Yesterday I visited Marina Abramovic’s performance art exhibition for Bangkok’s Art Biennale at the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre to participate in her “stillness” performance. Upon locking all of my belongings into a locker, I entering a brightly lit room and was given a pair of noise cancelling head phones.  One of Abramovic’s assistants clasped my hand and very slowly, without any conversation, walked me to my station,  a space on a raised wooden base where I was told to close my eyes and stand in silence. I stood there for maybe 15 minutes, and later went on to partake in some other long durational activities in her performance, including independently counting rice grains (I got 1047 grains in 45 minutes), gazing at a yellow rectangular sheet of paper hung on a wall (?), and sleeping on a camp bed (!). In total I think I spent about two hours alone with myself, despite being in a room with about 40 other participants. If I had taken part in this activity a month ago,…I’m sure I would have been in and out in 10 minutes.

 

The experience was refreshing, I felt like I had found “peace” and relaxation, something I often find is hard to do when living in a big city like Bangkok.

 

How did I end up here (mentally)?

 

No doubt, it was as a result of an excruciating 10 days I had spent last month that for lack of better words- broke my brain and put it back together again and gave me a few insights that have altered the power I have over my mind.  In a questionable moment of sanity, I booked myself into a 10-day vipassana meditation camp.

 

No talking. No phones or technology. No music. No reading. No writing. And No eye contact. Just me and the prison of my mind for 10 days.

 

Vipassana meditation, first taught in India 2,500 years ago by Siddhartha Gautama and revived by Satya Narayan Goenka in 1969 is a practice that provides students with a  tool to purify their thinking of recurrent obsessive loops. Goenka believes that instead of quick solutions, it takes hard work to retrain habit patterns that devour us. I chose Vipassana as a tool because it is all about discipline and neural pathways. I also figured it’d be nice to disconnect from technology and social media.

 

On a good week, I average about 20 minutes of meditation every few days, so this seemed like a solid way to try and practice it more regularly. I had no idea what I was in for. Despite the trendiness of glamorous classes and meditation apps, Vipassana is a different beast.

 

Students live in complete silence, eat only two meals a day, and meditate from 4am to 9pm.

The morning gong rings at 4 a.m sharp to rouse everyone for the opening 4:30-6:30am meditation session. The first two of 10 1/2 total hours of meditation scheduled every single day.

I tried to keep low expectations for myself. My only goal was to complete the course. I kept telling myself that if my brain reset, it would be a bonus. I just had to make it through- and what was 10 days in the grand scheme of things?

A rustic, basic quarters to sleep in, segregated by gender. and a meditation hall. That was it. Nothing to do for fun. Just meditation, starting at 4am when the bell rang outside my door to remind me that despite the darkness, it was time to wake up. It was a really, really hard almost unbearable 10 days.

 

BUT, I got two main things out of the course. 

 

1. Being in the present moment.

Vipassana gives you a step by step guide to get there and taught me that stillness is a wonderful tool.

 

2. A tool that has helped me not react to circumstances in my life and be more rational. Practicing vipassana helped me understand my emotions and even them out so they affect me less. (amazing).

 

So much of what complicates our lives comes from assumptions we make and our reactions to them. In those quiet 10 days, I realized how much my mind can distort the reality I perceive. After the first half of the course, I felt that I was starting to master my own inner dialogue.

 

 

I emerged from the course a calmer, perhaps less anxious version of myself. Finding “inner peace” was a very rewarding experience for me that I would recommend to anyone, even if they don’t suffer from stressful life circumstances :) Goenka’s meditation camps can be reserved through Vipassana Meditation and are offered around the world. I attended the camp in Chanthaburi, about 3 hours south of Bangkok.

The Bangkok Art Biennale is being hosted around the city until February 3rd 2019, however, Abramovic’s “The Method” is only on exhibition until November 11th.