eat, pray, laugh

it was Wednesday 12 of June when I set off for a new adventure, something completely unknown to me: meditation.

I took the train from Chapel Street to get to Lilydale. the ride was silent, and I was just thinking that I had no idea what to expect from the course I was about to begin…

just for you to know, I will not be telling what the course is about… I think it’s something everyone has to experience for themselves and not through my very personal opinion of it.

I got to Lilydale, had some lunch, and then waited in line to take the bus to Woori Yallock. when I was in front of the bus driver, I asked him if he could tell me when we reached the stop I needed to get off at… another girl was about to ask the same, so she looked at me and asked “Vipassana?” and I said “yes”.

her name is Elmina. we sat together and started talking… I didn’t want to start any conversation with someone that was doing the course as well… you see, Vipassana is a ten day meditation course in silence, and I thought that if I made friends in the beginning I would not be able to keep my silence vows… but she was just too nice, and we talked and laugh all the way. it was the first time we did something like this, and we had so many things in common…

there was another girl on the bus doing the course for the third time. her name is Michelle, from Hong Kong… she told us that Vipassana changed her life, and that she had actually served in this centre just ten days ago… she’s a traveller, just like me, so that made me feel good somehow… apparently I’m not the only one on the other side of the world doing crazy stuff like this!

we waited at the bus stop to get picked up by someone… Michelle left first, so while we waited we met Lorraine who was in the same bus as us an had overheard our conversation.

we arrived at the centre, and there we had to fill a form where we solemnly swore we would not leave the course before it is over. we had to give up our cellphones, pens, books, cameras, iPods… anything we had that could distract us or the others… and so we did… or so it seemed to.
the staff had already arranged our bed places, I was in room 1a and Elmina in room 3a, which was good… we both knew (and in fact we laughed about it) that if we were in the same room, things would be difficult…

we were able to talk until the first meditation at 6 pm, that’s when the silence began, and it was not only silence, you can’t make any eye contact or any sort of gesture… so after making my bed, and presenting myself to my roommates, Chrissy and Hana, I went to Elmina’s room along with my new friends.

she was staying in a room with Lorraine and two other people, Jo and another girl who’s name I can’t remember. the six of us (the girl who’s name I don’t remember left) talked, laughed, and finally group hugged encouraging each other before setting off for dinner.

it was the last proper dinner we would have… we sat together appreciating every moment we had to talk and make jokes… then, off we were for my first meditation ever…

the staff had arranged our sitting spots as well.
I was surprised to enter the meditation hall and see that I could actually SEE the boys… I thought we were supposed to be completely isolated from each other… I was sure that if we shared meditation time and place with the guys, there surely had to be a wall or something to divide us completely… guess they do trust us after all…

we all started with a small mat and one cushion provided by the centre. I saw how people that have meditated before had their special cushions to sit on and their own beautiful coloured blankets… that seemed like a good idea, I was freezing during my first meditation, so I would grab one of those blue blankets the centre provides for next time.

silence begun, and with it the feeling of wanting to search for people’s gaze, the feeling of wanting to laugh with someone about something I found funny, the feeling of getting to know my new friends better…

days started passing… and they seemed like months.
I started crying every evening because I felt angry all the time… I didn’t understand why I was there, and why my new friends would not look at me when I was trying so desperately to look at them, to have a feeling of reassurance that I was not alone, that I was not the only one having a terrible time.

every evening we had beautiful sunsets, and I hated not having my camera with me… every day I saw all kinds of beautiful birds near me, and again I hated not having my camera.

the whole thing of sharing bathrooms, the vegetarian food, the change of routine and eating hours, the being on your ass all day made me (and, apparently, everyone else as well) unable to go to the toilet “properly”… so we were all taking these strange leaves they have as a natural laxative (seems like we are not the first ones on the history of vipassana that are constipated)… when the leaves started doing their job (by day three or four), it was useless… being on your ass all day makes your back and muffin area so sore that you cannot push adequately, so you cannot “adequately” shit…

by day three I started noticing how hot the male manager was, but I was not the only one… every time he walked to the back of the hall I could see some heads following him… I had decided to live a hippie week, so you can imagine the hippie chimp I was becoming, and I could NOT go and talk to him like this on day ten… I was horrified by the idea.

