Vipassana – my ten days around myself
Good-bye, life of comfort!
“Please place all your electronics, reading materials and beauty products into this bag.” It wasn’t until I started shovelling half the contents of my backpack into the big black bin bag in front of me that I realised what I have let myself in for. I have come all the way to this far-away mountain top on the island of Bali for 10 days with the intention of returning in possession of a clear grasp of the meaning of life. However, in the process of encouraging myself to plunge into the adventure, I tried to avoid thinking about all the rules involved: no speaking, no eye contact, strict meditation for most of the day, no use of any electronic or entertainment devices, maximum six hours of sleep and fasting after the 12 o’clock lunch. I was suddenly full of doubts: when was the last time I was left alone with my thoughts for days on end? What if they got so scary that I would have to quit because I could not deal with them? And how was I going to fill my days stripped of everything that made them fun before?
A step towards myself
When the gong went off at 4 am the following day, my first reaction was to turn to the other side and sleep on. Every cell in my body objected to waking up at this unearthly hour. However, propelled by my enthusiasm for the promised enlightenment, I slowly got out of bed to walk to the meditation hut in the darkness. The pillow assigned to me was already prepared and little did I realise that the nice and comfy turquoise object would serve as the site of countless hours of struggling to keep my back straight and getting rid of passing thoughts during the following days.
My biggest enemy became my stomach. Being used to nice hearty dishes at home, switching to light vegetarian meals would have been a challenge in itself, but having them only twice a day presented a difficulty I did not previously think would prove to be so hard to handle. During the deepest moments of meditation, I would dig up a well-buried memory of an event from inside of me and it would invariably end with my mind wondering off to what we had for dinner after it. However, this turned the moments sitting outside on the grass in the sweet mountain sunshine with a dish of freshly made healthy food in my hands into great moments of joy. Slowly, everybody learnt to savor the food they had, giving their full attention and appreciation to it, which made such a difference after the rushed lunches I would normally get in between two assignments.
It was around the sixth day that during the break, I fell asleep on the toilet. Although I quickly woke up when my head hit the wall, I understood that my body was struggling with the experience. I no longer felt hungry every moment of the day, but I was starting to doubt whether my investment would pay off at all. Maybe others were already floating in complete bliss, while I still could not get detached from my bodily needs. However, that night, I experienced being without thoughts for minutes on end for the first time. It felt amazing: as if I was blending into everything around me and as if everything was peaceful and in harmony. Then, the next night, I came out from the meditation hut feeling that I could hug the world, ready to let go of all past grudges and bitterness. That moment I knew that the miracle had happened to me as well.
The gong went off for the last time on the tenth day of the retreat, but this time with a very different meaning: it signified that we were to slowly come back into the real world and as a first step, would be encouraged to start talking to one another. When I first heard that during the Vipassana, the organisers normally set half a day aside for practising how to interact with others before being let back into real life, I could not help but laugh incredulously. But when it was finally my turn to talk after long days of silence, words just seemed to fail me and after a few failed attempts to communicate with others, I signed up to see the guru and tell her that maybe the real world was not for me after all.
Something has changed
I insisted that I did not need a lift back to reality. It all seemed too fast and I was not ready for it. Instead, I decided to walk all the way back to the foot of the mountain. As I put on my backpack and slowly set off to make my way along rice paddies and sleepy villages, the thought of the 35 hour working week, cell phones and fast food restaurants came into my mind, but I shooed it away in repulsion. I watched as people walked to the fields to start their daily chores and as a skinny woman in a sarong waved at me, with her broad smile revealing her few remaining teeth. The thought suddenly hit me that they would not need to do such a course, because, far away from the modern world, they do seem to have found bliss in the little they have. Maybe simplicity is the answer I was looking for all those years. It took me a while to move out of my quiet contemplation and when I did, my mind was still struggling with my conclusion. However, my heart felt full and happy and I knew that I got what I had come for.
The retreat, which operates entirely on a tip-only basis is organised in many countries of the world. You can find all the information on the ones taking place in Hungary here.