When we hear the word meditate we think of deep concentration, focus, peace, mindfulness and so on. Some very successful people mention they meditate regularly, so what is it that attracts so many people from all over the world and has been in practice since thousands of years.
This post is for everyone who has or had thought of meditating at some point in their lives, and also for those who think meditation is for the depressed soul. I am not going to teach you how to meditate, I am here to share my story, my journey of the 10 most peaceful and difficult days of my life, learning the technique of Vipassana, yes the Goenka style!
I had heard about Vipassana way back in college, it only started kicking in two years ago when a close friend of mine went for the 10 day course, twice! She told me how incredibly amazing her experience was, it intrigued me to try it some day, the seed was sown. Certainly it sounded interesting but taking time out of work was such a task, at the same time the thought that I could use those 10 days for travelling. I had told myself that someday I am going to learn ‘how to meditate’. We all make plans, have dreams however our lives are so busy we keep postponing it to some other day, some other time, the question is when?
You know when boredom starts to hit you, you know that feeling when you aren’t happy and content with your life, you want to change things around you, you want to challenge yourself and take some risks. If you are questioning yourself on those lines, my friend you are evolving. These feelings had started to sprout an year ago, so I decided the time is now and take that much deserved break. Among the things that I want to do Vipassana was on the top. I wanted to learn something new, experience something which was alien to me and honestly I went with no preconceived notions and expectations. Dhamma Sikhara in Dharamkot was where I wanted to go, it’s in the majestic Himalayas. It's said to be one of the best centers in India. I was also glad my father agreed to come along.
The course starts with day zero, with the registration process and a short orientation. I remember how excited I was that day, at the same time a bit nervous, it felt like the first day of college. As for my father he was one happy child, mesmerized by nature. There was ample time before we went in silence, I talked to some of the fellow meditators and also the sahyaks (helpers who volunteer their time to assist the new mediators, to become a sahyak you must complete at least three courses). I met some interesting people who were on their own unique journeys of life. People from all over the world, different religions and backgrounds were there to learn the ancient technique of meditation. The atmosphere was already oozing with positivity and I could not wait for the course to begin. The thought of not talking, and waking up at 4 am everyday did made me wonder ‘how will I survive’ but little did I knew there would be other bigger ‘real’ challenges.
The foundation of the course is based on few rules and the discipline one needs to follow is tough. Number one being noble silence, no reading, no writing, no outside food, of course no alcohol, tobacco and drugs, no touching or even eye contact with fellow meditators, men and women are in separate sections of the campus. One may approach the sahayak for any assistance or the teacher for any questions related to the technique. Other than that you are pretty much just by yourself. The discipline was tougher than I imagined, even school was chilled out.
The time table was stuck on the walls of my room and most places in the campus, all necessary information were printed on posters with a smiley emoticon ending with ‘be happy’. It was a good idea of communication without someone bothering you with lectures of do’s and dont’s. Later I realised when you read these instructions every day, you sort of process the information and know what has to be done. Did I mention you are expected to meditate for 10 hours every day! Waking up at 4 am and retiring to bed between 9:00 - 9:30 pm, yes there are some short breaks in between, the meals are practically two times (vegetarian only), a nice healthy breakfast, a wholesome lunch and a super light dinner (it’s more like a snack). These are the general facts which are on the website and informed in person on day zero post that you cannot change your mind and decide to quit (there are quitters, but then they are quitters trust me you don’t want to be one, even though your mind will try and trick you several times)
The alarm started to ring at 4:00 in the morning and so were the bells in the campus. I looked outside my window it was pitch black, I was in agony. I was sharing my dorm with two other women, they were already up and I was still gathering myself. At 4:30 I had to be at the dhamma hall, men and women both meditate together with the teacher in this huge hall. On day one we were introduced to our breath, the purest form of existence. And by evening the demons had started to creep in. I was questioning my decision, what the hell am I doing, this is so hard. Why am I doing this to myself? It was hard to focus on my breath, so boring I thought.
My dorm room, spent 10 days here living like a monk with bear essentials. (the pictures were taken on the 10th day, after the noble silence ended)
At 7 in the evening everyday there is a pre recorded discourse by Mr Goenka. I was told that most of the questions that are going on in your mind and emotions you are experiencing will be addressed in his discourses. I was amazed how accurate it was, it was like he read my mind, he knew exactly what I was going through. Listening to his discourse eased me up and things started to make sense.
Dhamma hall, day 10 (L), Notice on our kitchen door - Be happy! (R)
I was slowly physically and emotionally adapting to my new routine. The campus was simple yet beautiful, surrounded by deodars. They are huge going upto 50 metres, when you look up to them you realise how majestic they are. They were also home to the Himalayan macaque, there were approximately 30 or more monkeys in the campus. We were told not to feed them or look them in the eyes. I didn't really mind them being there, they were just notorious and noisy. But on day three I had an encounter with them. As I was walking half asleep upto to the dhamma hall I was surrounded by three juvenile monkeys, I froze to death and did not even scream, I was petrified, more petrified that I did not scream or ask for help, I just stood. I thought have I forgotten how to speak? My mind was puzzled. Luckily the teacher saw and helped me escape from those little bastards. Later I quietly hummed a song in the shower just to check if I could still talk, I wanted to listen to my voice, yeah it was funny.
