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10 Days of Silence

My Vipassana Experience

Goenka

The first three days are easy! I am so cocky, virtually skipping through the residence shouting “I’m a great meditator! I’m a great meditator!” (in Noble Silence, of course). How liberating the strict timetable is; I am so free. So much delight in the minimal choices I have to make: round bowl or square plate? Meditate in the hall or in the dormitory? I’m going to sit in THIS seat to eat my breakfast. I make my bed all neat and French plait my hair. I am having so much fun.

Portugal is Portugal. Cork oaks and olive trees. My usual diet of Delta, Super Bock, bifanas, and pasteis are replaced with salads, fruit, rice, hot lemonade. I am sunburned one day, snowed on the next. Barefoot on the grass at lunchtime, thunderstorms throughout the night. Portuguese rain is the best rain, colours shine brighter, smells grow sweeter. It leaked into the meditation hall and poured through the bamboo roof during the evening discourse and made me laugh; huddled under blankets watching a video of our dead teacher.

Goenka describes our first days as making the incision for the surgery of the mind: the pus has to come out.

Familiar pain patterns pop up to say hello but melt away quickly, wispy memories. 2014 blew me to smithereens and I examined every shard closely as I rebuilt. The work shows and there are no surprises.

A bizarre fear of boat hulls (creaking, hulking horrible things) rears its head a couple of times, but I decide this probably doesn’t need major attention….my mind is quite odd, but I’m OK with that.

The day we apply Vipassana technique I am close to vomiting and have to meet with Teacher:

“Is this normal?”

“Yes, no, everyone is different. For you, I think this might be normal, Emma…am I right?”

*sigh* “Yes” (The nausea is a sadly familiar feeling.)

“And there you have your inner wisdom! You already know, I see you understand how this works” (Always teacher’s pet.)

“OK. So the only way out is to go through.”

Back to work. Sit. Work intelligently, patiently, attentively, diligently, diligently, diligently. Rinse, repeat. Do. The. Work. (FYI, the work is never done.)

That afternoon, the fingers on my right hand dissolve into infinity.

Meditation is easy! You just have to sit down and do it. But there is the problem: you have to sit down and do it. Meditation is hard.

That night as I lay down to sleep, every cell on my body is flickering and vibrating, a pulsating, transforming mass of red, orange, and yellow. I am livid. Clearly something is happening but can’t it happen at a more convenient time? I want to sleep. I walk it off and upon return to my dormitory, everyone is snoring. I want to shout, but remember Noble Silence.

I make dolphin noises until they shut up and I finally drift off to sleep.

The change in diet and routine makes me a little (more) strange. I catch myself eyeing up a man in SOCKS AND SANDALS (gah). My friend catches me looking and smirks, clearly remembering a previous conversation about my weakness for Portuguese men. I look away quickly and notice the woman in front of me has a picture of a tractor on her meditation cushion. This strikes me as hilarious and I dissolve into giggles, shaking and shuddering under my shawl.

I almost shout at a woman for swiping on her phone, remember Noble Silence, then realise she is scraping a piece of melon with a knife.

I get overenthusiastic doing the washing up and spray foam all up the wall. I hide in the toilets, giggling madly.

I ponder what it would be like to join a cult and decide that, based on my current experience, it might be quite nice, then spend half a day shouting, “I WILL NOT JOIN YOUR CULT” (in Noble Silence, of course).

I spend 15 minutes longing for the piece of melon I skipped over at lunch and then 45 minutes wondering what aftershave Robbie Williams wears.

We have cheese one lunchtime and I spend three hours singing “Rejoice! Rejoice” (remaining Nobly Silent, naturally).

Goenka’s regular reminders of “constant vigilance” make me feel like I am being taught meditation by Mad Eye Moody.

I notice a cat paw print in one of the tiles outside the meditation hall and look at it every day.

I wake up with Goenka’s words ringing in my ears, “Sow seeds of love,” and my heart is warm.

I notice that ideas are infectious, communication happens without words. One person rearranges their bedding, the rest follow. One person puts their legs up the wall to relax, soon we are a room of women with our legs up the wall. Someone makes seed sandwiches at breakfast, soon that is the standard breakfast side dish.

I am not lonely, I am surrounded by 40 people all with beautiful hearts and faces. My dorm neighbour has to move her bed next to mine. I feel like we are an old married couple going to bed together at 9:30 every night. I don’t know her name, or her nationality, yet somehow I have so much love for her. We do yoga alongside each other in our neat little corner.

4:30 AM – 6:30 AM meditation makes me want to punch Goenka in the face. I am so angry at him and his silly chanting. 7 PM – 8:15 PM: I am laughing madly at Goenka’s rambling discourses, the funny stories, and his half asleep wife doing her knitting. I have so much affection for him.

And then? Silence. I am a kaleidoscope of light. I have come home.

Vipassana. Rest. Vipassana, Vipassana. Rest. Vipassana, Vipassana, Vipassana. Rest. Vipassana. Discourse. Vipassana. Rest.

Rinse, repeat. Do. The. Work. Cleanse, purify, glow.

The mind surgery is well underway. My brain is battered, my mind is mangled, my head is fucked. I long for the Soothing Balm Meditation promised for Day 10.

Anicca, anicca, anicca. All things pass.

Day 10 arrives and I am anxious, I am not ready to leave this cocoon of contentment. We are taught the final meditation: to feel love and compassion for all beings. It’s hard and I cry. Love hurts. I’m not ready to be (un)real again.

Suddenly, we can talk. The lights come on, illusions are shattered. Some people are surprised my English is so good for a Portuguese person (I am delighted and amused by the mistake). I can finally talk to my bed neighbour, discover her name and we laugh about our strange but happy relationship. I can’t eat, I am so energised and excited. Everyone is so interesting, I make so many new friends. That night our dormitory becomes a slumber party, exchanging ouija board stories and making each other cry laughing with impressions of Goenka and his funny expressions. Mysteries are solved.

It is over, yet not really over, Goenka reminds us that the work has only just begun.

And just like that, I find myself in a taxi going towards Faro with two new friends.

Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu.

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