rumour has it that if you get to day four, it is very likely you will stay the whole ten days… and on day four a miracle happened… on the midday break a girl started swirling around the garden like a crazy patient on a mental hospital… it was HILARIOUS! luckily, Jo had seen that too! we both started laughing… we kept on walking to get away from there and we were just laughing our asses off. and after that, every time we met somewhere we would look in the eye and laugh.
that made things a lot better, the feeling of losing my mind faded.
after dinner I got closer to Jo when no one was around, and told her “I need to talk”, and she replied “so do I”… we went to hide behind the bushes like high school girls hiding to smoke… I just needed to let the whole swirling thing out of my system, and it worked, I was not laughing anymore when I met Jo, and it all helped me get through the next days as well.

on day five Jo came to tell me Elmina had left (and then we were five), and that she was thinking of doing the same… for a moment I froze… “fuck! how could she leave? and… her email? number? how am I supposed to ever find her? we were going to have breakfast together on Sunday!!!” luckily (or rather smartly) Elmina had given Jo her phone number, so, following her steps, Jo and I went to find a pen to exchange numbers as well.
back in the room I had to tell Chrissy this… and so we exchanged numbers too… just in case someone left earlier.

Jo left… and then we were four…

several things happened the next days… people where starting to look at each other, making eye contact, smiling, sometimes even whispering, my guess is, we all felt as though losing our minds, and we all needed some sort of comfort… Hana had her iPhone with her the whole time, and it actually rang once IN the meditation hall… one girl passed out during meditation and it freaked me (and others) out… I borrowed a pen to start writing what had happened each day… Chrissy sort of asked me to leave the course because I had a pen (apparently it was way worst than having an iPhone), and then she changed room… I started talking with my neighbour Lisa… I was able to borrow a pair of tweezers from her, but… THE HOT MALE MANAGER LEFT!!!… guys started looking at the “girl’s menu” on day nine…

then day ten came, and after the morning meditation we were allowed to talk… and although I had been talking since day four, it was a relief to talk out loud!

we were all talking nonstop, of how funny the chants were, and how the teacher had been very strict, of funny things that had happened… we were all letting ourselves go, laughing, crying, complaining, appreciating…
we all started exchanging numbers and phones as well.

in the 1 pm meditation someone’s stomach started growling BADLY! and, well… I started laughing BADLY as well… I just couldn’t stop… but the worst part was that people were laughing with me, so that made it difficult for me to stop… and I’m sure I heard one of the servers laughing hard and turning it into a cough! haha… I started biting my lips, didn’t work… then I started biting my fingers, didn’t work either… so I stood up and left the meditation hall for the first time… of course, the manager came after me, but when I showed her my bleeding fingers she understood and let me stay out to calm myself down.

of course, by the next meditation I had to improvise and put some paper tissue in my ears… when I ever felt like laughing, or if I accidentally heard someone’s stomach or laughter, I started scratching my earplugs to just listen to that and distract my mind… I never thought I would have to endure one hour like that! but, we were all happy, cause even guys were laughing, and that was a nice feeling for a change!

at night I visited Chrissy in her room, and we talked for hours.

the next day we had to clean our rooms and some other area of our election from the centre, after that we were released from Meditation Bootcamp (as Lisa called it) and able to go back home… which was a shocking experience but I will tell you about that in another story…
Chrissy took a whole group back to Melbourne, and we all said goodbye for “until next time”…

now, here I’m going to list some things that I think are good for you to know if you are thinking about taking the ten day course.
first of all, do not rely on my experience to make a decision… everyone is unique (or so they say), and therefore everyone’s experience will be different in so many ways.

THINGS I KNEW BEFORE BY PEOPLE THAT HAVE TAKEN THE COURSE:

– they will not give you dinner. if you are a new student they will give you a fruit… of course you can drink all the water you want.

– you’ll be sitting for A LONG TIME every day.

– if you get through day four, it is likely you’ll get through the whole ten days.

THINGS THEY DON’T TELL YOU THAT I THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW:

– it’s supposed to be Buddha’s original and unspoiled method to reach enlightenment.

– try to talk the minimum necessary the first day, and it’s better if you do it with older people, not people your age.

– I do recommend to stick to noble silence. and though its something difficult because you feel terrible, I honestly would’ve liked to meet my demons…

– bring your water bottle

– you can ask for the discourse to be played to you in any language

– if you are a traveller without any bedding stuff, do not worry, it is likely they’ll have things you can borrow… just ask before you go.

– lunch is always different, don’t think you’ll be living of tofu every day.

– they provide you with all necessary blankets and cushions to meditate but, if you can, bring a very comfortable cushion to sit on.

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