To meditate is so en vogue, relaxing, enjoyable. Far wrong! This was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was not the fact of getting up at 4:30 in the morning nor practicing noble silence which means not talking to each other – but dealing with a rebelling mind and body during the 10 hours of sitting. The mind goes crazy but you can learn to deem it!
October 2016, Dhamma Neru meditation centre near Barcelona, Spain
I tried to have no expectations, but yet had in mind a quiet time, sitting comfortably, getting a relaxed mind and maybe even entering unknown spheres. I didn’t expect coming out as a fully enlightened Buddha, yet had the feeling this meditation might help to get a clearer picture of my future life. This answer though, came along with many others and a lot of pain.
Day 0 Entering the unknown
Honestly, when I handed in the registration form my heart was pounding strongly.
It was time to say good bye to all my accustomed things: No mobile phone, no laptop, no books nor writing stuff, no mp3 player, no money. I knew, that for the next 10 days I would have nothing but my senses.
I had to agree to be determined and to follow the Code of Conduct which contains
- not killing any living being
- not telling lies
- no stealing
- not consuming any intoxicants (alcohol, drugs, cigarets)
- no sexual activities
Additionally one commits to stay for the full period of 10 days.
Exploring Dhamma Neru
The centre had a squared outdoor courtyard, with a little green area and a gong in the middle. I loved the Vine that was hanging down the roof and was immediately in harmony with the place. I entered the dormitory in the women area, looking for bed number 12. Lucky me got the upper bed, one out of 20 bunk beds.
We had a light and zero spiced vegetable soup in the very cold dining hall (the food in general was delighting and also the heating was turned on later).
I changed a few words with the girl sitting next to me before we got instructions and noble silence was about to begin.
I slipped in my pyjama and under my blanket and rubbed my feet to get them warm.
Day 1 Breathe in, breathe out
4:00 o’clock in the morning. The metallic yet soft gong echoed over the place.
I put on comfortable clothes and passed the courtyard to the meditation hall. All the meditators, around 50 men and women were seated segregated in two areas.
We sat cross-legged or in any other possible position on our blue squared meditation pillows. I put a second pillow under my bottom and covered myself completely with a blanket protecting me from the cold, probably looking like virgin Mary from the back. It felt cosy and safe.
Timetable for the following nine days
4:00 and 4:20 a.m. wake up gong
4:30 – 6:30 a.m. meditating in the hall or in the room
6:30 – 8:00 a.m. Breakfast (yeah!)
8:00 – 9:00 a.m. Group meditation in the hall
9:00 – 11:00 a.m. Meditating in the hall or in the room according to the teacher’s instructions
11:00 – 12:00 noon Lunch break (yeah!)
12:00 – 1:00 p.m. Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00 – 2:30 p.m. Meditating in the hall or in the room
2:30 – 3:30 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
3:30 – 5:00 p.m. Meditating in the hall or in the room
5:00 – 6:00 p.m. Tea break (yeah!)
6:00 – 7:00 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
7:00 – 8:15 p.m. Teacher’s discourse in the hall (original videos from S.N. Goenka)
8:15 – 9:00 p.m. Group meditation in the hall
9:00 – 9:30 p.m. Question time in the hall
9:30 p.m. Retiring to the room, lights out
Let’s get started
I began to observe my breath as it naturally flowed in and out, trying to focus on the little triangular area around the nostrils and over the upper lip. What exactly should I feel there?
At 6:30 a.m. we strode over to the dining hall silently for breakfast. On that cold morning, I was utmost happy that they had prepared a mixture of warm plums, pears and grapes and warm wheat. There was also yoghurt, cereals, bread, butter, tomatoes, jam, coffee and a huge teapot containing Maria-Luise (herbal infusion).
After breakfast I took advantage that nobody was in the community bathroom, slipped behind the curtain into one of the cubicles and enjoyed the hot water pouring down my body.
Back to the meditation hall I was breathing and breathing and breathing, finding out that my nose area must be senseless. From everywhere around me I could hear coughing and sneezing and by the end of the day I also felt a strong pain in my throat.
At night we listened for the first time to a video-speech of the head teacher of our times, S.N. Goenka who delivered a summary of the day and instructions for the day to come.
Every time he began his speech with following sentence:
„The first* day is over. You have nine* days more to practice diligently, ardently, patiently and persistently – continuously.“
Day 2 Still following my breath
I woke up ill and did the morning meditation in the dormitory. I had fever and was deeply grateful for a warm breakfast and some extra tea.
