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With technology surrounding every aspect of our lives, we are permanently connected and distracted. So where does this leave  the state of our minds? Healthy, happy and stimulated, or anxious, tired and overwhelmed?

When was the last time you remember being bored, truly out of your mind bored? No phone, no TV, no interactions, no hobbies, just you and your thoughts, alone – and for a period longer than 5 minutes – struggling? I thought so.

Our relationship with boredom.

This question has been bugging me for some time, even more so when I started working for a tech charity in 2018. My job as the office assistant led me down a path of looking at staff well-being, learning how I can help my colleagues via a mental health first aid programme, and it highlighted one fact: too many people struggle with their mental health and can’t find healthy coping mechanisms. This made me question what tools and resources are out there to help.

So, what is boredom?

Why does the word alone spark internal despair for so many? Is it an emotion, a state of perception or just a sign of impatience? Why does boredom get such a bad rep, or has this new era of content overload (thank you Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Instagram etc.) abolished boredom entirely? What is boredom to you?

For me, boredom has always been a welcomed state of mind. Even when I was young the thought of having nothing to do was never reason to worry. I relished it! Boredom meant I could let my mind wonder. I could daydream. I could escape. But equally, I could process.

I guess, in hindsight, I feel lucky to have had this mindset from so early on. I have always been creative – picking up an array of hobbies along the years and inevitably dropping many. Now I question whether my acceptance and love for being bored allowed my creativeness to thrive. If so, how can I champion this for others around me to benefit as well?

“Boredom is your imagination calling to you.”                                          Sherry Turkle

Cue meditation

To gain a better understanding of boredom, and learn more about my own thoughts, I needed to fully immerse myself in the act. What I needed was to spend some time in quiet solitude.

I’ve been aware of meditation techniques for a few years and the idea of going on a meditation retreat excites and equally terrifies me. My own practice has gone through many ups and downs since I first started. I’d been to one retreat when I was in Thailand in 2016 and since then, the times that I needed it the most in my life were the times that I let it slip. I knew I had to chuck myself in the deep end again. Luckily there is a Vipassana meditation retreat in Hereford, UK, only an hour’s drive from where I am based.

Vipassana is an ancient technique invented in India by Siddhattha Gotama roughly 2,500 years ago. The technique, put simply, focuses on calming the mind by breathing through the nose and observing the sensations of your body. The ultimate goal of practising this technique is to purify the mind, to free it completely from defilement.

For new students, they run an 11-day course, nestled in the beautiful Worcestershire countryside. After a few failed attempts, (as the courses are incredibly popular and booked up within minutes of opening for registration) I finally managed to secure my place for the April ’19 retreat.

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to meditate. This is a common misconception. Even though the practice of Vipassana originated from Buddhism, the courses are secular by nature. You can be a complete atheist for all they care. Many people from different cultures, ages and religions attend. This was one of the first things I noticed when I arrived at the Dhamma Dippa centre. The wide range of people, all coming together to share this experience and spend 10-days in silence, meditating, shows what a powerful tool it can be.

Now that I’ve had some time to process this retreat, I wanted to talk about my experience.

The Dhamma Dipa centre

On the day of arriving at the Dhamma Dipa centre I was a mixed bag of emotions. I’d spent the entire morning procrastinating that I’d miss my lift, and consequently the retreat, keeping me on edge until I finally arrived.

My instant reaction when we reached the centre was ‘WOW!!!’. Arriving in springtime was an absolute treat. The cherry blossoms were out, the trees around the surrounding areas were abundant with life, colour and creatures. The centre was located in the most gorgeous setting.

Dhamma Dipa had a very special energy around it and I felt oddly at home. Here are some pictures I was able to take on the first day, during registration.

We had a few hours to get settled and mingle, while being able to talk with each other before the retreat and silence began. The facilities were basic but clean. I was delighted to see a comfy bed and a duvet (to give you some comparison, at the Thai retreat we slept on wooden beds with a wooden pillow and no running water! Yes – I said wooden pillow.)

At Dhamma Dipa, I was placed in a dorm style room sharing with 10 other ladies, separated by curtains and plywood walls. At least I had some privacy, but now I was freaking out about whether I would have some horrific snoring fit mid-sleep and wake up my roommates. (Little did I know that snoring would be the least of my worries, but more about that later!)

The rules

This retreat had a few rules. Well, lots in fact. The main rules that Vipassana follows are:

  • To abstain from killing any being
  • To abstain from stealing
  • To abstain from all sexual activity
  • To abstain from telling lies
  • To abstain from all intoxicants

In addition, we were told that there would be absolutely no communication. This included talking, touching even making eye-contact. The aim to make sure you have as few distractions as possible so that you could get deeper into your practice. This helped provide a basis for samadi – concentration of the mind.

Men and women would be kept totally separated. The only time we would see each other was when meditating in the main hall for group sessions. There would be no reading, writing or listening to music/audiobooks etc. We would be served breakfast and lunch, and only new students would be allowed a dinnertime snack of a few pieces of fruit. There’s no alcohol or drugs allowed, and they did not want you even practising any exercise, including running and yoga.

Literally the only movements permitted were walking and sitting, and the only activity – some serious meditation.

The daily schedule was always displayed on a large board by the kitchen. It varied slightly some days, through a typical day we’d be expected to meditate for 11-hours! The thought of spending that much time with no distractions seems crazy for me, even now.

This was definitely going to be a challenge …

Continued in Part 2

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