Vipassana Meditation Retreat
I am not a meditation teacher, Last year I signed up & attended my first Vipassana meditation.
In 2011 when I first became a Bikram teacher, I met a student called Melinda who had just returned. She was going on a regular basis & recommended it. At 27 I didn’t care for being silent for 10 days. 6 years later Vipassana came back on the headlines in my life again.
Richard a regular morning student, Ryan & Kaew 2 yoga friends had just returned. Right I decided this is something I must explore to be honest something I was now ready for & something I wanted to do before starting a family.
Heres the website I booked on
As you can see it is nationwide & you must do a 10day course to start. I know I thought the same start with a 3 day one but nope thats the rules!
So I have a meditation practise & been a regular for over a year. The app that I use gaudies you through which I find can bring my monkey mind back to my breath. Its been working for me so I decided I will probably find it easy.
I applied for a course in September on the wait list & a course in October. In August I received an email I had been accepted to the executives course in September. I wasn’t sure what that meant but cancelled the October course & booked my tickets to.
I did minimal research, I listened to a podcast by chance on Yogaland Episode
I thought it would be a good idea to speak to Kaew, Ryan & Richard. I gathered the experience will be individual so just need to see what comes my way. Richard did give me a leaflet with the schedule on it.
4.00am Wake up
4.30 - 6.30am Meditate in Hall or residence
6.30 - 8.00am Breakfast break
8.00 - 9.00am Group meditation in hall
9.00 - 11.00am Meditate in Hall or residence
11.00 - 12.00pm Lunch Break
12.00 - 1.00pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1.00 - 2.30pm Meditate in Hall or residence
2.30 - 3.30pm Group meditation in Hall
3.30 - 5.00pm Meditate in hall or residence
5.00 - 6.00pm Tea Break
6.00 - 7.00pm Group Meditation in hall
7.00 - 8.15pm Teachers Discourse in the hall
8.15 - 9.00pm Group Meditation in the hall
9.00 - 9.30pm Question time the hall
9.30pm Retire to your room. Lights Out
In real life I wake around 5am to meditate and bed times around 8.30pm - 9pm. I love my sleep!
Vipassana is a traditional Indian meditation technique. A method of self purification of the mind by being with oneself for long periods of meditation. The technique is to provide a clearing of unhappiness of obsession aversion & ignorance. It is open to any religion race community & gender. We all have similar root problems so it is universal.
The rules are simple
Abstain from the following:
killing any being
A further 3 for students returning after the initial 10 day course.
Abstain from the following
Eating after mid-day
Sleeping on high luxurious bed unless has a health problem.
The general rules are to
Accept the teacher and techniques
Suspend from other techniques, rituals forms of worship
Noble silence of speech and bodily form & no eye contact
Separation of men and women
NO yoga and forms of exercise
Clothing to be kept simple and modest
No outside contact, mobile laptop devices are locked in lockers until course close.
No music, reading or writing
No intoxicants drugs, alcohol or tobacco
No tape recording or cameras
20th Sept 2017
I have been asked multiple times why am I attending? What do I want to achieve?
To be honest I do not know. I want to experience this and see how Vipassana meditation can service me. I have been physically exercising for over 6 years, variation of Yoga, Cardio & resistance training. Meditation has become a daily practise of 10 minutes a day for over a year. Feeble compared to the exercise I have experienced. Now it was time to train my mind.
Suitcase packed I headed to Paddington. Called Mum to say goodbye, she completely supports the trip as my Grandmother is an active Buddhist and understand the purpose of Vipassana. I sat next to a girl with a backpack, I wondered if she would also be attending? I wondered if each person boarding the 12.30 to Gloucester would be attending the course. I called Adam on the train, “ I miss you.” “I miss you too, but it will go quick and I will be here when you get back.” “I know, I love you & I will see you Sunday.” Often I would try and dramatise things to get a bigger response from Adam. I wanted everything to be like in the movies. I prepared myself to miss him, 12 days including the travel dates is the longest time we have spent apart without any contact.
Once arriving at Gloucester it seemed like everyone was departing the train. I rolled my case to lift and met an Indian lady in her early 40’s with long thick black hair. She wore a striped scarf and introduced herself. “My name is Priya, are you attending the Vipassana?” I replied yes and she asked “Do you know anyone who has done it? Have you seen much difference in them? “I think everyone has their own personal experience” I had an hour to kill before the coach collected us so I headed to a the Station Hotel Pub. I walked past an elegant couple wearing shades and drinking coffee. In the pub stood a lady with a suitcase the same size as mine wearing black rimmed glasses brown hair pulled into a ponytail with petite frame. A man ordered the hunters chicken tall with a Scandinavian accent. I ordered a tea but what I really wanted a large Malbec. I sat by the window and opened my laptop to start writing I sat 2 tables away from an Asian male with long black hair pulled into a ponytail and round glasses, He had a bolster in an ikea bag he was definitely coming to Vipassana. He resembled John Lennon and Yoko Ono if they had a son. Next to my table sat a highly manicured male eating fish and chips. He had defined eyebrows and a silk bomber jacket with embroidery detail.
A coach pulled into the station and then another as I turned to look there must have been over 100 people suing up outside the station. I put on my large gold aviator glasses and rolled my case to the coach. As I looked around most attendees carried backpacks. I sat next to a lady wth short grey hair and a huge smile. One last instagram post before the phone reception goes. I posted a video from our Wedding day. I’d been saving it for the past few days. As we pulled into the centre in the middle of Hereford countryside with green rolling hills as far as the eye could see. We all came out of the coach seeing the driver struggling to unload the luggage made me feel helpless so I stepped in and started picking backpacks from the carriage. Another taller man helped. The rest of the coach passengers watched oblivious. Once the luggage had been emptied I thanked the driver and rolled my case to the large building with yellow and white brickwork. The centre was quite modern with large glass double doors at the entrance. An office to the left. The hall lead you to the canteen. A gentleman greeted me with a smile and asked if it was my first Vipassana and gave me a form. The canteen was large much like a school dining hall. Women to the right and Men to the left. I sat on an empty table and started to fill out the form. The first page had general formalities name, address, In case of etc. As I turned the page the second asks substances information taken with details on how regular. Once filled I waited nervously in the due in the centre of the room. More and more people where coming through the doors. The helper looked through the bedroom allocation sheets and could not find me. She started again. No Lisa Willoughby. She handed my form and said maybe you are on another course head to the office through the doors and they will find you don’t worry. I thought could I be on the wrong course maybe I had declined and accepted the October dates? No I was sure I had September on the email. “Ahhhh I see you are in the other centre next door Padhâna. Come back our turn left and thought gate.”
