Imagine you know the best indoor roads in your own neighborhood. A nice street, a nice view or whatever. You tell your friends, they really have to go there! You tell them how to get there, where to go left and where to go right. But are they really going there? No, most of them don’t.
That’s how many things I do feel for me: yoga, meditation, workshops or things that touch the spiritual. Friends and family ask after that, maybe out of politeness or curiosity, but nobody ever does it themselves, nobody takes the same route as I do. I don’t mind, I like to explain it, but it remains my story, my experience. I can tell you how you can get there, but as long as you don’t take the route yourself, it remains a route description. Think of the description you would give me if I were to ask for the way to work. It’s boring, isn’t it? But the route can be beautiful, but I only see and experience that when I take the same route.
I am going to describe here the way of my ten day meditation in India. Yes, you read it right: ten days! And ten days in silence. Without talking to anyone, looking at them or making contact in any other way. That is not to tease you, but to get you into concentration. If you have a conversation with someone or make contact, you stay with your thoughts at the conversation or contact, that is not the intention: you come to meditate and thus to explore within yourself where there is a hidden place. Contact distracts.
I have already decided at home that I would like to do a ten-day meditation. I have heard good stories about it, it is heavy, but worth it. You learn a lot about yourself. If you are on vacation for three weeks, ten days for silence is long, but now that I have a year, ten days is relatively little.
Ashram in Balaghat
You can do Vipassana meditation anywhere in the world, from Australia, Europe and America, but it comes originally from India and therefore I decide to do it there. I start at the source. Later I learn that the source is indeed India, but that it has been gone for a long time and only returned in 1956 from Burma where meditation has stood the test of time. My choice falls on the place Balaghat in the middle of India. There is an English Vipassana course. In many countries it is only in the local language, but then you still miss some of the theory, which is very essential.
Balaghat is in middle of nowhere, because it is hard to reach and I am received like a local hero. I take pictures with everyone, the whole hotel staff waves me out in front of the door when I check out, the taxi driver first makes a whole tour along all his friends to show me and so I can take a picture with them – fortunately I already had some extra time in mind, so I arrive well in time at the Ashram where the Vipassana is. It is a center especially for meditation. Just outside Balaghat.
Monks from Burma
When I arrive there is a man on a bench with whom I have a friendly conversation. After a while it is almost lunch time and I am asked to go inside and hold a flower in my hand. Together with a number of women and children I stand in line for bowls with food when a monk in red robe and shaved bare enters. The men around the food are clumsy, but eventually one holds it up the bowl, the monk touches the bowl, he blesses the food and then they move on to the next bowl. He has a large bowl with him, and when he has blessed all the bowls, he scoops something from each bowl into his bowl. It is good food and at the end a Kitkat goes in. One of the women gives him his flower and he walks away.
Then seven other monks come in. I hear all of them from Burma later, although one was born in Malaysia. He speaks English. They arrived three months ago and are staying here for a while now. Although it sounds stupid, it makes an impression. When they arrive from Burma after this, it must be a good ashram, isn’t it?
After lunch, the man I spoke with first lets someone come to put my things in the room. It is a small room, with a bed of concrete and a thin mattress on top, a pillow – not obvious in many countries, a mosquito net – the best I’ve ever had, and a toilet with tap. No shower. The latter I find very unfortunate, because I am used to hard beds, but I have noticed a shower and food I find essential.
No food after lunch
It is delicious: not much to complain about, but we are on a diet. After lunch we don’t eat anymore. This seems bad, but in practice it is not that bad. At five o’clock we have tea and that includes a snack, a kind of puffed rice and milk tea (thai) that everyone drinks here and is available everywhere. Lunch is traditional and a lot. Moreover, we are allowed to brag more often.
For those who do not know what a traditional Indian lunch is: it consists of rice, (3 to 4) naanbroden, twice vegetables, dahl (lentils) where you dip the naanbroden in, salad, something sweet and another kind of gravy that is different every day. Eat with your right hand. You break off a piece of naan bread – which I find quite difficult with one hand – and then take some vegetables with the bread, dip it in the dahl or the other gravy and then put it in your mouth. That’s how you eat the rice. Or you put the dahl and other vegetables over the rice and then make a bowl with your fingers and eat the rice. Usually you have rice left over when your breads are already finished. Although you can always grab or ask for an infinite amount of loaves – which look more like pancakes. Everywhere you are, also in restaurants. Often they come and bring it when they see that you’re without it.
Actually, only what we get in the morning is ‘exciting’. Furthermore, everything is the same every day, so then other things become important.
The daily schedule is tight and is strictly followed. This is the schedule:
Waking up at 04.00
04.30 – 06.30 meditation
08.00 – 11.00 meditation
13.00 – 17.00 meditation
17.00 tea break
18.00 – 19.00 Meditation
19.00 Video explanation about Vipassana
Vipassana lessons on video
The first three days are to get in,” says the man from the video, which I only watch every day in the women’s canteen, the others watch it in the meditation room where they see it in Hindi. It is a video with a man telling about the theory of Vipassna. The images are from 1991 and therefore dated, but the sound is good and although I find it awful to see the first day, at home I would definitely go and see something else, it becomes interesting from day two. There is more theory behind it than I expected.
