Vipassana was on my bucket list. It has been sitting on my bucket list before i knew what a bucket list was.
About 7 years ago, a good friend had just come back from a 'life-changing' meditation retreat. It was a barbecue get together and he was munching on a veggie burger telling me he just spent 10 days in the mountains in silence. Vipassana is one of India's most ancient meditation practices. By attending a 10-day residential course; lodging, eating and sleeping in gender segregated areas, Vipassana is a way of achieving peace of mind and ultimately becoming enlightened.
Then recently, my good friend told me she was attending a Vipassana course in Blackheath.....in winter. So, I thought I would register myself and head off to the 10 day Meditation retreat armed with thermals and a few hot water bottles.
I was determined to spend more time OFF social media. I deactivated my Facebook prior (though kept instagram) and upon arriving to the retreat we had to hand over our phones. We weren't allowed to read or write during our stay. Complete in your own company. No talking, no eye contact with a delightful morning gong at 4am. Also, it's completely vegetarian, which is good, because I'm a vegetarian and I knew that I could smash that part at least. I can't imagine how the carnivores were dealing with the menu. But I must admit, the food there is phenomenal.
The day is set out much like this:
4am wake up
11am-1pm Lunch/Dinner (This is your main meal for the day)
5-6pm Break (2 pieces of fruit and tea, older students only get lemon and honey water....no fruit for you!!!)
7-8.20pm Discourse; gathered in the main hall watching a video of Mr. Goenka, breaking it all down for you.
9.30pm Lights out.
Apparently, a handful of people leave. The course is not for the feint hearted. You must be prepared to sit on your ass for over 10 hours. There are cushions in various sizes for comfort. I managed to construct what I can only liken to a Throne out of knee cushions and pillows.
By committing to staying there for 10 days, there was something equable about the notion of having to live in the moment because there was no other choice. There weren't any pressures, I accepted the fact that there might be 400 emails waiting for me on the other side but there was nothing i could do about it, so I allowed myself to not let it bother me.
Being winter, I scored and got my own room. Usually there's a dorm like arrangement. I was so happy, until I found out that others had their own room AND and ensuite. I had to use the main bathroom block, which also meant that at 3am I'd have to get out of my heated room, face the chill and navigate my way to the toilets. So the first 2 days of the meditation I was trying to work through my jealousy of not having an ensuite. Then a few days later, I realized what an entitled twit i as being and started appreciating that I was lucky for even being there. The whole retreat is run on donations and volunteers.
There wasn't one time I wanted to leave. The days tended to blend in. There are beautiful trails around that you can walk through, the sunsets and sunrises over the mountains are breath taking and we had a few kangaroos just munching on the grass around the centre.
What I found interesting is that I ended up reading the backs of my shampoo bottles, toothpaste, and re organized my luggage a dozen times because I craved stimulation of some kind. It turns out many other people did this too. Walking along the bush trails I'd come across someones creative outburst in the form of stones being arranged in shapes or colour coded.
By the end of the course, I decided to not reactivate my Facebook. I'm now reading the news from the actual newspaper. And I've cut down my time on my phone and computer. I also said that social media and smart phones are a way of connecting you to people that aren't around you and disconnecting you from people who are.
At least now I can walk my talk.
The biggest thing I took away from this experience was the philosophy that 'Nothing stays the same. Everything changes'. It's a great reminder when you're feeling a bit crap about life and going through an existential crisis, that you won't always feel like this....it will change.
Remember, its all a journey. You can't have a happy ending to an unhappy journey. So you might as well make the most of it!