I took my case & form and headed to Padhâna Centre. As I got to the gate there was a small petite woman dragging her case and grunting a head of me. She turned to me and started to speed up. I wanted to say to her don’t worry love I am not I in any kind of rush. I was unaware there were 2 centres, I suppose Richard, Ryan and Kaew did not mention it so assumed there was only one. Though the bamboo gates lead a stoney path then another gate directed to Women. This centre was a much smaller scale. On the left two wooden buildings with windows and doors made of green plastic frames. These building were marked Building Y and Z. To the right an office, I could see through the window books and folders. Then a canteen sign posted registration. In front of this building another smaller wooden hut with F1 on one door which contained lockers and F2 which had a notice for students use. The larger building was going through a self purification of itself, Surrounded with scaffolding and in front taped an area of the women walking around off. I walked through the canteen and joined the cue behind the petite rushed woman. I overheard the helper explain 2 breakfast and lunch shifts. Sheer panic had I signed up to work? As I sat down she allocated me Z12 as my room then asked which time slot would I prefer to have breakfast and lunch. Seating arrangement in the canteen was done my letter this would be your station and once finished someone else would sit there. I choose L. I walked to my room, it was on the end next to the woods. I was shocked to find a single bed in my room ! No sharing for me! I did not even sign up for single occupancy. The room was small eight steps up and down. Magnolia walls and pine wood furniture to the left a structure built with hanging rail 3 shelves and a plastics drawer that you’d find in a primary school to store books. a wooden chair single bed and small corner shelf I assume to place your alarm clock. On the right a wall with small radiator and the bathroom. The bathroom contained a shower sink and toilet with a plethora of eco friendly cleaning equipment. next to the window there was a manual style laminated sheets of detailed directions on how to clean the room.
I placed my case on the chair and started to unpack. I picked up my phone and called Adam with excitement. “ Babe I have my own room! Do you think they think I would be a bad influence on people so they banished me to the end?” “Don’t be silly. You are just lucky.” We spoke for another few minutes before handing up and taking my phone laptop and purse to the lockers. As I stepped outside F1 I looked up to the rolling green hills and notices a few of the trees were in the shape of elephants. A tall Chinese girl with short black bob wearing a grey jumper and jeans approached me “Excuse me do you know where the lockers are.” I introduced myself and lead the way.” “My name is Grace.” “Where are you from?” “Beijing although have been living in London for 2 years.” “Where are you from? My parents are Chinese but I was born in London.” We joked she was real Chinese and I was fake. Grace had been living as a model in London and heading to New York than LA after the Vipassana as winter season in London is tough. I told Grace her parents must be so proud of her. What a great experience to see the world. She said no theres conflict with her career choice. We both headed to the canteen to have supper before the meeting. Accidentally I pushed in front of an older woman with thick curly brown hair. She looked a bit like Meryl Streep. “I am so sorry I did not see the cue.” “No problem, if it was fillet mignon then yes but for soup, don’t worry.” Once supper had ended a male worker can in to run through regulations and the process of the Vipassana with us. The details were sent prior to the course and also given once filling out the forms. He introduced us to Gaia she would be the female manager any problems we are able to speak to her. Gaia was Indian 5’2 with short thick black hair. She had a huge kind smile.
We headed to the the main hall in-between the scaffolded building and the lockers opposite the z block. In the hall signs for noble silence with a timetable leaning against the chair. once we had taken off our shoes we lined up waiting our seat allocation. C7 on the end by the door second to last row. The meditation hall was large scale of the our rooms magnolia and pine beams. The lights resembled the full moon 9 on the ceiling and circled the room 3 on each wall. Once everyone had seated a door opened and walked in Tom the teacher guiding us through the practise. He resembled Friar Tuck and a character from the Wind in Willows brown framed glasses wearing a brown jumper and beige chinos. He sat at the front turned to the 80’s style equipment to his right and pressed play. S.N Goenka started to chant, it rumbled the silence of the hall. Have I joined another CULT??? After the chanting and basic guidelines to breath and feel sensations from the nose I sat and wondered what had I signed up for? Why did I really come? After an hour the silence had started no eye contact no speaking no form of any contact what so ever. I walked out of the meditation and looked up at the navy blue black sky. I could feel my eyes watering. I should not be here. I have a loving husband a fantastic job the most supportive family and friends. People are suffering and I am grateful. What the hell have I done.
