Bogor has thunderstorms 320+ days in a year and this is one of those days. It is gloomy, rainy and there's a freezing wind. It is 6:30am, I am in the communal bathrooms of the ashram, trying to take a cold shower. I lost track of the calendar, but it must be just a few days before the new year's eve. Most of my friends are either preparing for a good evening with family and friends at a home party or they are preparing for a grand night out or traveling somewhere nice. I am in Bogor, not having established eye contact to anyone (let alone speaking) for the last 6 days, in severe pain in the entire lower part of my body, tired of sitting on a cushion for 10 hours a day and trying to breathe deep so that I gather enough courage to step under the cold water. Oh, I forgot to mention that I fueled myself with chilis in the breakfast. This is my newly discovered joy in this ashram. Seriously deprived of sensations or pleasures I take refuge into chili whenever it is served with meals. Today's breakfast menu was some heavy rice dish served with some fried veggies, fried garlic, chili sauce and fresh papaya. The idea of eating any rice, noodles or fried stuff at 6am (or any other time of the day for that matter!) is even more painful than sitting in lotus for hours, so I take a lot of fresh papaya and raw green chili pepper slices. I play with it. I dice the papayas with my fork and put one thin slice of chili on each cube. (Oh did I say that the dining hall has no knives or glasses? We are served food in metal cafeteria trays, have metal or plastic cups for drinks. I wonder if they had previous incidents of meditators stabbing eachother fighting for a better meditation cushion so that they removed knives as a precaution?) Then I eat each cube of papaya topped with chili with great pleasure. We are not supposed to have eye contact, but that doesn't forbid my neighbors from taking glimpses into my plate every so often. My eating habits are weird for them, I know that. What they don't know is that I do this to get some sensations and to gather enough courage for the shower.
This was the new year I planned and wanted for myself so I cannot complain. Cold water showers were not a part of the deal but hey, it certainly builds character and stamina. If I was a guy, I would have done compulsory military service in Turkey years ago. That's how they are supposed to grow from being the “baby of their mom” into men... Instead, here I am taking cold water showers in an ashram when there's a storm outside.
Sometime in my teenage years, I remember reading in Cosmo that cold water showers keep your boobs firm. Now this is a proper motivation so I step into the shower by taking a very deep breath. I am not even allowed to scream.
But hey besides all that drama, the meditation sessions go very well. The exhaustion of the first 4 days is replaced by a lightness and somewhat more energetic feeling. I do very well with less resting time and I seem to have developed what's called the “meditators sleep”. My sleep is very light, I am almost conscious of everything that happens while I am sleeping but do not feel disturbed. I have very vivid and colorful dreams. My creativity seems to be off the charts. If only I could write...
Besides the mealtimes, the only activity and naturally the highlight of our days here is laundry. That's when we have a purpose and can use our upper-body muscles. So generally after lunch, we all rush to the laundry area, grab a bucket and start soaking, rubbing, rinsing and squeezing with all our energy. I don't know about the others but I put my heart and my soul into the washing. Then the next step is selecting a strategic spot to hang the clothes; from what direction is the wind blowing, where would it be safe from rain and dry the quickest. During breaks, we would go to the laundry area and examine the clothes, change the hanging location if the wind changed. I remember one time where it started pouring and a few of the meditators rushed out of the meditation hall; I have no doubts that they went for their laundries. So much for “sitting of strong determination”, it was washing of strong determination... We craved for action, which would enable us to move, spend some energy and give quick & visible results; and dry t-shirts the next day fulfilled all these criteria. Day 7 was significant for me, as it was when I felt competent enough to wash cargo pants by hand. I did it. Took a lot of effort but I did it.
Despite not having any yoga or proper stretching for the last 9 days or so my body is more flexible than ever. A friend who sat for Vipassana before told me that would happen but I had my doubts at that time. It seems to be true. It is said that physical stiffness is a reflection of mental stiffness or impurities and when mental blockages start to dissolve, the physical body opens to a level that no gym activity could provide.
