A 31-year-old seeker finds peace of mind by bailing on what was advertised as the ultimate self-awareness experience — a 10-day ‘silent meditation’ retreat by a famous guru
GUEST COLUMN BY MICAL AKULLIAN — It was the morning of Day 5 of my ten-day Vipassana retreat in the Sierra Mountains.
In the ancient language, Sanskrit, “vipassana” literally means “seeing deeply.” In 2010 California, it means a group of 20-odd people gathering in a secluded summer-camp setting. Our purpose: to sit in meditation for ten days, specifically not communicating with each other. No talking is allowed – not to the guy sitting beside you at mealtime – or even to yourself. Silent night? Try silent night and day. It’s kind of like the spiritual equivalent of discipline-testing reality shows like, Survivor.
The California challenge I enrolled in was organized by the contemporary Indian guru, S.N. Goenka. Explained via video at the beginning of the retreat, Goenka relayed to us via a pre-taped lecture that the mind is like an infected wound, and as you cut it open, the puss begins to rise to the surface. That puss is our chattering monkey-mind, which is a reaction to pain. Through meditation, we learn to train the mind like you would an animal.
This is all fine and good, except that if you kept any animal in a cramped cage for 10 days it’s bound to get a little pissy. My revolting mind seemed less like puss rising to the surface, and more like a wake up call from my own intuition. It kept asking, “Say what?”