Vipassana Meditation Retreat : The Aftermath

Ok, so I was going to do this big detailed review of the Dhamma Dipa meditation retreat, what happened when, how, etc. But then I thought maybe it’s best not to give away too much of the experience, and rob people of the chance to find out for themselves. Plus, I’m not sure how I feel about it right now, so anything I write would be a little unbalanced to say the least. If you’re interested in doing it you should just go do it. It’s free, you can leave whenever you want, and you’re big enough to make your own decisions about the whole thing.

That being said, here’s some points from the few notes I jotted down when I got back. They should go some way to defining my experience there, and maybe give you an idea what to expect. And for those that need it I’ll just say it right now – **SPOILER ALERT**

my 'cell'

For one thing it was tough! Ten days of getting up at 4am, meditating for ten hours a day, no food after noon (though some fruit at 5pm); no talking, no touching, no eye contact; isolation, hard work, and a lot to comprehend. That about sums it up. It’s an emotional experience, but not a social one. They take it very very very seriously, and there’s very little let up. You’re there to work, and work you must.

I almost left a few times, sometimes because I wasn’t getting anything out of it, sometimes out of frustration, and sometimes because I was just sick of all the rules. But I stuck it out, and I at least gained a good grounding in Vipassana meditation (though I also got that from reading Mindfulness in Plain English: 20th Anniversary Edition).

the old farmhouse courtyard

I practiced when I was meant to practice, but I didn’t always do it very well. If I tell you that I came away from there with a new recipe for vegan calzone, an almost complete film script, and the business plan for a new retreat centre in the Lake District, you will see that my mind wasn’t always on the job.

Though I could see the value in the no contact rules (to experience the technique for yourself without other opinions getting in the way) they were frustrating. At times I wanted to scream, just to make a loud noise (NB: when we were finally able to speak on the 10th day my voice was so croaky from lack of use); not knowing anyone’s names I ended up making nicknames for them just to have a point of reference – Zippy, the Wizard of Space and Time, Mr Swishy Pants – (not all of them were entirely complimentary); and I didn’t get to meet any girls which, to be honest, is part of the reason I go to these damn things. But anyway…

leaving dhamma dipa

So it was hard. At one point I almost went to look at my car just to check it was still there (and maybe to gain some psychological support from it’s presence) but I caught myself and decided not to be so stupid. Turns out I wasn’t the only one. One guy even got in his van, and would have left if the gates had been locked, but they weren’t so he stayed (it made sense somehow). And someone even heard a car leaving it 3:30am, though who it was and why he didn’t know. Heck, my own roommate left on the second day!

But there were also spooky moments that kept you interested. Like the discourse on day 7, when the teacher, Goenka, via the medium of badly shot video, told the ‘This Too Shall Pass’ story. The weird thing for me is I had been thinking of that story that very day. My head was full of film and TV clips most of the time, and the story appears in My Best Friends Wedding, with Paul Giamatta telling it to a defeated Julia Roberts in a hotel corridor. It’s not a story I think of often, and maybe it was just a coincidence, but it certainly caught me by surprise, and helped keep me interested on days 8 and 9 when all I wanted to do was go home (or at the very least have a lie in).

undoing all the good work

So I survived, just! Come the end of it I was glad to go home. And what did I do when I got back? Had some curry sauce and chips, watched back to back episodes of The Big Bang Theory, and ordered a bunch of stuff off Amazon. I haven’t done any meditating since (though I did pretty much go into a load of night shifts, so I’m kinda knackered at the moment) and I don’t know when I’ll be sitting again. My leg still hurts like hell (that made for a fun 10 days let me tell you!) and so I’m less than enthusiastic to get down on the floor again.

And if I’m honest I’m a little dubious of the whole experience too. All the discourses and instruction were off tape, with just an assistant teacher to offer clarification if you were to ask. The tapes were shot in 1991. Are you telling me that no one in 20+ years has learnt or benefitted enough from the technique to be able to teach it on the organisations behalf? That puts doubts in my mind. And the final discourse, where they insist that they are the correct way to do Vipassana like Buddha used to do, and other meditation techniques have lost his teachings along the way, left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

All in all I’d have expected my mind to be alive with what I’ve learnt, but in fact it’s not. I’m glad I went, but I was equally as glad to get home, and I’m keen now to just crack on with the rest of my life, planning what I’m going to do next and how I’m going to get there (the subject of my next blog post).

