Judith Soal has no problem admitting she was looking for fireworks. When she signed up to participate in a 10-day silent retreat in Gujarat, India, she was expecting a meditative explosion, hoping to see colors, or experience supreme bliss, as others have, she writes for the Guardian. But five hours into day one, "I am already experiencing misgivings." She's to wake up at 4am each day; from there, "I can't make eye contact with my fellow meditators, or read, write, listen to music, exercise or do just about anything except sit here on the floor." If the silence sounds bad, the pain is worse.
"No amount of meditation I've done before could prepare me for sitting on the floor for 10-and-a-half hours a day. I try everything: more cushions, fewer cushions," to no avail. Days two through six are supposed to be the worst, but when day seven arrives, it's hellish. "As well as the pain, there is the boredom. It is just me and my daydreams, which are embarrassingly transparent. By now I know my search has failed." But everything changes on day 8, when an out-of-body euphoria hits. She's excited to talk about the sensation, only to be told by a handful of people, "That's not what it's about." And Soal realizes that's right. "Sensation-seeking is the very antithesis of meditation. It is not about the colours or the bliss; rather it's about strengthening the muscle that helps build resilience."