Lesson 1: Stop talking so damn much

Posted on May 2, 2012


When you take a Vipassana meditation course, you sign up with the understanding that for ten days you won’t be talking. And I don’t just mean you won’t be talking. You agree not to have any verbal or non-verbal communication with anyone.

No eye contact, no hand gestures, no raised eyebrows or rolled eyes. Zip, zilch, nada. In order to go fully within yourself, you’ve got to be quiet. And everyone around you must be quiet. Really quiet. For ten days.

One of the things that always surprises me  when I take a course is how little that I say is actually relevant. Because I’m not talking aloud, I find myself for the first few days of the course talking in my head. Having these pretend conversations with people. Stating my opinions about this and that, making observations about such and such, asking questions and then, when I realize I don’t know the answer, making mental notes to google it later.

I love to talk. It’s one of the reasons I almost always have a visceral reaction when people try to shorten my name to Gabby. I find it an embarrassingly accurate character description rather than a nickname. It’s true-I love to gab.

Quite frankly, all that talking becomes exhausting. So by the third or fourth day of the course, something cool happens. I stop talking to others in my head. And I shift into this listening/heightened awareness/uber calm state of mind. Not having to talk starts to feel like a burden has been lifted. 

No pressure to try to think of witty or insightful things to say. No clever stories to tell. No stress about asking the right questions. No worries about how others may be perceiving me. No conversational expectations.

By the fifth day of the course, I find not talking to be awesome.

And because I’m no longer filling up the air with the sound of my voice, I’m able to hear a lot more stuff going on around me. Bushes rustling as a small animal runs through them. Different bird calls. The sound trees make when they sway against each other. A tea kettle starting to shriek. Someone clearing their throat. The hum of a passing car motor in the far, far distance.

It’s like, when I stop talking, suddenly there’s an entirely new world of beautiful sounds.

On the last day of a Vipassana course, the 11th day, students are allowed to release their vow of silence. In preparation for returning to the outside world, meditators are encouraged to start talking again. So, within several minutes after the final group meditation, the once-silent halls are filled with eager voices and conversations and laughter.

I always try to prolong the silence on the 11th day by going for a long walk by myself once the noble silence is broken. Through Vipassana, I’ve learned that I like quiet. There is a part of me that really likes not having to speak.

Of course, in life it’s not practical to be silent all of the time. You’ve gotta talk. But what I’ve learned from my practice is that I don’t have to talk so damn much.  In fact, it’s a relief not to have to.