brave in awhile. So it felt really good to undertake the Vipassana, be completely open to it and complete it. I have a wonderful sense of accomplishment. It restored my faith in me. If I can do this I can do just about anything. I am brave!

I am truly blessed and so grateful – Before the retreat I was in a funk. Wallowing in my negative thought patterns, being resentful, making excuses. On the plane ride home, those tears were of gratitude for my life. For my husband. For my family. For my friends that really do care. For work that matters. For my health. For my home. For the opportunities to travel. For the experiences I get to have. For the continuous learning and growing I am able to do. For all the support I receive in so many ways. For the love and beauty all around me.

The present moment is all we really have – I understand now that we create all of our own suffering and misery in our minds by our ego to distract us from the present moment. I am not sure why it does this because the present moment is pretty awesome. It is the only real thing. Everything else is made up. Created. Fabricated. The more time we can spend in the present, the more peace, joy, love and light we will experience in our lives. The meditation practices I learned, are great tools to help me be more present.

Each day, each moment, start again – Every time we sat on our cushions and received our instructions from Goenka he would say, “Start again. Be alert and attentive. Keep working. Persistently. Diligently. Continuously. Start again.” Life is hard. It takes strong determination. Mediation is hard. It takes all of these qualities. But we keep getting new chances and opportunities to start again. No matter what your goals, intentions or desires are, you just keep at it. Don’t let the failures of the past discourage you. With each breath, each moment, each day we get new chances to start over. This is my new mantra. Start Again.

Nothing is good or bad. It just is – Much of the teachings were based on this concept of equanimity or non-reaction. Reacting to our thoughts, to people, to situations and experiences is what gets us into trouble, not the thing itself. We 100% create all of our own suffering and misery by reacting. We react toward things we want (craving) and we react away from things we don’t want (aversion). If we can be neutral, equanimous and not react, we can lessen our suffering and be more at peace.

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Some lingering questions you may have….

Would you do it again? Not next week. But ask me in six months from now. Maybe.

Are you meditating two hours a day like they recommend? No. But I have been more consistent and I truly understand the benefits of meditation now. I spend more time in the present.

What differences have you noticed since being back? I do not react like I used to. I am able to let go of much more. I am less judgemental and critical. I take responsibility for my thoughts and triggers and don’t blame them on others. I use the breath to get out of my head and into the present moment. I have more patience, compassion and gratitude.

Would you recommend it? Everyone’s experiences are so different. I thought about this for a long time. I researched and prepared myself. I was ready for the experience. I went into it with an open mind.I got a ton out of it. But it is not for everyone. I was amazed at the wide range of people who attended the course. It is a very personal decision, not one to jump into lightly.

If you are looking for a kick in the butt to get excited again about your life, feel free to ask me more about whether or not a vipassana course might be right for you.

Blessings. Thanks for reading.

{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Gerry March 27, 2018, 7:20 pm

    Great story, Michelle. I enjoyed all four parts. Congratulations on finishing your silent retreat.

    – Gerry

    • Michelle March 27, 2018, 7:22 pm

      Thanks Gerry. I appreciate you taking the time to read about it.

  • Valerie March 27, 2018, 7:43 pm

    So glad I took the time to read your story Michelle! It is something I might be interested in doing some day – once the kids leave!! Ha!

    • Michelle March 27, 2018, 7:50 pm

      Thanks Valerie. I truly appreciate you reading the posts. If you ever decide to do it, let me know and we can chat! xo

  • Kelcy March 27, 2018, 9:31 pm

    Michelle…Loved reading about your experience. Thanks so much for doing that and sharing it!

    • Michelle March 28, 2018, 9:09 am

      You are so welcome Kelcy. Thanks for reading!

  • Adriane March 28, 2018, 12:35 am

    Wow Michelle, that was such an interesting post. I read all four parts just now. What an experience…..not sure if I could do that, it is a brave thing to do and you are such a great writer, I felt like I was reading a really good book <3

    • Michelle March 28, 2018, 9:09 am

      Awwww Adriane. Thank you so much. That means a lot to me. Hugs.

  • Brenda March 28, 2018, 1:40 am

    So glad I got to read about your experience. When you first shared that you went I was so intrigued. This is something I can see myself doing someday. It was helpful to hear about your story. You kept it quite neutral too.
    You are so brave Michelle. I love that that’s your word this year. So fitting. I appreciate your learnings, and your experience. I’d like to practice non-reaction, or at least more awareness and perhaps controlled action. Lol Perhaps we can connect sometime to talk more about it. Thanks again for your open and honest reflection.

    • Michelle March 28, 2018, 9:08 am

      Thank you so much Brenda. Definitely would love to connect and chat more about it. I found it so valuable. Big hugs to you.

      • Brenda March 28, 2018, 6:24 pm

        Hugs to you too! I’ll be in touch.

  • Genevieve Kennedy March 28, 2018, 1:40 am

    I felt a little sad as I read along……..of course it had to finish. I was anxious about your meeting Mike, you wrote so well I was there. What an accomplishment and what a writer !! Michelle thanks for sharing so so much of yourself. It does amaze me when we share our thoughts and the things that make us uncomfortable and the things that are no problem at all, gee whiz we all have them. It sure is a great topic. Please write some more or write a book, you’re wonderful. Hugs Gen

    • Michelle March 28, 2018, 9:07 am

      Thank you so much Gen.I so appreciate your comments and kind words. Big hugs.

  • judy prosser March 28, 2018, 11:07 am

    Thank you Michelle for sharing your personal journey with us. You are absolutely correct when you say that the present moment is all we really have. Stay well. Peace and love.

    • Michelle March 28, 2018, 1:45 pm

      You are so welcome Judy. Thanks for reading and your comments. Big hugs to you.

  • Teri March 28, 2018, 2:19 pm

    Loved reading each and every part. The present moment. It’s all we have. Enjoy it.

    • Michelle March 28, 2018, 4:10 pm

      Thank you so much Teri for reading and your comments. Enjoy the present. Hugs

  • Rachelle Boudreau March 29, 2018, 3:12 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience Michelle! I can relate to so much to being in one’s head, and I feel like my life is one big “reaction” sometimes. A course like this is on my bucket list – hopefully sooner than later.

  • Helen Gee March 30, 2018, 5:54 pm

    Loved it all! Thanks for sharing, you’re an awesome writer 🙂
    You’re last take away really resonates with me; nothing is good or bad, it just is. News I can use!

  • Sheila April 2, 2018, 1:13 pm

    Hi Michelle, Thanks for sharing all of this personal information with everyone. You are so kind and giving of your emotions and feeling. I am very proud of you. I couldn’t wait to read your Part 4 and I needed to have the time to enjoy every word of it. I laughed and cried reading all about your trip – it was like I was there too. It was the best read I have had in a long time. You are brave. I am glad that I have started to meditate – it certainly hasn’t hurt me. Love you – you are the best.

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