At 04:00 AM the dong would be chimed, time to wake up. Even if the dong didn’t chime I would have a personal alarm clock every morning, one of the guys in the men’s residencies behind my room would have a lovely and loud vomiting session every morning. Way to start your day! At 04:30 AM we would need to be on our designated cushion in the Dhamma Hall, here we would have a small introduction every morning, we would meditate and then for the last half hour there would be chanting by Goenka, no one was to joining in luckily as the sound of his whiny voice would already put my morning mood in a bad place. Gosh, I hate chanting so much, especially when I have no idea what he is even saying.
Just to be clear, I actually like rising early and feeling like I have a head start whilst the rest of the world is fast asleep, but when I only get 5 hours of sleep a night (the technique believes that more sleep is unnecessary, I disagree) and you are sleeping off a plank made out of stone, I was not in the best of mood in the mornings and was grateful no one could talk to me.
So the following picture I took on the 11th morning, technically the course was over and we had our phones back haha!
After the bell would finally chime I would rush off to my room to use the bathroom (the ones by the Dhamma Hall were the squat type toilets invested by ants – I wonder why – so my preference went to my own toilet) and I would head to the dining hall and get whatever breakfast was served. All food consumed at the Vipassana Ajanta Centre was vegetarian and was grown in the centre’s own garden which I thought was a lovely idea until I realised I would be having a plate full of carbs 3 times a day, and my poor body can’t take carbs very well so I ballooned in pure bloat, my skin broke out and I felt super uncomfortable for the whole duration of the course.
I am not actually a fussy eater at all, there are very few things that I will outright refuse to eat even if it is not my favourite I will consume it diligently without complaint but, to be honest, it was actually only on the first day I enjoyed the breakfast. It reminded me of porridge. Just with what seemed like 30 grams of sugar mixed through it. For the remainder of the 10 days, the breakfasts would be pure heavy carb and coriander, they actually put coriander through 95% of the food. I despise coriander so much. It would take me longer to dissect my food from the poison that it would take me to eat the actual food. At least I could have a cup of Chai, I would look forward to this during the whole first session, it was my motivation to get through the session.
Actually, with every dinner the new students were allowed to take a piece of fruit, it would variate between my favourite- banana and my least favourite- papaya, I could deal with the papaya though because I just wanted the vitamins and I knew the taste would grow on me if I would keep eating it. Because I have a lazy thyroid that I need to take medication for every day the Dhamma teacher insisted I would have a piece of fruit twice a day instead of once, I was extremely grateful as I know that my body really needs a lot of fruit and veg compared to other people but I didn’t like to ask as it would feel like I was getting special treatment on request.
After each meal each student I required to wash up their own stuff with what seemed like butter. My skin is peeling and cracked out of dryness, I have used up an entire tub of hand cream the past 10 days!
Finishing off the morning
After breakfast we would have 45 minutes to ourselves, in this period would be a small 15-minute slot of hot water for the shower, that first shower I had was so lovely as I hadn’t had a warm shower in just over a week, it was absolute bliss! If I was lucky I could get a 10-minute power nap in before the bell would chime again ready for the next 3-hour session, I have actually really learned during this course that if you have a genuinely short powernap, they are so energizing and get your focus right back on track!
I am so grateful to my mum for getting me water purification drops, I really needed them during this entire course. Everyone would have a bottle they would need to refill with designated drinking water, only for someone from the West it could still be a little too dangerous for the stomach to drink, I was drinking 4 liters of water a day and in between session I would add my drops to my newly filled bottle which would need to settle for half an hour. It had a slightly bleached taste but not even once had I gotten an upset stomach. So thank you for sorting that out for me.
During the gruelling 3 hour sitting in which you would sometimes be called out to sit and meditate in front of the lady teacher for some reason and the rest of the class could quietly ask her their questions in private. Because I needed a translator I would be invited to her rooms every other day and we would ask each other things regarding my meditation and my doubts regarding parts of the philosophy we were being taught about. I had a strong feeling that she was not questioned in such a way often as she would seem rather taken aback. I am very open minded but I am not going to take someone’s word blindly just because they say so, I need to know why, the science behind it and whether I agree with it on personal moral terms, also I like to consider other viewpoints and outlets regarding the situation
Lunch would be served at 11 and would consist of rice, chapati’s, vegetables and an abundance of coriander. Alas, there would be no Chai for me in the afternoon, I would have to wait until dinner time. After dinner I would have about one hour for myself, I enjoyed walking around the small designated area so much, just taking in the surrounding nature and letting my thought process whilst finally getting some exercise. When I could I would try to sit in the sun for 15 minutes to recharge, get a tan and just get that vitamin D ‘ feel good’ boost I love so much. Each time I would think how much I love the sun and the feeling of the heat on my skin and how much peace it brings me. Most days I would just be pushing back my cuticles so I would have something to do in the meantime, I now have rather beautifully manicured finger and toenails actually!
Seeing as by this point I would, if I was lucky, have had 5 hours and 10 minutes of sleep I would try and get a little nap in that hour too, but some days I really needed to take conscious time to just be with myself without focussing on meditation. You need to understand, that even during the break times, you are still so consumed by the practice of Vipassana and very much by your thoughts and emotions.
Ooooooh shit, the dong has been chimed. Time for the 4-hour session. If I just postpone by 2 minutes and wait for going to the bathroom until the last second and take the smallest steps towards the Dhamma hall, it would already be such a relief.
The first 2 hours would usually go pretty well, that is probably the reason that all of my (and most student’s) energy, concentration, motivation and focus would be completely drained. I would usually have a really beneficial session and feel super chilled and zen and then because the following 2 hours I would hardly be able to even get in to the mental space, the hours would drag, the physical pain in my body would be so promininent no matter how much I ‘ just observed’ and thought ‘ it’s just nature, nature’ (Goenka’s voice is still through my head as he says these infuriating sentances) I would keep changing my position unable to get comfortable or a new painful sensation would arise. When I opened my eyes after every 2 minutes to check the time, I would see that almost everyone was feeling the same way that I was, some seemed to be suffering quite a bit worse but the girl sat next to me, I Think she was 24, during the entire 10 days she remained to work hard and was completely diligent with her meditation. she would not move at all and keep her eyes closed at all times, no matter what. It was very inspiring and I could not wait to tell her as soon as we come out of noble silence.
Almost done for the day…….
When the clock would finally strike 5 PM It would be time for the snack or my dinner as I didn’t want to eat any more carbs after 9 PM right before bed. The snack was my favourite food of the day, I am not sure what it was but it looked like puffed rice which was heavily seasoned and had some nuts mixed through. I would have some more fruit and my beloved Chai! After the snack we would have about 20 minutes to our selves before having to go for another hour-long session, this was always my favourite. I would get really deep in the zone and seem to make progress each evening after this session. Right after Me and the other people who would prefer to watch the English discourse given by Goenka were taken to a smaller room where a tiny TV would display the old tape. To my dismay, each discourse would take about an hour and a half. For the people that know me, it will come as no surprise that I have a lot of difficulties watching TV shows or films which last over 450 minutes because I get distracted waiting to do something that is more productive. It took a lot of effort to watch something I had trouble understanding (my damn accent problem) and something that was failing at just getting to the point. After each discourse, we would finish off the day by having a 30-minute final meditation before so would go for dinner but I would always be heading to bed.