I sinned on Day 3.
No – I didn’t eat meat, didn’t break the noble silence, didn’t intoxicate myself, didn’t have sex with a man (or woman), didn’t cheat by hiding my IPhone. I even denied myself the temptation of reading a book. Oh that last one was truly a sacrifice!
Yet I broke my sheel or code of conduct … b’cos I wrote. At the cost of foregoing my slot in Heaven … I wrote. How else would you be reading this?
Infact, IMHO writing should be encouraged here, not banned. Vipassana ignites a volcano of conflicting emotions. With speech and sms banned, what better outlet than a diary to jot down thoughts? A day to day see-saw of emotions will always resonate better with future Vipassana aspirants than a Day 11-delirious-am-finally-going-home euphoria.
Day 1: Dhammagiri, Igatpuri. 135 kms from Mumbai. Feeling excited. Am on the threshold of imbibing new knowledge.
Early bird (< 9.30 am) gets a solo room with a view. Being lucky with a capital L, my R38 cabin has a mountain-clouds-blue sky-gulmohar tree view. Situated down a steep flight of stairs, it promises to become the only source of physical exercise in the coming 10 days. (Yes, yoga & jogging is not permitted.)
A grueling 4.00 am to 9.30 pm itinerary includes a whopping 10 hours of meditation. My mind automatically translates 10 hours into 36,000 seconds!!! Not for the faint hearted, admittedly. We get a brutally frank warning to leave right now or stay put for 10 days. No escape in between!
We get allotted fixed seats in the Dhamma hall. (I learn that dhamma = dharma) Lucky me gets a seat bang below the ceiling fan! Cross legged on floor cushions, we ladies focus attention on the Simba area (the triangle from forehead to upper lips).
Just watch the breath come in, go out. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Observe. Observe. Observe.
I feel a rivulet of sweat tickle down my back. I pop open one eye; and am just in time to see the sevika switch off all fans. In 35 degrees C Indian summer, in a room sans air conditioner, in a room with 300 women and in a room with closed windows! On the verge of demanding Why? I’m muffled by their code of Noble Silence.
The Vipassana course frowns upon all forms of communication, but trust the women to find a way out. (men are cordoned off in another hall for the Purity code of conduct) Across the room, there are episodic explosions of burps, gas bubbles, hiccups, yawns and umm … other indelicate sounds. No wonder the veteran kitchen caterers plied us with digestive ginger water!
My mind’s Hanuman soon vaults over Simba’s triangular Laxmanrekha and swings from idea to idea, memory to memory & fantasy to fantasy. It shrugs off the ‘No music’ dictum of Igatpuri. Sonu Nigam grabs a mike and croons Deewana in my left ear. An hour later Nazia Hasan sashays in with Aap jai koi. My efforts at meditation are Sonu-otaged on day 1.
I get an Archimedes moment – a brand new story plot pops up in my mind. I dwell on it for 15 minutes and then wave it away reluctantly. Fantasy not allowed.
Day 2: Still cross legged on floor. Today we (try to) focus attention over the nostril entrance for 10 hours. Instead, my attention gets frantic SOS signals from 2 zones – my back muscles and my thigh muscles. They ache, they throb, they spasm and they tremble. A heat wave swells & rolls down my body. The fans stay firmly switched off.
Feeling weary from the sheer monotony of it. Someone please tell me the point of this exercise!
We stand in line for breakfast, lunch and snacks. The dishes are hot, healthy and clean. They include 2 types of rotis, a dal, 2 vegetables, rice, cucumber-carrot salad. Food is unlimited, except for the aamras (mango juice delicacy) that we get today as a feast. Yet, it is bland for my tastebuds. Buttermilk is my saviour of the day. Chilled and delicious, it salvages my lunch.
The story plotline germinates into 3 alternate endings – one happy, one mysterious, one sad. Hmm, which one should I select? Oh, stop it!
I dump my sweaty clothes at the laundry service (only Rs 10/- per cloth.) I sweep my room clean (yes, every room has a broom & duster for its inhabitant to use). I calculate how many days are left before I return home.
Day 3: Same cross-legged posture. Today we narrow down the focus to Hitler moustache area.
Hour after hour. It seems tedious, repetitive & fruitless (i.e fruitless except for the bananas & watermelons, which alternate as our 5.30 pm-last-meal-of-the-day snacks. Hmm, now I know where the expression ‘going bananas’ originated!)
Sitting cross legged for hours makes the sweat pool and ferment behind my kneecaps. Damn, I should have packed a Deo, even though it was prohibited. We are expected to concentrate, focus, introspect and find inner peace in the midst of sweat, heat and aches! It’s sadistic, it’s inhuman, it’s … necessary as per Shri Goenka, insist the sevikas calmly.
At lunch I run a dour eye over the bland food Oh, for a dab of tangy mango pickle! I spoon into a cool watermelon slice. A sly glance at the plates around me reveals that everyone had taken 2 chunky slices of watermelon while I took just one. They were getting smarter while I was getting wiser.
I get a scolding at lunchtime. Owing to noble silence, the scolding takes the form of raised eyebrows and an exaggerated nod towards the uneaten food in my plate. Guilty, m’lord!
My mind rebels & sulks. I feel a mounting , intense irritation. Enough is enough. I bunk 2 whole hours of post lunch meditation – and commit the sin. Thankfully I had the foresight to pack 4 sheets of blank paper. Drunk on the exhilarating company of words I indulge, indulge and indulge myself.
Day 4: A glimmer of understanding in sight at last! Shri Goenka’s voice introduces a variation in the meditation marathon. We learn to sweep attention serially from head to toe and left to right. At each body part, we have to pause and register the skin sensations, which may be gross (heat, cold, ache) or subtle (like vibrations, needles, tingling etc).
I try to imagine Arjun’s fingers tiptoeing across my skin. Just as I get cozy, the Shri Goenka’s voice insists that all sensations should be dispassionate. Reluctantly I brush aside Arjun’s fingers.
Head to toe. Left to right. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The game plan is to not enjoy the pleasant sensations and not hate the unpleasant ones. Equanimity is the keyword.
(Hey! Isn’t this the स्तिथप्रद्न्य that Krishn mentioned in Bhagavad Gita? शीतोष्ण सुख दुख is just apt for my attempts to tolerate the current heat agony. So finally everything converges into or emerges from the Gita, I observe bemused.)
My story’s male protagonist gets a scar and a valid reason for it. As for the female protagonist, she’ll have to take a heartbreaking decision … Whatever else Vipassana may or not achieve, it is surely good for creativity!
Day 5: Same game plan as day 4, except that we focus on parallel points i.e both shoulders , both thighs simultaneously. In addition, we are mandated to maintain Adhishttana i.e no posture change, eyes closed and back ramrod straight for an entire 60 minutes. OMG, what if I get deep vein thrombosis or Raynaud’s ischemia?
I walk 6 times up and down the steep flight of stairs to negate the numbing Adhishttana posture.
Day 6: Hallelujah! I attain Adhishttana today.
I feel multiple delicious bubbles bursting beneath my skin. It feels like the exotic pedicure where fishes nibble away dead cells from soles. Or like an O2 facepack. Or like an aroma sauna massage.
Do I survive the next 4 days? Do I gain what I came here for? Do I take away anything precious with me? Do I alter myself for the better? And most importantly, does my story plotline get zany twists?
More in Part 2….