Travel Blog 9; Vipassana: The Verdict

So it happened; as planned on the 29th September I entered the Dhamma Medini Vipassana Meditation Centre and until around 9:30am yesterday that’s where I stayed. Entirely. I did not set foot outside of the course boundary walls, I only entered 4 different rooms (my bunk, the meditation hall, the dining area and the shower and s*itting room) and perhaps most surprisingly of all; I played by the rules. From the 29th September at 7pm until around 11am yesterday I did not speak a full sentence, eat meat, drink booze, smoke cigarettes or anything else, have any physical contact with another living thing, read any literature, write anything down, listen to any music, watch any TV/movies/internet material or engage in any sexual activity (including the single player game).
I was under the impression going into this that such circumstances were either going to lead me to a major psychological breakthrough or to a major psychotic episode. So which was it? Truth be told; neither. This is no bad thing as breakthroughs can be stressful and although psychotic episodes might get you some TV time initially they do hurt your momentum in the long-run. The truth is that this course was one of the most mentally and, believe it or not, physically draining experiences I can bring to recent memory and despite your almost sedated state so many emotions hit you so quickly. Thoughtfulness, impatience, determination, focus, absent mindedness, boredom, hunger, thirst, horny-ness (no, its not a real word before you start), restlessness, restfulness, anger and a burning desire for a B.M.T Sub, a pint of lager and a joint. Perhaps the evening prior to the evening before the course consisting of excessive helpings of house lager, a trip to a karaoke bar that Toto and The Gallagher Brothers would never forgive me for if they’d witnessed, a bucket load of Macky D’s and a 4am bedtime wasn’t adequate mental and physical preparation after all. Who’d of known!?
Now before I go any further I want to make one point completely clear; I would recommend this course, wholeheartedly in-fact. I genuinely believe that anyone that is even remotely curious about it and its potential effects after doing their research should try it, providing that they are willing and able to take it seriously. I cannot stress that last point enough because, trust me, the rules are far easier said than followed. Ten days is a lot longer than it sounds, especially for jittery, meat-eating, western-raised, impatient and angst-ridden white boys who stand around 6,2 and are told to sit straight in the same position for 2 hour stretches on a thin floor with nothing but a warn out cushion for relief; the back, knee, feet and arse pains are chronic! On the subject of pains mention needs to be made of your stomach and more-over what goes into it during the course. You are fed and you are fed well, the food provided is vegetarian and is actually pretty good (you were expecting a rant then weren’t you!?). Now don’t get me wrong its not exactly gourmet and its described on the leaflets as being ‘wholesome’ which, like when used to describe TV, film and women, is insider terminology for boring but it does get the job done and considering that its provided free of charge its bloody generous of them and I do have to tip my hat to the serving staff and all the other volunteers who work on the site; they’re doing a good thing. What does provide difficulty though is the eating schedule which is set out in a way that dictates that your last full meal is at 11am and apart from a small piece of fruit at 5pm you don’t eat again until 6:30 the next morning. Maintaining focus in these circumstances is difficult, especially when your not used to such a schedule.
I’m going to try and avoid going into details about the meditation technique itself as it is a tad difficult to do it justice within my personal word limit but let me just say its mentally and physically demanding, takes a good few days to even pull off correctly for more than 10-15 seconds and after the second or third day you’ll probably feel like quitting; don’t! It doesn’t get any easier but you will get better at it and your tolerances will naturally get stronger.
What I do want to bring more attention to though is the beliefs and fundamentals that surround Vipassana as, for me personally, some of them make perfect sense whilst others come across as frankly outdated, idealistic and dare-I-say even a little bit judgemental.
