This month I gave myself the gift of attending a Vipassana meditation retreat for ten days in Herefordshire at Dhamma Dipa. I had heard about Vipassana for the best part of thirty years and every time it crossed my path I noticed it, but I never did anything about it. So it happens in life sometimes … Last December I read an email of a friend mentioning her going on a Vipassana retreat over the Christmas period and felt compelled this time to do a bit of research. I quickly found Vipassana centres in UK and ended up putting myself on the waiting list for the next available course. I remember filling in the form online and, once I pressed send, I felt a jolt in my heart followed but a rash of worry pervading me, as I realised what I had just done! I immediately reassured myself about this decision, because I knew that I would be given a place. Subconsciously I started preparing myself to the idea that in Spring I would live for ten days as a Buddhist nun and meditate more than ten hours a day. Now and then I would ponder about the retreat and start thinking how I would cope with waking up at 4 am every morning. Sometimes I would think of all the challenging and out of the ordinary experiences that I had in my life and would say to myself “You will be all right, you will love it”. Then I would think again of the 4 am wake up call and wouldn’t be so sure that I would cope and even enjoy that; I am not a morning person at all.
At the beginning of February I had a chat with the friend who went on the retreat and asked her practical questions. This helped me calm down and feel a bit better, especially when she said that she was planning to go on a twenty days’ one! I thought “Mh, mh maybe I can do it too, it is only ten days …” Towards mid-February I received the confirmation that I always knew would come: there was a place available for me to go to Dhamma Dipa, hurray! After reading the email and reconfirming my attendance back to the centre, I went for a walk in the woods, as my heart was thumping. On my walk I used all my NLP skills to sedate my mind which was racing. Now I was in it, I couldn’t retrieve my steps, I had to go! By the time I went back home I was feeling joy and excitement in my heart. At the end of the day I had been living with this thought of the Vipassana for thirty years, now I would get a chance to find out for myself. The retreat would start on 9th March and would end on 20th March, therefore when March loomed on the horizon I started thinking about it in a more concrete way. The best thing I could do though was reminding myself to let things be and just live a day at a time, I was confiding in the wise guidance of my higher Self who certainly made me fill in the application form. I let go and focused on my work and the daily chores that we all have to accomplish. As I had my March women circle happening on 7th, that I had to move from the original date of 9th because of the retreat, I focused on that. I kept saying to myself that the following day I would have a whole day to pack and prepare myself for the departure and so I had nothing to worry about. On 8th March I felt really excited and happy to pack my bag with comfortable clothes to go and meditate. Even International Women’s Day fell in the background, as I was so taken by my preparations. In the past I had a go at meditation at different times in my life, but it never became a constant and integral part of it, so this time I could really look into it and decide if it would be my thing or not.
New Moon, new life
On the following day I felt really emotional and I knew that it was due to my cycle visiting me shortly and the fact that it was new Moon as well. I realised that I was about to do something that would change my life for ever, in fact I knew the result already and didn’t really need to check it out at the retreat, but I still had to go there! I said good-bye to my partner and off I went in my little car towards Herefordshire. I was looking forward to enjoying ten days of silence without emails, the noise of social media and dealing with the daily things that are part of the so called ‘normal life’. I felt I was on the brink of a new beginning and was excited about it, even if this would entail facing the unknown. I love new beginnings, I adore new beginnings, I am an enthusiast at heart and love confronting any fear in the face. Now I was doing just that by driving on the motorway towards an unknown new life. I was feeling more and more emotional and kept reminding myself that I was reaching the end of my ‘inner autumn’ and about to start my ‘inner winter’, alias menstruation, therefore it was a crucial moment, especially now that I was about to do something so different: cutting myself from the world and go on my inner adventure! I had many inner and outer adventures in my life, but at the beginning of every one I always feel like a novice, hesitant and afraid, even now that I carry with me experiences of half a century. It is incredible this year I will be fifty years young!! When I arrived at Dhamma Dipa, I went immediately to registration and felt like starting college. I loved feeling insecure in a new and unknown place where I knew nobody and where I would not be able to talk for 95% of the time, how nice! I settled in by taking my bag to my room or cell would be a more appropriate term for it: a small room with a bed, a window, a bedside table, a minute wardrobe/shelf and a little rail where I could hang few clothes, that was it. I felt so reassured and happy looking at the simplicity of it and immediately knew that I had come to the right place and made the right decision. Apart during the meal served later that afternoon and the induction meeting run by a member of staff about the rules to be followed by everybody during the retreat, I didn’t get much chance to talk with other women there. I was looking forward to starting the meditation and observing the ‘noble silence’.
