Vipassana: The Grace-filled Dance of Silence

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Happy Monday, my Lovelies.

Time for my second installment of musings from my first Vipassana retreat.  You can find my first post post (What is is, Why I went, What you DO) over here.

...step by step...
…step by step…

Today I am ruminating on… Silence.  The retreat gave me the opportunity to enter Noble Silence for 10 days.  This means, no speaking, no gesturing, barely any eye contact with my fellow meditators.

I loved it.

There are very interesting things that happen when we go into silence in this way.  The first being that we drop the… social niceties.

I don’t mean at ALL that we we become RUDE – far from it.  In my experience, the imposition of silence made me even more aware of others in some ways.

The “bathroom dance” was the best example of this.

There were approximately 40 (or more) women at the retreat and the bathroom in the meditation hall had 5 stalls.  Whenever there was a break – the line up formed immediately. (Nothing worse that trying to SIT with a full bladder – lemme tell ya!)

There were slippers to wear into the bathroom.  We would line up, and as women exited the bathroom, they would slip off the bathroom slippers so that the next in line could slip them on. Each person had their own way of doing this.  In the beginning, we all tended to go to the spot where the slippers were originally lined up and leave them there. The next in line could take them, or leave them to someone farther down the line.  As the week progressed, most of us began to stand in front of the next slipperless woman and slide out of the slippers right in front of her so she could take them.  All the while with no eye contact.  Some women continued to walk back to the “slipper spot” to remove the slippers.  And one woman just sort of… walked out them and moved on – leaving them near the door.  That was my room-mate.  She wasn’t having a very good time.  But… more on that another time.

The most intricate portion of the dance was the washing of the hands.  There were only 3 sinks and 1 paper towel dispenser.  I became mesmerized by the amazing choreography of women emerging from stalls, washing and drying their hands and passing off the slippers – all in blissful SILENCE.  One day I was watching people’s feet and the reflection in the mirror – it truly was a dance and I came to love the beauty of it.  I remember thinking, “This would be lovely on stage.  I must incorporate it into my Vipassana Play.”  May such a thing be born, one day.

So – when I say that the Silence allowed us to drop some social niceties, it wasn’t that we became … unaware.. of people around us.  But we didn’t need to… smile that smile.  The smile that automatically comes to your face when you encounter someone.  That –

“Hi.  Like me. I’m a really nice person”


Do you have one?

I sure as heck do. I am a HUGE people pleaser and that smile is always at the ready. And oh my sweet baby Jebus was it ever a relief to feel my face … relax.  To be able to just let my face be… neutral… as I went about my day.

The grace-filled dance of silence was echoed in the Dining Room.  The space was much bigger than the washroom and the food was laid out well, but again – we were 40 women getting food and drink, eating and washing up our dishes all in silence.  Reaching for the butter, the sunflower seeds, the tea and honey; finding a place to sit…  and we managed it all calmly and silently with no major collisions.

And speaking of the Dining Room.  Eating in silence is truly a lovely exercise in mindfulness.  No TV to watch.  No chatter. Just… eating tasty food.  You can really enjoy the food – savouring each bite.

I loved eating “mindfully” though I must confess that I did find myself having a conversation with the person who had carved her name into the wall by the first seat I chose.  I often returned to that spot and whenever I did I read that name and chatted with her in my mind.

I also read and re-read any posts on the bulletin board in the Dining Room.  Reading material was verboten, so there were a few of us who read that bulletin board a few times every day.

That’s another thing about the silence – no input from outside.

I felt my ears… grow huge… as they reached for sound.  In the meditation hall, I

by davidrak (deviantArt) click pic to link to his gallery

listened to people’s small shiftings, thier breaths and coughs.  I often heard (and swayed with) my own heartbeat.  Outside on my walks, I relished the crunch of snow under my boots and the sudden SILENCE of stopping and holding still.  The seeming silence that soon filled with birdsong, tiny rustlings and – if I was at the edge of the ravine – the trickle of water running under the snow.  A train whistle in the distance reminded me of home and I wept.  A snippet of an 80s song from a passing car far out on the road made me grin and grin.  The approaching sound of crunching footsteps let me know I wasn’t alone.

I was always aware of others and yet the silence allowed me to turn inward in a way that I have been craving for a long while.

The chatter in my brain grew loud and louder and then began to fade… or at least focus itself on things that where right in front of me instead of leaping back into the past and tearing off into the future.

Coming out of Silence…

Coming out of the silence was… profound for me.  When we were “released” from Noble Silence… I sort of… ran away to the place I walked each day.  I wasn’t quite ready to talk.  I went one more time to listen to that water running under the snow.

I walked my small circuit and when I met another walker, instead of doing our usual silent pass with our eyes averted, we paused and looked at each other and said, “hello.”  Our eyes filled with tears and we began to laugh.  It was so … amazing to GREET another being.  The speaking and the eye contact both made me weep.  I’d passed this woman on our walks every day.  I recognized her boots and coat and now, for the first time I looked into her eyes and said hello.  I SAW her and she SAW me.  It’s hard to put into words but just that … greeting … made my heart crack open a little.  I wondered and still wonder what it would be like if I could greet each person I meet with the same… intensity.

It’s something to strive for.

I’m going to stop with that.  And listen to one of my favourite John Prine songs.

Thanks for stopping by.

~May you be happy~

Go easy ~p

12 Comments on “Vipassana: The Grace-filled Dance of Silence

  1. A very interesting post. I find that ‘silence’ often surprises me. But then, the moment I notice, it’s gone.

  2. Aaaah I so enjoyed this post. That photograph of the
    bubble is incredibly beautiful. Nothing clears the mirror
    of the mind like time spent in silence!

  3. Very interesting and well written post. 10 days of silence would be a real learning experience, and also a good opportunity to get to know your self better. I like your shot of an ear, and bet you are listening for sound during this experience.

    • It really was a wonderful experience.

      I hope to return and do some volunteering at the Centre. You don’t have to be silent for that (heh heh).

      And I also hope to do more Vipassana retreats.

  4. Having grown up surrounded by nuns this seems very familiar to me. Every year we had twice a year retreats with 5 days of silence and meditation which I always found very soothing. Whenever I’m alone it is most often in complete silence which my children find unnerving. I do my best thinking and creating in silence.

    • I can just imagine your children… Longing for sound.
      I work best in silence too…though sometimes I can play music…but no English lyrics or….I’m pulled away from what I’m writing.

  5. Pingback: My First Vipassana Retreat: Part ONE: What it IS – Why I Went – What you DO | pambustin

  6. Pingback: Vipassana: Into the body – out of the mind | pambustin

  7. I enjoy your blogs, I a starting my first 10 day course tomorrow and am very nervous and anxious, your blogs are helping to calm me and let me know “it will be alright” and remind myself that “I am doing this for me, for my self care, for my sanity and mental health” thank you for sharing.

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Starting Over

Because there's never enough time to do it right the first time but there's always enough time to do it over

Ailish Sinclair

Stories and photos from Scotland

Cathy Standiford

Historical fiction, poetry, essays

Starting Over

Because there's never enough time to do it right the first time but there's always enough time to do it over

Ailish Sinclair

Stories and photos from Scotland

Cathy Standiford

Historical fiction, poetry, essays

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