How to Reset Your Life with 10 Days of Silent Meditation
I’m parking my car at a meditation center here in Wisconsin and wondering why I signed up to sit in silence for 10 days.
Then I remember it’s because I thought I was dying, and the doctor at urgent care told me to learn how to meditate because it’s better than taking a vacation.
I don’t want to sound all woo-woo, so I’m going to tell you there’s a ton of science behind meditation. It reduces stress and blood pressure, improves attention, and even helps you make smarter choices.
And, those are just the short-term benefits. Keep meditating and it increases the gray matter in your brain, and improves resilience, mindfulness, and empathy.
Okay, so who goes to something like this? There’s a former Hollywood actor and stuntman, a software developer for hedge funds, a CEO of a publicly traded company.
I ask them why they’re here. And I’ve been doing yoga for the last five years so I know this crowd and expect them to talk about getting in touch with themselves, but they just want to get better at life.
And so it begins. That night we take our vow of silence. No more talking for the next 240 hours, and no more eye contact either.
Here’s the daily schedule: You wake up at 4:00 a.m. and sit for two hours, eat breakfast, sit for three hours, eat lunch, sit for four hours, eat dinner, sit for one hour, watch some video instruction, and sit for one more hour before bed.
You feel like Bill Murray in that movie Groundhog Day. The one where he relives the same day over and over.
I make it to day five. That’s when we get instruction not to make any movements when we sit. And if we get uncomfortable observe the pain but not react to it.
So, after 30 minutes of sitting my legs go numb. My feet feel like they broke. I think I’m doing a good job fighting not to move, and then my mind separates from my body and I start flying through space.
It feels amazing, and I think, “So this is meditation,” but then someone starts crying and ruins it.
Later, I asked the teacher what happened and she told me I was physically torturing myself which caused me to hallucinate. She tells me not to torture myself.
On day eight I wake up feeling crazy. It’s not just the no talking thing, it’s that I’ve been analyzing my life a hundred different ways.
I’ve been thinking about my childhood and how it shaped me into the person I am today. I’ve been thinking about every relationship I’ve been in, what worked and what didn’t. I’ve been thinking about the things I want to change to become the person I want to be.
After dinner I lose it. I start crying. And if I’m being honest, it felt really good. Like I was letting go of everything I needed to let go of so I could start getting the things that I want to get.
I reset my life.
I didn’t know that was going to happen. In fact, I didn’t know what to expect. I only knew what I learned from reading Ben Casnocha’s experience.
I thought it was interesting he felt like a prisoner. (And even real prisoners say it’s like prison, only harder.) But that’s why it works. You have to sit with yourself for hours, for days, for more than a week, to get to the place you need to get to.
That’s one thing I learned, here are the others.
1. You don’t need much money to be happy
Everyone thinks more stuff will make you more happy. But after you get what you want and realize it didn’t make you as happy as you thought you start over.
For 10 days I ate oatmeal for breakfast, maybe chili and a salad for lunch, an apple or banana for dinner. I slept on a cot in a dorm divided by sheets. And I loved it. It was a reminder I don’t need much.
Studies show a family of four needs $75,000 to be happy. So, after food, shelter, clothes, and healthcare, you can decide if you want to waste your life chasing something money can’t buy.
2. Change is the one constant in life
This year my cat died, I quit my job, and I went through a break up. To be honest, it’s been a struggle.
But if there’s one thing the instructor S.N. Goenka drilled in my head it’s that everything is continuously changing. And I’ve been learning that this idea of impermanence is central to Buddhism.
When you start framing things that happen to you as change, instead of loss, you turn something negative into a positive.
3. Know who you are to get what you want
I thought I knew myself, because how would you not. I mean, it’s you.
But spend 12 hours a day for 10 days with yourself and you will figure out who you are. And when you know who you are it makes you more successful in life.
Why? Because you need to understand who you are, and how people see you, so you can change the things that need to change to become the person who can get what they want to get.