It’s been a while now since I blogged. No one to be blamed here, expect I, me and myself. But there have been reasons ranging from busy guest and holiday schedules, to cricked neck, pulled arm, nerve-wrecked leg and more.
However, since I’m back on track now – let me begin with where I left. No – not my book; for you have either read it, or read interviews that I have proudly and humbly included in my blog; or perhaps are not interested. Either way, I’m back in my element at what I love doing – writing. Simply writing: for my pleasure – and hopefully yours.
Living up to my challenge
Let me start with my 10 days of silence in the attempt to find what lies beyond the realm of interaction, within and perhaps in another realm. 10 days of life as a ‘Grihastha Sanyasini’.
10 days of Vipassana. I wanted to challenge myself and see if I could live in isolation – just with myself. I wanted to find out where the mind without any external stimulus would go. I wanted to see if I had the guts to simply be. I was curious.So, off I went…
Day one: anticipation of what lay ahead. I understood the rules: no reading, no writing, no eye contact, no talking, no gestures, no contact of any kind with anyone within or outside of the ‘ashram’ confines. And I’ve been a stickler for rules.
What worried me most – more than being non-interactive and communicative for 10 days was – the wake-up gong at 4am. Not an early bird and a deep sleeper, I was petrified should I miss something. After all, the goal was to gain from this lifestyle to the maximum.
So after my registration on arrival and a soup and bread dinner, I locked my belongings (mobile, notebook, papers and pens, money, train pass, jewellery including the wedding ring and ‘mangalsutra’) in the locker and gave the key to the organisers, who were instructed to not give the key back right till the end of the course and day of departure.
I asked the organiser if I could get a low-tone alarm clock. She refused. I asked if I could be woken up. She said I’d hear the gong. I said, “What if…” She said, “Don’t worry.” I asked if my roommates or the gong lady could please shake me awake. She said, “We can’t allow contact, physical or verbal”. I was desperate and asked if she could drop a glass of water on me every morning. She said, “You’ll wake up. Don’t worry. You have 5 minutes to meet your three roommates. You’re on bed number 24D with one cupboard for your clothes. The silence bell rings in 4 minutes and then you will reach the meditation hall for sitting order allocation.”
I ran to my room, which was on the second floor. A brief hello to everyone was followed with an exchange of names. A quick question from an older roommate: “Would it be okay to have the window open for airing in the early mornings?” (The temperature outside was minus 23). A democratic decision from all roommates: “Yes, but if someone is freezing, the person should walk up and close the window by herself.
Gong! And the ‘Silence’ had begun. The gong would be our instructor and friend for the next 10 days telling us to wake-up, proceed to the meditation hall, head for our meals, proceed for the multiple language pre-recorded sermons, and go to bed.
The only writing that would be visible would be the timetable for the day.
The only interaction: breathing.
The only time to talk (with the meditation in charge) – 5 minutes reserved for those who volunteered to sought advice or ask questions regarding technique.
The only time to walk: anytime other than the 14 hours of meditation each day and the 7 hours of rest phase at night.
The only time to eat: meal times, in the common dining area.
I was sure I’d lose weight – and I did! 3 kilos in 10 days (joy-oh-joy). What do you expect on a breakfast of hot chocolate or tea with fruit or a slice of whole meal bread with peanut butter? I started off with ‘dalia’ – but the gooey mass was too unappetising at 6am – two hours after the morning meditation session.
Lunch was served at 12. Delicious vegetarian food and salads. But with no exercise, you barely have an appetite. Plus you don’t want to stuff yourself and go for a prolonged noon snooze. After a light meal, I’d go out for a walk in a confined area and then snooze for 30 minutes before the next meditation session. After meditation, a dinner of fruits and tea was put out at 5 pm. I couldn’t go beyond a tea and ½ a banana and ½ an apple. Shortly after an hour-long dinner break, we would head into the next slot of meditation until 9; followed by an hour-long recorded sermon. Then it was time to clarify technique or get questions answered and lights off at 9:30pm.
Day two: I thought I’d die of boredom. I mean… how much of the same kind of focused breathing could you deal with? My head hurt. The newness had already ebbed. I wasn’t sure of the number of times I had brought my mind back from nothingness (read snoozing) to thoughts of my life at present and day dreams. I was breathing in a focused way but I had to get myself back every now and then. The headache was killing me already! Migraine. In my 5-minute talk, I asked for medication, only to be refused. This was perhaps a way of cleansing… I was told. A painful way, I thought. I was sick. No eye contact. No interaction. I was shrinking into myself. Into sadness. Into a cold emptiness that I didn’t like.
