This post has taken almost a year to write. I’ve deleted and rewritten it four times. When I write, I have this massive problem with structure. I just get so excited about a story that I vomit it out in a document and sometimes it’s hard to follow. This one might be a bit difficult to understand if you don’t know what Vipassana means. Don’t worry, I didn’t know what it meant either. So let’s take a super quick look at what it is.
Vipassana is a form of meditation which comes from India. Legend has it that this was the technique used by the Buddha himself to achieve Nirvana (the rock group from the 90’s). Over centuries, it was lost in India and lost to the world. But then, in the 1960’s a man called Goenka rediscovered it in Burma in a monastery. Some regions of Burma are extremely isolated and it seems that the tradition here has lived on and been passed down through the centuries without disturbance from the outside world. Goenka took the techniques and over many years successfully spread it all across the world. One of his major breakthroughs was introducing it into the prison system across India with amazing results.
Vipassana meditation is the same in Brazil and Burma, California and Carlow.
For me, it was actually a way to save money and lose my big man boobs that I had developed. Three months in India, I hadn’t drunk a lot of alcohol, but I had smoked a tonne of weed and ordered dessert after dessert. I thought I was going to get diabetes but lucky I just got breasts. At first, they were a novelty. I used to ask people to squeeze them, or look at them move while I jumped up and down. But eventually, I thought to myself, unless you’re planning to breastfeed, you gotta do something.
Ok, I’m probably being a bit factious. I knew what it was and I had known for a while. I was curious and wanted to do it. It is unquestionably one of the hardest mental tasks I’ve ever done. But for various reasons, 2015 was the worst year of my life and I was determined to make sure it was the worst and the best. My mental ability had grown strong and now this was kinda like the ultimate test. I don’t do well with counselling and a trip to a psychiatrist scared the shit out of me. I didn’t do it to “find myself” because that’s not me. I can’t take anything that seriously. But I did do it because I knew it would be extremely difficult and I would ultimately learn something.
Ok, so let me set the scene. It’s 10 days, in total silence. You can’t look at anyone. You can’t use your phone or any electricity for that matter. You can’t read a book. You can’t use a pen or paper. You have to be totally disconnected from the world. That’s actually not that difficult to do. It sounds rough, but after the first day, you kind of just accept it. I wasn’t expecting it to be that easy. I’m the kind of person that gets on a 12 hour train with no phone battery or book and just stares out the window.. ..so it wasn’t much of an issue. And it was probably a blessing in disguise that I didn’t have a pen. In the 10 days, I must have mentally written two movies, 3 songs, 3 plays and solved all the world’s major problems in my head. At least that’s what I thought. I remember specifically, one day, actually masterminding a plan to get me and my amazing musical friend into the Eurovision Song Contest.
Vipassana relies totally on you following the instructions of your mentor and strictly sticking to all the guidelines. I can’t even follow the IKEA instruction booklet, so this presented a challenge for me. But the hardest part was the routine. Living in Barcelona for 3 years, I used to dread when people wanted to go to the beach, because it always involved people lying on towels and sitting under the sun. What could be more boring! I have a problem keeping still for 5 minutes, so this routine nearly killed me.
We woke up every morning at 4.00. There was a giant bell that woke us all up. It was pitch dark outside and once the bell stopped, you could hear the sounds of crickets and people brushing their teeth. Actually, now that I think about it, there was a lot of teeth brushing. Nepali people are mad into brushing their teeth. Meditation started at 4.30. So naturally I would get out of my bed at about 4.29 and frantically run down the stone steps in my pyjamas’, dragging my duvet, like a directionless, sleepy, homosexual goat. We meditated for 2 hours, then we had breakfast. At 8.00, we meditated again for 3 hours. At 11 we had lunch and then at 1, we meditated for 4 hours. That one was the killer. 4 hours sitting down, eye closed, breathing. There was no clock and I didn’t have a watch. At 5, we had some fruit, then at 7 we meditated for 2 hours, then watched a video for an hour and lights out at 10. Heavy stuff, right. 2.5 meals a day and more than 8 hours of meditation. For someone who can’t sit still, this was a huge undertaking. Some days I would meditate my arse off and really go for it. It was like I was trying to run toward Nirvana while smoking a crack pipe. Other days, I would try to figure out why I was so unhappy and how illogical it was. I had so much more than a lot people, I shouldn’t feel unhappy, I should be grateful. At the end of those days, I felt equally unhappy and also very guilty for feeling so unhappy, so that didn’t do any good.
