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Silence, Stillness and Surrender


Exactly two months ago I embarked on my first ever ten day Vipassana (silent meditation retreat), in Suffolk, UK. I was joined by over a hundred fellow meditators. We were all there for our own unique reasons with very personal hopes and expectations. But we universally wanted to emerge feeling more peaceful.

Vipassana is a Buddhist practice which means seeing things as they truly are, not as we think they are or as we would want them to be. This lies at the heart of one of Vipassana's core principles of choiceless observation.  

There were people who were "old students" (us newbies were called "new students") on their second, fourth or even tenth Vipassana. They had an air of tranquility and radiated inner peace that was a great advertisement for the programme. I hoped very much that I too would look and feel that way after the ten days.

It was an intense and interesting experience. I went prepared, or so I thought. It turns out, that like childbirth, marathons and other intense experiences, nothing truly prepares you for the real thing. Despite being warned to not go in with expectations, I inevitably carried some that I wished I hadn't.

While things were still fresh in my memory I shared my experience, insights and learnings with a friend in a free flowing conversation. You can click on this link to watch the video. You may find it particularly useful if you are considering signing up for Vipassana. 

Remember, each person is unique and this is a very experiential course, unlike any other workshop or offsite learning you may have previously encountered. My observations and experiences are mine alone. You may find they help you go in bit more prepared and therefore get more from your time there. On the other hand, there is a risk that on a subconscious level you may unhelpfully measure your own experience against mine. My approach was to go into it informed and prepared whilst being willing to keep an open mind and surrender to the flow of the experience in my own unique way.

Among the things we talked about were:
- "Noble Silence" and how it made me feel
- The impact of voluntary surrender of freedom
- How living things behave in absence of fear
- The concept of "Choiceless Observation"
- The Vipassana principles of Awareness, Equanimity and Impermanence
- Carrying over principles of Peace, Tolerance and Harmony into everyday life

I did not emerge from my ten days with any lasting levels of inner peace. My tranquility was sorely tested by the real world once I emerged from the cocoon I'd been in for ten days.  Since my return I have meditated on most days, once a day for an hour or so. I have found this very helpful. I haven't always followed the particular Vipassana technique I learnt at the retreat. I've explored and experimented with a few different techniques and find there is no one best way to meditate. It is clear to me that meditating on a regular basis has brought me greater peace and tranquility. My ten days gave me valuable tools with which to experience the vicissitudes of life with greater equanimity. Given the topsy turvy world we live in, that was a great gift indeed.