By now, I can sit in meditations for up to 35 minutes without fidgeting, really feel that I am meditating and getting benefits out of it. My mind is clear and it keeps getting clearer. Many things dissolve, come out to the surface and I enjoy this process of discovery. I enjoy this ashram life too, super basic but everything I need is here. Surprisingly I do not miss talking or listening to music as much as I thought; however I miss writing. And mangoes
On the tape, Goenka says “Those are the last two days that you will be able to work hard on your meditation seriously as on day 10 you will start talking” What? I was just getting warmed up. Seriously if I had an option if extending this course for another 10 days, I would go for it without a second thought. Except that I start to feel seriously under-fed and malnourished. Despite feeling great, I now have dark circles under my eyes and my skin is drying out. While registering for Vipassana, the form asks if you have any special dietary requirements. And it mentions that if those requirements are very specific, one may rather do the course at a later time. Fearing that my list of exclusions would have been probably too much to handle in an ashram environment and my application might have been rejected, I didn't fill that part. The food served is great and has a surprising variety every day but I just eat a few pieces of fruits and whatever vegetables are available. The result is probably less than 1000 calories a day, a good weight loss, super mental clarity as very little energy is wasted for digestion and of course a detox. Everytime I sit for meditation, I sweat a lot. Somedays I shower 3 times. I need to scrape my tongue after every meditation session. During the total of 10 days, I scrubbed my entire body many times and proved that whoever said the skin renews itself once every 28 days is not accurate. My skin was coming out almost every 3 days. Which of course also means that my Kuta tan is completely faded, a sad collateral damage.
The detox was the unexpected bit, but come to think about it, it makes sense. My mind is being shaken radically by this intensive meditating, I am highly introspective and eat very pure foods in small quantities. So nothing that cannot be cured by some coconut water& wheatgrass shots when I am out.
In such situations, it helps to share some experiences with others going through the same stages. I wish to know if I am the only one sweating during meditation sittings, having very vivid dreams, suffering knee pains etc... These are the only times that silence becomes a bit annoying. But actually by now, everything makes sense. Why we meditate for 10 hours a day, why we don't communicate with eachother, why we don't eat anything after 5pm. This is a thoroughly thought course plan aimed solely at giving the maximum amount of learning and practice time to students. I especially love the theory part and the underlying philosophy.
The evening meditation session is interrupted by a lot of noise coming from outside. I realize that it is the new year's eve sometime later. Wow! This is what I wanted and it is happening. I believe that how I start the new year will have an impact on the rest of the days. In this stormy town of Bogor, I am peacefully sitting on a meditation cushion at the depths of introspection. My senses are sharper than ever, my mind is tranquil.
Yet what is more important to me is that I know that although the course is ending tomorrow I haven't excelled at the technique. There's still a lot I need to work on to say that I fully practice Vipassana. Nobody goes into a 10-day course and comes out as a full-fledged Buddha. I am far from it. I have a very long path ahead of me and for the first time in my life this doesn't bother me. I have always either done things very well from the start or else quit trying immediately. I was always afraid to be a rookie, who possibly screws up, doesn't understand or fails in the earlier steps of learning. I must have missed out a lot of things that had a potential to be fun once I gave a fair effort. Doesn't really matter at this point of time. What matters is that after all this knee pain, sensory withdrawals etc, I still need to keep trying much more, fail that much more and this doesn't bother me or make me quit. I accept to be a beginner and progress from that point, even if it takes 1000 attempts... That's my “happy new year”.
Having this insight, I fee the urge to wish someone a good year. During one of the breaks, I approach Natalia behind the bathrooms and very silently whisper “happy new year!” and she wishes me back. We share a big smile as we are partners in crime. I break the code of silence, if Karma decides to kick me in the ass later on, so be it. This was so worth it.
Today after 9:45am, the silence period will end. And as promised, the schedule for the rest of the day is very relaxed. The morning meditation ends and as soon as we leave the meditation hall we are free to speak. I am not sure if I want to speak though being able to smile and look into the eyes of others is such a relief. My first exchange is again with Natalie, we wish each other happy new year again and discuss how good those 3 words felt last night for both of us.
