Vipassana – My Experience
Read the previous part – Vipassana – My Inhibitions here
I was still lost in my thoughts when a volunteer approached me and informed me to take a bed sheet, pillow and blanket from the shelf and head towards my room. (I was given a room number at the time of registration). He also informed about a small session that would take place, right after tea is served at 5:30 pm, in the meditation hall.
I noticed that the whole center was divided into two sections by a fence consisting of plants. To my disappointment there was completely different area for male and female including the dining area. The main meditation was the only place where both of them were allowed together. My dreams of somehow surviving these days by bird-watching (girl-watching) too were shattered and I wasn’t even allowed to scream…or cry…or run away.
I reached my room; it was pretty basic but neat and clean, and placed my luggage under the bed or the shelf that I was supposed to sleep on. It was a huge stone sheet with an old battered hard thin mattress on top of it. I was already exhausted from the travel and the constant battering of my mind. It was a depressing feeling and felt prison like. It was 3:00 pm and I made my bed and decided to take a nap.
From a small nap it got transformed into a deep slumber and I got up at 5:45 pm in a rush. To my surprise there was another guy sleeping on the other side of the room on another stone sheet. I was immediately pissed off at them for giving me a roommate for ten days and I am not even allowed to ask his name.
I shook him and signalled him the time. We hurriedly reached the mess where we were the last two guys to reach. Everybody had had his tea and left. To my happy surprise there was some husked rice (poha) along with tea. I knew there wasn’t going to be any dinner and hence I decided to hog on it.
At 6 pm the session began and it was in a presentation format. The discourse was to be in delivered in audio and video format. These were recordings of Late Mr. S. N. Goenka – the man responsible for bringing Vipassana back to India. The main thing that was highlighted was the five main precepts to observe and the timetable for the coming ten days.
The Five precepts:
1. To abstain from killing any being,
2. To abstain from stealing,
3. To abstain from all sexual activity,
4. To abstain from telling lies,
5. To abstain from all intoxicants.
The very strict and difficult timetable – the school timetable felt nothing in comparison to this:
4:00 am Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
11:00-12:00 noon Lunch break
12 noon-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher’s instructions
5:00-6:00 pm Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm Teacher’s Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall
9:30 pm Retire to your own room–Lights out
That’s nearly 11 hours of meditation alone and people think that it’s a vacation or retreat. No it is not.
The ‘Noble Silence’ was to be observed from here on. It means the silence of body, speech and mind.
After the session I walked about in the open green space and then retired for the day. Walking was the only exercise that was permitted. I kept shifting and turning in that harsh bed and sleep decided not to pay me a visit that night and before I realized a huge gong like bell rang.
It was already 4:00 am and the time to get up and ready for the 4:30 am meditation session in the hall. I convinced my mind that it’s a new morning and I am here to learn something. All excited I reached the main meditation hall. The hall was filled with blue colored cushions properly spaced out, accompanied by a pillow with registration numbers on it. I found mine and adjusted my cushion and sat down.
There were about 120 students (I counted the cushions), two male instructors and one female. It was evident by looking at others that they barely managed it to the hall still half asleep and constantly yawning. There were three dhamma sevaks also – a dhamma sevak is a volunteer who helps the instructors and the students in case if anything of importance arises.
The course began. We were supposed to close our eyes throughout the process. The voice of Mr. Goenka soothed through the speakers. He told that the first three days would be all about ‘Anapanasati’ – ‘mindfulness of breathing’.
It was just about focusing on your breathing.
I was ecstatic to see the evening tea accompanied by a banana and some puffed rice. This was only made available for the first timers. I went in with the expectation that I would get none but here I was getting some.
The 7:00 pm discourse was a video played out on a projector. We saw Mr. Goenka for the first time. These were all recorded from his previous sessions before his demise in 2013. I was too tired and spent to focus on anything anymore. The only thing that caught my attention was, he mentioned, “Maximum people run away on the 2nd and 6th day.”
For some reason it made me more determined. I knew about the bets that would be already making rounds outside placed by my sister and cousins. I made a mental note of it to survive these two major days.
Same routine. Gong at 4 am…lethargic walk to the meditation hall and then the session begins.
The main focus on this day was on exhaling and inhaling. If someone doesn’t feel it, they can take a couple of deep breathes and then back to regular breathing. Just be mindful of the breath going in and out.
Everyday I would come up with stupid questions in my mind to put across to teachers and at least speak a word in the whole day but ironically all of them were answered at the end of the day during the discourse leaving me smiling and more importantly quiet.
At the end of second day the guys in my neighboring room went absconding – they simply ran away.
I ran away…
For all those who are early risers,
For all those who love meditation,
For all those who can observe breathing,
For all those who knew I won’t run away…
It’s not a Goodbye…
But It’s a GOOD BYE.
Read the next one for Day 3-10 – Vipassana – The Sensations here.
Manas ‘Sameer’ Mukul
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