What’s inside Singapore’s 10-day silent meditation camp?
The northern region of Singapore is commonly known for its plant nurseries and animal farms; however, few people are aware that the region is also home to a small community that, on occasion, willingly abstains from all activities in order to sit in meditation for one hundred hours straight.
Many individuals find it unsettling to consider the prospect of going ten days without any type of entertainment, electronic devices, warm showers, or even meals. This experience would be conducted entirely in complete silence. But for others, it has turned into a yearly tradition. Prior to the outbreak of the epidemic, I was fortunate enough to accompany them to a Vipassana meditation retreat.
The art of VIPASSANA
Vipassana means “insight” in Sanskrit. It is to perceive things as they actually are by paying focused attention in a deliberate manner to the sensations that arise within our bodies. Although it has its roots in Buddhism, the practice is not religious in any way, much like yoga. Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, and Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, are two among the many people who support this idea.
The course schedule is the same no matter where you are in the world, whether you are attending it in a temple in Myanmar or an idyllic farmhouse in New Zealand: You wake up at 4 in the morning and spend the majority of the day meditating, either by yourself or in groups, or listening to teachers until lights out at 9:30 in the evening.
There are two things that stand out. First, they would sit in meditation for the whole ten hours each and every day. Two, the final supper would be served at eleven in the morning.
Additionally, they are obligated to adhere by the following five precepts:
- They are to refrain from using inappropriate language, which is why they are required to take a vow of silence. This implies that you are not allowed to speak, gesture, write notes, or even make eye contact with any other students in the class.
- They are not allowed to take the life of another being. Insects such as mosquitoes and spiders are included in this category, which is why only vegetarian meals will be given.
- They are not allowed to use intoxicating substances that could compromise their ability to remain sober. This covers both sedatives and painkillers as well as alcoholic beverages.
- They are forbidden to steal.
- They are prohibited from engaging in sexual activities.
Silence the world out
In addition to losing communication with the outside world, individuals would also be cut off from the ability to read books, watch movies, listen to music, or download podcasts. The training would, in all practical terms, deprive their brains of any information or entertainment in any form, shape, or fashion.
There was a clear demarcation between the male and female students in the class. The living quarters were meager but sufficient, and meals were served in a canteen that was only a few tables wide. Each of the dormitories was equipped with bunk beds and could accommodate a maximum of six persons at a time.
Mastering Anapana, which is the practice of observing natural respiration, took up the first three days of the retreat. The ice-cold showers and the calls at four in the morning took some getting used to, but they were nothing compared to the overwhelming feeling of being disconnected from the outside world, as they were always wondering what was going on in the world beyond the walls of the hospital.
After four days of practice, they were able to “graduate” from the Anapana stage to the Vipassana stage. The guiding principle of the practice of Vipassana is that we are either living in a state of wishful thinking or in a state of flight-or-fight when we seek comfort and shun uncomfortable. However, the degree to which we succumb to the tyranny of our reactive brains is directly proportional to the degree to which we are able to maintain equanimity and have faith that all physical experiences are transient. Vipassana is a practice that allows us to retrain our subconscious minds. Mental fortitude is developed when we are able to persevere through challenging sensations, thoughts, and emotions by remaining present with them and accepting that “this too shall pass.”
When people started interacting with one another again, it was at first a bit confusing, but they rapidly settled into a rhythm of exchanging their stories. The 10-day courses are currently not being offered anywhere in Singapore at this time. Unless you are also interested in attending a similar event in Johor,
Even if you have no prior experience with meditation, think about how often in your life you are able to live apart from your responsibilities at work, in your personal relationships, and in meeting the expectations of other people. It is more than rare. However, it is via the most basic of requirements that we have the opportunity to achieve serenity, insight, and self-knowledge.