READING TIME: 11 MIN
Monkey Mind in Meditation Centre
6-17 November 2019
Dhamma Pajjota, Dilsen-Stokkem, Belgium
Vipassana means ‘to see things as they really are’. Vipassana is a meditation technique taught for over 2,500 years. It originated in India, and today there are courses all over the world. This globalisation is the good work of Satya Narayan Goenka, who brought the technique to Europe, the U.S., Canada and Australia. People that want to start Vipassana have to enroll in a 10-day course. During this course, students are not allowed to speak, read, write, exercise, smoke, drink alcohol or eat in between meals. This way, distractions from the outer world are limited as much as possible, which allows for a deep understanding of one’s inner world. A voice recording of Goenka assists students in their meditation. A male and female teacher are physically present, they further instruct the students and they can be asked to answer specific questions. These teachers are in their turn assisted by a male and female manager. The managers are older students who take care of the time shedule, the obedience of rules and practical organisation aspects. Every day starts at four o’clock, there are 10 hours of meditation a day, two meals at 6.30am and 11am, and at 7pm there’s a lecture in which Goenka teaches the students about Buddhism and the execution of Vipassana, seeing things as they are, in the ‘real’ world.
These are the used abbreviations in this text:
MT: Male Teacher
M&M&M: Male Manager, named Marcus
OM: Organisation member
Day 0: After a very busy period, I'm looking forward to my 10 days of 'doing nothing'
Finally time to relax // damned, my carpool driver lets me wait for 1 hour in the cold // WHAT?! Another 45 minutes waiting before the 3rd person in the car arrives // (calling the Vipassana center) Hi, it’s Glenn, Dina and Valéria; I’m calling because we will be late. // OM: Ok, you won’t miss the first course. But you will probably have no more soup // No more soup, is that guy serious? Is it going to be that kind of retreat? // Ouf, there’s still soup, but the staff seem vééééry serious // What, no shorts allowed because my calves might be too distracting for the other meditators?? But I’m coming from Southern France where it’s 20°C. Shorts are all I have // Luckily I picked up that jogging legging of my mother with me. Bye bye calves, bye bye self-esteem // Hmmm, there are a lot of young people. A lot of hot girls as well. Boys and girls won’t be separated 24/7, are we? // Yes, we are. Only in the meditation hall can we see the opposite sex. Boys at the left side of the hall, girls right. A big border line in the middle, never cross it // Oh my god what a boring first meditation! only 99 more hours to go...
Day 1: We’re taught to pay attention to our breath.
My fucking back hurts // One cushion more, my back hurts // Dear Goenka, if you sing THAT BAD, you might at least hire someone to do the voicings // 4 cushions, still not enough. STOP HURTING STUPID BACK // Where the hell is my mind going? // Don’t look at the girls, you’re here to focus, you’re here for yourself, don’t look // My back hurts. Am I really going to ask the teacher for a chair... on my first day?? // My back hurts sooooooo badly // Dear Teacher, my back hurts. What can I do? // MT: Change postures regularly, you’re allowed to…. for now // And a bench? Can I use a small bench? // Aha, sitting with my lower legs on the floor and my ass on a bench is much less painful for my back // Damn, now my knees hurt // I’m focusing on my breath for 10 hours now, can we please change the exercise// MY KNEES HURT // I’m bored // I ask my roommate where we have to go for the first evening lecture. He looks at me like I just pushed my fist into his grandmother’s anus*, then points out to the building at the other side of the garden. Obviously, some people take this ‘no talk’-thing serious // I’m having the worst headache ever, and I’m so tired // How the hell am I going to sustain this for another 9 days?
Day 2: We focus on the sensations on the triangle between upper lip and nostrils.