The first three days
Then it all starts. The first three days is therefore mainly to get used to meditation and that you have to focus. You learn to focus your thoughts on a small area around your nose. That’s all you need to do. The idea is that you learn to perceive things in that small area. What do you feel? Do you feel a tingling sensation? Do you feel the air in and out of your nostrils? Do you feel like itches? Those kind of questions. You are asked not to react and not to connect emotions to these perceptions: it is about learning to perceive.
Dreams, thoughts and desires
I think the first three days are good to do. It is even nice to think what I want, I notice that my thoughts do not stand still and that every day you also think about things or remember things that I have not remembered for a long time, at least not consciously. In my thoughts I walk through the house I grew up in, which is no longer there. I knew much more than I thought – or at least I think so, because thoughts can fool you too. The idea of thoughts, dreams, desires and reality is strange anyway when you think about it. What is the purpose of dreams and desires if the reality is different or is going to be different?
Meditating is observing. From day four our perception becomes all over the body. What do you feel in your body? Where does it hurt? Where does it it itch? The same questions, but over a larger area.
Day four hurts. I feel pain everywhere, in my back, my legs and knees. This may be because you have been sitting still for three days – I always keep such a sober thought – but according to the Vipassana it may also be that old patterns or thoughts are stuck that you now want or are going to change. That is work. According to the method it is not necessarily pain. Pain is a value judgement: you experience that something happens, that feeling is intense, but not necessarily good or bad. We tend to classify everything as good or bad: nothing is good or bad, but we give it that label.
I do believe that there may be things in you that you are not aware of. I have often seen with yoga that people started crying out of nowhere. Old thoughts that are stuck then come loose, that is the thought. I never believed that, but I have seen it too often not to believe it. I do think meditation can help you get to patterns in your body. Or pain can’t just be pain from sitting? Yes, day five to nine.
Day five to nine
The other days we continue steadily with the same tight schedule. The pain decreases and we get more theory about how meditation helps. I find it hard to describe, but something happens. Meditation has also been proven in science: it helps your concentration and judgment.
Part of the theory is also that you experience pain because you allow it. Because you have an image of yourself in yourself. When someone attacks that image, usually with words, you choose (1) to accept the gift of the words yourself and (2) for that you can hurt you because you hold on to the image. You can also choose to let go of the image of yourself, then the other person can’t hurt you either. As long as you ‘own’ something that can be immaterial, such as the idea that you are the alderman, the boss, the entrepreneur, the student or whatever, if you let go of the identity you have created of yourself – and often is not even true – then you can no longer be attacked in that area.
Then comes the day of salvation: we can talk. The ladies seem to be very different from being quiet while talking. They involve me immediately, but there is only one person who speaks English, so communication remains difficult.
Men and women separated
I say ladies, because men and women are divorced. Completely ridiculous. We eat and sleep somewhere else. We do sit in the same meditation hall, but a line has been drawn with cloths that we are not allowed to leave. There is a separate entrance and if you have to put on the ‘mat’ with the guru then there are other mats for women – that really feels like we are ‘dirty’. There are signs with where women are not allowed to go. Ridiculous! I wonder if they accept this in the meditation centers in America. For me it resembles the separation between dark and white in America what I know and read about it.
The last day I try to raise it: not to do it. Yes, they know it’s very crazy for me,’ but it’s not the intention to have a conversation about it. They don’t say this directly, but the message is clear. They also really believe that something is happening in men’s heads when a woman is sitting next to them: I can’t judge this, but Vipassana seems to be a process in yourself. Your environment doesn’t matter. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to email the organization. Vipassana could be the example in India that things can be done differently. With a country where rapes still occur daily. Although I also learn that it is also called rape if you have sex here before marriage.
One more time?
Shall I do it again? No, I don’t think so. Ten days is long and I’m glad I did it once. I learned that I did indeed have an image of myself or have an image of who I think I am. The people who hurt me, I accepted the gift and they attacked that image. Now I have imaginatively returned that gift and I see that many people did not consciously give or give me a gift, but that I sometimes make it myself and accept it in this way.
I also see that I stand on many more shoulders than I thought. I am not alone. Thanks to many people I can do my world trip. It starts with my parents that I exist at all – that sounds crazy, but it is so – but also friends, family and some who read my blog that mentally support and encourage me. Without those shoulders I would not be where I am today. I am much more grateful for that now than I was before.
Life is short. Everything comes and goes. One day I die. That’s something I’ve thought about before, but never really, I’ve done it now.
I keep meditating. Maybe not every day – which they do recommend – but when I feel that I need it. I know that this makes me sharper and allows me to see things with more distance.
This was the route how I experienced it. I leave it up to you whether it stays with my description or whether you walk the route yourself. You don’t have to go to India for that, in Belgium you can too. Check: https://www.dhamma.org/en/vipassana