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The voice sounded like it was coming from down a tunnel. It was small, faded, the way a voice gently waking you up leaves a trace of its music in your ear. It wasn’t behind me or in front of me. It was unmistakably mine, my voice. But it was shrunken and hushed. The voice of a child.

 

I’m going to tell.

 

A pledge, an invitation.

 

I was five days into a 10-day vow of silence, and I wasn’t expecting that.

 

Vipassana, one of India’s most ancient forms of meditation, gets its name from the Pali language, which is closely related to Sanskrit. In Pali, “Vipassana” means “to see things as they really are,” and the technique is designed to eradicate mental impurities.

 

I had discovered classical yoga a few years back and found tremendous healing in the practice and in one of its key components, meditation. Vipassana was the natural next step for me.

 

In Vipassana you cultivate mastery over the mind by learning a technique of focused attention on the natural flow of your breath. Essentially, the premise goes, if you remove all distractions, focus on your breathing, incredible things happen; you start to see things as they really are. Not just the things around you, but yourself.

 

“It is not a rest cure, a holiday, or an opportunity for socializing,” the Vipassna centre cautions, and it’s not until you’re in it that you really understand what that means.

 

Throughout the 10 days, you follow a code of conduct whereby not only is there no talking, there is communicating of any kind with the other participants, including eye contact. There is also nothing to write or draw with, no phones or TV.

 

It sounds deceptively simple, but it’s an impossible undertaking for most people. Because it’s not just the silence you have to contend with, it’s what comes out of it. As one Vipassana teacher put it, “It’s like undergoing surgery without anaesthesia. And you’re the surgeon.”

 

In other words, it is not for the weak. I felt I was strong enough to do it, even though I was not prepared for it. In those first few days, I grew to loathe the sound of my confined but errant voice. By tolerating my disgust, I learned not to react to it.

 

But the voice that broke through on the fifth day was one that I welcomed.

 

I’m going to tell.

 

It quickly took on the urgency of a child tugging on her mother’s skirt

 

I’m going to tell.

 

I let her voice grow like a wildfire, until it was a fire alarm.

 

I’m going to tell what they did.

 

I’m going to tell what they did.

 

Of course. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it before. It was exactly what I needed to do.

 

After that, I couldn’t wait to tell. The last few days of the retreat were excruciating, not because I was dying to talk, but because I couldn’t wait to get home and start the telling.

 

After the 10th day, when talking was allowed, I watched the other meditators furiously confabulating like long lost relatives. But I could not speak.


Nor could I barely speak on the two-hour ride back home.

 

After 10 days of sitting in a dark room, my circadian rhythm was out of balance. The very next morning, I was easily up by 4 a.m. I made myself a cup of tea, opened my laptop and sat down to tell.

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