Ten days of silence, bar optional evening question sessions with the teacher. “I didn’t speak at all,” Shona tells me. “Day two, I thought I’d have to leave, but it suddenly got easier.”
I’ve just met Shona in a café in the former Thai capital and Unesco city of Ayutthaya, about fifty miles from Bangkok. We’re near Wat Mahatat, a temple complex most famous for the stone Buddha head in the roots of a bodhi tree. But this temple also has Thailand’s oldest higher education institute for monks, Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University, and the Vipassana Meditation Center.
Vipassana is, according to its teachings, about seeing things as they really are. And it requires serious meditation. No talking, writing, reading, physical contact of any kind. Not even any praying or yoga, and no food after midday. For ten days.
“I can’t quite explain it,” says Shona, “but I feel serene. Like I’m in control of my emotions.”
Ten days is difficult to contemplate. I visit the center and discover they run three-hour meditation classes in English. It’s a start. There’s no clock but the first 20 minutes, at least it feels like 20, are relaxing. After perhaps an hour, a mind-body struggle ensues, the brain determined to continue, the body desperate to walk, move, anything. But when three hours come to an end, I feel unexpectedly calm. But ten days? Hats off.