Vipassana, one of meditation's most ancient techniques, has been taught for more than 2500 years. Its practice is believed to assist with purification of the mind and increased peace and happiness.
“Silence boosts creativity,
decision-making and problem-solving.”
Craving calm, Jenna Brookes, 42, from Sydney, recently spent seven days in silence at a vipassana meditation retreat in Byron Bay. "I've been meditating for years to alleviate my stress and anxiety, and I'd wanted to do a retreat for a long time," she says. "I was nervous that I'd struggle to stay silent, but it was liberating. The retreat removed daily stresses from my life and the silence helped me settle my thoughts, mind and body."
As well as meditating regularly, Jenna attended talks and mindfulness and yoga sessions. Her days followed set routines, as they do in most vipassana retreats.
"At our retreats, participants work in silence to learn and experience the vipassana technique," says Patrick Given-Wilson, a meditation teacher at a vipassana retreat in Blackheath, in the Blue Mountains of NSW. "They can talk with the management but are asked not to communicate with other participants. They're also asked to abstain from sexual activities and taking intoxicants."
No outside communication via letters, phone calls or visitors is allowed, he adds. Mobiles and other electronic devices are deposited with the management until the course ends. Students must remain within the course boundaries, and they may leave only with the consent of their teacher.
"The day begins at 4am with a wake-up bell and continues until 9pm," says Given-Wilson. "There are about 10 hours of meditation throughout the day, interspersed with regular breaks and rest periods. Every evening at 7pm, there is a videotaped lecture by [the late vipassana teacher] S.N. Goenka, which provides a context for meditators to understand their experience of the day."
Despite such restrictions and structure, vipassana retreats are growing in popularity and a growing number of studies help to explain their appeal. Health-wise, silence has been shown to decrease stress by lowering adrenalin and cortisol levels. Two minutes of silence relieves tension in the body and brain, proving to be more relaxing than listening to music. A 2013 study on mice found that two hours of silence per day created new cells in the brain linked to learning, memory and emotion.
"Learning to be silent is an antidote to our busy schedules and the constant distraction of technology," says Perth psychologist Marny Lishman. "Silence is a stress reliever that allows our body to recharge, relax and heal. It's also a great way to boost creativity, decision-making and problem-solving."
This is not something Jenna needs to be told twice. She's already planning to embrace silence again at another retreat next year. "Making time for myself was definitely worth it," she says. "And I'd like to think that it's given me the space and time I was searching for to be able to give more to my family and my friends."
LEARNING TO BE SILENT
• Purposefully allocate a period in your day for silent moments and put it in your diary to prioritise it.
• Set up a "sanctuary" – a relaxing place at home where you can go for complete silence.
• Spend time outdoors in a forest or on a beach, where natural sounds can take over.
• Do more activities on your own when you can.
• Try more silent activities, like walking around a museum or art gallery, and resist the urge to talk.Could going a week without talking be a fix
for a restless mind?
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