I slept like a baby until the ringing sound of the gong strike at 4am. Who needed an alarm clock with that sound. I got ready and headed to the Hall. First day it was pretty full I wondered if it would stay this way as this meditation was optional residence or hall. I sat listened to the guided chant and closed my eyes I started counting my breath inhalation hold exhalation. I had to stop as this was not the Vipassana method. Sensations right inhale through the nostrils. After an hour I went back to my room I got into pigeon pose on the floor and moved around without thinking it through. No no I must stop no Yoga. The second gong went for Breakfast. The stoney path was wet I looked in the F2 store cupboard and found a pair of green wellies in my size so put them to the side and decided I’ll collect them after breakfast. The canteen was well lite. The bar in the middle started with a tray of porridge followed by a tray of raisins and prunes in a juice. chopped tomato slices and grated cheese. There was a selection of seeded grain bread, Rye bread, Ryvita and rice cakes. An array of jam, marmalade, honey , peanut butter, yeast extract, seeds butter and sunflower spread. on the far right a large silver bowl of fruit 2 chopping boards and cutlery. A fine selection. I made myself an improvised version of what I would have at home peanut butter and porridge mixed well, I chopped a banana and circled the bowl, in the centre i placed the raisin and topped with cinnamon. Totally instagram worthy. Sarah a older blonde lady looked at my bowl and smiled. I took myself and bowl to the seat L in the corner next to the hot water station. M sat a girl I noticed yesterday she wore and flat cap and wore black. I assume she had a gluten allergy as her seat had Millet bread and Bioana Gluten free museli. This packets were labeled with her name Vanity Roxanne. I wondered if her first name was Vanity or Roxanne. After breakfast I made a freeze dry coffee, I took a sip and decided I would have to go caffeine free for the 10 days.
I grabbed the wellies from the cupboard and headed to the woods, I stomped around at a quick pace as if I was headed to Seven Sisters station to get the tube for work. The path was paved with wood chip. The wood chip dwindled down the deeper into the woods you got. there was sign posted marking course boundary and not to go any further I peeked through to see a open road. Empty completely lifeless beyond the green woods. The Meditation from 8am - 11am was long Goenka repeated and repeated the method inhalation and exhale only through the nose. I moved around as my legs started ache. The Launch Gong struck as we headed to the canteen. Spaghetti and lentil sauce huge bowl of spinach cucumber and tomatoes. A wide selection of condiments seeds, chilli sauce, sesame seeds, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and much more. I filled my bowl with spinach circled with cucumber and tomato and placed lentil sauce in the middles another photo worthy meal. The dressing was not labeled but I took a risk and boy did it pay off it was a mustard style sauce which pepper after taste Yummy!
Once I finished I looked up at the clock only 11.30am. I looked around but everyone was staring into the plate or into the distance. I walked outside with my brown mug of peppermint tea. I stared into the green hills and spotted some small beige objects possibly sheep? I stared long and hard but nothing moved. I was cleary getting aggravated. I looked around and once again no looked at me me. I finished my mug and thought about smashing it into the ground. I raised it high still nothing. No one would have cared I may have been shown off the course. No it was not worth it. Here we had a longer break as 12 there were optional interview with the teachers. I resisted bring my yoga but now wished that I had I came into a slow steady self practice and finished with my legs up the wall. This made me sleepy and napped instead of the afternoon meditation. As the 2.30 Gong went I got ready and walked to the hall. The moment Tom gave the options to stay or leave I marched out. My legs aches my hips were screaming. 5pm tea break new students are allowed one piece of fruit and old students drinks lemon water. I felt like I’d been here an eternity and it was only 24 hours. The evening S.N Goenka video Discourse is played. He is funny and explains the chants and simplifies the method. Day 1 forget about all the other meditation techniques you have. You have committed and now must obey the rules to escape from your misery. Goenka I have no misery I love my life.
In a deep sleep the 4am gong struck, I stayed in bed and slept through until the breakfast gong. Seriously the purpose of the alarm clock was to torture yourself and know how slow the days were going. Above the sink labelled linseeds cool I’ll add this to my breakfast. I finished pretty quick and marched to the woods maybe I’ll get some kind of sweat on considering there was to be no Yoga no exercise. I circled the woods 3 times I decided to head back to the canteen and make a tea my caffeine break lasted long. As I made my tea the canteen had emptied out I looked on the notice board the seating arrangement with everyones names on it I decided I would remember everyones names as a task to do. When I got back to my room i saw some dirt by the door and started to sweep, this spiralled to cleaning the floors, polishing the service and wiping the mirrors and glass. I felt clean.
Lunch consisted of tomato & lentil base sauce with with linguine. I started with salad and displayed my green said with a row of tomatoes and cucumbers centres with grated carrots and dressing. I longing looked for eye contact around the canteen…nothing…unnoticed and unimportant. The seats were allocated by letters started from C moving around the outskirts of the canteen. Seat I sat facing the green. This is were Fatine sat, a returning student with brown wavy hair. She volunteered to strike the morning gong. The seating plan was pinned on the notice board above seats J & K. I would be able to learn everyones names if I observed where they sat during breakfast or lunch. I would manage to learn each individuals names with out giving them a funny nickname although it would be more entertaining for me. I finished my lunch and looked around the hall the next service was starting. I thought about smashing my plate on the floor or wall…better yet the counter where all the food was placed then I’d get something from someone maybe even everyone. I felt like suppressed a prisoner.
During group meditation Goenka talked more about the breath adding sensations of cool and heat. My mind wondered I started reliving our wedding in my head the moment Adam proposed to me and the our wedding day with our friends and family. This lead to our honey reliving moment to moment. I had some epic mediations on our honeymoon on the beach and one day on a private island. Before I knew it Goenka started chanting to close this meditation. I knew if I could keep my mind busy the next 8 days would be a doddle. Today Tom asked the new female students to stay in the hall. He called out 3 names at a time. We sat in front of him, I choose the cushion to the far right closest to the door. “Can you feel the sensations?” “Yes.” He then asked Jo. Jo was blonde, her hair in individual braids in a ponytail. She wore heavy jewellery symboled earrings plenty crystal bracelets and a nose stud. She answered “Yes I feel the heat and cool, sometimes I feel sick and dizzy.” I think my eyes rolled internally. I wanted to turn to her and say “WHAT DO YOU MEAN?????” Tom replied it is normal come to me in the afternoon if this feeling continues. The third lady was a petite Indian woman called Aruna. She wore colourful sari’s. She whispered yes and left it short. We sat and meditated together for a few minutes before Tom allowed us to meditate in hall or our residence. I left and went to my room. On the way out I looked at the white board where you would put your name to interview with the teacher and I suppose ask for help. I looked at the 5 names put on my wellies and headed out. I had a shower and got into my pyjamas. I hoisted my legs up the wall and covered myself with a blanket. Then I decided I won’t ask for help. I was going to survive these 10 days by myself without anyones supervision and I will achieve this alone.
