What I Heard in Ten Days of Silence: Ontario Vipassana Centre

Markus Schneider, Owner of Modo Yoga Brantford

Recently, I had the fortunate opportunity to step away from the day-to-day responsibilities of my life to attend a ten-day mindfulness meditation course (this type of meditation calls on attention, to experience oneself moment-by-moment). As part of the course, I, along with a group of over 80 people I had never met prior to arriving at OVC (located in Egbert, Ontario – about 25 minutes southwest of Barrie), agreed to remain silent throughout the duration of time we were spending together. What I heard in these ten days of silence had a profound impact on me and blessed me with an experience that was different from anything I had previously encountered.

The structure of this course was very simple and consisted of mostly mindfulness practice from the time we awoke until we retired for the evening. We took scheduled breaks for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, and I managed to slip in a 30-minute hike each afternoon in the forest located at the centre; aside from this, the day was spent paying attention to my breath, my body and observing my thoughts — and yes, there were MANY! Each evening there was a discourse by an instructor of Vipassana (Mindfulness Meditation) which lasted about 75 minutes, and these lectures always related to the work we had been doing that day, and what we could look forward to in our mindfulness practice the following day. These ten days were full and required a vigorous amount of discipline, but they were not an endurance/torture test, and they weren’t some kind of “right-of-passage”. This experience was an exploration in self-discovery, for the purpose gaining a deeper awareness of myself and my ‘relationship’ to my own thoughts. I experienced myself in the truest sense, and I willingly stripped away as many distractions as I possibly could to observe what was left when you removed the “noise” of my life. What I discovered there was equanimity (calmness)… eventually.

In the first few days of this course I observed that my thoughts slowed down. A lot! What had been a chorus of noise in my head with numerous competing thoughts all fighting for my attention had slowly become an organized line of consciousness that allowed each of my thoughts to present themselves to me in time. My monkey-mind did not go blank, and the thoughts didn’t cease to pull my attention away from the present moment, but they seemed more orderly and patient; respectfully waiting for one to end before the next chimed in. I discovered through the evening discourses that all the suffering I would experience this week would be my own doing — I would suffer, and it wouldn’t be anyone else’s fault but my own. More specifically, I would suffer, and the source of that suffering was the sole responsibility of my thoughts. I might feel pain, and I might experience discomfort, and I would experience a lot of factors out of my control during this time, but the suffering was on me. My mind would perceive everything that happened during this course and my mind would either want more of it or resist it — my job for the next ten days was to notice the phenomena and remain calm and composed.

What I discovered was that everything that happens around me is perceived by my senses, and once my ‘mind’ noticed what I sensed (a noise, a sight, a smell, a taste, a discomfort or an experience), my mind would judge it and predictably do one of three things:

  • I would ‘like it’ and want more (CLINGING)
  • I would ‘resist it’ to want less (AVERSION)
  • or I would think about something outside my reality and “want it” (CRAVING)

What happened over the remaining time of this course was nothing short of amazing. I had slowed down the stimulus of my environment to an extent where my thoughts about my experience were present to me, and they would affect the experience. I was there to actually experience myself, in my experience. I noticed for the first time a thought arising (“oh, that hurts”) and then watched as my mind created suffering around that by ‘hating’ the hurt — aversion. It was here that I was taught to develop and strengthen a skill that changed the experience for me completely – EQUANIMITY.

Everything in life in impermanent. Everything changes, and the way things are in this moment won’t be the same in the next — because they can’t be. With this understanding, we can weather the storms of our darkest hours because if we wait long enough, they too will pass. The discomforts and the comforts— they will all expire. This is true of all that we experience, and with that we can teach ourselves to remain equanimous to be the observer of this moment, knowing full well it will be a new experience in the next moment. These were all things that I have known for some time intellectually, but the opportunity to know them experientially to the degree that I did in these ten days was complexly novel.

Prior to leaving, those who caught wind of me taking silent retreat for ten days would sometimes comment on how challenging this would be for them. After having experienced these past ten days, I am left with an overwhelming sense that the challenge I face remaining silent for ten days pales in comparison to the suffering I create for myself by clinging, aversion, and craving, to such an extent that being silent barely seemed “difficult” at all. In my silence I found equanimity. In my silence I found compassion for my own suffering, and for all those around me who suffer. In my silence I found a peace that I have only ever experienced in silence; on my mat, and in my practice.

Equanimity is the saving grace of our “life practice”. Whether we are in a pose we “don’t like” (aversion), upset about the crack in our new phone (clinging), or wishing we had a better job (craving), it is our own mind that produces all this suffering. Mindfully we can navigate ourselves away from suffering, through equanimity — but it requires silence. Silence to hear the misery that we are creating for ourselves (in our own minds). Moment by moment and breath by breath.

So, what now?

Am I perfectly happy? Have I perfected my life, and uncoupled myself from all the misery my mind creates for me? Have I unlocked the secret to end my mind’s propensity for clinging, averting, and craving? I wish it were so, but no. I have simply taken steps down the path that leads away from my self-created misery, towards liberation from suffering. Admittedly, I have been walking this path through my Asana (Yoga) and Mindfulness practice for these past six years, and this latest experience was just my next step (or a giant leap). Will I ever reach my destination of completely freeing myself of these mental pitfalls? I doubt it, but I am confident that each step I move in this direction is a step well worth taking. In taking these steps I continue to move towards compassion, love and ultimately freedom from suffering. These steps are taken through practice; on my mat, and in my seat— diligent and committed practice.

I wanted to share this experience with you, because I firmly believe that this path is available to each of us. The peace this path of awareness offers isn’t just intended for a select few, it is for all of us who have chosen to walk this path of awareness. The path of misery toward liberation just demands that you take one step at a time. This ten-day course does a masterful job of supporting you in taking these steps, and as such, I am compelled to share it with those around me (hence Modo Yoga Brantford). So, this is my invitation to you: I would like to invite you to take this course. Yes, You. And yes, believe it or not you CAN remain silent for ten days to complete this course. And yes, you CAN also learn to meditate. The course isn’t cheap — it will cost you something significant: your time, and your ego (your current view of self). Fortunately, it will not cost you any money as this course is free — yep! No strings attached. The entire program is facilitated by donations only (and as a first-time student you aren’t even permitted to donate until after the course is complete — how cool is that?!) This speaks volumes about the value that graduates gain from taking this course. Oh, AND the food and accommodations are stellar!

If you have doubts or questions, reach out to me. I would love to support you on your path. Love to you all, and I am so proud of the path you are on — happy walking.

~ May you Be happy.

Pillars: Live to Learn, Be Peace