Starting with the good is of course the basics such as how we should not harm other living things, should speak only truth and for God-sake don’t go sleeping with your best friends fiancé. Quite self explanatory and all things that I can get on-board with. However there are some more slightly off-the-track ideas that I also found myself agreeing and identifying with. One of these was the idea that the source of all our misery is based around our cravings for things and feelings. As soon as one develops a craving for an object, sensation or personal feeling they are not happy as they want it again and then become unhappy all over again as soon as the thing in question inevitably disappears like it did the fist time around. This could be money, clothes, cars, food or just a really great evening of extravagant pleasure with the chick who works in the food court across the street from your hostel; the sensations created by these things will always pass and enough will never be enough. The concept of true selflessness being far more difficult than it appears on surface levels was also interesting with the idea being that many seemingly selfless acts are often committed with a desire to create pleasant sensations within ourselves and gain recognition for our deeds if only on a subliminal level. Hell, I’m honest enough to admit that I’ve been guilty of this in the past and I’m willing to bet I’m not alone.
Like I said though some of the ideas expressed just did not quite sit right with me. Of these the most prominent was the idea that we should not mourn or even feel sadness when a person in our life is taken from us at whatever time for whatever reason. The reason for this being that we are apparently not really ‘whole’ as beings; meaning that we must get rid of the concept of ‘me’, ‘mine’ and ‘I’ and instead think of our bodies and insides as being individual body parts that are simply attached to each other in order to function. For this reason we should also never view another person as being ‘beautiful’, either inside or out. An actually rather humorous example was used whereby when a man finds a woman attractive he may be drawn to her beautiful long hair but if a small strand of it were to fall into his dinner he wouldn’t view that individual piece of hair as beautiful and would certainly be put off the dinner, appetising as it may have once been.
I had a problem with this. I mean firstly because, as anyone who knows me will tell you; I don’t give a s*it if the girls whole scalp ends up on the plate. If the meals appetising to begin with I’ll make it work. Seriously though the idea of feeling nothing for other people and not loving to me does not sound like a step on the path of happiness but more like a step towards losing your humanity and what truly makes you who you are. Yes, I care about the health of my grandparents, how well my little sister is doing in school and if my older brother will ever get to grips with the concept of adulthood and these things stress me out. They might seem trivial and unimportant to somebody who has achieved ‘enlightenment’ and who now works towards a higher calling but, and with all due respect, I do feel that whilst reading into these philosophies we should stay aware of the fact that they were established during a time when sharp, pointy sticks were considered a dental breakthrough and the premier thinkers of the world didn’t know where the Sun was going at night. As for the whole beauty thing? Well a strand of braided hair from the head of that gorgeous German girl with the dazzling smile and personality that frankly knocked me bandy that I really quite regret not making a move on might not look great on its own and sitting on my pizza but everything left on the person in question still looks pretty amazing. Personality to boot. S.N. Goenka says that we must learn to tame the mind and likens it to a wild Bull or Elephant. Well I’ve got news for you Sir; Bulls and Elephants are not meant to be tamed, maybe the mind isn’t either?
I sound like I’m dishing on the course in these last few paragraphs and that’s honest-to-God not my intention. During my time at the centre, whether by design or not, I found myself stumbling across a number of self realisations regarding both events from my past and possible events of the future. Some were quite small and easy to face up to whilst others ran a little deeper and had to be taken with a king-sized slice of Humble Pie and washed down with a tall-head worth of pride in order to face up to. Whether the course intended for this to happen or not they made it all the more worthwhile and I feel that it could potentially be something beneficial. If I can find a way of putting these thoughts into words I may look into sharing these realisations in the future.
In closing; I would like to once again reiterate that Vipassana is a technique of meditation that deserves a fair shot. Whether or not I carry on practising the technique remains to be seen and some of that will depend on circumstances permitting but it was a worthwhile experience regardless. Ten days may seem like an eternity but in truth it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the techniques apparent potential so keep this in mind and don’t expect a miracle but you might just take your first baby steps towards one. Oh and as an added bonus; the site is beautiful, the air ridiculously clean and you’ll probably end up seeing Rabbits, Possums and even Glow Worms! How good is that!?
I’m Tha Bozz and that’s my opinion.
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