Sunday, February 22, 2009

Peter's Vipassana Sit

Peter is a long term volunteer at panya, who just sat his first 10-day Goenka Vipassana meditation. Here is what he had to say about it:

Ten days of Vipassana

By thai2gether

Vipassana Blog

This is an oxymoron because a blog is meant to be now and this is at least a week old. You can have no pens or paper let alone cell phones (that was really pleasant) computers, or wallet. I’m surprised I was allowed my watch!! Anyway, here goes:

Shhhh – it’s 5;15 AM on Day 8. We have been sitting, i.e. meditating, since about 4:25 and I seem to be done with it. I’m taking a peek around me, luckily I’m at the back of the class (nothing to do with stupidity, but then it’s all Thai to me). They put the ‘older’ students i.e. those that have done this before, in the front, I think so that as we beginners start to shift, fidget and whimper in pain we don’t disturb them. Back to Dhamma Central– shhhh. I say we – there are about 30 of us, split evenly between men and women, mostly Thais, 2 Italians, 1Israeli, 1 Austrian, 1 Irish Canadian, 1 BrUs (Britain U.S.) That’s the guys. 1 Philippine, 1 Israeli, 2 U.S., that’s the girls. Actually, all this is unknown tome right now so forget it. We are in the Dhamma Hall, a building about 8 meters wide by 20 meters. The floor is tile and there is a pattern down the center dividing the men and the women. We sit facing a dais that’s raised about ½ meter. Our teachers, two women, sit on this dais. They always wear a sarong from waist to feet and a white shirt and shawl on top. We are all meant to be in place, settled and meditating for about ten minutes before they enter very quietly by their own doors. It’s dark outside and the lighting in here is low so as I raise my eyes things slowly come into focus. There are some people hunched over, head low, others sitting ramrod upright, head erect (that’s the position I choose – it’s so cool looking). Everybody has their legs crossed in some fashion except yours truly of course - my butt hurts, my knees hurt and even my ankles hurt. If this wasn’t such a non-sectarian practice I wouldn’t be loving Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed or whoever right now. I’ve got my arms wrapped around my knees hugging them to my body, you’ll see why in a minute.

Ok, so the other thing about the Dhamma Hall, and in fact, while we’re at it (shhhh – I can tell we’re getting loud and us students can only talk to the teachers) these buildings only have screens, lots of them – if it’s 40 degrees F out it’s 40 degrees F in and that’s what it’s felt like every (expletive of your choice here but mine starts with ph) morning.

So we are all dressed & bundled up. Of course the smart ones (that’s the Thais in this case) all have woolen or fleece hats. Luckily for us in our bedding supplies we have been given a blanket, it’s green tartan, I think the McDonald clan, you know how the Scots really penetrated Asia in the 1300’s when they clambered over Hadrian’s wall. (the women got red tartan, McDougal ?) ( Day one, I was the first to bring it to the Dhamma Hall. Day 2 everybody had theirs on.) So as my vision improves I begin to see that all the men are wrapped in their green tartan blankets and about ¾ of the women are dressed in their red tartans blankets and the remainder are in white blankets. It looks like the gathering of the clans from a few hundred years ago

Ok now half close your eyes or how ever you like to imagine and picture the Dhamma Hall with the two teachers in white, the students red and green, sitting cross legged in the gathering light, not a sound.

. What a beautiful sight.

I smile, ok lets try again. I close my eyes, cross my legs, nothing hurts any more, my mind focuses and then it’s 6:30.

A Bit of Blah Blah Blah

So, what and why? Back when we were hippies, ok so I know not all of you were hippies, but during that period of our young lives we were questioning and searching for something beyond our material values. I eventually quit that and got a job, learnt how to be almost respectable and generally forgot (not completely) about reasons for existence. This 3 months in Thailand living with a bunch of young people who are eagerly searching and finding has rekindled my search. That and Thai people’s acceptance of karma and the way they live and function. The Austrian guy said it pretty well. When he tried driving here he got so mad – “Out of my way” “Move over” “You stupid so-and-so”. He couldn’t understand why the Thais weren’t more aggressive or had more accidents. (They do have accidents but it tends to be alcohol related.) They are so much calmer or more forgiving than we are. So, (going out on a limb here) I think their culture, education and religion all play a part in this. They have grown up with the “ the Buddha, the enlightened one” and his path (Dhamma) toward enlightenment and it’s in every aspect of their lives – the temples, homes and at work. When a Thai asks for 2 weeks off to go to Vipassana he’s applauded – try that at Safeway or GE. Now I know we have Jesus but I don’t see that integration in the west throughout society as I do here.

Where am I going with this? Oh yes, I guess that’s the Why. Or my Why, everybody has their own.

The What. 9 days of noble silence – that’s no talking, no eye contact, no noise. 9 days of 12 hours per day of meditation either alone or with others in the Dhamma Hall. 9 days of being able to question our teachers at specific times of the day. 10 days of breakfast at 6:30, lunch at 11 am and tea ( a cup of something and a biscuit or small snack) at 5 pm. 5 days of meditation with determination, that’s 3 — 1hour sessions per day where you do not move or open your eyes. One day, the tenth, after 10 am you are allowed to speak, kind of like a re-entry. Laughter, tears and joy exchanging experience and emails.

So how did I do. So predictable. Agony, bliss, agony, bliss. Goenka, the teacher by DVD & CD predicted every rise and fall. His evening 1 hour lectures / discussions talked exactly about how I was feeling so good (“it’s not going to last”) .How I wanted to leave (“it’s not going to last”), how the pain in my knees and legs was unbearable (“it’s not going to last”) That’s how I did. At the ninth day I sat for 1 ½ hours without moving and then got up and walked over for tea. My mind stayed focused for about 70% of the time.

So it was hard – yes incredibly so, both mentally and physically – but then I had a secret weapon – I had bought my return ticket already so I just had to stay there!!!

Love to all, be happy, Peter


  1. Beautiful to hear about your experience Peter... I'm from Australia, but am traveling to Thailand soon, and am hoping to sit in on a Vipassana meditation retreat while I'm there.
    Thank you for the insight.

  2. Wow, Peter, you have understated both the highs and the lows, which is good, except when I think of doing the same thing myself. I know it will be hard and satisfying.

    I loved reading your description of the place, your reaction to the sitting, and your asides. Thanks for sharing. I also look forward to hearing about your experience at Panya.

  3. Hi, found this post in google search. I got back from this 10 day course yday and ur narration sounds so familiar :) I am also writing about it on my page and would like to link you there. do let me know if you mind.

    Hope you get the benefits of it.. and hope you are practicing the 1 hr morning and 1 hr evening sitting..