I just returned to the messy world from my second 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat. It was a grueling affair: 4am wake-up bell for 10 hours of seated meditation, broken up by half-hour meals (breakfast at 6:30, lunch at 11, and tea sans food at 5), some time to clean yourself after each of those (1 hr, 1.5 hrs, and half an hour, respectively), and five minute breaks between adjacent 1-1.5 hr sittings. Were there any time to do anything but nap and sleep, you wouldn’t be able to because all your diversions are confiscated at registration and locked in a safe. No phones, books, writing tools, no nothing. You can walk around. Trim your beard with scissors. But that’s about it.
As an easily-distracted person, raised on distractions and cognitively adapted, nay, addicted to them, this was hard. I will explain in greater detail the facets of this hardness in a subsequent post, but I’ll say that they caused me to cave slightly on the commitment, and use the pencil I found in the bottom of my bag to write notes, mostly Things I Want To Do When I Leave, on 4″ gauze pad wrappers. Surreptitiously, so as not to distract the others. Mostly in random moments alone in my 3-bed room, or in the middle of the night, red light from from headlamp quietly illuminating the waxed paper. Many good thoughts were not lost as a result, and I don’t regret it for a second.
I’ll get to those shortly, but for now I want to note several milestones that passed while I was gone:
- I found out that Obama won the election five days, almost certainly putting me among the last .001% of Americans to know. THANK GOD. I almost left in the middle after many distracted minutes spent realizing how much I cared.
- I have been abroad for a month.
- I haven’t had meat in two weeks (the food there was vegetarian, but I’ve stuck with it in Pokhara in preparation for a juice fast).
- I haven’t had any alcohol in three weeks.
Important things can happen if you just let them.