Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.

For well-traveled writer Tayla Gentle, the most transformative trip of her life didn’t take place in some far-flung land—but at a 10-day silent meditation retreat just a hundred or so kilometers from her front door.

It’s my birthday, and not a single person has wished me a happy day. I’m not mad about it. In fact, I’m not even sad about it. There are rules, you see. And singing happy birthday would definitely be breaking a bunch of them.

I’m nine days into my first Vipassana retreat—a Buddhist meditation course involving 10 days of noble silence and no eye contact, reading, writing, exercise, technology or meals after midday. Basically, no stimulation whatsoever.

For some, the prospect of 10 silent days sounds like heaven. For others, it’s closer to hell. For me, it’s the wildest trip I’ve ever taken—and it didn’t even involve a passport.