Vipassana the second time – Dehradun, India

I arrive in Dehradun from Rishikesh by bus and find my way with two rickshaws to the center, which is quite far outside the city. It’s a long ride by bus and I started even 3 hours earlier, you never know how long such a bus ride will take. The bus was packed and a guy next to me vomited out of the window. Luckily I was able to sit down, I was fighting annoying diarrhea for the last days, the overwhelming heat in Rishikesh was too much for my digestive system.

Arriving at the center

Before getting there I buy a big bar of chocolate and have a big fried rice lunch, knowing I won’t eat too much for the next 10 days. I’m nervous and excited, I have no idea what expects me but at least I know the technique.

Registration process takes some time, I and a girl from Canada are the only ones who do not live in India and there are people in all age groups, about half men and women, generally more people older than 40.  In my last retreat there were more women and more young people, here in India spiritual practice is something you start again after you retire. I share a room with a 70-year-old woman from Mumbai who used to work for the government, we have a simple two bed room with a curtain in the middle and a small toilet with shower. We all settle in before the silence will start.

The first days

Day 1 starts, I am still not feeling great and have diarrhea. There are not many cushions and no self-service for more, so I decide to be content with the little one I got and sometimes I use a shawl for my other knee. I am relaxed but not comfortable, this is my 2nd retreat so I have high expectations. I can only focus on the little field of breath for about 1-3 minutes maximum. It’s hot in the afternoon, I move, crazy thoughts, the room is packed with moving and sweating people. The fan above my head makes sound and the moving air feels weird in my ears. The food looks good but I can’t eat much.

Luckily I sleep well and wake up feeling better on day 2, I also napped during the day. I force my self to totally focus on the breath this day and sometimes it works for a few moments. The afternoon is long, I think about many things, mainly planning some kind of future. Then I have spontaneously a meditation where I feel a frequency of total lightness with the whole body… This is not what we are supposed to practice, but it feels great.

“Equanimity of mind = not wanting unpleasant sensation to cease and pleasant ones to stay.”

Day 3 is still clouded with pain in my stomach, but I still have good meditations in the morning. Sometimes the pain helps me to focus and go deeper, I then am trying to feel the whole body, not just the pain – widen my awareness. Absolute lightness comes out of my pain and becomes this pain again… I am tired and annoyed about my future thoughts in the long afternoon, time feels like forever, sometimes I am counting the seconds.. The rain comes and brings so much relief, finally some colder moments and the power is then often gone for hours, so I can meditate with the fan sounds in the big hall. After being sick, I can’t enjoy the indian spices anymore and struggle with the meals, only eating breakfast and lunch is harder than expected.

“Our strongest enemy is our own (untamed) mind.” Goenka

I like the evening video sessions with Goenka just like last time. I like the way he describes Vipassana compared to other spiritual traditions at a restaurant example: You read a menu (faith), you watch people eat (belief) and you yourself eat (direct experience). Vipassana is direct experience in the field of body and breath – feeling subtle levels of experience, inner levels – Truth.

It gets easier in the middle

It is day 4 and I feel better every day, in the morning I think that I am finally arriving in the technique. The afternoon throws me back like always, my upper back hurts and it’s hard to not be overwhelmed by the struggling body. It’s the day of the Vipassana technique introduction and it takes a long time again, it’s great to compare it to my last course. Although I’m having a hard time, I clearly see how much I have grown since then. It’s Sunday and the food is nice.

Day 5 and I am still sleeping very deeply in the nights, I wake up before the gong and am ready to start. My dreams were strong, but I forget them immediately. The morning is my strongest time, I can sit for one hour without moving and just observe. I realise that in the moment I feel a pain, my breaths changes. I practice a lot of deep relaxations and spreading of the awareness and still have many desperate moments and planning thoughts, the future seems to be my topic at the moment. I will return to Germany very soon and have no plans yet, which I hard for me to live in the unknown. I still struggle with the food, it’s good but my body just does not want to eat any rice any more. Lunch is early when I am still full from breakfast and then during the long afternoon there is no meal you can look forward to. Luckily I am not really hungry, I just want to eat to feel better… I feel bored and lazy after 2:00 pm. Is it already day 5 or only day 5?! In the evening I have another nice and long meditation without moving, some days I have already 2 hours a day.