Ok, I’m terribly bad at meditating. So I have to be the best at something else… But there’s not much we’re allowed to do here, so not much to be the best at….. hmmmm…. I know: I’ll be the most disciplined guy. At 4.01 a.m. I will be in the shower. I’ll make my bed every time. I’ll put my cushions in perfect order and I’ll fold up my blanket after each meditation // Good, now my back AND knees hurt, this is going to be fun again // I feel tinglings, pulsations, cold and a little humidity underneath my nostrils, what an exciting day! // WOW THE TREES ARE BEAUTIFUL, who made these things? // Mmmm, the meals are the only thing that keeps me going // I’m bored // I need my journal, my mind is going crazy // Why does nobody smile? // Everyone is eating his tiny bowl of salad like a slack, I pass the buffet at least 3 times and still eat like a pig, do I belong here?// MY KNEES HURT // Don’t look at the girls // I could have done soooo much at home in these 2 days // There is one guy that fills his thermos with coffee, so he can sip on it for later on. Besides, he even dared to ASK for salt, and he also fills his plate a couple of times at the buffet. I like this guy, he’s real too // I feel terrible: my knees hurt, my back hurts, my head hurts, I’m extremely bored // Goenka’s lecture gives me hope; feeling like you’ve been run over by a truck on day 2 seems the normal thing
Day 3: We have a smaller area to focus on; no more inside nostril feeling, only the space between upper lip and outer nostrils.
4.01 o’clock. I’m in the shower, look how great I am // I see my roommate naked. I feel shocked. For 3 days, I’ve seen nothing but bald hands and heads // Back pain is dissolving, knee pain is dissolving, concentration grows, but it’s still boring shit out here // I understand, it’s going to be a work vacation, not a relaxation vacation // oh, when I get out of here, I could build this company, or no, no, that company, or why shouldn’t I become a digital nomad? or only do seasonal work and travel in winter? Or maybe build this company instead... // oh, next year, I could climb Aconcagua, visit South-America and learn Spanish... or should I climb Denali and do a travelling podcast with my American heroes... or should I go to the South Pole first?.... How am I going to get the money to do this cool stuff? // I’ve given my roommates names: there’s the Irish Guy, Ian. The two German guys: Rikkert and Jens. And there’s Dogan, the naked guy. I know his real name is Dogan, because I saw a note of M&M&M meant for him, pasted on our door. I think Dogan is Russian. He’s always looking very serious, I bet he’s planning on liquidating me // There are 5 guys standing in a line in the sun. What are they doing? Photosynthesis? // 36 minutes without moving posture, NEW RECORD!! // Don’t look at the girls, Glenn. You’re here for yourself. Focus on meditation. // I look at the sky. It’s so wonderful. Clouds moving so fast and effortlessly. I shed a tear or two. // Am I supposed to hate this meditation shit so much? // Headache goes slightly better, but I’m TERRIBLY tired.
Day 4: In the afternoon, we learn the real Vipassana meditation. This is a body scan from head to toes and the other way around. During this first Vipassana meditation, we are forced to sit completely still, which is called ‘holding equanimity’, for one hour.
4.01 I’m supposed to be the first one in the shower. But I’m in bed. What does it matter anyway, hail to snoozing // It’s official: I’m meditating for more than 30 hours without 1 single minute of nice, calm feelings. In other words: it all sucks // The real guy looks like a Dutchman, I decide to call him Pieter-Jan Hendrik. When the 10 days will be over, I suspect everyone will bang their head against a wall until unconsciousness, look at porn all day long or go to a forest and hunt earthworms with a toothpick. But not Pieter-Jan Hendrik. Pieter-Jan Hendrik is going to do exactly like me: stop at the first Starbucks he encounters, order a Cappuccino and a croissant and tell himself: “Well, it wasn’t that bad after all” // I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, my back hurts SO MUCH. I HAVE to move // I can’t be the ONLY loser in this room that can’t sit still for one hour. Hang on, hang on, hang on... // Is this harder than completing a full-distance triathlon? // NOOOOOO, I surrender. I change posture. I AM SUCH A FAILURE // Who is the Ironman here? These wool sock spiritual creatures are MUCH stronger than me...
Day 5: We continue to do the Vipassana meditation. Until the end, three times a day, we must hold equanimity. During these three hours, we are not allowed to open our legs, arms or eyes.
