Random thoughts & things

Meditation – an unexpected benefit

A few years ago I went on a 10-Day Silent Meditation retreat. From 4am to 8pm two hundred of us meditated in a big, dimly lit hall. 10 hours of meditation a day. And strictly no talking.


The no talking bit was a piece of cake. In fact, it was a revelation! I relished the fact that I could wander round in my own little world and not have to make the effort to communicate with any other human or observe all the usual social niceties (it’s amazing how liberating this is).

The meditation bit on the other hand, was torture. We meditated in 1- and 2-hour blocks. And for the most part our only instruction was to concentrate on feeling the air coming in and out of our nostrils.

Let me tell you, this is slightly exciting for about 5 minutes (as you are overcome with a feeling of smugness and heroic calm) but it quickly becomes the most boring, pointless, excruuuuciating thing you have ever done in the whole of your life.

And this is where the mental torture really begins.

Because you are 5 minutes into this hideousness and that means you have precisely 9 hours and 55 minutes of obsessively focusing on the tip of your nose to get through before you go to bed…only to get up again at 4am (to the sound of a gong being enthusiastically banged in your ear) to do the same thing all over again.

This is when your willpower of steel really needs to kick in.

Some peoples’ willpowers were more steel-like than others. A girl in my room did a runner one evening and was never seen again (I’m not joking, she legged it from there so fast she left her suitcase sitting on her bed).

But this is the most disconcerting bit:

When the 10 days were up and we were finally allowed to speak, everyone effused about the “incredible experience” they had just had. They talked of “epiphanies” and “revelations” and of seeing and feeling all manner of weird and wonderful things. Some swore they would “never be the same again”.

All of which left me feeling slightly nonplussed. Because I, of course, experienced…a big, fat NOTHING.

No, actually, I tell a lie. I did visualise a dandelion at one point and I experienced the earth-shattering revelation that I needed to be more gentle with myself. But other than that. Nadda. Zilch. Nothing.

100 hours of meditation for one flipping dandelion!

$&*£@#?!!!~{“”  [unprintable swear words]

But I didn’t go away completely empty handed. Because I received an unexpected benefit (admittedly not one the organisation in question might have hoped for).

I realised that if I can get through that, I can get through anything. The grit and determination required to force yourself to get up at 4am for 10 days in a row and meditate for 10 hours a day should not be underestimated. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. And yet I didn’t miss a single session.

And what makes this even more impressive was the fact that I wasn’t experiencing inner bliss or life-changing revelations (which, let’s face it, would have helped with motivation).

I was just sitting on a mat focusing on my nose.

So I emerged from these 10 days with the realisation that I am the proud possessor of a willpower of steel. And because of this, I discovered a new-found respect for myself. Out of the 200 people on the course, only a handful of us completed the whole thing.

I was one of them.

When things get tough, as they have done lots since then, I remind myself that if I had this willpower back then, I still have it. I don’t need to be in a dimly lit meditation hall. If it’s part of me, I can draw on it any time, any day. It’s just a matter of deciding that’s what’s going to happen.

1 thought on “Meditation – an unexpected benefit”

  1. It sounds like you found what you needed to. I think if it were me I’d prefer a will of steel ( temptation is to say wills of steel) than some sort of flash bang. You know you can achieve anything you set your mind to.Actually what a great epiphany!


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