Dhamma Java – Vipassana meditation

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I have been looking forward to this moment for a long time. Since beginning of december to be precise.

Reading lots of stories about it, meeting people who have done it before me, it got me more and more curious! I didn’t feel nervous, even tough I knew there were a lot of rules and it would be a mental, phisical and social detox. I learned to enjoy silence and be at ease with having my own mind as my only company, telling me so many stories and bringing me in such interesting places. But this would take the silence to a whole different level.

So, this is how the first day looked like:

Arriving at the Dhamma center was pretty easy. My host in Bogor, Tom from Tom’s homestay, accompanied me, for which I am very grateful. It made the ride so much more comfortable, since he organised a car to takr me there. On the way to the center he told me so much about the area and projects on which hebis working. I hope to come back one day and explore the wonderful Bogor and its surroundings. Tom is a very good guide; he takes his guests on hikes and accompanies them to points of interest. The best host you can get around here, if you ask me!

From the minute I stepped inside, I was called at the desk to fill in paperwork. I had to sign a paper, confirming that I have read and understood the rules and that I am willing to obey them and that I will commit to stay for 10 days. Was I signing away my freedom for 10 days?? YES

I also needed to confirm that I didn’t have any physical or mental condition. It felt a little ackward and disturbing having to confirm all of these things and answering very personal questions. The final step was handing in all my valuables and personal restricted possesions like all reading and writing materiald, camera, phone, food, medicine, jewelry,…and passport. You would only get this back after finalising the course. Meaning: you cannot just run off!

We did get an evening snack the first evening and all the rules were again explained to us. After this discourse the noble silence would begin for the rest of our stay.
Rules: men and women were separated, no speaking, no eye contact, no exercising, no performing any other religeous rituals, no yoga, no nothing.

And the meditation started. The main teacher, Sir S.N.Goenka was teaching us through audio and video, he was physically not present. Everything was pretty well organised so you didn’t feelblike he was far away. We did have 2 assisting teachers who were instructing us every day. These were the only people, including the management, that we could speak with maybe a few minutes per day.

The first 2 days were still fine. I started to feel some physical discomfort from sitting in crossed-leg position for so many hours. My back, shoulders and hips would start to hurt. But my mind was focussed. Of course it wandered off sometimes, but that’s just normal. I had not much difficulty to bring it back to the present and restart the meditation.

As the days passed my physical pain would get worse and worse, making me want to cry sometimes. I think on day 4 I just couldn’t handle the pain any longer and I asked for a backsupport. This brought some relief. Not only to the body but to the mind as well. When being in so much pain, I could not focus on the meditation any longer.

On day 4 we also got the teaching of Vipassana, the actual meditation method. Previously we were just focussing on our breath, to sharpen the mind and make it more aware of what was happening in the body. As the days passed, every hour of every day we were practising this technique. It required a lot of concentration. On day 6 I remember I focussed so hard that I ended up having a severe headache. You can thus really hurt yourself while thinking! For the following 1.5 days I could not get my mind to meditate properly. Every time I tried to concentrate a light headache would come up, so I decided to let my mind just be and give it a rest. I know that’s not what I was supposed to do, but otherwise I might have gone crazy.

During those 1.5 days, I had a lot of time to think. So many thougts would come up, it was very unstructured! I think by now I have a few scenarios about the rest of my life, short term future only though. I needed much more time if I had to fantasize until 100 years – ‘cause that is how long I will live.

I know exactly what I need to do when I return home (practical things). Detailed to do’s are in my head. I even have a plan B if plan A does not work out.

I am dreaming about ny own business for quite a while now so it would only be obvious that my mind would wander in that direction at some point. Business plan, interior design, menu, activities and even the layout of my newsletter are the result of countless hours of brainstorming.

On day 8, the teacher gave us such a motivating discours in the evening, that I was again fully focussed and tried to make the meditation work. He was talking at some point about a free flow of sensations going throughout the body. I exoerienced that multiple times, usually coinciding with great amounts of physical pain. No pain, no gain. Right?!

He was even telling us that at a certain point, when our mind is equanimous (meaning not craving for pleasant sensations and not showing aversion towards unpleasant sensations), we will be able to look at the pain objectively and not feeling the discomfort any more. One night, when I was bound to give up the focus due to severe pain, my mind reached this equanimity and as it if were magic, my pain disappeared. I kid you not! The next hour, a little bit dur to disbelief, I was testing this state of mind by putting my body in different painful positions. Pain was not present. I was amazed!

The next day I was trying to get into this state again. But the teaching was clear: one should not have cravings, because that makes us suffer. And I witnessed the truth. I was craving this state of equanimity so much that I was again in great pain. My mind was so aversive to the pain and I have never reached this feeling again. Let it be a lesson to myself for the rest of my lifetime. Cravings are unhealthy.

