Vipassana and the power of the silent habit

I remember looking up at the sky and seeing a bird peacefully fly over the beautiful lush and serene mountains of the Island. The world seemed to have slowed down around me. I could see and hear incredible nuances and richness in a way I had not paid attention to before. I felt so present and aware of it at the same time. I knew this was a special time and moment to remember.

Lantau Island, Hong Kong, October 2019

Taking on challenge of joining the considerably well-known 10 day Vipassana silent retreat had been on my mind over the years. Ever since it was mentioned to me almost a decade ago, the idea and challenge intrigued me. It was like taking on a marathon, or even ultra marathon race, for the mind. I guess I wasn’t really ready back then, because I seemed to find more excuses than opportunities. Admittedly, taking 10 full days off (actually 11 days in practice) and completely disconnecting from our highly connected world can be hard and I fully recognise that. But I do believe when you are truly ready for something and want or need it badly, you will prioritise and make it happen.

Without getting into the finer details, a defining and intense year of big changes and learnings led me to finding the right spirit and timing to go ahead. I knew I was searching for some answers and when I made the decision to end the current contract job I had at the time, I just knew it was now or never. I had the flexibility, the time and finances to go ahead with it. Because I decided with such short notice, all the spots at closest centre outside of Sydney were taken and I was placed in a long waitlist. I looked into other countries and figured it could be an even more memorable experience somewhere in Asia, and finally landed on Hong Kong. Although I’ve been there a few times, I thought it would be nice to now get to spend time there in a different way, with more time in nature and in the area of Lantau island where their Vipassana centre is located, surrounded by lots of green and beautiful mountains.

So I went through with it. My previous meditation experience and practice had been extremely consistent, with daily shorter meditation sittings over a years time without missing a day. I’m happy I went ahead with the retreat when I had reached this level of consistency and was ready to deepen the practice. At least for me, this made the experience more bearable with the required >10 hours meditation per day. I came out at the other end of those 10 days experiencing the world in a different way and feeling a strong motivation. The intensity, impressions and experience of the world seemed different at least in the beginning. But like with anything, things tend to quickly go back to ‘normal’ and what you’re used to once you are back to your regular routines and environment. To seize what you learned and the insights, it’s all about applying it in your day-to-day and establishing that habit. To have experienced the 10 days and witnessed the incredibly calm and present state of mind made me realise the power of this silent habit. It was such a contrast to daily life that it made me motivated to increase my regular sitting time from 10 minutes to more each day. I knew 10 hours a day would not be viable, not even on a very good day, so I decided I could aim for 30-60 minutes each day.

There is obviously a lot that goes into establishing a habit that stays with you for the long term. The hard part of learning a new skill is the integration of it to your daily routines so this new behaviour becomes automatic. I do believe that my previous experience helped me take in the key learnings better and I was encouraged to advance the meditation practice to next level and establish it for life, just like I’ve done with my fitness practice.


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Favourite books in the topic of the psychology of habits:
Atomic Habits by James Clear
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Favourite book in the topic of learning mindfulness and meditation:
The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science by John Yates, Jeremy Graves and Matthew Immergut

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