Monkeys, monkeys, and monkeys they just cant 'be' .
After that incidence I was always too scared to walk alone, the monkeys were everywhere you don’t know where they will pop out from. I had started to dislike their presence, it was disrupting my peace but at the same time they were my only source of entertainment. Watching them play, tease, fight, mate was like watching discovery channel live. During my breaks I used to peacefully observe what is happening around me, I was studying my surroundings, the texture of the tree trunk, the prickly leaves of the deodars, the gross looking snails, the color of the sky, the fragrance of the mist, the sound of the crickets and insects at night and of course taking a note of the monkey behavior. I realised there is so much happening around us, do we ever pause and notice.
By the end of day three we were introduced to Vipassana, in pali meaning to see things the way they are. The meaning is so deep, I think if you truly understand it you will liberate yourself.
Day four was physically challenging, we had to be in one position without moving. I could feel the pain in my knees and my thighs, my back was killing me. We had to observe all possible sensations that were arising on our our bodies, just observe, accept and move on. I realised my god there is so much happening inside and outside my body, I was tempted to entertain it but I had to accept that it is created and it will be destroyed, the truth of nature. Sitting in silence I noticed my mind was like a wild child, it wanted to run, it wanted to break free, so notorious. My mind wandered in the past, childhood memories, people I knew, people I know, everything came to my mind. I was watching myself as a third person. The feeling was overwhelming.
Sat here on those endless evenings watching the sun go down.
There were days I could sit for more than an hour in deep meditation with no distractions, I felt like a flower. It was day six when I felt that way, I stepped out for a break, the morning sun was mild and bright, life was in technicolor, the energies were strong, I wanted to share. I hugged my favorite baby deodar tree, I could feel it hugging me back. The moment was so surreal.
In the evenings all the women would walk in the campus, hang around in the courtyard, except that nobody would talk. 30 women not talking, feels strange ha. I used to look at them and wonder what is she going through, what’s her story. Being alone in such peace was rewarding but at the same time it was tough, I missed my loved ones, my friends, my life, my freedom, I had to keep myself feel alive, so I made imaginary stories about my fellow meditators, just so I feel normal. At times it felt like I was living in a hostel and sometimes I compared my life to the tv series ‘orange is the new black’, only the part where women from all walks of life and age lived together, not the dark side. I had started to recognize the fragrance of the women around me, the way they walked, sneezed, coughed or the slippers they wore. I know it sounds creepy but trust me with so much time on hand and mindfulness it was all coming naturally to me.
There were days I had difficulty meditating, my mind would just not listen, I wanted to run away. Or sometimes my body would not cooperate. They both need to align, else you can't meditate. These were some real challenges that will break you and then make you.
Gentle reminders and notes were all over the campus.
As the days were approaching I was feeling happy that I could finally leave, however I was afraid of losing what I had achieved. That feeling in my heart was precious, I had never felt that light and happy before. But again this is what we were taught not to get attached to any feeling good or bad.
In the last days I could feel immense amount of energy move in my body, head to toe, toe to head, sometimes even travelling out of my body, it was crazy. The purpose of this meditation is to break the wall between your conscious and subconscious mind. I found the technique to be scientific in its approach, no wonder Buddha meditated and elevated himself from all the worldly sufferings.
Noble silence breaks on day ten, I can never forget how I felt that day. Everyone, men and women had a beautiful smile on their face. Gradually we started interacting, sharing our experiences, it was amazing, though talking after so many days was exhausting, you realise how much energy you save when you are in silence.
Gorgeous smiles where ever I looked.
Standing next to my baby deodar tree, happy to leave but sad to say goodbye (L), My dorm mate Anita, a simple, genuine and amazing person. (R).
I had immense respect for all these women who took the decision to come here, there were women from all age groups, youngest being 22 years old to one being 60 plus. But the one who was the bravest and hard ass strong was a woman who was six months pregnant, I admire her determination. I also think highly of S.N Goenka who dedicated his life to spread the truth, I am sure he attained moksha.
One of the only few men in our campus, easily 70+ he worked hard to make our stay comfortable. Respect!
They say happy women are beautiful women, ain't it true.
A final goodbye.
Coming back to the hustle was a challenge, I miss that time, I miss that peace, I feel nostalgic. I can notice the little changes happening in me, gradually and subtly. I have started to look at things differently, everything is temporary good or bad, whatever is created will be destroyed, the moment you accept this universal truth you will start living. I am convinced I am going for the course sometime again. I would like to tell all the people who take pride in calling their lives busy, please pause and reflect, your ego will melt away. It is true that everyone’s experience will differ, you may like or dislike it, but you gotta try to know. The course is free from all commercial aspects, it runs solely from the donations people make, which is again a choice.
Vipassana is truly an art of living.