As is attachment. When we are too attached to something or someone and that thing or person disappeares from our lives, we become miserable. And that is so true. Another lesson was about impermanence. Everything is impermanent and constantly changing. Even you and me, we change every second. Our cells mutate and change, so every second there is a new Adriana. So even now that I am writing this and you are reading this, we are changing. And so is everything in the world. This is also the case for situations or feelings.

So if you are in a bad place right now, just remember that it isn’t permanent. It will change. Unfortunately this is also true for positive and pleasant happenings in iur life. But we should not get attached to them to much, because when they change, we don’t want to become miserable.

It’s hard to incorporate this thinking immediately, but since I am traveling, my mind and my thinking have taken another form. A better one, a healthier one a more balanced one. I guess we are all a little lost and searching for something. It became clear to me that I was searching for my inner balance. Day by day I am growing and getting closer. And this, I have to thank the people I have met for, the sitiations that I have been through – even the bad ones – the books that I have read, the meditation and the yoga.

This journey of mine started long before the traveling began and people have come my way and walked my path that helped me move into a certain direction and made me explore a part of me that was still unknown. My yoga teacher on Aruba is also a key charachter in this story. For she got me hooked to yoga, which is doing me so good now!

This meditation course was thus life changing. I recommend every one of you to invest 10 days of your lives. You won’t regret it. You don’t have anything to lose! Maybe only a few kilo’s/pounds…that happend to me. Imagine how happy I was! I got so much out of it!

The only thing I had to sacrifice was a little bit of sleep and the comfortable feeling of not being hungry. Every morning they would wake us up at 4am. I overslept the first morning, but by day 3 I was the first in line to enter the meditation hall.

We had to meditate for 2 hours straight before having breakfast at 6.30am. At 8am we would start the meditation again until 11am. Lunchtime was a happy moment, we would get food again – very delicious food. The downside was that it would also be the last meal of the day. At 5pm we had teatime with tea and a little bit of fruit. In the beginning I thought this would be my biggest challenge, but I managed quite good. I noticed that I had developed a very disturbed eating pattern and this had resulted in serious weight gain. Of course no one noticed because I hide it like every woman does. But I’m glad I tackeled that problem and I am back on track in the dietary section.

Another positive result after 10 days of 12 hours per day sitting in meditation pose: I gained flexibility! After every meditation session I would stretch you lose the tension in my joints. It made me reach deeper and further that I ever did before! I can tell by my progress in yoga.

The entire idea behind all of these rules is not to make our lives miserable, but for us to experience how it is to live as a monk or nun. They don’t have any personal possessions, they eat what they get as alms – we don’t have to beg for it tough – and they meditate in noble silence.

I remember while walking my daily round in the courtyard one day, I was making a comparison with a prison. I think I was feeling bored and in pain, because this is not a very nice comparison. My conclusion was even that it’s better to spend 10 days in prison. At least you can speak there, look people in the eyes, read or write and you get food in the evening. Of course you wouldn’t get out of there in 10 days…

So after this elaborate description of the course you are probably waiting for for some insider news. I got some for ya!

2 girls unfortunately crashed and started crying; one even tried to leave but apparently they didn’t let her or tried to convince her to stay. I don’t know if the last part is true, did not ask her myself. I honestly expected that would happen to me too. I felt really sorry for those girls, certainly because we were not allowed to talk to each other, so we could not comfort each other.

Since it’s very silent in the meditation hall and everywhere else, you can hear everything. I heard people fart during meditation and oh my…the burping and the nasty spitting – no disrespect for the cultural differences tough, but for me it was a little bit shocking in the beginning. By the end of the course I got used to it, but sometimes it caused some funny moments, especially in the dining hall.

Silly me. My first shower. I entered the shower, turned on the water tap and noticed only cold water coming out of it. I have been showering with cold water for a long time, so nothing new, but I still get a shock from the first drops. So I thought: “Wauw, they are really making it uncomfortable for us. This is probably part of the monk/nun experience.”

To make my point I need to tell you this first. To do our laundry, we had to fill buckets of water (just outside of my bedroom, so I could hear the watrr running every time someone was about to do her laundry) and handwash our clothes in there.

Every morning at 4am, I used to hear women fill buckets of water. I was thinking they were really nuts, doing laundry so early!! Only by day 7 I had figured out that outside of the showers there were hot water taps and that was happening in the mornings. You needed to fill a bucket of hot water and take it with you in the shower. Stupid me. 🙂

Next: Jakarta & Yogyakarta

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