Shh: My experience at a 10-day silent meditation retreat

Nestled in the high desert off Joshua Tree lies the Southern California Vipassana Center, a minimalist, quiet campus in perfect harmony with the natural habitat. Surrounded by rocky hills, snow-capped peaks and fields of farmland on all four sides, the center feels like it’s the middle of nothing and everything at the same time.

This center is home to the monthly 10-day meditation camp where old and new students commit to 10 days of moral conduct including absolute silence, renunciation of all technology and entertainment, a vegetarian diet and the strict schedule. The morning gong sounds at 4:00AM, the 10-hour meditation schedule starts from 4:30AM and ends at 9PM. Students are advised to be asleep by 9:30AM so they get enough rest to focus during the day.

I started my journey on February 27, 2019 with the quiet resolve to get through all ten days. However, by Day 2, I was overcome by sleep, physical pain after sitting cross-legged for three hours and the constant bombardment of thoughts about every trivial activity that I had left undone. My resolve slowly began to weaken.

By Day 5, I was a wreck, having dug up all the regrets, disappointments and insecurities from my past. My head was filled with doubt and anxiety about the future and a crippling sense of being “jailed” in this facility.

Long walks and vivid sunsets provided me some temporary respite, but it was on one particular afternoon when I noticed the formation of a rainbow from some dark grey clouds that it struck me.

The Vipassana practice teaches equanimity, the ability to treat both positive and negative emotions with equal poise. I realized that, somewhere, I had started to treat my emotions better. Instead of getting miserable over the fact that I was anxious and building a story around how I would feel this way forever, I was able to observe my anxiety with a sense of detachment and non-reactivity. That was my first breakthrough.

By Day 9, I was ready to come home. I missed the streets and coffee shops of Pasadena, I missed my husband and friends and, most of all, I missed reading and music! But I felt better equipped to handle my impatience. Instead of getting frustrated and irritable, I decided to make the most of my last two days and learn as much about myself as I could.

Finally, when I did come home, I was filled with gratitude for the life I have and a sense of compassion for myself and everybody I loved. Since then, I have continued my meditation practice for an hour every day and hope to continue on this journey for the years to come.




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