Day 2 evening discourse Goenka makes light of the chanting again. The purpose of the sensations through the nostrils building the foundation of awareness. He is a true story teller. Telling Indian folk tales of blind men and analogies of the meanings.
As I laid in bed looking at the time I realised it was Amanda my sister in laws 40th Birthday dinner and party this evening. I am here alone…I choose to be prisoner in solitude while Adam was enjoying the the company of others.
I slept through the gong and woke at 5am meditated in my room on the meditation chair to the right of my bed. I sat closed my eyes and felt the sensations. I concentrated but would peek to look at the time every so often to see if I should get ready for breakfast. On the walk to the canteen I looked up to the hills but nothing was to be seen as the sky was full of this fog. An empty distance nothing but white. I had breakfast and decided I would return before close for a hot cup of tea. I walked through the woods at a slower pace today realising I was not going anywhere. The fallen golden leaves that covered the trail. As I took a closer look I saw something hop. I slowed down a bunny rabbit with a white tail! The rabbits had been here all along I never noticed because I was rushing around. I walked deeper into the woods looking deeper and found multitude of mushrooms all colours and sizes! They were everywhere it reminded me of a documentary my brother told me about. The mushroom kingdom that works the system of the woods. The mature elegant lady I saw on the first day’s name was Islabel. She power walked throughout the woods with a deep frown, deep in thought I stood at the bottom of the woods and thought about scaring her and shouting “Boo” I never did it. I could scare one person each day.
At the end of my walk I saw a rat with a long tail scurry up the scaffolding. Ah man this ruined my walk. Prior to the trip Adam made me protein balls with goji berries, cacao & seeds. I had them stashed and hidden in my room. I worried would the vermin get to my room? No I had to be hopeful I needed those balls to save my hunger at 5pm.
The group meditation is getting tedious I feel like the sensations in and out the nose is wearing thin. I am going a little insane. I want to do this alone but now the questions are starting to build up. I decide to close my eyes roll with it don’t question just keep trying. Each time my drifts I start again. I start ti get dizzy. Jo was telling the truth, why did I doubt her. I open the door and am greeted by one of the servers she is holding the gong high and striking with pride. She allows me to go and we smile at each other. I am aware I have broken the rules frequently. After lunch I look in F2 I want something to occupy my break I stumble across a sewing kit. I have a few things I could stitch. In the sew kit is a A5 piece of white paper storing the needles, Needless to say I take the piece of paper and get out my pencil from my filofax. I start writing some thoughts feelings recollections from the first day. I hide the paper in the filofax in my suitcase under the bed. Prior to the trip Adam said I should take a note pad is case I come up with any ideas for business. I wish I listened to him.
As I walk to the group meditation hall I see a ladder to the left of the building taking you to the top of the meditation and over to the building under construction. I walk over to the the ladder and place my hands and right foot on the first step. I visualise climbing up and stomping around the top of the hall to make noise. It makes me smile. I think about walking around the woods and scaring the other meditators jumping infant of them and shouting BOO! This really make me smile and I head into the hall ready to calm the devious side of me. On my cushion is a note. C14 I am allocated a cell. A room 4 foot by 4 foot. complete darkness. I sit in the hall guided by Goenka and when Tom dismisses us to meditate in residence of our choice I decide to give it a whirl. What can happen. I walk in no cushion nothing I grab a blanket and sit on the cold stone floor. Here I have the best meditation to date. Calm no distractions and compete peace. Day 1 to 3 is learning the complete basics of the technique the method. Day 4 is where the real Vipassana starts. Here is the day you start to scan the body. As you start from the top of the head. and work your way down. Tom asks us to stay. I ask Tom my mind is wondering. He says this is normal your body and biochemically connected to the brain so you will think of trauma, desire and other sensations as you scan the body. I felt a bit week for telling him but I knew I did the right thing.
Goenka tells us a tale of a man entering a restaurant. He smells and sees the food his mouth starts to water. He the looks at the menu and looks around at other peoples food again his mouth is watering. As he gives his order and once they arrive he then experiences the food with joy. He tells us this is the same as the Vipassana experience. People will tell you, you will research read and see but nothing is the same as experiencing it for yourself. I am starting to enjoy the course I start to think my time here is valuable and I must make the most of it. No more breaking the rules well maybe some bending.
NO SLEEP, I have the worst stomach cramps and rolling around in bed I am on the half way mark and this happens. I get seriously bad tummy. I head to the canteen for breakfast and drink plenty of water I try and stomach a small bowl of porridge. Then I get scared what if I feel worst. I look for Gaia. I knock on her door she is not in her room. I look around the mediation hall she is not there. Damn it I see her all the time when I need her the most she is no where to be seen. Ahhh I see her by the canteen and gong. I walk over tell her I have a terribly bad stomach I think I ate the alfalfa sprouts yesterday and now I am suffering. She says “Don’t worry let me speak to Tom. I will get you something to settle your stomach.” I never usually take anything but I know I must this time. To be honest I want to call my mum. I drink plenty of water and Gaia returns to my room with electrolytes. She is so helpful and completely compassionate. “Tom says you can meditate in your room or the cell until you feel better.” I take them and rest in bed. I get into my pyjamas and have a rest.
Lunch time I feel a bit dizzy but join everyone in the canteen. Today the sun is beaming the green hills look incredible and the tiny dots of beige begin to move around. They are sheep! I opt for a very small lunch. salad and nut roast with the devious dressing. I stand outside and enjoy the sun on my face. I take off my shoes and sock and walk around on the grass. Earthing will make me feel better. My neighbour to the left in Z13 who resembles Audrey Hepburn. Yes she is beautiful. follows and takes her boots off. I am feeling better. I think combination of Gaia and Tom’s compassion. Earthing and realisation of asking for help is a part of this practise is getting clearer. I am beginning to let all guards down. I know I need to ask for help from time to time and give my self acceptance to not take on all of the responsibility. still does not take away the home sick feeling. I wish I could call my Mum.
