The Ultimate Adventure Within
June 2021 Issue
By Michele Roldán-Shaw
It’s 3:58 AM. Apart from the rural sounds of roosters crowing and the occasional rumble and whistle-blast of a passing train, all is peacefully silent. Then a gong rings, its long resonance drawing out in the dark. This is a wakeup call for the 4:30-6:30 meditation session.
Now it’s 6:40 AM. All is still silent but for the clinking of spoons in cereal bowls, the pop of the toaster and hot water steaming into tea mugs. No one is catching up on the morning news; no one is sharing their dreams from last night; no one is making to-do lists. The agenda here is very simple: meditate. Whether ambling silently around the walking paths, sitting cross-legged in the meditation hall, or laying quietly on their bed in their room, everyone is meditating.
It’s 4:30 PM. The day has worn on in silence. No phones have been ringing or pinging. No one has blabbed or shouted. The rush of the world has bypassed this place completely. But that’s not to say nothing has happened. People have been on untold journeys, exploring realms impossible to explain. Their inner monologues have been anything but silent. In fact, after 5 PM tea time followed by another hour of meditation—the tenth for the day—an evening discourse by the teacher is a welcome relief. Although the lecture was taped back in the ’90s, and the teacher has since passed away, that in no way lessens the impact. For those who have chosen this practice as their life path, and even for those trying it for the first time, the truths shining through these old videos are timeless. They help guide the seeker through brave new worlds that can only be accessed by turning within.
Silence is golden to be sure, and a lost art in today’s
world of multitasking and distraction.
But there are greater benefits to be gained on a silent retreat. Qualities like kindness, faith, patience and selflessness are common to most religions, yet where does one find a practical method to develop them? Too often they are just directives that feel impossible to uphold. There is so much making us angry, stressed, overwhelmed and sad. How do we cope? How do we train ourselves to live up to our cherished beliefs in actual practice, whether that means turning the other cheek, living in love, having the courage to stand up for justice, putting ego aside in an argument, or staying fully in the moment? The list of elusive ideals goes on.
Enter meditation, which is not a religion but a science, a form of mental exercise. It could be said that it picks up where religion leaves off, giving us a practical manual for cultivating within ourselves the qualities that we so admire in our spiritual leaders. The wisdom of the Buddha, the compassion of Jesus, the charity of Mohammed—these are inherent in us all, but they get covered up by layers of pain and trauma. We must work to bring them out again, and for that we need a method. We need time, space and silence to go into our minds and start breaking old destructive habits that have been forming since before we can even remember. Meditation has that power. Specifically, Vipassana Meditation is the type I am familiar with.
My first retreat was exactly ten years ago this month, and the changes that have been wrought in my life since then are priceless to me. I’m in better control of my anger. I come out of depression more quickly and can dig deeper to find forbearance when life is beating me down. I think about people more, understand them a little better, and see situations more clearly. I find less blockages to love and feel a deep unshakeable faith in my path. I’m more at peace, even if I can’t claim the ultimate inner peace of enlightenment.
Silence is only the beginning. If you are someone who thinks “Oh I could never do that, I could never stop talking even for one day,” I invite you to try. You might be surprised how much you love it! It’s such a freeing simplicity. All your meals are served to you, your room is basic but clean, and rather than a bill at the end, there’s only an invitation to donate. As long as you follow the rules, no one can bother you. Rather than a million tasks you’re trying to knock out each day, there is only one job: YOU. The work is hard but you’ll come out with your face glowing, ready to return home and shower others with the goodness you received here.
You will be anything but silent.
Residential ten-day meditation courses at the Southeast Vipassana Center in Jesup, GA are free and have no religious affiliations, nor do you need prior meditation experience. For more information visit www.dhamma.org or www.patapa.dhamma.org.