My 10 day vipassana course experience

I arrived at the Dhamma Vipassana center in Pokhara on a sunday afternoon.  My friend Paul dropped me off after a long pep-talk in the car. Paul is a ex monk and have done 18.000 hours of vipassana. Compared to that my hundred something hours ahead of me seemed like a piece of cake. I saw a gathering of different people hanging around in the area. My first thought was that this didn’t match my picture of people on a serious hard-core meditation course. There was a mix of travelers, back-packers and a few nepali. The whole atmosphere was very hippeified.  I had a chat with one of the “servants” as they call themselves. He went through all the rules with me, and boy there were some strict rules you had to follow. Actually, the daily time schedule would be enough to make any sane person run away. The intense days would be starting from 04 in the morning to end at 21 in the evening. One hour breakfast, two for lunch and one in the late afternoon for a tea-break. Three breaks in the 17 hour long day. The healthy vegetarian lunch was served promptly at 11 and dinner didn’t exist. That’s 20 hours between the lunch and the breakfast the day after man. I’m a veteran in the field of cleanses and detoxes but this would be bloody hard. The servants gives me a small tote to put my valuable belongings and has soon been confiscating my mobile, camera, book, money and credit card.  Another look at me and he pointed at my wrist and said “these might be distracting for other students, I will have to take them too”. He smiled at me and my skillfully layered mix of tibetan and indian bracelets. My necklaces had to go to. I immediately felt naked. If I had any drugs with me, he would happily look after them till the course was over. He wished me good luck. I did too.

I followed the french female servant that showed me to my room. As soon as I realized I had not brought any toilet paper with me and there was none here panic a raised. This was really alarming. I was ready to leave this place straight away. As if she could read my mind, she asks me if theres anything special I would like to have, something I might have forget to bring. I told her I wished to have a toilet roll. She found this funny but was gonna see what she could do. She handed me a roll a few hours later. I was so relived. So grateful. I could survive peeing with no paper but I was not familiar to, and had no intentions of learning the asian technique of doing a number two and use my precious left hand to clean of the dirty work. I was gonna guard this roll with my life.

There’s two houses: one for the newbies who was all foreigners except one non-english speaking nepali. In that house the rooms were big and there was six sleeping in each room.  The house with the older students who had been practicing vipassana for a long time had only very tiny rooms with two small beds in each room. There was mostly asians in that house and that’s were I ended up. Well, I do like like them so not very surprised to end up there. I could here them before I got to my room: chatting giggling girls. I was met by my taiwan room-mate Estrella and her entourage of a japanese, a korean and Nepali all over the room. I was warmly welcomed and joined their loudly discussion. I love when that happens: you meet someone and a few minutes later you’re all engaged in lively talks and it’s like you a old friend of yours. There was two hour to the dinner and after that we would have our first evening meditation and also the start of the course. No food was allowed so we had to finnish whatever we had brought with us. Everyone shared what they had and we were sitting there happily snacking our fruits and cookies. The last luxury before it all begun.

The absolutely most important rules to follow is to promise to stay away from killing, stealing, lying, take any drugs and strictly stay to the noble silence policy. That meant, after dinner and for 10 full days promise not to speak to anyone except the teachers and assistant teachers if I had too. I could not make any contact with any of my fellow meditators, neither by words or by signaling, pointing. We shall not even look at each other.

The first dinner consists of grayish sweet rice accompanied by spicy alu dam, a indian dish consisting of boiled crushed spicy potatoes. You stand in a row and the “servants” pour the food into your mini bowl that you hold in front of them. It felt like a summer camp for girls. A punishment for all the bad girls that have been mis-behaving. There was a paper thin bamboo wall between us and the men so we couldn’t see each other but we could hear. They sounded very excited too. We had a one hour introduction meeting, and then our first meditation took place in the hall.  The course had begun and from now on there would be 10 full days of serious meditation to look forward to.

Day 1:

The bell rings and I wake up in a pitch dark room not realizing were I am. I’m lying straight in my sleeping bag on my 1 meter wide brits (barely a bed), and I’m so so tired, it’s impossible to get up. I drag my jelly legs to the bathroom, wash my teeth and face and walk up to the hall. I found my place and manage to get through the 2 hours meditation before breakfast that are served at 6.30. I’m starving and I eat a big portion of grey rice porridge and a small bowl of bean soup. This was gonna be the breakfast for the rest f the week. Different types of rice and sometimes switching from black bean soup to white bean soup. I manage to get through the whole day and after lunch the sun is up and I take a cold bucket-shower and rest for a while. The day feels very long but manageable. I try to follow the instructions. We have to sit with a clear mind (not day-dreaming or thinking) but only observe our breathing.