I wonder to the woods and see a van through the guarded construction site as it pulls away I scream “Please take me!” I cover my mouth whoops. I head back to my room and rest. The after noon group meditation I go into my cell. This place I dreaded in on the first day of the course. I expected it to be cold and lonely. Gaia placed a blue cushion in there for me. I sit lean my back against the wall. I snuggle into my blanket and realise it is cosy. The stone walls cool and the smell is like a newly renovated place much like my cousin Nadia's house in Canada. I smile and feel comforted.
I wondered if anyone would care if I wasn’t in the hall. I knew Grace would notice as I sat in front of her. Did anyone think of me while I was absent from the hall? 5 days without attention has drained me. Unnoticed, Unloved, Anonymous. In the late afternoon my stomach feels much better. I decide I will join the group meditation in the evening and want to be part of the discourse. This is my favourite time of the day. Today Goenka speaks about our 6 senses within the Dhamma Wheel. Seeing with the eyes, sound through the ears, smell through the nose, tasting with the tongue. Touching through the body and the final thoughts through the mind.
He tells us a story about a watch. A student buy hims an expensive watch fro America he breaks it. He feels sad. His friend has the same watch he also breaks it. He does not feel sad. These Indians love their watches.
Today was the half way mark. I woke up by the sound of the gong. determined to see the rabbits today. I started the day with meditation in my room. I closed my eyes and sat on the square meditation chair kept under the bed. I covered the blanket around me and shut my eyes. As i scanned my body I thought about getting better. I wanted the pain in my stomach to relieve. I was ready for a new a day a new start. Once I had finished my meditation I moved the bed and put on some exercise clothes. I started with body weight squats, moving into mountain climbers. My mind and body started to connect and worked myself into a sweat. The next would be a self practise moving mindfully with my breath. I felt great took a shower and headed to breakfast. I still took the electrolytes to keep me hydrated and wanted to now give my all to course. I had come with a huge ego not wanting to ask for help. I wanted to conquer the process on my own. Now I had fallen sick I knew this was the wrong attitude.
I walked into woods alone it was still dark and could only make shapes. I walked slowly to hear the rustling of the branches. I spotted one. A rabbit watching me as I watched him we both walked step by step. I did not want to scare him off and he was watching my step as if we both knew. Once I had walked into the middle of the open space he ran into a den of branches. The outskirts of the woods darkened by the trees and leaves covering the light but in the middle a large green space with 2 benches to sit. On the left of the wood was a smaller triangle space. In the corner someone had balanced the wood chip from large pieces of the wood chip to small at he top. the structure made me smile, it reminded me of our trip to Vancouver on English bay small stones had balanced into piles. I decided I would respond, I started picking some pieces and laid them next to the 20cm structure. I matched the height and dusted off my hands.
This morning meditation went quickly I sat and observed my sensations and my mind drifted 90% of the time but I knew I could always bring back my attention. Today lunch was nut roast the sun shone and I decided to lay on the bench. I wondered if I would get in trouble and I suppose done it purpose to see if Gaia would tell me to get up. I looked around and no one would directly at me. Eye contact I never really thought about it before. How i longed to catch someones eyes anyones.
I thought about the Dr Zimbardo experiment deviant for the day where you draw a small sqaure on your forehead and continue with your day. People look and tell you to take it off. I assume I wanted to do it to create some attention. I craved attention because here I felt invisible. I stepped closer and closer to the ladder which lead to the roof of the meditation hall. I could stomp around whilst everyone would be in silence. I laughed to myself. I only had 5 days to go getting thrown off is not what I wanted to really do.
Today I could feel a shift, shift in my attitude towards the the teachings. I started with a strong mind. Once I had fallen sick I started to let my guard down and want to learn. I knew it would take a few days for me to adjust. I was ready to learn and wanted to be honestly immersed.
The evening discourse I sat next to Vanity whom I sat next to in the canteen. We both laughed at the same parts and smiled once Goenka had finished the discourse. To be in the company of someone everyday without saying a word is completely new to me. I wondered if she felt the same.
I woke before the gong chimes. Today I decided to train, I felt I need to get my body moving. Body weight squats, mountain climbers Press ups, jumping jacks, T bars, burpees, plank jacks, cross jacks, dead bugs and bicycle. 10 exercises 10 times for 5 sets. It all felt great sweaty and hot now moved into a glorious self practise. This empowering feeling of moving the body I loved it I questioned was this an addiction or aversion to getting big? I headed to breakfast ready to fill my belly, I made the most wonderful breakfast bowl with porridge, raisins and sliced the banana evenly to circle around the bowl. It was definitely instagram worthy. I looked around today and noticed how people just threw things into a bowl or on their plate. What was the rush The days had began to drag now so where possible I would slow my activity down. I filled my water bottle with boiling water so I could use it to clean the floors in my room. The sky looked clear it may even be sunny later today.
I walked back to my room and started cleaning. I swept and used the boiling water to scrub the floors. I got on my hands and knees. I wanted to eliminate the sick out of the room.Once I had finished it was time to meditate. I walked to the hall with satisfaction. Day 6 and it was all becoming clear. I sat on a large square cushion raised by another smaller rectangular one. I covered myself with 2 being blankets. Many people had moved from their original positions to the wall or requested many props to assist with the hours of sitting. Stools, back rests, some had over 10 cushions supporting their bodies. I felt quite proud I did not require the props and possibly my yoga practise supported my posture. I moved once during the group sitting today. I felt great even though I did bend the rules and exercised and practised yoga earlier.