The teacher seemed absolutely unworried concerning my illness: „That happened during my first meditation too. That’s good. It’s all coming out.“
Again I sat and followed my breath as it naturally flew in and out. By lunch I was frustrated. At least I managed to feel the air when it touched the little hairs inside the nose and could tell if the breath flowed more through the left, the right or both nostrils.
The women walking area consisted of a vaste garden with a circular path and many plants, trees birds and insects.
I passed the first bush – and kept staring at it – I’ve never seen more intense red nor more extraordinary formed blossoms.
Distinguished sounds touched my ear, dogs barking, birds chirping, pebble-stones creaking under my feet, sounds from near and far, I processed them all at the same time.
I felt the sun on my skin, smelled the aroma of pine-tree, and was aware of so many details. My senses were sharp and awakened as never before. What a gift!
When I came back a can of ginger-lemon tea (with my name on it) awaited me and I felt gratitude for whomever prepared this little extra for me.
Day 3 Up and down it goes
I awoke fresh, felt healthy and meditated with new motivation. In the afternoon I still had difficulties in feeling my nose and my mind renounced and refused to concentrate. Watching the mushrooms sprouting and prospering mirrored exactly how I was feeling.
This was the last day of only breathing. The next day we would learn and apply the Vipassana Technique.
Day 4 Vipassana Meditation, hurdles and discoveries
The new task was to scan our bodies from the top to the bottom, centimetre after centimetre, part after part observing all sensations. Apart from that we were supposed to sit motionless during the group meditation.
Fear and heaviness
I sat still enduring an upcoming strong pain in my knees. The minutes became hours and the pain became so dominant that I couldn’t focus on anything else. All of a sudden I was overwhelmed by heavy emotions from the past and tears started streaming down my cheeks. It felt like Pandorra’s box had been opened, and I feared the places it would lead me to. I was shaking and about to lose control. Would there be anybody to help me? I doubted it. If that was, where Vipassana leaded to, I would have to renounce.
I was breathing in and out deeply, trying hard to get back on track. The only thing that kept me alive on that day was finding refuge elsewhere. My troubled mind had a great idea and booted self-help measurements.
Rediscovering the power of fantasy
I entered a nearly forgotten place – my fantasy. I escaped to the most beautiful white sandy and peaceful beach, framed by coconut palm trees and let the story evolve. A wooden beach bar covered with palm leaves appeared and – oh, I love my mind – a handsome barkeeper was looking at me with bright and sparkling eyes. The ocean breeze softly twisted my hair. I felt comfortable and in a good temper as he prepared a cocktail with rum and taste of pineapple and coconut. After some nice conversations he suggested to go Salsa dancing, which I accepted with glee. Multi-coloured light bulbs bordered the dance floor where we laughed and danced and hugged.
GONG. Wow, that was quick. I survived.
The message and new task instructed by Goenka in the evening discourse was: „Tomorrow you won’t stop meditating. Even in the resting time you keep on meditating, being fully conscious of every moment, full of awareness and equanimity“.
I felt little sensations on day 4 apart from pain, but as soon as I went to sleep, itching sensations popped up everywhere on my skin, my hand was burning and felt like thousands of needles were crackling down on it.
I could not find sleep, went out and sat on one of the banks in the courtyard with the tea can beside me, struggling with what had happened earlier that day.
Tomorrow we would scan the body from head to toe and from toe to head and more parts of the body at the same time symmetrically.
Day 5 Will I stay or will I go?
Sincerely, I practiced very little mediation on the fifth day.
I stayed in bed sleeping until breakfast. I had to make a decision, weather to stay or to leave.
I felt like a cheeky schoolgirl cutting classes when instead of meditating, I kept walking in the garden, watching the ants, that had started covering a piece of fig with mud, thinking it through.
Having calmed down, I told myself to go on meditating, but swore I would not sit still until break down or another attack of unwanted emotions, cause I think the pain had caused the volcano of fear and terrifying feelings.
It suits to the philosophy, as it says that the uncomfortable feelings are old „sankharas“ – negative experiences from the past, stored in our subconsciousness and to clean them up, we have to face them.
The compromise was worth it. Being aware and present all the time was not hard at all. In fact, I liked it and it made me really happy and even helped to overcome the negative experience.
Day 6 A huge success
Like any other day, I was building my nest, whose construction changed depending on the sitting position. Mainly I was sitting cross-legged with pillows under my knees or kneeling with a pile of pillows under my bottom.