Day 2:

Before coming here, I was warned about day 2 and day 6. Day 2 is one of the “hell” days for most students. It’s the day you just want to get up and run away. I have a cold and after the week in Kathmandu my lungs are in a very weak stage. They have collapsed again and the more asthma medicine I take, the faster my heart beat gets and my hands are shaking. I’m coughing like crazy and I know I’m disturbing everyone else, but I can’t help it. I’m afraid the teacher is gonna send me home and ask me to come back when I feel better. Or maybe I’m even hoping he’s gonna send me home. At least I wont have to explain to everyone why I bailed out. You can feel the smell of suffering all over the room. Everyone is changing positions all the time, trying to make it comfortable and bearable. Everyone except the girls on the front row, the girl in white in particular. She sits in the same crossed leg pose for all these hours and she doesn’t move once except for when we get up to leave the room. Just like a statue, she sits there, dressed in white, like a holy angel. When she walks she always looks down on the ground, never looking at anyone and always in a slow pace, very zombie like. On the other side of the room, in the male area, there’s a male copy of her dressed in white sitting as still as her. Day two was the day of hunger and I’m craving all kinds of food. I could kill to get a veggie burger and chocolate and peanut butter. In the short breaks between the sessions, me and some of the girls is lying in the grass outside the med hall. The sun is shining and it’s getting really hot the hours after lunch, Sometimes we’re sitting on the bench underneath the hut and look out at the amazing view of the lake and himalayas. It’s so beautiful.

Day 3:

The day starts ok and the difficulties from yesterday seem gone. The meditation goes fine and I manage to focus. The days are filled with hour after hour of meditation. I tried to follow the instructions and observe my breath. I’m supposed to feel a sensation underneath the tip of my nose. Quiet mind, clear mind, just observe the breath. It would be very easy, except for the voices in my head. I’m having conversations with myself constantly. It’s hard to concentrate. I’m thinking of the future, the past.

Day 4: It’s gets tough. This is the day when we really get introduced to real vipassana. Three hours during the day, in the morning, after lunch and in the evening, we are not supposed to move during med. It sounds easier than it is, to just sit with straight back, crossed legs and eyes closed for an entire hour without moving, trying to quiet your noisy tummy screaming after food. Two cold bucket showers helps me through the day. The heat in the afternoon is unbearable. My mosquito bites are itching, I’m tired and I just want to go home now.

Day 5:

I have gone through the story of my life in my head. It was very long and it took my about 14 hours to write it. Theres no mirror anywhere so I have no idea how I look like, just that I must look completely mad. My new style is spelled cave-women. I see a small mirror peeking out of Estrellas necessary. I just can’t resist. I grab it. I’m met by a face filled with small pimples and spots. I just want to scream. Just like when I detox loads of toxins are coming out through the skin. It finally starts raining.  The air gets fresher. I’m so happy.

Day 6: I miss human contact so much. I just want to talk to someone, touch someone. I want a hug. I want a huge veggie burger. The whole day I’m day-dreaming. It goes very quickly. Day 6 that was supposed to be one of those challenging days was in fact a easy match for me. I realize I might be comfort eating. I eat so much breakfast everyday. Huge portion of rice porridge and bean soup. When it’s time for lunch I’m not exactly starving.  Still eat a huge portion of dal bat. My mind seem to think I’m gonna die of starvation unless I stuff myself. I can’t keep my eyes close. I look over to the male area to my left. The cute french guy is smiling at me. Except…. he’s not french. He’s not cute. And he’s not smiling at me. It’s just my imagination playing with me.

Day 7:

The highlight of the day was the small slice of watermelon that we got. Everyone looked like they had landed on claude nine. You could feel the happiness in the air. Pure happiness. I’m trying to follow the instructions but get so distracted by all these voices in my head. I hear Goenkas voice ” Scan through your body, throughly and intensively, find the sensations, observe the sensations. To get rid of misery, you need to observe the sensation, the feeling without reacting to it. Just observe it objectively. See reality as it really is. Work diligently, diligently and consistently. Be happy”.