I had begun to reject the concept of birth and death, of detachment. I was a mother and a wife. I could not come to terms with believing that “nothing was mine. There was no ‘me’. And hence my kids and husband were not mine either… I wanted out!
I contemplated running away. But no – I wasn’t a quitter. I would not be able to face myself in the mirror, in the knowledge that I gave up! That I gave up something I wanted to experience so bad. (Later, I learned that 2 of the 13 women had left without a whisper and 3 had thought of running away.)
No… I told myself. I can’t quit. It was just a matter of a few more days. But how many? I had lost track of time. The days and nights, noon naps and nighttime sleep, breakfasts and dinners, meditative sessions and sermons – all merged into one ritual with no beginning and no end!
I kept sinking into hollowness. My thoughts were disturbing. I couldn’t control anything. The mind was like a monkey that grabbed on to one branch of thought without really leaving the other that seemed to be still lurking in the head.
Thoughts sneaked in and out of the mind without any indication. It was like intruders trespassing your person!
Past, present, future, reality, dreams, fears, reality, imagination and the surreal – everything merged into one big chaos in my head. There was no focus. Meditation, sleep – it all one big state of stupor – a negative feeling of despair. There were no boundaries – and if there were, I never knew when and why I crossed from one into the other. At times unaware of the crossing over myself! I was tormented. My mind would explode, I thought.
My eyelids turned into a screen. I saw it all. Tom and Jerry cartoons from my childhood to Star-Trek. My grandparents and great grand mother talking to me on one side of the screen and my family coming over to pick me up on another part of the same screen. Yes, it was a very disturbing phase that seemed never-ending.
Finally, the breathing techniques had been developed further. While listening to the sermon, I realised it was day 4. What!
Just day 4. It had seemed like a lifetime! There seemed a little change in the routine. After a while (it may have been a day or, may be, two) my ‘aha’ moment came along. I felt that my life was beautiful. Everything I questioned in my past unfolded. It seemed like I was living my life from my earliest memories of when I was barely two, to now. Things that I was not aware of, but had questioned came to light. I saw my life like an open book – and realised that every moment was meant to be the way it had been. For, there was no other way. It was destined by my ‘karmas’. I was at peace. No regrets. No questions. My inhibitions, my fears had fallen away or I had seen the reason as to why I had felt the way I did.
I smiled. I felt cheerful and lighter. After what seemed like days, I looked beyond my toes and noticed other life around me – some dragging there feet for they were perhaps fighting there own ghosts and challenges; others sprightly, for they had, perhaps, reached their ‘aha-moment’.
One thing was certain – these days of silence were impacting everyone in some way or the other. From being bored stiff, to combating sedentary stiffness and discomfort, to having a blast – there was a wave of experiences in all attendees.
I now had a spring in my step and looked forward to every next day – as it would be a day closer to getting home to my family. A day completed successfully at the ‘ashram’. I started to meditate better; wake up happier; enjoy my meal and savour the simple flavours; go for my walks, forgoing the 30-minute afternoon nap and sleep deeper.
Finally, it was time to go home.
Talking seemed an effort. Everyone sounded hoarse but eager to share their experiences. The barrier between men and women was removed. I had forgotten in these 10 days that another gender of the human species existed! We could open our lockers and call our loved ones.
Yes. I had successfully gone through 10 days of complete rejection of concepts to partial acceptance of some and complete acceptance of some others. 10 days of fighting off the monotonous depressive sermons, coming to terms with what seemed sensible but far-away concepts and realigning life and thoughts within were now behind me. 10 days of going crazy with my mind monkeying around and groping at memories, imagination, reality and the surreal were a story of the past. This was in February 2016.
My takeaway in one line: This too shall pass
My learning: Be aware and live in the moment to maximise on every experience in life
My perception of Vipassana: Like any other meditation or self-development exercise, this too has its ideology. I don’t think I can accept everything. But what I do choose to accept has certainly added a calmer dimension to my life.
Please feel free to add comments and remarks – but do remember – my views are mine – and in no way do I intend to hurt anyone’s sentiments.