Yoga: Vipassana course is like a clout round the head – Part 1

vipassana-meditationI’ve been lying low for the last few weeks, mainly because for 10 days, I was ‘locked up’ inside my own head. I took the brave step a few months ago of signing up to a vipassana course. The prompt? I’d lost patience with myself and my inability to deal with certain, normal aspects in a relationship like waiting until both of you are ready instead of steaming ahead expecting the other person to catch up along with other issues I felt needed a bit of ironing out.

I knew what the course involved of course; 4am wake up calls, 10 hours of meditation per day, breaks for showering and eating and silence for a total of ten days with lights out being around 9.30pm. I had also read a few of the other blogs around and a couple of youtube videos from others who’d been through it and shared their experience. The key point here though is ‘their experience’. This is because each and every person will bring their own set of tinted glasses so that, regardless of the fact that everyone is eating together, sleeping together and meditating in the same room together, each and every person’s experience cannot possibly be like any other.

I knew that it was going to be tough. I knew that I have a mind that was probably going to be more difficult to deal with than the average given some of the neuroses I’ve been left with after many painful experiences in my life, beginning in child hood and I say this, not to demean the experiences of anyone else who comes with psychological baggage to such a course but rather, to emphasise the level of awareness I had already when showing up that first day.

Over the past couple of years, I’d ramped up my healing with huge leaps through awakening and I thought, I was in a pretty good place to deal with the challenges of the vipassana course but boy was I wrong. Anyone reading this who may be thinking about attending a course I would urge to remember that my experience is not representative because there truly is no norm except for the fact that, from what I can gather, most people want to leave on the third day.

On the way to the course, I stopped to give a ride as planned, to Gernot who was coming in from Germany. This was to be his 4th course. Unlike me, he was relaxed about the whole thing, knowing what to expect, and was extremely positive about the impact the technique has had on his life. Arriving at Dhamma-Dipa, the course centre, we were separated into different buildings and I found myself walking into a large cafeteria with men on one side, women on the other and the course manager seated at a table directly ahead of me. After putting my things down, I got chatting to a couple of Brazilian ladies whilst completing my registration form and was shown the locker in which I would place all my belongings for the duration of the ten days. I was given a lovely clean set of bedding and even had a choice of two (being a girl I picked roses) and you might think this a minor detail but trust me, when you spend the amount of time in contemplation that we did, you’ll be glad of anything nice to look at.

A couple of hours later, I’d made my last texts/calls, put away all my restricted items including my knitting and the cafeteria was split in two by a wall with the boys on the other side. The code of conduct to which we’d ‘signed up,’ otherwise known as the precepts and the rules for the ten days which were based on enabling us to adhere to these precepts was read out to us.

In the Theravardan Thai Buddhist tradition, these were:

I will abstain from killing

I will abstain from stealing

I will abstain from sexual misconduct

I will abstain from all intoxicants and

I will observe noble silence


Following this speech, silence descended and we filed out of the cafeteria soberly.

Returning to my room which I discovered with glee, I would not have to share, I put the pillow cases and duvet cover on my bed and turned to unpack, dismayed to discover I had already unpacked from my previous weekend with my boyfriend in London but had failed to repack. One t-shirt, a thin jumper, a skirt and a pair of jogging bottoms and a kaftan lay inside my suitcase along with some basic toiletries. Luckily I’d thought to throw in one of my cosiest jumpers but with only three pairs of knickers to get through ten days, I was more than a bit relieved when I found out that washing powder would be supplied for students.

We were shortly summoned by the first of many gongs to the meditation hall.