As I walked to my room I looked in the mirror and said to myself day 6 only 4 left. I counted the days down and felt relief as the days to come where shortening to the days I had already done. I hand washed some clothes and took them to the spinner. As I hung my garments the sun started to shine. I was ready to earth in the grass I am sure this would help sleep this evening.
The evening meditation is strong. People are more into the routine and less distractions. I find myself able to keep my eyes closed for the full 1 hour duration. without peeking. As we break between discourse the sky is filled with glorious red light. It is beautiful.
Every evening after the discourse students remained in the hall to ask group questions I never stayed and always headed straight to bed. As part of the executive course we had the opportunity to listen to a previous course Goenka had conducted. The airing of questions and Goenka answering them. Everyone stayed to listen. It was fascinating. People spoke of huge problems they face as executives and living with Sila, Samedhi and Panna the path to peace. One man stated the difficulty of practising mediation twice a day, morning and evening. Could he only do one rather then both. Goneka answered “You find time to eat and sleep. You will find time to meditate also.” He closes each conversation with Be happy be happy. This warms my heart.
Another lady asks the difficulties of living in Sila, to only speak the truth within her job role. Goeneka response are with love and honesty. He tells people you will be valued for your honesty as you continue your businesses.
Day 8. I woke up with enthusiasm sat meditated in my room then moved onto the exercise regime I had made up to self yoga practise. Once I had showered I went to the meditation hall and sat in the cell to listen the final chant by Goenka. After breakfast I walked to the woods and slowly walked enjoying the cold crisp air on my face, the sounds of rustling from the woods and the beautiful colours moving into autumn. I walked to my room and started to pack day 8 and I felt ready to leave ready to be in my comfortable life with Adam teaching yoga in London.
The group meditation Tom requested new female students to stay in the room. When he asked us individually how we were finding the meditation I realised I had been to hard on him. My own resistance from learning from someone else. I have this problem at home, When Adam and I train together I find it difficult to take criticism difficult to listen and learn. Tom and all the teachers at the Vipasssana was full of compassion. I knew I had been stubborn and ignorant to think I could do this alone. I decided I would sign up for the 1-2-1 interview this afternoon and ask all the questions I had about the meditation. The mind wondering the lack of sleep. The sickness.
I questioned was it the alfalfa sprouts, the meditation or a combination of both. I have an extreme personality I have always thrown myself into something fully or not all. The process of surrendering and following Vipassana as I should made me fully aware of the traits I have held since a child. This rebel wanting to make as much noise as possible. I have grown up as the younger sibling smaller then all my class mates and friends. I have never been perceived as a small person or if I have a small entity with a BIG personality. I have always been heard by my parents and peers. The Vipassana brought awareness to the rebel inside me. The child who wanted to be bad and make noise.
I sat in meditation listing events and people in my life remembering names of people I have forced out of my mind. I unlocked each compartment and address every single individual in my mind. I had spent meditations with a complete monkey mind but always been able to bring it back to the sensations. My favourite meditation location is the cell. The cold and darkness gave me an opportunity to only face my own deepest darkest and lightest distractions. Aversion to anything negative that has occurred in my life. I blocked anything I felt did not serve me and now I am facing them all the truth. Accepting what has happened and where it has brought me to. If I never put on weight I would have never found yoga. The negative feedback from students and teachers would have left me as a complacent teacher. Now learning listening to my craft and understanding to just be me and not everyone will like me but thats ok. Every failure, each negative experience has created something positive in my life part by part and piece by piece.
The first time I entered the woods I stormed through almost as if I was back in London getting the Victoria line to my next destination. Finally i had reached the stage I slowed my internal and external expectations down and valued the nature. The beauty of the autumnal colours, the wildlife and sounds. My ego and I came in head strong resisting help.
6pm meditation went fast, I left he hall for the first time I saw the moon. The full new moon in its full might and glory. The evenings discourse brightness to brightness the learning of compassion, Love and impertinence practise.
Day 9. Already…. The course has been challenging and changing throughout. This morning I woke before the gong I trained my 5 sets of 10 exercises and moved into a self practise. My stomach felt better not 100% but better. After the morning meditation I headed to the canteen and decided to make a smaller breakfast using a smaller bowl and eating with teaspoon instead. I walked to the woods and no sign of any rabbits. I walked to the deepest part of the woods and Vanity sat on the bench drinking from her thermos. I have to be the first one in the woods otherwise the rabbits would be scared off by the stompers.
The weather is miserable raining and gloomy but guess what that wouldn’t get me down as there is only 2 sleep left till I am home. 2 sleeps until I see Adam, I have thought about him every single day. Reliving each date, each holiday together the good and the bad. If Adam came would I have found it easier or more challenging? I would have been worried him sitting in meditation hall for hours in crossed legged. Adam and I are set in our ways such as no mobile phones in our bedrooms, panicked if we both don’t get out optimum sleep between between 10pm-2pm. Are these obsessions? Obsessed with training, the sensations better our health makes us feel. I will ask Tom. 2 Days left and I knew I should have left my ego in Paddington before arriving here & take ll the help I could get.
I started to pack. Clearly looking forward to my departure. Todays lunch consisted of nut roast and salad. I had not missed meat for the past 9 days and suppose when I got back I would try and stick to it. 12noon I spoke to Tom and asked him
- How do I differentiate joy to obsession? I talked about the training and life style I had and was I obsessed or was it joy? Tom answered if it is good for you it will always be joy.
- When the thoughts come up in my mind are the negative as they pull my attention away from the meditation? Tom answered No this was normal and the mind and body are biochemically connected this was the purpose of the meditation to draw out the sankras from what we had already made in our past.
- Why would we need to meditate morning and night? could I do it in the afternoon? Tom answered In the Morning we clear our head front he dreams so we are fresh for the day. The evening to clear from the responsibilities of the day. If we have time during the day we can use the time refresh the mind.
