The vipassana festival (Part 1 of 3)

A vipassana retreat is a ten days non-stop festival with music, sex, interesting stories, long-forgotten memories, ecstasy and bliss, fear and loathing, make your pick – all going inside your head. This was my third retreat and second Goenka (first, second). Cannot say that this thing gets easier with experience. Intense as always, but with a different flavour. As far as practicalities are concerned, it was exactly the same as the last time. The only change I’ve noticed was breakfast coffee in the spite of the “no intoxicant” precept. I actually asked the assistant teacher about this inconsistency and the reply was that coffee is no intoxicant, as it does not change one’s state of mind. “What about tobacco then?” “It is not an intoxicant as well”. Different retreats do indeed have their own peculiarities.

I pondered my misery on the first day over the breakfast: “What am I doing here? Same thing all over again and no novelty to look forward into.” Ten days of Goenka’s bad singing, rituals and overall cult tendencies were a bit too much for me. Then again the teaching is sound and the time spent meditating is never wasted. What is time if not an illusion? I realised that in no time it would be the tenth day, I would have my mysli with fresh fruits and yoghurt and a cup of rooibos. Knowing that in two hours Noble Silence would be over and there would be the whole day ahead full of fun, excitement, noble and not-so-noble chattering. And so it happened.

The first three days were rather uneventful. Grumpy mornings filled with hunger and horny thoughts and struggling with Goenka’s annoying manner of speaking. “Goenka sounds like an airplane about to take off”, I wrote in my diary on the third day. In a true rebel without a cause fashion I kept my diary throughout the course against the rules. The intentions were right, though, and this is what matters the most. Right away I got an important insight – about the weather in Sweden at this time of the year. It rained a lot and wind blew almost constantly. Not a good weather for cycling, but on the other hand it was a good stimulus to meditate. There was no point in staying outside and I could not stand the dorm, so the only option was to sit in the meditation hall. Generally speaking there is no use to try to escape meditation in such an environment, as there is nothing else to do there anyway. The only entertainment options are meals and evening discourses and those are at predefined times. Either you avoid meditation and feel very sorry for yourself or sit and feel less miserable. After all it is your choice to be there and the meditation is the main reason why you are there. Mind is a cunning beast, though, creating most subtle traps, so convincing yourself to sit and observe your breathe again and again is not always the easiest task.

Part 2 | Part 3

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