The moment I put my yellow torchlight in my velvet Bottega Veneta shoebag, it hit me. I must be crazy. Why did I want to do this again? Why did I want to go into total silence, without my phone, my friends, not being allowed to make eye contact with other people and just sit on a mat with my eyes closed 10 hours a day, for freaking 10 days straight! Why? I couldn’t really find the answer and laughed at the hilarious contradiction in my packing which basically summed up my life. Vogue and Vipassana.
This is going to be an interesting trip.
I shushed my anxious mind by telling it that I had always wanted to do this. A Vipassana retreat. Experiencing to just be with myself, without any input from others, social media or the world for that matter. In India. Because that’s where Vipassana originally came from after the teachings had been passed on from Myanmar by the meditation teacher S.N. Goenka.
After a long flight I arrived in Bangalore, the so-called IT city of India. Not Goya, or the supposedly beautiful ‘Mystical North India’, no, non of that. Just a pretty plain city that had found great popularity with flashy Indian tech startups and trendy young people dressed in Levi’s jeans and Zara pullovers. As the Uber driver drove like Lewis Hamilton on hard drugs through the streets, I saw cows in the middle of the street (finally something holy I thought) and realized that crossroads and stop signs were only for the blind here.
The question came up again; why again was I doing this? And why Bangalore?
‘Because you had a dream one night and heard you had to go somewhere with a B, Louise.’ ‘Well you could have picked Belgium for god’s sake’ I hear my inner cynic comment, lovingly as ever.
The Vipassana Meditation Center looks like a freaking prison. The only thing missing is a barbed wire around the gates but other than that, it has all the looks of Guantanamo Bay. I sit in line with 20 other women who are also registering, one by one we are being called to come forward. I feel my heart beating in my chest, did I get my registration right? And why are they being so harsh? Or is it the way they communicate, in this directive manner? I am lost. Ok surrender. You got this, I tell myself. ‘You will be number 22’ the Indian lady says, while she pierces right through me with her deeply blue spiritual ‘I can see what you have been up to’ eyes. Next thing I know I get a seat assigned in the dining hall and the meditation hall. Both number 22. My seat in the dining hall has the amazing view of what was soon to become my new best friend for the next 10 days- TWTW, aka The White Tile Wall. Wall and I bonded deeply over curry, curry and more curry. And I honestly miss him daily.
Next thing I know I was introduced to my roommate, who I was not allowed to talk to or look at so you can imagine how well that went. We were asked to hand in our phones and valuables, as well as reading and writing material which they kept in a big wooden box with an enormous lock. Bye world, see you in 10 days.
The next 10 days have been one of the most profoundly impactful days of my life. Not being able to speak or communicate in any way or form, not be touched or not to hear my own voice for so many days does something to a human being on levels which can not be grasped by our ‘thinking’ mind and have profound effects on a subconscious level.
Meditating for 10 hours a day on a square flat pillow, after waking up at 4AM, sitting in complete silence in a room with strangers getting bare minimum instructions on how to actually do this intensely harsh form of meditation is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
I came to see all the constructs and parts of myself; the self-lover, the explorer, the scientist, the overachieving striver followed by the angry bitch, the spiritual yogi, the thankful charmer and at times, the pure nothingness of my being. Moments when there was nothing, just being, aka heaven. But let me be honest, there were very few of those, most of the time I was just trying to sit still in a lotus position while being in excruciating physical pains. Til the point where I honestly had told myself I would never be able to walk again after getting up from this dreading hour of meditation. And yes, every day I thought this must be the definition of hell. Until a little bit of heaven came along and things changed again.
Vipassana meditation teaches you to be aware of what is. Just as it is. If you experience a sensation in the body which is painful then accept what it is, a sensation, nothing more nothing less. Learning to not wanting to change it, to not make a story out of the pain.
We are continuously busy with liking and disliking everything. Our hips, our parents, posts, our jobs, our colleagues and friends, their actions and behaviours, our plans or our lack of plans.
At the same time we are all so busy wanting to make our lives one big jolly happy romcom, but it isn’t.
Life throws you a curveball, gets you down on your knees every now and then and fairness is often left out of the equation. The only thing that is constant is change. Everything changes constantly. The weather, the seasons, your skin, your relationship, your cells, the plants and the trees.
But our minds are not able to just be aware in the here and now. Our monkey minds are continuously thinking, constructing, scheming and planning. We are always thinking about what just has happened or what still has to happen. We live in yesterday and tomorrow. But rarely in the here and now. Only when we experience something physical. Pain gets you into the now. It is right here, you can FEEL it. Physical sensations bring you in the now and stop the train of thought. Vipassana trains your brain to experience physical sensations, all of them. The pleasant ones and the painful ones. And to just sit with it. No matter how painful. No matter how nice. To not label it, because it is what is it. A sensation. With the one and only characteristic in common- it will go away.
Do not cling to the good, do not cling to the bad. The only thing that is constant in life is that everything is changing. Except The White Tile Wall, i bet he is still there, bonding with another young woman over delicious curry.