Food and Exercise
You might think that 2.5 meals a day and basically no solid food after 11 would be insufficient but it wasn’t. You don’t do a lot of exercise and in fact, they actually tell you to avoid exercise because it’s distracting. I figured, if no one could see me doing it, then it was fine.
I found a secret rusted ladder and during the break, I would regularly climb it and go on to the roof. I would do some yoga (I’m not very good…picture a 90 year old woman doing water aerobics and you’re almost there). I would watch the beautiful sunset and stare out into immense wine coloured sky and think to myself “ what the f am I doing here – I could be paragliding, or getting high, or meeting hot Nepali men on Grindr (side note to anyone who has not visited Nepal – the people are beautiful – it’s like someone took Chinese people, Indians, Kashmiris and Siberians and stuffed them into a sexy genetic blender).
I took me about 4 days to realise that I was eating vegan food. It was so delicious and varied that I never imagined it. Also there was no one serving it, with white dreadlocks, preaching about the environment and mildly smelling of urine, so there was no way to immediately know it was vegan. I knew it would be vegetarian but I suddenly realised that there was no dairy either. Potato dumplings, curries, vegetables, lentils, spinach, breads and soups. It was absolutely delicious. Each time there was food, you would walk to where your metal tray was ( it had your name on it ) and go to the man with the big pot and he would fill your tray until you held out your hand to stop. You then went to your seat and ate facing the wall and then you cleaned you plate after you, ready to use again.
The only problem with giving a white Irish person lentils all the time is….. farts. God I remember needing to fart so badly in the meditation room and holding it for hours. I thought I was going to explode. My body didn’t get used to the lentils but I managed to master the art of the silent fart. I failed a few times but I don’t think anyone noticed that I was letting them off as they were all too bloody centred and calm. I remember one time, farting so loudly and the fact that no one reacted, caused me to burst out laughing… at my own fart. I don’t think Buddha would have done that. Jesus maybe, but not Buddha.
Ok, so this is definitely the most important part of the whole experience. There are so many types of meditation, techniques, schools of thought etc. Often people say, they don’t know how to meditate. My rule is – if you think you are meditating then you are meditating. You don’t need to subscribe to anything or anyone in order to give it a go. I had tried various forms myself over the past number of years. Sometimes they work, sometimes they just knock me out and I think I’m super enlightened but I’ve just fallen asleep ( that happens a lot ). This one is not a quick 20 minutes de-stress technique. It’s a step by step process and widely considered to be one of the most mental demanding. You spend the first 3 days just focused on your nose and your breathing. As someone who has to consciously try not to pick his nose, this was a difficult challenge.
I would encourage everyone to give it a try and not to feel too sad, if they don’t make it all the way to the end. It is very difficult and this may not be for you. I was determined to make it to the end because I thought I couldn’t do it. I looked at as a sort of military camp that needed to be completed. I had a new lease of life and I was ready to challenge myself mentally and physically ( that phase of my life came to a dramatic end when I fainted in a cave in Hungry). In hindsight this was the wrong attitude completely. It’s best to go in as an open book with no baggage or expectations. But several near death experiences, one tends to carry around a suitcase or two.. right.
I’m not going to properly conclude this one, because I think, if you’re interested and you’ve never heard of it, you should look it up. This blog is not the place for enlightenment, but a quick Google search, and you’ll be able to determine if it’s for you or not. If you don’t know, try it. The fact that it is free and all the volunteers do it, with no gain whatsoever, except to spread the experience around, should give you some idea of how awesome it can be. As for me, I’m proud to have done it, but I didn’t get what I was looking for and I didn’t really get what they told me I would get. But maybe it’s me and not them. For me, the search goes on.. it seems apparently I won’t find it in meditating, class A drugs, or traveling. Not sure where else to look really………Television ?