What is the next great challenge for someone who scales cliffs, runs triathlons, sails the open oceans and generally pursues all athletic activities?

In three days I will be attending a ten day Vipassana meditation course in North Fork, CA. There will be no running, bike riding, climbing or swimming. Nor will there be yoga classes or garden chores, and if you counted where the ten days lead, you might have realized that there will be no holiday celebration, no Christmas or New Year’s dinner party. In fact, there will be no dinner at all. Our daily meals will be served at breakfast and mid day and for beginners like me, only fruit and tea with milk will be available in the evening, but for the veterans there will be only tea.

There won’t be any festive conversation or getting to know new people either. This is a silent meditation course and we will all be taking a vow of noble silence for nine of the ten days. This is not a cult or a religion. No one is making money off this course and all of the teachers and staff are volunteers. It costs nothing. One may donate any amount only if you have completed a course. These donations are the sole support allowing future students to attend.

This is not some sort of cruel self punishment or a diet strategy to avoid holiday foods. As explained by its proponents:

“Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India’s most ancient techniques of meditation… This non-sectarian technique aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation. Healing, not merely the curing of diseases, but the essential healing of human suffering, is its purpose.

Vipassana is a way of self-transformation through self-observation. It focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, which can be experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations that form the life of the body, and that continuously interconnect and condition the life of the mind. It is this observation-based, self-exploratory journey to the common root of mind and body that dissolves mental impurity, resulting in a balanced mind full of love and compassion.

The scientific laws that operate one’s thoughts, feelings, judgements and sensations become clear. Through direct experience, the nature of how one grows or regresses, how one produces suffering or frees oneself from suffering is understood. Life becomes characterized by increased awareness, non-delusion, self-control and peace.”

If that piques your interest, read more about it here.

Students will be sitting in meditation between 8-10 hours per day. This is my greatest challenge; First, how to still the body and its desire and habit of constant motion; Second, how to still the mind and be freed from the incessant chatter it creates. When I first began to meditate, it was in five minute increments and even that was difficult.

If you’ve never tried it, I dare you. Go on, just try to sit in one position with your eyes closed, allowing no thoughts to dominate your mind, doing nothing but following your breath for five long minutes. It’s harder than it sounds. But the freedom that comes with stilling the mind is elating, and that’s what I’m longing for. Will I get it? Who knows? It’s a start down a path and if nothing else, an effort that I can put in my back pocket and know that I’ve tried.

No reading or writing materials are allowed in the course, but with ten days alone with my own mind, I will be sure to take plenty of mental notes. Stay tuned for my post Vipassana course experience report.

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