Day 8:

I hear chanting in my head, it’s always the same one: “om nama shivaja”. I see Devika in front of me swinging her head and shaking her hair while she’s singing. And then I see my sister too. She’s joining in. She’s wearing a very colorful chanting.  I can’t stop laughing, but I do it very quietly. Who knew med could be so funny. Some of the girls don’t eat. Or they eat, but like two rice-grains a day. Trying to challenge Buddha maybe. The lunch is always Daal baht (rice, dal and curried veggies) and some curd. Food is really delicious. I look at the girl in white, and her white boyfriend across the room in the same fluffy white outfit. They both look middle eastern. I imagine them on a pilgrimage and that they have walked here all the way from Mecca. Or maybe they were riding on a Camel? No, that was the boy in The Alchemist. Ok, try and concentrate.

Day 9:

The assistant teacher wants to talk to me after the early morning med. “Iman, you can not wear sexy leg pants” she says with a serious face expression. I look up at her, and then I start laughing. “This is not sexy pants” I say and point at  the white spots on my leggings caused by my last hand-washing with my Ayurvedic shampoo since I forgot washing powder at home. They are simply hideous. I wouldn’t show myself in public wearing this awful old leggings, they were even loose in the knees. You get the picture. But she insists “if the men see sexy leg pants they not able to meditate, they only see sexy legs”. Gosh, they might see sexy legs, but she couldn’t seriously be referring to my un-shaved leggings wearing legs, could she?. If she wants to see sexy, I could give her a guided tour through my underwear drawer and all my Victoria Secrets lingerie. I smiled at the idea but a few minutes later I’m back wearing my wide yoga trousers. She gives me a big smile and a thumb up. Later that day, I broke one of the golden rules of vipassana. I had to go to the toilet in the middle of med. I found one of the girls sitting outside, head bent down but I could see she was sobbing. I’m not sure if I should approach her or not. I know it’s strictly against our rules and I really should stick to them and I have so far. But my heart tells me to go there. So I walk over and just stands next to her to let her know I’m there with her. She looks up at me and I put my hand on her shoulder for a minute or so. Then I bend down close to her face and whisper “do you want a hug?” She answers yes. We hug for a long time. Very hard and very intense. The sobbing goes over to crying. I can feel her relieving, feel that she’s letting go of very heavy stuff. Afterwards we go back in together. She’s sitting behind me but I can feel her the rest of the day.

Day 10:

After the morning med, the moment that we all have been waiting for has arrived. We’re free to start talking again. Everyone looks very anxious. When we come out of the hall that morning, we just look at each other with big smiles and we start laughing and we’re just so happy. All of us just start talking immediately. We’re still not allowed to touch each other. We just want to hug. Throw ourselves in each others arms and just feel another human persons body. But we can’t. We’re talking like crazy till the bell rings and we all have to go back to med. But it feels so much easier now. The atmosphere is so cheerful. I’ve never been happier about human contact, about talking and laughing. It’s time for lunch and one of the girls tells me she’s been putting together a story about me during those long hours in the med hall. She’s been sitting straight behind me everyday and observing me .She got my swedish background from the text on my asthma medicine that I keep next to my med pillow. Her story was that I was half swedish half Indian but I grew up in Dubai and was currently living in NYC. She had glimpsed a few of the tattoos on my body. She thought I was having a secret love affair with a tattooist who was using my body as a object of art. She also told me that my african dress with the very low neckline which showed off my gigantic back tattoo had been so sexy she was totally distracted from med.

All the ladies had been in huge pain all week, but I can honestly say that I was neither suffering from back or knee pain. My biggest problem was the long hours of endless sitting, it made me so restless. The worst of all was the weather conditions. Chilly beautiful mornings that got sunny around breakfast time but so hot and humid between 13-17 which made those hours almost impossible for me to concentrate. It felt like I was melting away. After the hot humid hours, the monsoon rain came. More humidity. The evenings got chilly and the last hour or two was always very cold.

I found it very funny that I was sharing a room with a Taiwan woman who used to work in with fashion business, I was having a lady next to me that used to be a fashion producer from UK, everything from photography to Vogue and behind me I had a organic fashion designer. Estrellas theory is that the teacher knew all our professional background and have placed us together by purpose.

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