Myanmar

Sem’s review of the Dhamma Joti vipassana meditation course

This is my review of the vipassana meditation course Flore and I took. If you want to read how she experienced these 10 days, read her review over here. If you want to know more about the vipassana meditation technique this article explains it in detail. As I approached the course on a day to day basis, I decided to lay out this post the same way. So without further ado, this is my 10 day “diary” :

Day 1

I’m optimistic that I’ll give this a fair shot, although I never once in my life tried any sort of meditation.

The beds in my room are like sleeping on the floor.

We come in to the Dhamma hall and we get assigned a number which corresponds to a meditation pillow and a seat in the cafeteria .

For the next 10 days I am number 34.

After the first 2 hours of meditation and thus sitting still I realize I’ve made a terrible mistake and this is not something I’ll be enjoying. I keep telling myself that my legs aren’t flexible enough for this and that all those Burmese people are just used to sitting on the ground. Every minute feels like an hour and I catch myself getting more frustrated during the day.

The food is actually quite nice, especially the warm milk tea during breakfast.

Where I'll be sleeping for the next 10 days.

Where I’ll be sleeping for the next 10 days, sorry for potato quality

Day 2

4 AM: Some guy is smacking on a mini gong in front of my door, which is supposed to wake me up gently.
Due to the dust on the fan and the humidity in the room I have a cold, which means my nose is blocked.
The same nose I have to focus on for 10 hours a day for the first 3 days while we learn the breathing meditation technique.
Morning sessions: I hate sitting in the normal yoga positions and decide to get creative by sitting like what can only be described as a drunk mermaid with flexibility problems. At least this way my feet aren’t pointing to the teacher, which is a big no no.
Two people seemed to have walked out already, which is visualized by the staff taking away their assigned meditation pillows.
This has now become an elimination race.
6-7 PM: During the end of the meditation I’m suddenly quite focused and my body seems to let go of the tension in my legs. I start smiling for the rest of the evening as if I figured it out and the rest of the 10 days will be a walk in the park.
I go to the English teacher’s discourse in the cafeteria which is the only time I get to see Flore, albeit not directly, and all I want to do is tell her the good news. Alas, noble silence.

Day 3

Dear diary … I was wrong.

What seemed to be a breakthrough yesterday evening is a source of frustration and rage during the meditation sessions.
The pain is worse, and it feels like I strained something in my leg. Instead of smiling I now feel like punching somebody.
Another guy left, some old student who had done the 10 day program before.
This does not bode well.
6.30 AM : I take a bite from my food and realize I’m now chewing on a small chili pepper. My mouth starts burning as I try to casually walk outside the cafeteria to get to the water cooler. I drink nearly a liter of water and start sweating profusely while the tears in my eyes are building up.
Due to the noble silence nobody says anything but they know what’s up.
Silver lining, my nose isn’t blocked anymore.

I get through the day, which feels like forever and get to my room.
8 PM: A big ass spider ventured into my bathroom, and due to the “no killing of living beings” rule I decide to let him be and call him Kevin.
Kevin does not give a fuck about the rules though and kills everything he sees, including the mosquitoes. Because of this we become bro’s.
We almost became toilet bro’s when I needed to use the toilet in the middle of the night and Kevin was sitting on the lid, but after a frank non-verbal discussion (noble silence and all) which included me making clapping noises until he moved, we decided our relationship wasn’t at that level yet and Kevin went somewhere else to chill.

Day 4

4 AM: Wake up call.
Except I’ve already been awake for 2 hours because of all the mosquito bites that kept itching and a couple of feral dogs that where growling like crazy at 2 AM.
I go into the bathroom and notice Kevin is gone… I now realize it’s worse to not know where the big spider is.
4.30-6.30 AM: first meditation hours in the dhamma hall. Nothing but pain, frustration and rage.
Don’t really get where all the rage is coming from.
We learn about the body scanning technique by first focusing on the small triangle between the nostrils and the upper lip.
I blame my mustache for not feeling anything.
Want to leave this place so bad and get angry at myself for thinking about giving up.

Day 5

4:05 AM: The guy with the gong is at my door again…

He has no snooze…

He never forgets…

Noon: We get a surprise ice cream with our food, which I’m a bit skeptical of. The past 4 days seem to be all about pushing through the discomfort and now we get ice cream. I figure it’s a reward because we’re at the halfway point and enjoy the treat.

2.30-3.30 PM: our first strong determination hour, which apparently means sitting in the same position for an hour and not moving arms or legs. Everything hurts after 20 minutes and my back is cramping up like somebody is jumping on my head. I think back at the ice cream and feel scammed. Nothing comes for free at this place.

The strong determination sittings are now 3 times a day and we’re told to objectively experience pain as just another sensation that will pass.
During the discourses we also learn that the discomfort you experience could be manifestations of deeper emotions.
I call bullshit and refuse to believe that putting joints under stress for an hour while ‘objectively acknowledging the sensation’ will make it go away. Even more frustration as sitting on the ground for 10 hours a day for the last 5 days is taking it’s toll on my hips and knees.

Day 6

I want to leave and torch this place to the ground.

4.30-6.30 AM: I can’t stand another hour of this, let alone listen to another one of those mantras for one more minute. Thank god it’s breakfast time.

The lunch room view is amazing

No chili peppers this time

After breakfast I lay down to get some rest and do some internal reorganizing. I decide if I’m going to finish this I need to stop getting angry at everything. I decide to call the Dhamma hall the “chill zone” and pretend we’re all just sloths chilling to make it a bit more bearable.
After 4 hours of meditation in the afternoon I scratch the chill zone idea and revert to just being in a constant mood of pure rage. At least I’m not lying to myself this way.
Keep thinking if only the discomfort would stop I’d be fine.
There is that 80 year old man in the front with the old students and he doesn’t seem to have any pain… could it actually be working for him?

