"A man may conquer a million men in battle, but one who conquers himself is indeed the greatest victor" Dhammapada
21.09.2011 - 02.10.2011 25 °C
I recall during a high pressured negotiation a CEO said to me "Angela you need some zen in your life" Probably the most meaningful thing this guy said to me that day and it really stuck! Twelve months later I am sitting a vipassana meditation course with these words ringing in my head!
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
12noon-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
The timetable was pretty intense 10 hours of meditation a day for 10 days, in total silence but I have wanted to learn the technique for a long time so I was up for the challenge! The setting for the course was fantastic, the living conditions were very basic. We slept in 7footx6foot rooms with a bead and a fan and shared bathrooms but it was enough and clean and comfortable. The dinner hall was communal and split in half to keep the segregation between men and women. The grounds were fantastic, ponds full of lotus flowers, small rivers and so much greenery and trees. Very peaceful and tranquil and perfect for what we were about to undertake.
4am Wake up call
This sounded intense everyday at 4am to be woken up by a gong but it was OK and I quickly got used to it and didn't even need the bell to wake me. On day 2 something went wrong with the bell and unknown to me it went off at 1:45 am!! I heard the gong and woke up and went into automatic pilot had my cold shower got dressed and then suddenly noticed that I couldn't hear anyone else! I checked my watch and the clock outside my room and realised my error! argh!
This was the best meditation of the day, I always woke up and went to the hall, you could do it from you're room but I decided that was a little to tempting to go back to sleep The hall was cool at that time so it was easier to concentrate and the birds were waking up and the noises I could hear from my cushion in the hall were amazing!
Breakfast is served communally as a buffet like every meal.. We ate Thai food for the whole course so I found myself eating spicy thai stir fry and tofu at 6:30 in the morning! I quickly adapted to this although it was very bizarre. All the food was very good during the course, I am a big fan of thai food so it wasn't a difficult transition. I ate really healthy throughout the course cutting out coffee and carbs - I didn't need them as I was never that hungry - I was after all just sitting the whole day!
8-9, 2:30-3:30, 8-9 Group Sittings
There are 3 group sittings a day. in these sessions we would get more instructions about our technique. It was a guided course so usually the first 15 mins of these 3 hours we would have a teaching and use the rest of the day to practice. On day 5 they introduced the sitting of determination. In this hour 3 times a day you were asked not to move at all - no opening of the legs from the crossed legged position, no opening of the hands or the eyes. This was like torture for me, my left leg would go to sleep within moment of starting the hour and I would have to cope with the pain for the entire time! The sitting helps you with awareness and reaction which is the theme of the whole course. It is possible to do this ans after the first few times I managed it although it was never comfortable!
9:00-11:30 Personal meditation
I was always tired during this time and would usually catch myself nodding off! Again I would stay in the hall as the few times I stayed in my room I was so tempted to sleep - and once the bed won and I slept! After day 7 we were allocated a "cell" this was a very small square room with a cushion in, although it sounds like a dark dungeon it was quite comfortable and cool, it was also a good change of scenery with no tempting bed!
By the time lunch rolls around I was usually hungry - I had been up for hours by this time! Again it was different combinations of thai stir fry and fake meat - it was excellent. With every meal you could have lemon grass or ginger tea which was really tasty and a great change to coffee.
1-2:30, 3:30-5:30-Personal Meditation
Another tough sitting right after lunch and the heat of the day also made it very hard to sit and meditate without falling asleep! We got more instruction at these sessions which gave us more detail on the technique.
Returning students are not allowed to eat dinner, and you dont really need it. Your body is not hungry for it and it makes you super sleepy! By about day 6 I was only eating a banana and a tea and not hungry in the evenings.. no running was allowed on the retreat which nearly killed me but it was good to have a break from it!
7:30-9:00 Evening lecture
The teacher Goenka has recorded a daily lecture which are played in English or translated in to your language. These lectures teach you more about the technique, share stories on the origins of the technique and answer the questions that frequently get asked by former students. The teaching originates at the time of the Buddha but was lost to all through decades of manipulating and changing that all religions go through. Goenka was a sick business man when he first took the course and was so overwhelmed by the teachings decided to slowly take it back to the rest of the world. He has done this very successfully and now there is courses in most countries around the globe! The course is accessible to all for a donation of your choice to enable other students to take the course \and the teachings to continue.
9-9:30 Final meditation
The final meditation was a quick one before bed focusing on new instruction given in the lecture. I was usually asleep each night within seconds of my head touching the pillow!
The Noble Silence
I thought this would be the hardest part but it really wasn't. As well as no talking, gestures and eye contact were also not allowed it was total aloneness! But because everyone was doing the same thing ir\t was actually quite easy! The hardest parts were not being able to say please and thank you and not being able to wish people good morning and good night! The other crazy thing was hearing the crazy chatter that goes on in your head and not being able to get away from it!
I am not going to try to explain the technique I learnt as I wont be able to do it justice but overall at a high level, the course teaches you to be more aware in the present moment and be equanimous (not reacting or being aware of reactions before reacting) to circumstances that come up. If your interested I would encourage a read of the website, link below or just go sit the course! Its very tough but worth it!! I knew nothing before I sat the course and I preferred it that way!!
21 Sep - 2 Oct