Monday, October 24, 2011

Meditation Centre

I survived.  I did it!  Wow, what an experience.  Did I enjoy it? Yes. Would I do it again? Yes.  Will I do it again? Yes.
Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation. It was taught in India more than 2500 years ago as a universal remedy for universal ills, i.e., an Art of Living

4:00 am
Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am

Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am

Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am

Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am

Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher's instructions
11:00-12:00 noon

Lunch break
12noon-1:00 pm

Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm

Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm

Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm

Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher's instructions
5:00-6:00 pm

Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm

Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm

Teacher's Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm

Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm

Question time in the hall
9:30 pm

Retire to your own room--Lights out

Main entrance

The centre is 22 kms from Battambang which is 4 hours by bus from Siem Reap, it is in the middle of rice fields and surrounded by 3 Pagodas and is in the mountains, very nice.
We were segregated from the moment we arrived at the centre and we only saw the males when we were in the meditation centre, all other times we were not able to even see them.  When we had our Discourse which the foreigners had in a small room in English, we were separated by a screen and the dining room was also divided into two.
The ‘Noble Silence’ commenced 2 hours from when we arrived.  You are not to speak to any of the participants; you can speak to the teacher and the Nun in charge administration.  It was funny, the non-speaking was not hard, as you really didn’t know anyone except Montsay who is a Spanish lady who I am friendly with from Siem Reap.  Montsay was really good; she did not even look at me for 10 days.  I found the fact that I could not make eye contact very difficult.  When the silence ended the Cambodians just stood in front of me and talked and talked and I was trying to tell them that I had no idea what they were saying.  I didn’t matter, they just talked.  In the end, the French lady spoke to a Cambodian who spoke French and she translated into English.  It really didn’t matter as everyone was so lovely and open.  They were very curious to find out how old I was, in fact it was the first question they asked me.
Each participant had their own ‘cell’ which was a partitioned room in a huge tin shed.  The bed was a solid wooden base with a very thin mattress, nothing else was in the room except we put up a mosquito net and two pieces of material to be used as sheets and a very small pillow.
My room
The bathroom was out the back and consisted on a room with a hose shower, cold water or as most of the other ladies did, just bale out the water from an outside tank and pour it over you and was in the open.  The toilets were a choice of Western or Asian (thank heavens). 
The participants were mainly monks and nuns and a number of local men and women who have been to the Centre for a number of courses.  There were only 9 foreigners and of course I was the oldest, six were in there early 20’s.  It was funny, I spent 10 days with them and I was really impressed how well they managed to sit still for so long and I really didn’t think about where they came from.  On the last day when we could speak, we all had accents and came from all around the world.  There were 2 Americans, 1 South African, 1 Spanish, 1 French, 2 Russians, 1 Japanese and 1 Aussie.
Day 1 – waking up at 4am wasn’t really hard, we all trooped into the dark meditation room and sat for 1 ½ hours or should I say I wriggled for that long, breakfast was rice and vegetables and soya milk.  By 11 am I was ready to go home, every part of my body was aching, especially my bottom.  The teacher told me that I could sit in a chair but instead I moved my cushion to the back wall and stayed there for 9 days.
Lunch was – surprise – rice and vegetables.  As a first timer I was allowed to eat an evening meal, poor Montsay only had a glass of lemon juice to sustain her until 6am the next morning.
Day 2 was pretty much the same as the previous one except by now I was feeling no pain as I was eating aspirins as if they were lollies.  The food was the same, except now I had found the chillies, soy sauce and salted peanuts.  The rice available was both steamed and rice porridge, I like porridge and I just had porridge, sugar and banana.  Believe it or not, I actually enjoyed the food, half the time I had no idea what I was eating it was quite tasty.
The days continued the same except that on Day 5 we were given coffee sachets, yes coffee!  It was wonderful but certainly unexpected, after that, the foreigners were given an occasional sachet over the next 5 days.
Noodles occasionally replaced rice and we had fried sweet potato once and some strange fruits for dessert and even toast for breakfast.  All in all, quite good.
What did we do when we meditated?  The first two days we concentrated on breathing and then focused on the nose area and the third day, the top lip.  From there, we started to recognise the feelings that are constantly happening on every part of your body and then eventually you manage to turn your body into fluid!!  I never got past the third day; I managed to sit still but couldn’t get my mind to take the next step.  Long way to go.
The locals were lovely, they totally ignored the rules and whispered amongst themselves and every one of them had their ‘cells’ full of food.  They would come out and give me a lolly or once I got a chocolate drink.  There was hot water available at every meal and I wondered why the ladies kept filling up their cups with hot water and then going back into their room.  They had a stash of coffee, tea and milo.  I will take some tea bags with me next time.  The ladies who have been to other centres, said that it would not be acceptable anywhere else.
There was a lot of down time which was difficult to take as there was nothing to do.  The locals seemed to fill in the time by washing and cleaning.  They were washing their clothes, washing themselves, at least 5 times a day, sweeping their rooms and sweeping up any leaf that fell in the area.  The foreigners walked the area as we were not allowed to do any exercise and just sat around.  It was funny one morning, I was walking to the meditation centre at 4 am and saw a lady lying on the path.  I thought that she had fallen over but no, she was actually doing push ups.
What did I find the hardest to put up with?  The noise.  The frogs, birds and geckos never stopped.  The locals kept singing, swimming and working.  The people in the pagodas kept chanting and playing music and finally when everything outside was quiet, then someone in the room would sneeze and you would jump out of your skin.
I have not got any pictures because, yes, when I got there, took out my camera, the battery was flat.  Montsay took some picture on the last day and I will get some of her pictures which I will put in later.
I am glad I went; I hope to continue to meditate and perhaps actually learn how to do it properly.  Would I recommend it to you to do?  Absolutely.  There are centres in Australia although of course none in the NT.  There is no cost, you are only asked to leave enough money to fund the next person on the next course.
Meditation Hal
Female students

Outside the centre
Birds asleep

Meditation Hall