We are told the silence will be ending at 10am after the Mitre meditation. Today you can feel people are starting to change their body language almost ready to look into each others eyes. Todays discourse to meditation will be closed Q&A with Goenka from 1991 in America. As we emptied the hall to stretch our legs before the Q&A the sky was filled with a stunning red and orange light. The sky showed us the beauty of nature. Within a few minutes the colours in the sky disappeared. The first question from a gentleman asks how to sustain joy and not let it turn into obsession. Goenka’s answer is honest and clear. The joy is with a balanced mind and you are not chasing the feelings again and again. The second question is from a woman she asks how do you control the wondering mind. Goenka responds bring back the mind to the sensations but keeping this natural and not forced. His discussion of Dhamma as long as you are practising this life will only bring you good. Good thoughts and all intentions are to help yourself and others. The third gentleman asks He finds it easy to meditate in the morning but difficult in the evening. Goenka replies you find time to eat and sleep in your day you will find time to meditate also. Practise 1 hour day and night in the first year and it will become your routine.
Day 10. I slept like a baby last night the thoughts were settling. I walked into the woods and 3 bunny rabbits hopping along the centre of the open lawn. They were saying goodbye.The 8am group meditation was the best most clear I have since arriving. At 10am Goenka guided us through Mitre Meditation an hour of love. Love to all beings known and not known. Once he closed the chanting Tom got out of the chair and walked to his room. Silence was broken. Everyone looked up at him leave and we all were not sure what to do after the 10 days of being guided we all seemed a little lost. Isabel sat in the front row she stood up as I watched her she looked over to her husband and pointed to the canteen. She was a returning student and could now reunite with her husband. I could feel the tears emerging. I got walked out and put on my shoes. I could feel my eyes starting to water I hurried to my room. I looked straight in the mirror. You did it, you made it. I started to cry. I am not ready to talk to anyone. I stayed in my room for 10-15 minutes crying and packing tomorrow I would be reunited with Adam.
I left my room and headed to the canteen. The sound of people talking grew louder and louder. Katerina a taller brunt whom shared seat L and another lady Priya whom I met on the journey here were talking. I could only catch glimpses of their conversation as I got closer and closer. The outdoor seating area had a partition segregating the male and female students. The fence had now been lifted. The canteen was open to sit allow the students to mix. Isabel stood by the hot water taps. I walked over to her I liked into her eyes “Your husband is here?” I started to cry She replied “Yes and your husband? “ “No he is in London I will see him tomorrow. I place my hands on heart “I feel so happy for you” I smiled and she gave me a hug. Grace came over to me and smiled how did you find it? I found it hard Grace I wanted to leave? what abut you? I just had a cough I suppose but I would be interested to return and do 20 days. I enjoyed being away from my phone and the conflict of working as a model. I understand I suppose her life is completely on demand travelling and doing things for others where here she focused on herself. She seemed mature for her 24. She told me a lady broke down and started crying in the meditation hall when I had left. I had a feeling it was the brunette with black framed glasses called Elizabeth.
Lunch time was strange even thought the partition the male and female students sat and stayed apart from each other. It was noisy outside. I opted to sit in doors were it was quieter. I sat with Deborah the mature blonde lady whom wore cashmere everyday. “I love your loud outfits, you must be in the arts?” “I’m a yoga teacher I replied.” “Well that explains it.” “What do you do?” “Well I work in restoration, Most of the work I have down is in a small town called Savannah.” “I have been there my best friend Dean worked as a Professor for SCAD” “OH I am on the board, we have a home there on Jane St.” What a small world we exchanged details over a bowl of soup she told me of her laments during the course and I told her about my sickness. I introduced her to Grace and then Grace and I started talking to Elizabeth and Isabel. Grace spoke Spanish to them, I was so impressed.
The locker cupboard was now open. Gaia told us we were able to get our purses to donate but not to use our mobile phones. How tempting, I got my key from my case and walked to the locker the same locker I had been plotting to wake up at midnight to text Adam. I opened the locker took out my purse and locked everything else back. I was so proud of myself. I made it this far, I found remaining contactless pleasurable. The moment people started to talk the time ran by quickly. I had one last day to speak to Tom and signed for the final interview at 12. Simona Ferrira went in first you could hear here talking, and talking and talking. They had a system Gaia would ring a small bell once their time was up the bell rang 4 times. Katherine from London and Annabel from Romania was in front of me. We all started at each other Simona had been in there for 20 minutes leaving us all waiting. My patience was tested. Anabel reminded us to send love. I smiled.
“Tom, I can’t sleep, I haven’t slept for 2 days. I am exhausted is this normal?” Tom belly laughed and said yes of course, it is like you have chopped a huge tree down in the forest you must give your mind a few days for the dust to settle. You with be fine.
“I have been exercising in my room, and praising yoga and I obsessed with training?”
No, if it is good for you and brings you joy it is fine as long as you sustain with a balanced mind.
The boards in the canteen had changed to the development of the centre. Priya the site manager would take us for a tour at 1pm. Grace and I walked round together the group circled the building site round structure resembling the Zeddy in Burma the building filled with 400 cells for meditators 20, 40, and 60 days. The structure was remarkable. I asked Fatine if i could strike the gong in the morning? She said gladly as she has had to wake up early every morning to do so she welcomed the lie in. I couldn’t wait finally I could make as much noise as I wanted. The discourse closed with complete conclusion of the Vipassana . Our journey our individual observations. I decided to not look at the screen maybe to clear the blue light so I would have a good night sleep before reuniting with Adam. Grace had a car collecting and dropping her to Old st she offered me a ride. I gladly accepted as I would be returning 1 hour before and Adam and could just meet me at old st instead of Paddington. I gave my ticket to 2 french men and told them to give it to someone at the station.
