thanks for your emailed questions! a lot of you asked the same things, so here’s a q&a addressing what you’d most like to know about my vipassana experience.
how was 10 days of silence? not as bad as it sounds. it isn’t like you’re sitting in your house, unable to speak. everything is completely different anyway. for example: i was in a dorm with a roommate and a bathroom shared with about 16 other women. i was only eating two meals a day, plus “tea time” at 5 pm (more on that later). in short, it quickly becomes the least of your problems.
besides, what would we have talked about? how uncomfortable we were? how angry we were for voluntarily doing this? how our meditation practices measured up?
but on day 6 i really wanted to run up to someone, anyone, and yell, “this is fucking hard!” in this fantasy, i didn’t require a response, nor would i say anything else. just getting that off my chest would have been enough.
weren’t you starving? surprisingly, no. but i definitely planned what i’d eat during meditations immediately preceding meals. one fake hardship i overcame was desert. its inclusion in the lunch menu followed no discernable pattern!
dinner/total non-dinner was a 5 p.m. “tea time” of fruit and tea. this was scary in the beginning because how much fruit can Julia eat in 30 minutes without choking to death, mauling anyone or appearing greedy?
answer? two. my little dinner was sliced banana and apple with cinnamon, honey, and rice milk. and i was sated. let me tell you, the Vipassana Starvation Diet ™ works. i can’t believe it hasn’t taken off here in LA.
how was talking again after 10 days? kinda gross. i took the first few minutes to silently congratulate myself for pulling it off then joined the others.
i wanted license to be a wild animal, conversationally, to interrupt and drag my roommate away from people to just catch up with her, since we’d hit it off before beginning noble silence. but i stayed polite. and it was ok, but i felt pulled out of myself and sometimes stuck in conversations i wanted to leave. i talked without really knowing, or considering, what i said.
did you have a favorite part? i liked my after breakfast walks. the sun was rising and it was brisk. traipsing along the walking path dressed like a polygamist homesteader (to meet the strict dress code), i’d check out the snow on the faraway mountains and brace myself for another day.
how’d you do it? admittedly, 10 days is a long time. and i can’t come up with great explanations about how i managed. early on i thought, “well, the 10th day doesn’t really count because it’s the last one, which means the 9th one is the real last one, so the 8th day is your last super-grueling, no-end-in-sight time.”
and the first few days i collected a small stone to represent making it through another day, but by the 4th day i forgot to find one, so maybe i didn’t need that reassurance after all. by the 5th day i was halfway there, and the rest of the time almost took care of itself. plus, i always looked forward to the evening discourses, since they addressed potential challenges and added levity.
i don’t want to sound like i wanted vipassana to end. it’s just that you never knew when the other emotional shoe would drop, when you’d sit down to meditate and deep, painful wounds would unexpectedly open.
my vipassana wasn’t the emotional evisceration for which i’d prepared myself. i didn’t feel fantastic during the process, but i wasn’t having a breakdown, either. i don’t know what that means and i’d rather not speculate.
to conclude, here are some recollections from certain days:
day 1: my mind was like satellite radio. the music just would not stop. “i’m not the only one” by sam smith was on heavy rotation, especially the lines, “i wish it would be over now” and “you say i’m crazy…”
day 4: when we learned the vipassana technique. the previous 3 days were all about that breath, to paraphrase meghan trainor.
and the first hour of vipassana was excruciating. my whole body hurt, like flames were searing through me. i wanted to cry but knew i wouldn’t. this was also the day when “a whole new world” from the 1994 Disney movie “Aladdin” became firmly lodged in my brain.
day 8: N.B. by now, "payphone" by maroon 5 was on repeat. it also turned out to be tantrum day! eventually and in their own special way, everyone reacts to vipassana. in the afternoon i was meditating standing up, which we were allowed to do when we felt sleepy. suddenly it dawned on me, “i don’t wanna do this any more!” and was on the verge of getting angry when i decided instead to use the technique to observe my thoughts.
all these great ideas came to mind, and ordinarily i’d scribble them in a notebook. but that was against the rules. i was so close to the end of the course i didn’t want to break an important rule now! but i also desperately wanted to remember these eight ideas.
i decided to gather a variety of stones as different as possible from one another and assign an epiphany to each. i gleefully went back to my room, where my roommate was meditating. and while the room was small enough for me to reach out and poke her, i left her alone and, quietly as possible, “memorized” the stones. i felt a little crazy, but 3 days later when i was allowed to write again and remembered all eight ideas, i felt like a genius.