The first thing which struck my senses as I entered the Lucknow Vipassana Center, or ‘Dhamma Lakkhana’, was the serenity of the atmosphere which enveloped the entire campus. Far from the hustle bustle of the main city and the crowded suburbs, this was an oasis of peace where I had come to take refuge for the next ten days. I had come with a thousand questions and a million apprehensions but the peace and positivity wiped away my anxieties and put me into a relaxed state. It was still early so I decided to mingle with other participants who had arrived so far. There were people from Chandigarh, Faizabad, Russia, Netherland, UK, and of course, Lucknow. Everyone was excited and slightly doubtful about their capacity to follow the rigorous schedule for the next 10 days. The most common fear was “Bhai, do you know they don’t serve dinner?”
I smiled like a Buddha on the naiveté of these lesser mortals. The peace had already tranquilized me and I was not worried about the food. In fact, I was looking forward for 10 days of disciplined diet and losing a couple of kgs in the process. Later in the evening, we deposited our valuables and commenced the noble silence. The journey had begun and there was no looking back.
Day1: I was excited to get up at 4 o’clock and was one of the first to reach the meditation hall. It was a fantastic session and I could concentrate on my breath because it was a novel experience. By the end of the day, the novelty wore off and I started focusing more on my legs than on my breathing. I had never sat cross-legged for more than 10 minutes and my legs were beginning to scream the moment I plopped down on the cushion. The truth hit me like sun rays piercing through a cloud of mysticism: the next 9 days are not going to be easy.
Day 2&3: The Pain!..My legs!... The Torture! There was a new found respect in my heart for every person who could sit still in the cross-legged position for more than 20 minutes. The pain felt unbearable in the meditation hall but as soon as I walked out the pain vanished. This was interesting. Was my mind playing games with me, trying to distract me with the pain? Also, people frequently walked in and out of the meditation hall during the meditation sessions, but not a single person walked out during the evening discourses of Mr. Goenka. So, the pain and discomfort was clearly psychological and not physical. As long as the mind is occupied in something, it’s at peace. The moment you start disciplining it, it gets restless.
Day 4-9: Day 4 was again exciting as a new technique, Vipassana, was taught. By this time, I had realised how undisciplined my mind was. The seemingly easy task of scanning the entire body was proving to be quite difficult. My mind was in a constant hyper-active state, jumping from one thought to the other, teleporting from one fantasy world to the next. It was easier to sit in the cross-legged position if I kept my eyes closed and focused on my breathing, ignoring the people shuffling around me. I was able to sit still for 40 minutes at a stretch, which was quite an achievement for me.
Oh, and let me tell you something about my neighbour. I sat next to a guy who was perennially restless. He shuffled continuously, Moved in and out of the meditation hall every 10 minutes, and broke almost every rule of the centre. The dude also broke my noble silence by asking me about breakfast he missed. Man! Was he a test of patience! Later I found out he was nicknamed ‘Jalpari’ by other students for his restlessness. It would have been easier to concentrate if I was seated next to a calmer person but I guess this was another test of my resilience.
Another observation: When the day begins, it feels like the torture is never going to end. “Oh crap...another endless day of meditation” But I didn’t realise how quickly the moments have slipped away and it was already the time for evening snacks. The discomfort, the pain, the torture, the boredom- everything is transitory, momentary, impermanent..anichya. Life’s like a necklace made up of passing moments, sliding on a thread of impermanence. A moment can be boring, exciting, blissful or torture, Life cannot be labelled like that. It’s an amalgam of emotions, arising and passing away like respiration.
When you start living in the moment, you stop labelling your moments. You can only feel bored when you compare this moment with a moment of the past or some fantasy of the future. You call yourself anxious because you compare the discomfort of the present with the relaxed state of the past. Once you truly start living in the moment, all you feel is nameless sensations. Sensations without labels-without perceptions of good or bad. Mindfulness is the art of observing these sensations with an understanding of their impermanent nature. “This too shall pass” is one of the most permanent laws of the universe.
Day 10: …and we were finally allowed to talk. Everyone bonded like childhood friends, despite not knowing each other. I received a special treatment because I am a Muslim, and apparently, very few Muslims attend the Vipassana course. Everyone was interested in knowing about my experience and we had a discussion on the commonalities and differences between various communities. I had an interesting chat with the student from Norway, who knew only about Rajnikanth among Indian movie stars.
If you are reading this post and still on the tenterhooks whether to attend the course, give it a go. Yes, it feels like torture at times but if you stay determined you come back with a lot of insight about yourself (By the way, Vipassana is Pali word for insight). Every person has a different experience so do share what you learned during the 10 days. We will be waiting.