From the following day onwards till the end of the retreat my daily schedule would be:
4 am wake up call,
4.30 – 6.30 meditation in the hall,
6.30 – 8.00 breakfast and break,
8.00 – 11.00 meditation in the hall/room,
11.00 – 12.00 lunch,
12.00 – 13.00 rest/walk,
13.00 – 17.00 meditation in the hall/room,
17.00 – 18.00 tea break,
18.00 – 19.00 meditation in the hall,
19.00 – 20.15 teacher’s discourse in the hall,
20.15 – 21.00 meditation in the hall,
21.00 -21.30 question time in the hall with the teacher
and from 21.30 onwards rest till the morning or the middle of the night, I would rather say. What happened to me during those ten days is difficult to put it into words as, I think, it needs to be experienced, but I will try to sum up my reflections succinctly.
Respecting the ‘noble silence’ was great, it gave me the opportunity to observe my mind even more in depth than normally: it is a monkey and needs to be mastered, if one wants to live a happy life. ‘Noble silence’ means silence of the body, speech and mind, therefore people are encouraged to work on their own avoiding any contact with others and ignore the outer world distractions as much as possible. I really didn’t miss the outer world at all and found it easy to live without a mobile phone and a computer, it was so refreshing! During all those hours of meditation I witnessed a huge stream of consciousness happening in my mind and remembered things about my early life so detailed and so far away in my past that I felt as if I was looking at a family photo album! Sensations were so strong and particular that I couldn’t stop the process, I had to allow it to go on. I never had such a strong stream of consciousness in my whole life. I enjoyed being among only women and focusing my whole attention on my inner life. I felt enormously at peace even though the many hours of sitting in meditation caused me enormous amount of physical pain everywhere in my body. I never felt a recluse or in prison, I actually felt quite free! I felt a huge amount of gratitude towards Goenka who brought this practice to the West after learning it from his master Sayagyi U Ba Khin in Burma. This practice discovered by Gotama the Buddha over 2500 years ago was preserved and handed down from master to master in Burma until now, while in India it was lost. I felt so thankful towards Gotama who had enough courage to go on such a path of self-discovery, this is a path trodden by many but succeeded by few. I felt so honoured to be taught a practice that, if mastered, can take a human being to enlightenment and total inner happiness. Even if it is early days for me to say what fruits meditation will bear for me in the future, I felt so at home with it and with the days going by it seemed to me more and more that I had always instinctively and intuitively meditated in this way. Another curious discovery was to realise how strong, important and fundamental non verbal communication is. I knew about it before, but it was more of an intellectual knowledge, rather than a direct experience. Even if one doesn’t talk with others, the mere fact that one lives with others or in close proximity makes one communicate with others. At the end of the morning of the 9th day the ‘noble silence’ was lifted. People started talking again during the breaks and that gave me the opportunity of experiencing first hand that we had been communicating since the beginning of the retreat, even if we weren’t talking. Proof of this was that I felt naturally attracted to speak to certain women rather than others for no apparent reason. I realised so clearly that they weren’t only my thoughts, my impressions or preconceived ideas that were causing this, but the unconscious communication that had been going on among all of us in the women compound for nine days. I found it so interesting and fascinating! To re-adjust to the noise and chatter was super hard for me and caused a huge amount of anger and frustration to come to the surface. My goodness, it felt like a blast of dynamite!
I couldn’t have discovered all these things, if I hadn’t had the bizarre idea to put myself through such a ‘torture’ for ten days. I feel so thankful towards myself and my higher Self! This retreat allowed me to discover how much down ‘misery lane’ I had gone notwithstanding almost thirty years of personal development; I went on courses, workshops, conferences, talks, I read books, wrote a book myself, I became a coach, etc. I realised how much I had been addicted to aversion, even though as a person I don’t have an addictive personality as such. These are the main insights that have become clear so far after being back for a week. I have no ideas how many more I will have in a month’s time or later. It is my intention to keep my meditation practice going by doing an hour every morning and evening, whatever the season, the mood, the circumstance I might find myself in. I don’t think that there is any more important work to do in life both for oneself and the benefit of others. One’s own liberation has huge advantages, not just for oneself, but for all the people we come in contact with every day. We can be a vessel for good and happiness or for evil and misery; which one would you prefer to be? If you are courageous enough and would like to find out more about Vipassana, check www.dhamma.org. There are centres in all continents, so you have no excuses wherever you live to give it a go, if you so desire.
I would love to read your comments or your direct experience of Vipassana. May you be happy, may all beings be happy!