10 days, 3 hours & 27 minutes

nikko snyder

I arrive at Suan Mokkh monastery with trepidation. I have come to meditate, in silence, with 100 other people for ten days. How I will cope with doing so is beyond the scope of my imagination ó the most my mind can formulate in preparation is a worst-case scenario: leaping up in the middle of the meditation hall, screaming and pulling my hair, then running out and down the road toward the highway. Any other outcome will surely be a victory.

In my normal life noise is ubiquitous. Information flows continuously through my senses and into my brain, and then back out in my thoughts, speech, dreams, emotions, assumptions. Itís as though the world and I are in constant, multilayered conversation. My alarm clock asks me to wake up. The morning kettle whistles me a lesson on the boiling point of water. The telephone says repeatedly that someone wants my attention. Grocery store magazines clamour for me to notice them in hushed but urgent tones. At the end of the day I close my eyes and my subconscious mind weaves colourful tales until the alarm clock asks me to wake up again.

These stories never stop ó if anything, they seem always to be coming faster and more furiously, filling my brain to saturation. Some of them I think I understand, while others are in languages I canít begin to comprehend. Many of the stories are overtly unhelpful and are woven directly into the fabric of my culture, chattering at me against my will about who and how I am supposed to be. Magazines, movies and television tell me that women should look one way, and because I donít, and because the stories are relentless and loud enough for nearly everyone on the planet to hear, they attach themselves (gradually but permanently) to the way I move through the world.

Although I have come to Asia with hopes of discovering new stories, as I travel alone through Thailand it is the same old noise that crowds the front of my mind, keeping me alert, on guard, vulnerable and exhausted. When I arrive at Suan Mokkh it is with trepidation, as well as relief. I do not know silence, but I want to. I want the stories to quiet down, even if just a little.

The transition is gentle. We are given a day to orient ourselves, take care of last-minute business and ask our countless questions. In the evening we meet for a few final moments of chatter and then, as though pushed off a diving board into a deep pool of water, our immersion in silence begins.

We stop speaking, men and women are separated, books and journals are relinquished. In addition, I hand over my mp3 player, clock and mirror. I take my remaining belongings to a tiny room with few distractions, and pass an interminable first night on a concrete bed with plywood mattress and wooden pillow (like what the Buddha slept on, I am assured). The chattering of my mind is deafening in the suddenly deep quiet.

Nikko Snyder lives in sunny flat Regina, Saskatchewan, where she writes and makes music, films and makes trouble. She welcomes visitors to www.goodgirl.ca.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life