The guy in front of me is so perfect: the straightest back I’ve ever seen, amazing lotus posture. Besides, he looks like a really nice guy, I’m sure he has a dog, probably a golden retriever // YEEEEEEES, I’VE MANAGED! 1 HOUR WITHOUT MOVING! I’M A HERO!!!! // I get a first glimpse of a nice sensation, but it stays less than two minutes. two minutes out of 45 hours of HELL, it feels like HEAVEN // A guy farted out loud during meditation. Funniest thing that happened today // Ok, I admit, I start looking at the girls. But I’m not the only one, 5 days of building up testosterone seems to be too much for most guys // The girls, on their part, don’t seem to care about us // I’m bored, how can I make this interesting? Are there body parts I didn’t feel yet? Knee holes, adductors, scrotum, penis... Could I willpower myself an erection?** // During meditation, more and more people start moving limbs before I do, I feel so great about them being weak. // Ok, I’ve spotted a beautiful girl. Can’t help. My mind is craving for something pleasurable. // I MISS MY DOG; I MISS LOVE; I MISS MY MOM***
Day 6: Rest day. We watch comedy movies, eat space cake and have a pajama party.
Didn’t happen. Too bad.
Day 7: We continue practicing Vipassana, and start looking out for the Free Flow: a blissful stream of good vibrations throughout the body.
I am furious and exhausted. The last thing I want to do is meditating. However, I do what I’m supposed to and start my first meditation on the chair next to my bed // M&M&M: Hi, wake up. Did you meditate this morning?? // Yes, but I fell asleep on the chair and moved to the bed // What is this, the army? // FREAKING TERRIBLE TINGLINGS ON MY CHEST, GO AWAY!!! // I am completely done with it. Either I leave, I walk a 1000 laps in the small garden or I add some punch to my stay here // Yesterday, Ian broke. The tough Irish guy, tattoos all over his body, a badass beard. So tough, but too weak for his own mind. Can’t blame him, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done // Did I just meditate one hour about the question HOW I can FLIRT with a GIRL HERE? // The concentration level of my monkey mind is back to day one // Yes, I know HOW!!! // Rikkert discovers HOW, I have to explain everything. Turns out he has an amazing British accent, too good to be German. I change his name. He’s called Wayne now // Ok, I know HOW, but WHEN? // Should I go living in a yurt next year? // Aconcagua, Denali or South Pole? hmmmmmm... // Maybe, I should first learn to ski // How am I going to build my company in between all these adventures? // First day I’m not exhausted. Actually, I’m excited // Today, I had fun wandering away, but I’ve ruined one day of meditation. I just have to give it another chance. Day 8 is going to be my best day.
Day 8: We’re perfecting Vipassana.
I keep word, I have my best day. My mind only wanders away to the HOW, and each time, I manage to bring it back rapidly to the meditational practice // Terrible tinglings!! // Oh, they are gone // Terrible tinglings! // Oh, they are gone // Terrible tinglings! // Oh, they are gone // Terrible tinglings! // Oh, they are gone // I feel so calm, relaxed and happy, finally. Would this be a thèta-brainwave-state, now I understand how meditation can become addictive // I’m very happy, very proud. // I’ll make it to the end. But first, tomorrow, the HOW.
Day 9: Perfection of Vipassana, we try to penetrate into deep layers of our body.
TERRIBLE TINGLINGS all over again, I know why they are there. It’s Buddha torturing me. The reason: I’m about to violate an important rule: the HOW // Plan HOW is easy: keep on meditating after the 11 o’clock gong has sounded, until everyone will have left the meditation hall, then drop the note with the small joke and my phone number on her cushion. Easy Peasy // FUCK. It’s 10 past 11 and M&M&M is still meditating. As soon as he wakes up, he’s going to ask me to exit the room // I have to take the risk, if he opens his eyes now, I’m dead // WOOOHHHHOOOO I AM SO THRILLED!!! I FLIRTED ON A VIPASSANA COURSE, NANANANANANAA
Day 10: We continue Vipassana, but in between meditation sessions we are allowed again to speak to each other.
WHAT A FEELING! WHAT A HAPPINESS! These guys seems like my best friends!! // The craziest thing: all of them had the same kind of weird and silly thoughts during the past ten days. All of them had doubts about their meditational talents and skills. All of them experienced back pain. All of them have their life changed. We’re feeling a thousand sensations at the same time. // Aside from the day I finished my first full distance triathlon, this certainly is the second best day of the year // What a heartbreaking HARD but WONDERFUL thing is this Vipassana shizzle wizzle!