YOGART STUDIO :: from Beatlemania to Enlightenment
With two days “off” between my yoga teacher training and my intensive meditation course, my friends and I embarked on a 7-hour bumpy descent from the Himalayas into Rishikesh, also known as “the world capital of yoga”. This holy/vegetarian by law city, 238km northeast of Delhi, has always been regarded as a mecca for yogi’s and meditation. As the sacred Ganges River cuts through this hotspot for all things New Age, Rishikesh is a place where you can find dozens of ashrams and yoga centres lining the streets and sadhu’s (wondering monks) still inhabiting caves. Albeit, it was the arrival of The Beatles in 1968 that beamed an international spotlight on Rishikesh and its reputation as a tourist and pilgrimage destination was forever cemented. In addiition to practising meditation, John, Paul and George (and even Ringo!) wrote enough material to create the majority of the tracks featured on the White Album and even a few tunes that made it onto Abbey Road.
Despite Rishikesh’s reputation, I was looking forward to some well-desrved and needed down-time, air-conditioning, an espresso, taking a non-bucket shower and devouring a fresh salad (a BIG no-no in India) from one of Rishikesh’s very well known/reputable tourist cafes. However, when we arrived, I felt like we had just pulled into the Myrtle Beach of India. Between the humidity, congestion, traffic, and bombardment of advertising, I was beginning to doubt my days “off” would be as relaxing as I had hoped. After we settled into our guesthouse, I was lead on a tour of Rishikesh by my dear friend Kakoli. Being a Delhite (a person who lives in Delhi), Kakoli confessed she found solace in her frequent visits to Rishikesh which afforded her escape from the heat and day-to-day big city routines. As we walked around, I glimpsed out onto Rishikesh through her eyes and felt grateful and refreshed to finally experience the allure and tranquillity of this beautiful place. That evening I enjoyed my non-bucket shower, an espresso and my GIANT fresh salad and eventually returned to my air-conditioned room. As I tucked myself into the clean comfy bed, I dozed off into a heavenly sleep. Unfortunately, my new found repose did not last long because I awoke to severe muscle cramping, fatigue and the desperate need to be in close proximity to a toilet. My GIANT fresh salad turned out to be a GIANT helping of E. coli. Below are a few pics I snapped before battling the bacteria party taking place in my intestines
(A taste of) Enlightenment
Before arriving in India I had never heard of Vipassana meditation. Yet once I reached the ashram for my yoga teacher training, I met several yogi’s who summed up their Vipassana experience as “incredibly challenging but extremely rewarding” and “the hardest thing I have ever done but now I feel like I can do anything”. My attention was grabbed although 10 days of silence coupled with 10 hours of meditation per day seemed more than daunting. But I was in India and one of the reasons I had taken on this adventure was in hope of finding a balance here that I lacked back home so… I went for it!
From Rishikesh, Lindsey and I headed for the Vipassana centre in DehraDun. Wrapped in mango and jackfruit trees, the small Vipassana centre was built to house and feed 100 mediators (50 men and 50 women). We checked in and as suggested, we handed in all forms of reading and writing materials including our phones. The next 10 days were comprised of “noble” silence (meaning that no forms of communication like speaking, smiling, gestures and eye contact were permitted), 4AM wake-up bells and A LOT of sitting in one position trying to focus on my inhalation and exhalation. Truthfully, the 10 hours of meditation per day actually added up to 9.5 hours of day-dreaming and on average, about 5 minutes of (real) meditation.
What I gained from this experience was the literal translation of Vipassana: insight. Recognizing that the nature of all things is impermanent, I learned that we truly are slaves to our mind. I witnessed the ferocity of the great power that our minds have over our every waking moment. In fact, to not think or cease our thoughts seems like the very opposite of what our minds are programmed to do. With hard work I eventually earned a taste of true meditation. In reflection, stilling my mind was euphoric because I tapped into my own liberation. Once you uncover that, true happiness and heightened awareness awaits. I don’t expect to convince anyone with my testimony, but I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that I returned from India annoyingly happy. Feeling this happy actually took some adjustment because it forced me to re-evaluate how I would continue or alter interactions and relationships with family, friends, and strangers. The shift in how I felt about myself, consequently, effected how I felt about others. From this perspective, my taste of meditation allowed me to transcend layers of past conditioning, which is why I would recommend the Vipassana technique and course to everyone.
Despite crediting the Buddha for practicing the technique, the course, overall is non-secretarian and completely donation based. Meaning that the very hard working volunteers in Vipassana centre’s will prepare delicious vegetarian meals for you and put a roof over your head. Only if you complete the course after the 10th day are you asked to offer a donation to “pay it forward” for another individual to benefit from the Vipassana technique.
With only several minutes of authentic mediation, the remaining 99.5 hours were spent thinking. Once noble silence was lifted my friend Lindsey summed up all the daydreaming that Vipassaa first-timers oh so often experience as an opportunity to clean out and organize our “junk drawer” of memories, thoughts, dreams and fantasies. My Vipassana experience afforded me the teachings and time I needed to dust off all the neurons in my head and floss between the synapses to uncover my beautiful mind.
For more info or to find a course in your area, check out Dhamma.org
To learn more about Vipassana, check out Vipassana Research Institute