I zeroed in on the location first. Kutch! Yes, Kutch sounded like a dandy place for 10 days of silent meditation. Its infinite white salt pans would absorb all my colourful thoughts. On the date that the course was to begin, somehow, I ended up in lush green Kodi instead, eating colourful things that I was sure the Dhamma institute would disapprove of.
The second time I filled up the form for Vipassana – it’s a multi-page document that, intimidatingly enough, asks you details like the last time you sneezed (year and seconds please) – I made it to the location, this time Dharamsala, where I imagined the forests would keep me inspired. On the date of commencement, I was seen at a rather festive cafe on a cliff 6km away.
Third time around I finished the course and came out victorious – full of wise nuggets of wisdom, such as the ones listed below, born out of social awkwardness and private wilderness. Read on, those of you still teetering towards a decision!
1. Before you make any rash decisions, read the long Dos & Don’ts put together diligently by the makers of Vipassana (more about them later). If you’re still reading this, you are either a smart one who knows better than to click there, or you clicked, got bored and closed tab. Either way, welcome back.
2. What you need to know, the basics as such, is that Vipassana is not a fancy health spa retreat/an Art of Living sub-shoot/yoga camp/therapy centre. It is, in the simplest Buddhist form, a meditational form that teaches you to stay still and focus on your breath to concentrate and finally calm the mind. And it is free.
3. It’s not going to be easy. It’s the closest you’ll get to a natural, chemical-free mental rollercoaster.
4. You have to shut up, and no you can’t chat on silent mode either. There will be no gadgets, no vices, no hidden nooks to sneak a smoke (that is, if you manage to smuggle any in), no eye contact, no opposite sex, no touching same sex, no touch, no talk. Because you are aiming for nothingness, remember?
5. There will be Goenka’s face projected on one large screen in a hall though. He’ll orient you to the ideology. Your mind might feel like analysing his facial features, but the presence of more serious students and the silent teachers will keep you under check. There will be meagre food (even by vegan standards). There will be a wake up bell at 4 am. Un-turn-offable.
6. Cheating will be difficult. Well of course you can sneak in something, someone wrote an entire chapter of a book by sneaking in paper and pen, but mostly the schedule is so tight that you’d be happy to just be allowed to stretch your limbs in bed.
7. You’ll start paying attention to birds chirping. Throats clearing. Insects. Farts. You might twitch, or suffer from an onslaught of pins and needles. Your thoughts will even lay bare the most embarrassing teenage moments you buried long ago. And the worst songs you ever listened to. Imagine Dhadkan soundtrack playing on a loop. Dil ne ye kaha hai dil se…
8. It’s hard to imagine how precious distractions or even work are – forget conversation – for even the quietest of us. Because eventually all you will have at your disposal for amusement is the setting you are in – your neighbours, teachers, some cartoons, some snobs – or your own devilish mind. You could request to speak to a teacher, but that’s like accepting defeat. So yes, ego will keep rearing its head.
9. By the 5th day if you’re still around, alive and sound, then you know you wouldn’t have to die the embarrassing social death of a dropout, or worse, bump into one of the fellow students in the outside ‘normal’ world!
10. Like all great trips, there is no way to articulate the outcome of Vipassana either. You have to do it to see the junk and the beauty inside your own head. May you be first time lucky!
Image Credit: Nikhil Mudaliar