I feel slightly as if I survived prison this weekend but also as if I experienced a truly authentic Indian world. I’m not suggesting India is prison but more being amongst Indians of all cast, religion and gender plus eating Indian food, living with Indians and of course meditating with Indians was fantastic. The prison bit was more a metaphor for how I felt plus my room which resembled a prison cell in the jungle! The short weekend felt like years and yet was just a Friday afternoon to a Monday afternoon.
The Dhamma Thali Vipassana centre is set in the hills of Jaipur close to the Monkey temple. When I drove up the hill to the centre I hugely admired the rolling green hills littered with trees and peacocks hiding away in the bushes. The centre itself is very welcoming and you notice the pagoda’s roof top poking out of the bushes. However on the female side you couldn’t see the full building which was a real shame. I didn’t meditate in the main hall and I think this would make a big difference in how you experience being at the centre. I was in Hall 2 as I was only there for 3 days and another 10 day course was going on so they all sat in the big Dhamma hall yet we would all eat together plus share the same halls. I was in H block but began my first night in G block…
When I arrived I was very upset to hear I had to bring my passport in order to complete the course. I must admit I didn’t find the ‘welcoming’ assistant very welcoming at all and got extremely angry at how I was being spoken to just because I was a foreigner…Of course Vipassana teaches us all about harmony, peace, balance etc so I was reacting left right and centre towards this person with no results! I had called earlier to check if I should bring anything but they said no…Anyway it was meant to be and I got to see just how much sadness and frustration I was experiencing at the time. I had been in denial about the extent to which I felt it but this proved it was all there. Plus at the end of the day the Indian way of being is very different to the English and I shouldn’t try and change that just so I feel better. I was in the car for 3 hours back and forth until I finally had my passport and could begin my weekend. Part of me thought perhaps it had to begin badly and then everything will be great from now on. Oh how wrong I was!
When I saw my room, I cried. It was tiny, the bed was hard as stone, the loo didn’t work, it was dingy, the door didn’t open properly and it was dirty. So I decided to move in vain hope I would find somewhere a little more accommodating. G block was next and I was happier despite making some compromises. However all night on my rock hard bed I felt something crawling all over me but I dismissed it putting it down to my imagination. As I woke to the 4am alarm clock I felt good and thought the night went fairly well considering the circumstances and being in the jungle…That was until I looked down to see tiny black animals all over the sheets. Dead ants were scattered all over the bed yet I still wasn’t too worried about it until I moved my pillow and saw a pile of dead ants right were my head was. When I say a pile I mean hundreds and all along the top of the bed. So I moved out of G block only to be told by the assistant that this was normal in the rainy season and in the jungle. I refused to believe this and to feel like a silly western woman complaining about the animal life. I cried again when I saw H block in a room filled with mosquitoes, no running water and spider webs in each corner. I may sound spoilt now but when your going through hard core mediation plus you’ve experienced the UK Vipassana it all felt a tiny bit like hell.
Anyway, now it’s funny but at the time it was truly terrible and to top it all off I couldn’t mediate without moving every 10 minutes which isn’t like me. We began with Anapana on the Saturday before moving onto Vipassana on Sunday. I realised today I went there in the hope of removing a particular emotion and of course this is the opposite of Vipassana teaching plus only increases the particular pain or emotion you are trying to remove. How funny I couldn’t see this at the time. I also notice a very powerful feeling of not being able to breathe deeply enough which is classic stress. Of course one is to see it as simply sensations and become accepting of it yet this remains a big challenge for me.
It was also great to revisit the technique, listen to S.N. Goenka’s chanting and teachings plus see how I reacted to it a second time. I must say after working with Phil in London on unblocking my trapped negative entities or to put it differently – deep seeded negative thinking – I felt Vipassana might never go deep enough unless you completely dedicate yourself to the technique and practice as much as possible. It’s incredibly hard to do this in the real world and although I mediate daily for 20 min to 1 hour, I don’t know how deep I could go with meditation and not have some extra help. Phil also mentioned how wonderful these techniques are however sometimes they aren’t as effective simply because we can’t quite let go alone without the safety of someone being around who knows how to help one let go of big, painful emotions or entities. However it’s undeniable that Vipassana is VERY powerful, enlightening and changes you for the long term.
In the end I’m so happy I tried it and I got through it. I have huge admiration for anyone who completes 10 days here and I loved seeing the women taking part. I often feel that India is still male orientated so to see women doing something for themselves in magical. The oldest woman doing it was 85!! I couldn’t believe how old the women were and would say almost half the women were 60 +. It’s truly inspiring and the morning I left I saw Buddhist monks in their traditional dress taking part on the male side. This is the beauty and revolutionary attitude of Vipassana – it welcomes all and isn’t religious, it’s science, truth and peace.
Go to www.thali.dhamma.org for more info on the course schedule and details on the course. You can do long courses here too as well as short. As a westerner to a westerner I have a few tips:
1 ) Take your passport (they will lock this up)
2 ) Don’t take many valuables although they will lock up your valuables
3 ) Take a bottle with you so you can fill up with water
4 ) If your sensitive in the stomach area, take some medicine for Delhi Belli or be prepared for any unwelcome tummy feelings (I know Vipassana is about detachment from pain but it’s not that pleasant if your there for a long time).
5 ) Loo roll, tissues, wipes, shower gel, soap, toothpaste, mosquito repellent + plug in for anti-mosquitoes are all essential
6 ) Bedding, towels plus a pillow if you have one to take because the pillow is as hard as the bed (I tried 3 and they’re all the same!).
7 ) Check out F block, I noticed the richer Indians plus westerners were there however I can’t say for sure if they’re better
8 ) Keep an open mind and remember Vipassana is all about the process and experiencing being you fully. You feel so good when you finish and so proud no matter what. At the end of the day, why would you want to be on the planet and not explore the depths of life??