Friday, January 28, 2011

There Goes The Fear? - The Vipassana Experience Part I

Right then, I haven’t lost interest in blogging over the past fortnight, no, instead I’ve been sitting around on my arse for 10 hours spending all of my time thinking, doing absolutely nothing productive but trying to look really busy at the same time. No, I haven’t joined the civil service. Having survived the physical rigours of three weeks in the Himalayas on this trip, I decided that it was time to test my mental wellbeing by signing up for a 10 day meditation course, situated in a retreat just outside Jaipur - an Annapurna Circuit for the mind as it were. If you google the words ‘meditation course India’, one of the first results you’ll come across is ‘Vipassana’ and that was my first introduction to the term some months back before even entering India. The concept of meditation has always appealed, anything to help to shut off an overactive mind and just relax can only be a good thing. Signing up for a Vipassana course online is simple and within a couple of days I’d received confirmation of acceptance on a course beginning January 16th.
What also intrigued me about the Vipassana method was the rigorous, no bullshit approach they espouse. For the ten days you’re participating in the course you’re expect to maintain complete silence, 24 hours a day until 10am on the morning of the last day of the course. This is termed - rather grandly - ‘noble silence’. You’re discouraged from making eye contact and all contact with the outside world is forbidden - truly, a misanthrope's paradise. There is complete segregation of males and females lest the proximity of flesh prove too much for a focussed mind. Mobile phones, laptops, books, pens, even vibrators I’m sure are all deposited with management on enrolment day. Nothing is left to chance. It’s just you and your thoughts for 10 days. Quite why that seemed appealing to me at any stage is beyond me now. On top of all this, you’re very much thrown in at the deep end from a meditation point of view. From having never meditated for a millisecond in my life previously, I was now expected to jump headlong into a 10 hour a day shift for the 10 days that I would spend there.
The course participants - about 70 in total - were a pretty even split between Indians and westerners, like me keen to try out something new. Once we had registered we were shown to our rooms for the duration of the course - very basic but clean and with an attached bathroom. I considered asking if there was a wi-fi connection in my room but given the seriousness with which we were asked “Are you sure you’re ready for this?” upon arrival, I decided against it. One other thing about this course - there’s absolutely no charge for it. You spend ten days here being taught how to meditate, you’re given a bed, hot water and as much food (vegetarian of course) as you can eat. You’re welcome to give a donation once the course has been completed but no-one’s there with a begging bowl on the final day pressuring you into it.
The setting is wonderful and utterly conducive to the calm required for meditation. The centre is built in the hills to the west of Jaipur and we’re sharing the same space as the monkeys, peacocks and squirrels which inhabit the area. There are 5 precepts which we must keep during the entire duration of the course and they are as follows;
  1. to abstain from killing any being (right, should manage that one if I really try)
  2. to abstain from stealing (nothing left to steal - management has everything of value)
  3. to abstain from all sexual activity (if only)
  4. to abstain from telling lies
  5. to abstain from all intoxicants
On the evening we arrive we gather in the dhama hall for our pre-course chat, none of which I recall other than a plea that we restrain from killing scorpions and snakes if we encounter them. That behaviour is apparently "frowned upon here". Other than that, we will begin the following morning at 4.30am. The timetable is as follows;

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

1 comment:

  1. you are going to need a clear head to get it round LFC signing Carroll for £35 million!!! Nando is a blue and we play them on sunday. The world, or at least the english transfer market, has gone mad