Dhamma Vipassana Meditation is a ten day silent meditation course, meaning you don’t speak for 10 days. I did it and it was hard…
I left the airport in a stale cigarette smoked taxi and fell asleep across the back seats with Ed Sheeran in my ears and memories in my head of the last six days in my friend Lucy’s apartment in Singapore working and dancing to Ed’s new album as the soundtrack to my much needed stay with my wonderful friend.
After a hair-raising journey through a rolling mountain of West Java, I arrived at the Vipassana meditation centre with little breath left but admiration for my driver with whom I exchanged minimal words, but many looks of fear and humour through the google-led ‘road’ to the centre.
The centre was very basic. And people were talking. We filled in health questionnaires, signed a waver, handed over all of our belongings and kept only a small bag of baggy clothes and essential toiletries (nothing with a scent was allowed). In return they handed me pink bed linen wrapped in plastic. I went to find my bed.
The rooms were dormitory style rooms and in mine were four beds, packed close together with a small side table in between each bed. I was given ‘Bed 2’. The walls were yellow and there were gold stained curtains that I didn’t want to touch. The doors to the dormitory’s were iron mesh with handles that I wasn’t pleased to touch and I noticed how loud the door creaked when it was opened and how loud it banged when it fell shut.
Suspended from the ceiling of the dorm room, was a sad-looking light bulb and hanging next to it between bed 3 and 4 was its even sadder switch. I didn’t feel like touching that either.
Back in the canteen where forms were being filled and people were arriving, I sat at my designated canteen table and watched people introduce themselves and share stories. I decided I was cautious to meet people. I might wonder about their progress through the course and focus less on myself, or they might try to distract me. But I met Clara and Clara was lovely and then I met Charlotte and Charlotte was lovely and I was pleased I met them both. Charlotte’s boyfriend was taking the course too and Clara was ‘Bed 4’ in my dorm.
Charlotte and Clara (post-Vipassana)
My name was called and I went to meet the Nun (the women were guided by this Nun and the men, by her husband Monk). The Nun wanted to ask me about my history of an eating disorder and if I would be comfortable to complete the course, given that food is only allowed at certain times, and that dinner is just a slice of fruit. I knew that I was a little worried about this, but I smiled and said I think I will be okay. She checked the rest of the form and asked me to promise that I would not practise yoga or any of my previous meditation techniques during my stay. I kindly made that promise and she gifted me a generous and loving smile that slid her glasses up her nose and then said I could go back to the hall.
Two of the Indonesian volunteers stood up and asked for our attention while they read the rules in Indonesian and in English. Men and women were to be segregated at all times. Silence starts shortly, no eye contact to be exchanged during the course. Cover shoulders and knees at all times. No exercising and watch where you stretch, so you don’t distract others. Live like Nuns and Monks and the food is simple vegetarian. Don’t leave the property, stay within the designated areas.
The devil on my shoulder asked me what I had signed up for and the angel on my other shoulder didn’t speak, but just silenced the devil.
Then sh*t got real.
Men and Women were separated by a hedge and partitions and we went to the Dhamma Hall (the meditation hall) and silence began.
We sat in rows and columns and my meditation cushion was placed at the back of the hall. Women were in columns of five, but I was one of only two at the back row. Next to me a label told me, was Priya. I decided I liked her straight away even though we didn’t exchange looks. I counted forty-seven women. There were less men, maybe thirty-five? There was no barrier or partition in the hall but the men sat on the left and women on the right and we had our own entrances, concealed with blue curtains. I could see everyone in the room. Charlotte’s boyfriend was the closest guy to me on the other side of the room and he kept looking over at her.
At the other end of the room, in sight, were two more blue curtains and out came the Nun and her husband Monk dressed in white and they sat on table in front of us and covered their legs with white cloth.
The Monk played a recording from his white Ipod attached to a sound system. It was an Indian man’s voice and he taught us how to observe our breathing within a triangle from the bridge of the nose to the area above the top lip. Ed was singing about Nancy Mulligan and Lucy was dancing and I was trying to withhold bursts of laughter.
Back to the breath.
Just observe the breath… Don’t change it, this is isn’t ‘Pranayama’ that I am used to practising in yoga. Just listen and feel the sensations within this triangle.
I tried not to fall asleep.
We were given a light dinner that night and the food was tasty. My kind of healthy food. After an hour break we went back for more meditation and then watched a video in a different room. It was the guy on the recording… S.N. Goenka (sounds like Goin-ka). He explained the “Vonderful vipashana” and had a loving smile, similar to the smile the Nun gave me but I couldn’t see his eyes through his chubby cheeks. He told us stories for over an hour. I tried not to fall asleep.
We had half an hour of more meditation in the hall and then lights went out at 9:30pm. Ed sang me to sleep and I slept like a baby.