Archive for January, 2009

Of Course

Meditated upon by Tom:

I’ve just got back from a 10-day Vipassana silent meditation retreat. It’s one of those things that I was a little coy about beforehand – after all, people have all sorts of predisposed ideas about meditation, retreats and talk of spirituality. Strange that – why are people wary of engaging in activities of self-exploration? What is it that relegates even the most balanced of people into the ‘wafty’ box when they embark on such wholesome, secular ventures as yoga or meditation? A strange paradox indeed…

Vipassana has a fascinating setup – it is a charity that ONLY takes donations from people who’ve completed a 10-day course. This ‘try before you donate’ indicates the benefit the course brings to those who attend. It would be like going to a restaurant and voluntarily paying for what you thought the meal was worth, or a shoe company asking people to pay for their shoes after you’ve worn them for a month.

Armed with this information, as well as positive reports from books and friends, I ventured off to Hereford for this course. With wake-up gongs at 4am, 11 hours of silent meditation a day, and little personal experience, I will admit to a great deal of trepidation. 

What can I say? It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done… and one of the most rewarding. When faced with nothing but your own mind for stimulation for 10 days, you are forced to accelerate through the peaks and troughs of emotion at a fearsome rate. The 10 days seem like a small lifetime: Next to me, a 20 veteran of the Greek army shed tears and a number of people quit. Perhaps stubbornness saw me to the finishing line. Some participants had attended up to 8 times previously and each, when we were finally allowed to talk on the final day, informed me that it never gets any easier.

I won’t say much more about the feelings, thoughts or sensations experienced. I’ll leave that for you to pluck up the courage and go and try it yourself. What I will say is that I will be going back in the future. It’s a lot of holiday used up in one go, yet 100,000 people a year benefit in indescribable ways and bring a newfound knowledge and peace back to their everyday lives.  And if I were a little more dictatorial and in the position to do so, I would force everyone on one… after all, the world (and the environment) would benefit no end from people getting to know themselves a little better.

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January 26, 2009 at 4:23 pm 1 comment

Atten-hut!

More Americans are joining the military as the job market further disintegrates. With 2.5 million Americans freshly unemployed in 2008–and prospects for millions more in 2009–the military is seeing high recruiting times. Granted the military offers security, training, and a chance to buff up your resume. However, it also capitalizes on the financial insecurity of millions of Americans. It is headlines like these, along with the military’s slightly suspect history of recruiting young high-schoolers, that leads me to be a bit apoplectic. At a time when the US economy needs people to reenter the workforce with their ingenuity and drive, we see the opposite happening: brains are moving into the military for a paycheck, in exchange for a contract on their life. At a time when the US war in Iraq promises to scale back (thought the Afghanistan front will likely reignite), my personal hope is that these individuals do, indeed, find the fulfillment their seeking. However, I can’t help but wonder if it’s a decision driven by fear more than opportunity, and that ultimately, no one–neither the individual, the military, or the world–is the better.


January 19, 2009 at 4:26 am Leave a comment


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