Day 6: Vipassana is neutral observing of sensation, no reacting or judging. The idea is to stop habit with non reacting. I clearly know that I am not following this technique yet, I just survive on the high moments of meditation and suffer the rest of the time! So much pain, feeling unwell, being annoyed by the other people – I feel like running into the forest and scream. The next moment I let go, find the flow, feel the pain and everything else, the energies are lifting me, I feel the fire and light, I am neutral. This day was very mixed, and very long. The whole digestive situation is very disturbing.

I decide to stop caring about the food on day 7. Again and again it is fascinating how from a place of misery and suffering, in the meditation everything transforms into inner peace and liberation..!

“Anitja: Sensations arise and pass away. Stop craving and rejecting to something so impermanent and meaningless.”

I start the mornings now with sitting in half lotus for the first hour, during the day this pain would be too much. Compared to my first course I am doing 100% better. I practice equanimity during the whole day – observe, don’t react, how long will this sensation stay?

“Characteristic of a sensation: It rises and passes away. Impermanent.”

The weather is sometimes hot and sometimes cold with rain, a nice mix. I am so glad it’s not crazy hot the whole time! I still sit under this fan which is like a helicopter to me. Every peaceful power cut puts me in nirvanic peace for a moment. Five minutes later it’s too hot to meditate though..

Restless towards the end

The 8. day I feel restless and lazy, the period of deep sleep is over and I just want the retreat to be over. I sit there watching my thoughts, sometimes in a wet clothing to cool down. I liked lunch today, there was ghee in the rice. My feeling of hunger came back, around tea time I just want to eat and watch the first timers..

The little spider in my room jumps around and makes backward somersaults. I don’t sit every session, I definitely sometimes do some laundry, take a shower or just relax in my room. After this hard day, I have a beautiful evening meditation with earplugs, can’t take this fan anymore. I surrender, deeply relax into the flow. I’m so thankful for the thunderstorm, it might be a cool night.

“We are nothing but an accumulation of habits (sankhara).”

It is day 9 and I sit in full lotus for the first 55 minutes of the day, barely any pain and I only shifted my hip a tiny bit. I suddenly am in the flow, difficult to describe. Observing, relaxing, spread… The ring of awareness moves up and down through my body, same with the breath. I observe inner parts of the body and the spinal cord.

“Awareness and equanimity and non-reactivity.”

During the day I barely sit for an hour without moving, I often feel exhausted. I walk super slow, am constantly hungry, feel dizzy and all my limbs hurt. I feel very sorry for the people around me who move a lot, they must suffer even more than me. It was a good day, I finally released tensions in the area of my forehead. But I am also impatient, I finally want to move again!

I got deeply inspired by a guy in the front who meditates in full lotus all the time, I feel challenged and motivated. The moments I feel suffering arise – I try to observe my breath and the sensations.

The end of a 10 day retreat

Tag 10: I wake up dreaming disturbing things and do not feel very enlightened, but hey it’s the last day. At least I slept well, it was cold enough to use the blanket. Beautiful 1 hour morning meditation in full lotus, I listen to the sound of the rain and the birds – sounds vibrating through my system. Deep and wide awareness. The Metta meditation is beautiful and heart opening.

The retreat is over, we get to know each other. I find it beautiful and at the same time disappointing to leave silence. Tonight I will take a night train to a new place. We go for a walk in the beautiful surroundings and talk about life and the practice. It feels meaningless to go back to life but at the same time it is a nice challenge to keep the practice going during normal life. I struggle to keep meditating every day, but at least half an hour in the morning is super important for me. I also struggle to find back into my Yoga practice. All together it’s beautiful to see how this technique of meditation has changed me and my world, there are moments when I can quickly catch myself and transform problems into learning. There are short morning meditation where I bath in a sea of peace and of course there are endless struggles. I couldn’t be more thankful for the Vipassana Center in Dehradun and the ones all over the world for their teachings.


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