The final sleep. I slept like a baby
I set the alarm for 3.45am, I headed straight to the canteen had a green drink and took the gong and striker. I loved it. I marched through loud and proud the lights in the bedrooms starting to light up Fatine stood at her door and smiled at me hands in prayer and thanked me. I thought no need I love this. We piled into the meditation hall for the final group meditation. It was powerful. I wanted to absorb every last drop the closing chant I felt lifted much like the close of my Bikram training in 2011. This time better complete achievement and love. During breakfast Gaia came in and asked us to volunteer with he cleaning of the centre I decided to clean the cells. My rom was done so I headed the hall once breakfast had finished and started clearing.
I rolled my case through the path and hugged people and said goodbye along the way. Grace and I got into the car and drove away. I looked back at the Padha centre.
I came questioning how could Vipassana serve me. Now leaving the Dhamma centre I understand the question should have been how can I serve in Dhamma.
Darkness to light challenging and changing The obstacles of our own mind to find steps to enlightenment. Vipassana is a serious meditation course for people who are ready to sit, listen and learn.
I woke meditated before my workout today. It was much smoother way to get into my day. The break of silence would be at 9.30 after the Mittee method of Vipassana. I had time to visit the hall before breakfast. The chanting had started so I stayed in my cell. The last meditation in this small dark space. I had a brief breakfast as I rushed to the woods to see the bunnies. Today they were in the middle of the walking grounds as if they knew I were leaving farewell. I headed back to pack my bags and clean the room to the detailed instructions.
We still had another 24 hours but I had left my room as if we were free today.
After breakfast the Mitre meditation proceeded. The class as still the usual sound of rumbles in stomach had settled. Movement for the seating was still. The focus and determination as we were coming to a close. Once Goenka had completed the chant for Love and kindness Tom walked out the room. There was an uncertainty we looked around as now eye contact would be accepted. I saw Isabel pint to her husband to meet outside. I felt a rush of emotion and ran to my room. I completely let go of held tears from the hall. As of the tears had been filling up everyday since Wednesday. I was not ready to speak to anyone. I looked in the mirror and said it aloud to myself. But I am not ready.
As I composed myself and wiped away the tears I walked towards the dinning area the sound of people talking got louder louder. Katherine who I shared my seat with at position L spoke to me. "I choose L for Love, whenever I looked at you you all you clothes had the words Love on them. We spoke briefly about the challenges of not being able to say thank you if someone held the door or in the canteen as we we made space for each other. I saw Isabel, I told her I wish my husband was there too. I am so happy for them both. She hugged me and said it will just as emotional.
I felt a little in limbo as much as I wanted to connect I wanted to retreat and hide in my room. Lunch time came up and people mainly sat outside and talked loudly sharing their experience. Deborah (Goldie Hawn) said to me I love your loud outfits and the way you walk at if you were on a runway. I laughed and smiled and told her I nicknamed her Goldie Hawn. What a compliment! I finally saw Grace “Do you feel better?” Yes thank you for the tea. “I was worried about you. I thought you knocked on the managers door to leave.” She said actually I enjoyed it & I would love to do longer. The reality was Grace modelled for a living and travelled all around the world but here her life was calm rested and at peace.
I headed to the meditation hall for final meeting with Tom. I told him about the awful sleep I have had the past few nights and even though I felt exhausted my mind would race would this pass? His response was clear as day. It is like cutting down a huge tree in the woods you have to allow the movement to settle of course it will pass. I mentioned the blue light from the discourse I would not watch the screen this evening. He agreed it is better to listen.
Grace and I headed to the Pagoda tour and walked around with the other meditators & Priya the head of the Centre. I asked her what she did previously and how long had she been there? Priya previously worked in Banking and had worked there for a year at the start of the building work. The centre was replicating the maima temple in Burma with over 75 Cells for students taking the course for 45 and more days. We walked around the astonishing structure signed posted with NO MUSIC NO BAD language.
In the evening we had supper in the main hall still staying completely segregated male and female. I choose to sit in the smaller canteen rather then the large table in the garden. I found the noise overwhelming. I asked Fatine and Gaia the female manager if it would be possible if I could stoke the gong in the morning? The whole time here I rebelled. I did things I knew pushed the boundaries and now as it was coming to a close I wanted to be studious and support the Mediation. These past 10 days we had only had fruit and tea in the evening so I kept my portion just as small. 6pm meditation the noises from the digesting of meditators stomachs echoed the hall. Goenka explained on the beginning of the course Vipassana requires a lighter diet due to nature of the technique. The awareness of the sensations rather then the feeling of digesting. The evening discourse was light he spoke of living in Dhamma as this is only the introductory to living as a Vipassana student the work is at home 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the night. Sharpening the mind and maintaining a balance.
I slept like a baby even though I was excited about the reunion with Adam.
The final morning I woke up at 3.45am got ready and headed to the Gong. I marched around the grounds loud and proud. I loved it I was ready to leave and could not wait for the closing of Vipassana.
The entire course I had rebelled like a child wanted to make noise at every opportunity here on the final stage I wanted to strike the gong in the morning. Assist with cleaning of the cells. The discourse with Goenka made me quite emotional no more chants no more stories. We were on our own until another course is booked.
Everyone headed to their rooms to clean. I had finished my room and headed to the Meditation Hall and cells. I spent an hour doing what I could before heading to my room to get ready for our departure.
Grace had booked a car to collect her and drop her to Old St. She offered me a lift as this would shave 2 hours of waiting time from my journey. 2 hours closer to see my husband. We sat in the car and shared our lives before the Vipassana. On arriving to London we had both got to our Vipassana experience. Once departing we embraced in a huge hug. “Good luck Grace. We shall stay in touch.”
The Vipassana method has taught me to look deeper into my thoughts. Pausing before responding to really live with an open mind and open heart.
I came here with no real expectation although wanted to learn something about myself. The biggest thing I have learnt is to listen really listen to people & not think about the the response while someone is speaking but to hear what they have to say. In our society today listening is a massive attribute & a genuine way to connect.
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. — Simone Weil.”