“So as with most things in life, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself in to.”
The Spiritual Experiment is a collection of ideas, inspiration and tales from Saskia Quirke. A tried and tested of the weird and wonderful for you to dip your toe in to. A truthful account ofspirituality from the newbie who turned up to her first ayahuasca ceremony in men’s underwear (it’s a long story) and is honest about the not so zen bits (50 people to six showers at meditation camp) as well as all the good stuff.
My spiritual journeys have led me to some funny and unexpected places (like a squat in Rio at 4am but that’s another story) but none quite so surprising as Vipassana.
A meditation technique that concentrates on sensations that arise within the body and the insight this provides, Vipassana is also the birthplace of mindfulness – the baby mama of the biggest buzzword in wellbeing.
I was relatively new to meditation. I had only been practicing for three months and by practicing I mean exactly that, dipping my toe in, ten minutes here and there using the Headspace app.
But here I was two hours outside of Rio in the rolling hills of Miguel Pereira about to undertake what is the spiritual equivalent of boot camp.
I have a reputation for being a bit haphazard. I’ll book a hammock instead of a hotel room or think I’m getting a bus to the next destination when actually it’s a boat, that kind of thing. So as with most things in life, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself in to.
What I did know was it was a silent retreat.
What I didn’t know was this meant daily 4am starts. No talking AND no eye contact (which when you’re sharing three to a bedroom and six showers between 50 students is pretty tricky). Not only my phone would be confiscated but books, pens and paper (your entire focus all day every day would be meditation, oh, and sleeping, that was allowed).
Killing anything is a strict no no (I don’t mean people obviously but after a 20 minute wait for a shower at 4am I was tested), ants, mosquitos, spiders. This explained why the cobwebbed communal areas resembled the set of Arachnophobia and contained spiders as big as my hand.
Finally you must wear modest clothing at all times. That skimpy Varley yoga set is not gonna wash here my friend.
And so 11 hours of meditation a day started. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried sitting down for that long but it’s pretty painful. The first four days taught mindful breathing, pin pointed focus on the breath and on any feeling occurring within the small area of the nose and the upper lip. Every time our concentration slipped or we found ourselves thinking we had to bring our attention back to the task.
By day four we were really starting to feel the burn mentally and physically – and no one needed to speak a word to know that. After every hours session we would fall out of the hall and in to a heap trying to stretch out the latest muscle ache that had joined your already breaking body. People groaned, sighed, cried.
Then on the fifth day we finally went in to Vipassana – the practice of scanning your body and focusing on the sensations that arise. We were able to go in to our physical pain and observe it, to pull it apart and something truly magical happened. We walked out not just in silence but in peace.
Something had changed, I’d gone from wondering if it was possible to run away to being hooked.
Vipassana focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, and the parallels that you draw from this in to life. It was self-transformation through self-observation.
For instance I noticed that the physical pain I was in is impermanent, if rather than resisting it and tensing up around it (which only causes more pain) I breathed in to it and allowed it to be, it started to change. This can also be directly applied to the psychological pain you experience in life.
You learn that every breath you take is never the same as the last, life is ever changing and you accept, appreciate and flow with it.
Bit by bit, sitting by sitting the way I felt and thought started to change.
Suddenly this deep peace started to rise in me that I never thought was possible. And it continues to surprise you because it is there when you leave Vipassana, is there when life gets tough, it’s always there. Your very own super power. And all you have to do is sit down and shut your eyes to find it.
A small price to pay for ten days of silence. Which secretly I loved. Shhhhhhhh.
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