My experience of loneeating in a hall surrounded by 50 other people.
Vipassana is a meditation method that is learnt through a 10-day fairly intense (understatement!) immersive course.
(I promise I am not going to try and convert you or anything like that, I just recently did this course and thought it might make an interesting post :D)
You are totally silent, not communicating through words, body language or gestures; phones locked away, no music, no books or written literature of any kind. Total removal of all external stimulation. The whole day, 4:00am to 9:30pm is part of the meditation, continuous practise.
The mealtimes too were an essential part of the practice. Two meals a day, in a large, full dining hall but devoid of chat and decoration.
At first it is perhaps a little odd to sit without speaking next to and opposite people, all the while trying to avoid eye contact, but after a few days it is almost natural. You are drawn strongly inwards and your focus no longer lingers on social angst.
As with previous mindful eating posts you might remember that people often feel fuller more quickly and food activates all the senses more intensely, and yep these things most certainly do happen. But more than that, mealtimes become such important oases, punctuating the ten and a half hours meditation, a break for the mind and body. Eating alone at these times was essential to allow me to recuperate, as well as deepening my journey inwards.
Any other break time I had I spent walking or sitting outside in the woods – mind and body were active, but mealtimes, loneeating, was when I could rest a little, shift my focus somewhat. You are still alone, you are still reflecting, but your attention is in a different area and that is something of a lifesaver.
The food was wholesome, tasty vegetarian fare with loads of fresh fruit and salad and I have genuinely never felt healthier within myself. I am particularly interested by this as I felt so energised, and clean inside. No caffeine through green tea (I might be an addict..) and none of my iron supplements and yet, I was nourished and invigorated, and I was very alive to that feeling throughout all the body.
As well, all the food is cooked and served to you by volunteers. So sitting there in quiet reflection, you are humbled by the nature of charity and can think on the kindness and compassion of others that you might be there to experience this meditation wisdom.
Purified, in body, spirit and mind. Very powerful.
The whole course was challenging and rewarding in equal measure, the first step on an immeasurably long journey towards eventually, pure happiness. And the eating, specifically the loneeating, despite being surrounded by 50 others, was key in allowing me to start that journey. Not just because it deepened my introspection but because it also awakened me to more of my senses and gave my mind and body rest and nourishment.
It almost felt wrong on the last day when we were allowed to talk to others, my meal time slipping past almost unnoticed as I chatted away. Laughter and excitement distracting me from myself and from my food. But continuing the Vipassana journey will hopefully give me more chances to loneeat and take its benefits of self-knowledge, awareness and restful nourishment into the rest of my life, even when I am not loneeating.
I have no photos of any part of the experience (because no phone, of course) but will leave you with some words of Goenka, my Vipassana teacher, and also his photo.
“Discover real peace and harmony within yourself, and naturally this will overflow to benefit others”.