From that point onwards it turns into some hysteria. All the 42 women who had solemn, expressionless faces and no voices until now goes almost berserk. The laughter and the chatter in the dining hall is just unbelievable. And the partition between the male and female sections in the dining hall is removed so we can now mingle provided that there is no physical contact. Then I find my roommate and we introduce ourselves. She is a very experienced meditator, who works as an acupuncturist in Jakarta . It's weird that all these days we have seen each other in all the ways possible, in pain, naked, angry, moaning in sleep, never exchanging a word or a glance.
Many people come to me and to Natalia to ask where we are from, what we do here, why we choose to sit for Vipassana in Bogor. Well, the last question I wonder myself too... As I expected some immediately ask me why I don't eat rice. This raises more curiosity than why a Turkish woman who travels alone decides to sit for Vipassana for new year in Java. This is real. I am different and the people around do not feel the need to hide that they are curious. No one feels the need to be politically correct, to maintain a neutral tone and to pretend that nothing is surprising. “why you not marry, you not afraid to travel alone, why you not do Vipassana in Turkey”... In return I bombard them with questions too. We are all curious and do not need to hide that and then as much as we find out the answers to our questions, we also form a bond.
Then it is announced that we can get our wallets, IDs and laptops back. Now I am excited! As I mentioned, writing is the only thing I truly missed and as soon as I grab my laptop I go to my favorite spot in the ashram; somewhere at the very back of the garden with a great view of the valley below. I am even glad that I left all the crowd and the noise behind and write more than two hours, until the afternoon sitting. Then our mobiles are released to us in the afternoon but that doesn't excite me so much. Oh, along with the mobiles I get my ipod. The first song I listen to is Parabola by Tool. I missed Maynard's voice so much.
The rest of the day is pretty wild. Everyone's so relaxed that there's hardly any meditation. There's a surprise though; apparently sometime in the afternoon a list was passed around for the cleaning schedule of the closing day. Dorms, kitchen, bathrooms and halls need to be cleaned before we leave. However the list was in Bahasa Indonesia so eventually all of us foreigners who didn't even know about this list were left to fill out whatever group needed more members. Yes, Natalia, Isabel and I are in the group that will clean the communal bathrooms and toilets :) If this isn't the perfect way to end an ashram experience, I don't know what else is.
We again wake up at 4:00am, have a much shorter meditation session and then have a grand breakfast. Around 7:00 the cleaning teams go to their assigned locations. We joke about it saying that actually cleaning toilets is the fast track to cleaning your karma. The only glitch along the way is that we don't know the “Indonesian way” of cleaning. Well, I know no way of cleaning anything. I was just studying “laundry for beginners” so floor scrubbing is not an area I've mastered yet. I observe one of the girls and then get on with the next bathroom. Everyone including me is having fun with the way I clean, or more accurately the way I attempt to clean. Once in a while, they give me tips, more often than than we laugh.
Fun part aside, scrubbing toilets and bathrooms that were used by 42 women over a period of 11 days definitely is a good way to scrub off a bit of ego too. That is a major aspect of the ashram life and the Vipassana meditation so I cannot complain. We have an hour of fun, take many photos and when we make sure that every tile is scrubbed senseless with copious amounts of detergents we are relieved and go back to our rooms to change.
The transportation is arranged for those who do not have a car and one of the ladies from my dorm invites me to her place until the time of my flight to KL. With my heavy bags, this is a tempting offer so I join her.
This Vipassana course was one of the best things I did in my life. As soon as Anders mentioned it in October, I felt attracted and jumped in without any research, preparation. It turned out to be right. I will not mention anything about the technique, the practice or the very specific mental/emotional experiences I had with the technique. I don't want to create any false expectations or taint anyone experiences by describing my own. There's sufficient information on the web and especially on the official site for those who are interested. It is definitely worth the time and the effort of 10 days invested. I know that the next time I have time and a course is available, I am jumping in without any hesitations.