On day six for the first time I could stay 100 percent concentrated during the whole afternoon group meditation. That was an amazing feeling and I was quite proud about myself.
During lunch I had a very intensive experience: As the lemon-pudding touched the roof of my mouth taste exploded all over it. I guess I’ve never eaten something tasting better than that. Or at least never experienced a more intensive taste.
The presence of the other people seemed to fade away. They were there and they were part of the scene, but I was concentrated experiencing my senses and was utmost enchanted about them, so I did not recognise the others much.
I got less strict with myself during meditation hours and drifted away from time to time. I had great ideas and my future projects took form and unfolded. All I would need to do is to go out and realise them. The map was ready.
The mind is a wonderful tool – if we learn to master it.
Days 7 and 8 Turning on survival mode
On the seventh day the exit chains were promising. I still observed my body, concentrated on my senses and spent time in the walking area.
At night my throat was clean and I could swallow without pain.
Lecture for life
On the eighth day mould started covering the grass. From the beginning on meditation was hard and painful. My new strategy: turning on survival mode. Anitcha, Anitcha – all is impermanent!
I struggled through and learnt a wonderful lecture of life: The grace of self-discipline. At the end of the day I was proud of myself and very satisfied.
Day 9 Reaching new heights
Something was different that day. I could feel it from the moment I got up. My view swept over the bathroom clock showing 6.45. What?? My mind started rumbling. Did we all oversleep? Can’t be. It seems, that my subconsciousness was in deep meditation too. I missed two gongs and slept peacefully and patiently until break-fast hour.
Back in my fantasy I nearly went overboard, hanging on the hulk of a pirate boat being attacked by a huge black headed creature, while another battle was fought motionless in the meditation hall.
I realised, that I wouldn’t be able to subdue all those beastly sankharas (negative experiences manifested in the body). To be more efficient, I sensed all the painful and uncomfortable parts of my body at once (otherwise I would never get finished here!).
Defiantly I located an enormous amount of light within me and lots of happiness. I told myself, that all the heaviness belonged to the past but definitely not into the present. I decided to radiate light from within and suddenly rays were breaking through the dark behind my eyes as if they were shining through a sieve. I sent them to every body part where they possibly could pass. By the end of that meditation my body had become a ball, no arms, no feet, no separation. It was all one. My mind was completely still and fully aware. I scrupled if I would come back to my usual form, but when the gong sounded I opened my eyes and I was back to my well known consciousness.
Day 10 Pure Liberation and practicing Metta
Pleasant anticipation was in the air at the same time worries about getting back to talking and communicating. At 4:30 we went to our last morning meditation in silence. At last, we learnt Metta. The focus in Metta shifts from the inside to the outside.
Metta means opening up and spreading love and compassion all over the world. I was giving mental hugs to all my loved ones and felt really close to them.
The vow of silence was broken
What a relief! Noble silence changed into noble chatting. It was amazing to see how different, how lively the place had become. From a place of silence, inwardness and heaviness it had turned into a room of true joy and harmony.
The centre manager gave information about the centre and the new centre which was under construction. We got back our belongings and I had been talking to many co-meditators.
There was Sarah, a translator who was traveling the last 12 years now restructuring her life, an architect from Menorca, whose aim is to built sustainable and environmental friendly buildings and an Australian woman, who did the course for the 11th time and had experienced great changes in her life.
Like teenagers, we kept on chatting from bed to bed before we fell asleep tremendously happy and relieved.
That day was pure liberation.
Day 11 Time to say good bye
Day eleven began with a video discourse at 4:30 a.m. in the little Dhamma hall by S.N. Goenka encouraging us to practice meditation and Metta in our daily lives. Even if Goenka had died a few years ago, his spirit and gift is quite alive.
We had breakfast and could give our donations*. All together we were cleaning up. Working together while laughing, singing and chatting felt wonderful and fulfilling. As I was cleaning the kitchen-windows I felt grateful for being able to give and prepare the place for a new bunch of meditators.
So that was it. Unbelievable!
Soon afterwards we all scattered to the four winds. For me, that means moving on to unknown places on an adventurous journey.
May you be happy.
May all beings be happy.
Thank you my dear for staying with me! All the best for you and may peace and equanimity prevail!
If you want to go on reading I recommend the following article about my time in the eco village Tamera, where I made a hell of a lot of experiences, learnt about Permaculture, community life, free love and sexuality and how to deal with the cold November nights in Portugal.
(edited on 23rd July 2017)