Day 7

I still want to leave and get angry about it again.
4.30 AM: A small paper awaits us on our meditation pillow.
We’ve been assigned a ‘meditation cell’ in the pagoda complex that we can use from day 7 til day 9 to meditate when there is not a group sitting planned. A cell is a room about 3 meters high, 1.5 meters wide and 3 meters deep. It has a small window with bars that allows some air in and a door that we can’t fully close. I get to pick how I sit and use the walls as back support.

This is now my new chill zone.
After an hour of chilling meditating I realize that even without discomfort I can’t focus for long.

I come to the realization that I might just be me that’s restless and that I mainly get angry at myself.

Day 8

After the morning sessions I split my time between the cell and the mandatory group sittings 3 times a day.
The day goes by quicker and I get to have some good meditation sessions in my new chill zone.
As I sit more comfortably I start to realize the discomfort served a good purpose,  not being able to fall asleep while meditating.

2.30-3.30 PM: Strong determination, AKA living statue time. When the discomfort hits I try to rationalize the pain away by thinking about phantom pain being a real thing, which makes me give it another shot.
I also get less angry at myself due to the realizations I had on day 7. It seems to work for the other sessions.

7 PM: The discourses are starting to sound like an Oprah show: “Everybody is filled with misery, but never fear because you’ll get salvation and you’ll get salvation, everybody gets salvation!”

Day 9

4.30 AM: Still feel like leaving, even though it’s the last real day.
6.30 AM: I enjoy my breakfast,  while double checking for chili peppers, and the warm milk tea that’s always served.
I have trouble focusing on meditating because my mind keeps thinking that tomorrow is the end of the noble silence and with it the end of the retreat.

Day 10

4 AM: Smiling gong guy is at my door, except now I’m smiling back because it’s the last day.
After breakfast another hour of meditation and then the noble silence gets lifted.
The very moment we’re allowed to talk again Flore comes running to me and we start talking as if we want to compile 10 days of experiences in 1 sentence.
We’re still not allowed to touch each other. This sucks.
In my mind the course is done.

8 PM: We can get our smartphones from the locker to book our next accommodations and check in with the home base.
We get the news that there will still be some meditation tomorrow, say what now?

Day 11

4 AM: A final video and AGAIN SOME MEDITATION.
I just try to sleep while sitting in a meditation pose, when I look around the Dhamma hall I can see this is a popular idea.
6.30 AM: Last breakfast together, which is quite fun as we can talk to each other now.
At around 7 AM we leave the center and I feel strangely calm. I’m glad it’s over and I feel I learned a bit more about myself.

Would I recommend it to anybody? As badly as I wanted to leave on most days, I’m still glad I stayed until the end. Spending 10 days in total silence gives you a lot of time to think about things, which you might not get a chance to do in the busy cycle of everyday life. IMHO it’s mostly a mental exercise in perseverance and taking it step by step, which is something that you can use in all parts of life. So if that sounds like something you’d be willing to invest 10 days in, I would say go for it.

Now a last word about the volunteers as I believe they deserve a special mention. They where the most selfless and genuine caring people I’ve ever encountered. They really help you with any problems you might encounter so you only have to focus on getting the most out of your meditation time. They worked longer hours then us each day and where still smiling and ready to help out in any way they could. They are all old students and they really attributed to making it an unforgettable experience.

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Ten days of Vipassana meditation - Flore's view - Will there be WiFi
    September 6, 2016 at 12:24

    […] If you want to know more about vipassana meditation, you can read all about it on the website of the center. We entered the ten day course, knowing we wouldn’t be able to speak to each other, look at each other or sleep in the same room. On top of that we would also be having only 2 meals a day. There was a strict time schedule, starting at 4 am and finishing around 9 at night, with only three hours of free time and ten hours of meditation per day. And yes, even after taking into account all of the above, we still wanted to do the course. Hesitant, but curious about the whole experience, that’s how we walked into the center, leaving our passports, money, smartphone and other valuables behind in a little locker. We spent that ten days in the same center, but that’s really the only thing we shared. Our experiences were so different we’ll split this posts into two, you can read Sem’s experience here. […]

  • Reply
    Olga Romadanova
    September 14, 2016 at 14:53

    Enjoyed reading your Vipassana experience…was awesome seeing you not serious and looking at everything with some humor…I agree that Yangon center is not ideal for beginners in meditation…too much distractions like street dogs, high level of humidity and mold in rooms…cells that are not designed for a private meditation experience…
    For me personally it was a tough experience and I found it hard under those conditions to become vulnerable there and dive deeper in the subconscious.

    • Reply
      Flore & Sem
      September 15, 2016 at 09:56

      Hi Olga, thanks for the comment! As this was my first experience with the meditation course I thought that these where normal circumstances and while it didn’t bother me that much, it’s good to hear that it’s not the norm 🙂
      It might even persuade me to try the 3 day program at another center in the future ( which Flore is already asking me about :p )

  • Reply
    Island Muay Thai: hitting the bags on a tropical island - Will there be WiFi
    September 28, 2016 at 12:40

    […] luxury of being spontaneous and after having to sit down ten hours a day for ten days during our vipassana meditation course in Yangon, Myanmar, punching something as hard as you can suddenly seemed very inviting. And what better […]

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