I arrived at Hereford bus station on the edge of the beautiful English countryside in search of enlightenment, roller case in tow with an extra duffle bag containing a pillow and bedding for the ultimate spiritual boot camp Dhamma Dipa . Looking forward to the nine day vow of silence and waking at 4:30 every morning to meditate for approximately 16 hours far from the distractions of hectic city life and closer to the spiritual existence of nature, I gazed at the rolling fields and quaint stone cottages as the bus brought me closer to the inn where I would meet the yogi who would transport me to the other side both physically and metaphorically.
I found the Vipassana retreat, taught by Mr. S.N. Goenka on the internet when I was looking for a course for friends who were interested in learning meditation. Vipassana is the purest and oldest form taught by the Buddha Gautama approximately 500 years BC. The direct translation of the term from the Pali language means “to see things as they really are,” and it is a method of insight that encourages self transformation through disciplined observation of the senses with the aim of developing a sense of equanimity that will ultimately lead to enlightenment.
Our first group meeting was headed by the course administrator who laid down the law; no smoking, no reading, no writing, no mobile phones in the rooms (lockers were provided to safe keep our essentials), no lying, no stealing, no sex, no killing, no talking, eye contact or communicative physical gestures with others from the dawn of the first day to the end of the ninth day. I wondered what incident had prompted the rule “no killing” but was afraid to ask as I was grateful to be accepted to partake in this wonderful spiritual journey.
On the first day I awoke to the sound of the gong and stumbled bleary eyed out of bed into the cool darkness of the grounds leading to the meditation building, a surreal shining beacon in early morning twilight. I slipped my shoes off in the vestibule and entered the large meditation hall, which was dimly lit and set up with rows of cushions divided into the male and female sections. The initial meditation called anapana consists of observing the breath and clearing the mind of all thoughts. It was far more difficult than I had imagined to clear my mind of all chatter and as worry after worry starting to arise I began to realize my anxiety laden thought pattern was the biggest hindrance to my peace of mind.
The main lectures were videos from Mr. Goenka in India, who expounded the philosophy of dharma with his allegorical stories and unique sense of humor. After the first two days we moved from the anapana breathing onto the main Vipassana insight meditation which involved concentrating on bodily sensations from the top of the head to the tips of the toes. After three days Mr. Goenka’s discourse accurately described how we would feel, “You may now be asking yourself, why did I volunteer for this prison?” A couple of the other meditators found themselves overwhelmed by emotion and were crying, at one point the level of introspection became to intense I found myself in the same state. The instructor explained that this was part of ridding the mind of “mental impurities” and I began to think I myself must be a giant cerebral impurity.
Throughout the course I found that I had difficulty holding my concentration for more than a few minutes at a time but for the brief period that I was able to sustain this I felt myself spiritually transported in a way that is difficult to explain. As Mr. Goenka said in his discourse, “when you get there you will know it, there are no words to describe it.” After my first taste I knew that I would be back again to continue on the path in my quest for spiritual enlightenment.