Like I said, give it a go and make your own mind up. These are just my thoughts/memories on the matter. And here’s one final one to be going on with. I’ve heard it said that you should seek enlightenment like a drowning man seeks air. Now that’s all well and good, but if you live your entire life like you’re drowning, well what kind of life would that be?

Sivananda Yoga Retreat

Well, I’m back from my yoga retreat. Quite a weekend, let me tell you. Hard work sometimes (getting up at 5:30am for example) but certainly worth it. And I don’t feel half as tired/achey as I thought I would. Maybe I’m getting better, lol.

gaunts house

It was at Gaunt’s House, which is this big old former country house (now retreat centre) in Dorset. The place is massive, with lots of grounds, a big garden, and good sized rooms. I paid extra for a single and got a room that’s bigger than my flat (seriously, though I do have a very small flat!) with a double bed. Oh the luxury of a double bed! So nice to just spread out like that. I miss having a double bed.

enjoying the view

The grounds were made for chilling out, but there wasn’t much time for that. The schedule kept us quite busy. Check this out:

5:30 – Wake
6:00 – Satsang (meditation and chanting)
8:00 – Yoga
10:00 – Breakfast/Brunch
12:00 – Nature walk
14:00 – Demo/talk
16:00 – Yoga
18:00 – Supper
20:00 – Satsang
21:30 – Finish
21:31 – Bed 😉

Quite a lot to do huh? I tell you, took a little getting used to. You just had to relax and go with it (probably part of the ethos I reckon). And I’m not kidding about the last one. Soon as you were finished it was straight to bed (for me anyway). If I’m getting up that early I needs me beauty sleep.

The whole thing was run very well, which is no surprise from the Sivananda lot. I even helped out with some of it, getting to the centre early to load up my car with stuff (I had pictures of the swamis and deities on my back seat, and every time someone cut me up in traffic, and I swore without thinking, I found myself apologising to ‘the boys’ for my bad language, lol), helping set up when we got there, and finally fiddling with the sound system during the satsangs, swapping wires between mikes and twiddling knobs to get the levels right.

All the yoga-ey stuff was excellent. My ability to do it though, varied from day to day. Funny how some days you can get your toes on the floor when doing the plough, and other days you find yourself completely scrunched up, feet flailing, unable to catch your breath.

nature walk vs fence

The nature walks were nice, though ‘walk’ is a bit of a misnomer. March, stomp or trudge might a better way of describing it. With Swamiji and his long legs up front, striding off into the distance, it was sometimes a task just to keep up. I know for a fact we lost most the group on the first day (and the second day for that matter) and it was just some good guesswork (or the sound of our post-meditative omming) that brought them back to the rest of the group unscathed, lol. 🙂

As for all the chanting, I can’t say I’m entirely sold on that. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good Om as much as the next man, but after 30-40 minutes of it… well, you get the idea. Maybe I’ll get into it one day, maybe I won’t (the Swami himself admitted he had some difficulty getting his head around it in the beginning), I just know for now it’s not the thing for me; and so mote it be.

thai yoga massage

On the last night, instead of a long satsang, we had a talent show. People told stories, played the piano, sang, did demos, and I even got roped into doing a bit of Tai Chi for them. Got to admit, I was a bit nervous doing it. It was a big crowd (about 70 odd) but it went ok in the end. I got plenty of compliments afterwards, which was nice, and maybe some people might feel motivated to give it a try; which would be great, as yoga and Tai Chi are very much sister disciplines.

(more pics here)

stonehenge

On the way back we stopped off at Stonehenge to go check that out. Was nice to see the stones close up, though not as close as I’d have liked, as you’re not allowed near them for some reason; and you have to pay £7:50 for the privilege, which seems a bit steep to me.

And, everyone was walking round with these little recorders listening to a commentary on the stones, which made for an odd sight. Made me think of the Victorians, who would go out into the countryside and, since they only ever saw landscapes in paintings, had to use a little framing devices to look around, otherwise they couldn’t ‘see’ the beautiful views around them.

Still, it was worth a visit, and I’m glad I went. And it was fun to spend some time with Swami Krishnadevananda and the gang not doing yoga or anything like that, just monkeying about a bit.

swami and the stones

He’s such a cheery fella! 🙂

kiki and the henge

Still rockin’ the new do’. 😉

All told a very good weekend, and one I would recommend to anyone who fancies a bit of a yoga retreat some time. They have them twice a year in the UK, and at other times at other centres around the world. Check out their website for the what’s going on.

Give ’em a go! You’ll meet some lovely people, learn some new stuff, get a bit fitter, and have a right laugh whilst doing it. What more could you need? 🙂