About the episode
In this episode, I tell a personal story about a 10-day Vipassana silent meditation retreat I took in South Korea in 2017. I was isolated from the world for 10 days. No internet. No smartphones. No books. Nothing! I meditated all day every day and discovered what/who my biggest enemy in life is. This is a story that, I think, will really make you reflect a lot on yourself. I’m not religious at all, but I highly recommend taking a spiritual retreat. It’s an awesome eye-opening experience.
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It’s July 2017. I’m in a meditation centre in South Korea where I’m going to start a 10-day group spiritual retreat. I’m in a little room and I’m putting all my stuff into a locker.
I’ve been travelling around Asia for the past three months so I have quite a few things: my phone, my e-book reader, my laptop, a notebook, my camera and other things.
For the next ten days, I’ll be disconnected and isolated from the rest of the world. We’re not allowed to use our phones, there’s no internet, we can’t listen to music, we can’t read or write. I won’t even be allowed to speak with other people and I should also avoid making eye contact with them. I’ll be meditating, eating and sleeping for ten days. That’s all.
I switch off my phone, put it into the locker and I’m already thinking that this is going to be hard, not because I won’t be able to check my WhatsApp, but because I’m a super noisy guy, which isn’t a good thing for a silent group meditation retreat.
I’m always making the weirdest animal sounds. I whistle, I sing, I talk to myself, I drum my fingers on the table and I sneeze, burp and fart in the loudest possible way, even when I’m alone.
I’m like a caveman.
But I’ve wanted to do this course for a long time and there’s no way I’m going to back out now.
The meditation technique is called Vipassana. It’s believed to be the technique that the Buddha used to reach spiritual enlightenment and it’s apparently so good that it’s even used in prisons around the world as a rehabilitation program for prisoners.
But I’m not here for religious reasons. I’m actually the least religious person you’ll ever meet in your life. I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in the devil and all I know about Buddha is that he’s vegetarian, he has no hair and he likes sitting cross-legged doing nothing.
And I’m not a criminal either. I mean, I once found a wallet on the street with documents and 1000 euro. And…I didn’t return it. But other than that, I think I’m not a bad guy. I’m just taking this course because I’m curious about the idea of spending 10 days in silence. That’s it! This is more of a challenge than anything else but I also feel that I’m going to learn something about myself.
So it’s about 7 pm when I close the locker and go to sleep in the dormitory, where I have my own little bedroom.
The next day I get woken up by the morning alarm: a super annoying little bell that a Korean guy hits with a stick while standing in the dormitory corridor.
And I want to break that stick into his head because it’s 4 in the morning, but unfortunately also violence isn’t allowed in this place. I remind myself that Vipassana is good, so I get up and the first day I meditate in a large room with sixty other people, from 4.30 in the morning to 7 in the evening, trying my best not to fart while everyone is silent in meditation.
While meditating, I listen to the audio instructions and do exactly what they say:
‘Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Focus on your breath, only your breath, nothing but your breath.’
Day 1 goes like this, day 2, day 3. Breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out. And it’s so fucking boring.
What’s not boring is the videos we watch every evening in which Goenka, the teacher of Vipassana, explains what we’re doing and why, and talks about the benefits of this meditation technique.
Goenka tells us a lot of stories about how people have become better human beings as a result of practicing Vipassana. All his stories are about developing love and compassion, even towards people who hurt you, either physically or emotionally.
I almost want to stand up and leave when he says that if we see a man who’s hitting a child in the street, we show compassion to the child, of course, but we should have even greater compassion for the man because he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Goenka tells us that if this man felt love and compassion, he wouldn’t lay a finger on a harmless child, but because his heart is full of hatred and anger, we should respond to this man with love, just like Jesus did with those who killed him.
And I don’t leave. I stay because it all makes sense to me. Love is the answer. Love is the solution. I’ve heard that many times in songs, books, quotes and speeches.
But getting to a stage where you can feel nothing but love towards others, a stage where your ego is so small no one can see it – that requires years and years of continuous practice.
Days go by and on day 8 I come to believe that Vipassana is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. That little fucker that wakes me up every morning at 4 am with the bell, I now love him.
I make it to the end of the course and I’m filled with incredibly positive energy, like never before in my life. On the morning of day 11, the course ends. I jump into a car with a group of other people who took the course with me and leave the center.
While I’m in the car, I feel I’ve finally discovered the meaning of life. Nothing to do with making money, having success, getting university degrees or travelling. I learned that we’re all here to do good to others and to do that we have to stop our own ego from getting in our way.
As I leave the center, I’m thinking of all those times in my life when I took things personally when I shouldn’t have. All those times I complained when there was no need to. Those times when I argued, raised my voice, and did things for my own benefit only.
I reflect on how many times I criticised other people and even spoke behind their backs. And in my mind, I keep seeing myself driving and shouting angrily at other drivers. I see myself insulting politicians on TV. I see myself too attached to money.
And that makes happy. I now know who my worst enemy is.
It lives inside me. It’s me. It’s my own ego.
My ego is a golden statue of myself that no one is allowed to touch or criticise. And this statue is big. If it was small, I would have returned that wallet full of money that I’d found in the street.
My ego is truly the source of all my problems in life. And today, after more than 4 years since I left the Vipassana centre, that statue I’ve built is still standing and it’s still very strong.
And I’m worried that I’ll never be able to knock it down.