Couple of weeks ago, I headed out to middle California to attend a 10-day seminar on a meditation technique called Vipassana. I thought, with having house guests most of the summer and university starting in couple of weeks, I could use some quiet time to rejuvenate and catch up with myself. The course was taught by a gentleman called S.N. Goenka via video. He passed away in 2013, yet the impact of his teaching which emphasized Buddha's path to liberation, has played an important role in establishing non-commercial meditation centers globally. The centers claim to be non-sectarian, universal, and scientific in character, and after attending the course, I somewhat agree. My next few notes will be about this 10-day experience, as it will be too much to cramp all my observations in just one note.
So, during my 4 hour drive up north; I spoke to many of my friends to make sure they know why I will not be returning their calls/texts. My friend, “Delta lady”, (I wrote a note about her sometime in January), was quite supportive of this endeavor, and said that I will be “stewing in my own juice” for 10 days. And that is exactly what I did, I can add, I even grilled myself with skin on at times...
This center is located on the hillsides of the Yosemite national park, near Bass Lake. I was happy with the greenery and the number of trees. Though in August, the temperatures were still well above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. As I arrived late afternoon, I was checked in and provided a small room with a shared bathroom. My phone, car keys, and valuables were locked into a locker and keys were given to the program management. I was told I will have access to the key on day 11. For someone who carries her phone around the house sometimes, this knowledge (in itself) was throbbing.
I walked about 600 feet to reach my assigned room. It was about 70 square foot room with a twin bed, a dresser with no mirror, a window, a side table with lamp and an alarm clock. The room was well lit, clean, and airy. It reminded me of my room in India. So, it made me feel all warm and cozy. After unpacking, I walked back to the kitchen (where I had registered), for a light dinner, and off to the meditation hall. This was the last time we had dinner served to us. One of my cousins, who attends this course almost every year, had warned me about the no dinner policy. She also had suggested purchasing a floor chair to support my back during the meditation sittings. God bless her…
So, at eight in the evening about 100 individuals (separated by gender) sat in this big hall crossed legged, waiting for the instructions to begin. For me, sitting crossed legged for half hour to an hour is doable and quite therapeutic for my hips. I have my comfortable upright sitting chair at home that I meditate on. Later, I found out the 4:30 am to 9 PM sittings with 3 breaks were not only therapeutic, but more like surgical.
The teaching started with a man chanting something in Hindi, which I did not understand. It reminded me of the early morning chanting of Quran verses in Iran. As a child, I would be scared to hear the loud chanting. As I aged and noticed how these chants calmed my grandmother’s face; I became accustomed to them, and was no longer frightened by them. But I still don’t understand the concept of imposing loud anything on other beings. As Rumi says: “Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”.
So, the chanting stopped after 5-10 minutes and instructions began. I found out the man chanting was Shri Goenka, the original teacher of this ancient method of meditation. The instructions were clear. We were to follow these rules while here:
1. Once you start the course, you can’t leave (later, I found out why)
2. You can’t talk or look at anyone for the next 9 days
3. You can’t write, read, use electronics
4. The meditation starts at 4:30 am and ends at 9:00 PM with 3 breaks in between (breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea)
5. Abstain from killing any being…I was thinking hopefully they mean insects or other wild life. ;)
6. Abstain from stealing
7. Abstain from all sexual activity
8. Abstain from telling lies
9. Abstain from all intoxicants
So, with all the rules discussed, we were then asked to close our eyes and simply breathe, with our focus on our nostrils. I was excited to close day zero at 9:00 PM with complete silence. The drive up and unpacking had its toll on me. As I was walking to my room in the dark nature, with only sounds of crickets chirping, the stars sparkling brightly above, and my focus on where to step with my little flashlight so I don’t kill an insect accidentally; I contemplated on my decision to come here…What the hell did you get yourself into this time girl?
I hope you stay with me, as I go through the progression and transformation, I experienced…The subtle in me is real, as I am certain it also exists in you…Its something, I never knew existed and has always been there. Stay tuned for more next week.
As always, I am grateful…