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Clare’s Travel Diary

Monday, 28 Jan 2008

Location: Hyderabad, India

MapWell you'll all be pleased and probably slightly surprised to hear that I survived 10 days of no communication and am back in Hyderabad, about to head off to go see some tigers...

The retreat was a real test actually and I'm glad I did it, I'll try and give you a flavour of what was involved.

The technique of meditation is Vipassana, which is apparently the meditation technique pioneered and taught by Buddha himself 2500yrs ago. Apparently there are all different types of meditation which focus on different things such as visualisation or repeating mantras, but with this particular one, the idea is not to rely on anything outside of your body to enable the meditation - I will explain further...

There are Vipassana centres all over the world (including one in Herefordshire if anyone feels inspired!) with the aim of teaching the technique free of charge to anyone who wants to learn- you just give a donation if you want to. Thankfully the centre itself was outside Hyderabad so we escaped the hustle and bustle to a little bit of relative peace and quiet. Accomodation is basic but clean and fine (though we did take some time to adjust to the mouse sized cockroaches in the bathroom!) and food is similar. We all arrived and chatted the first night after the sexes were segregated - there were 6 of us Western women and about 30 Indian women. None of us westerners had done anything like this before and weren't quite sure what to expect, but we didn't have long to dicuss it as that evening 'noble silence' began.

Noble Silence means no talking, no eye-contact, no gestures, bascially you pretend you are the only person there. You can speak to the teacher about meditation and the workers at the site about material issues but thats it. It was actually pretty easy to get into, but it was wierd to be sharing a room with someone I didn't know and couldn't talk to for 10 days! Eva and I (the Aussie girl I was sharing with) had laid done some ground rules while we could still talk!

After that it was gongs to wake us up at 4am, 10 and a half hours of meditation over the course of the day plus a video discourse to explain the technique from the course founder. Lights out at 9.30pm All books, music, writing materials etc have to be handed in so during break periods you pretty much just lie on the bed. Its alot of time to spend with yourself!

The main thing to contend with though is not boredom, its the pain. You sit cross-legged on cushions for all the meditation time and it is nothing short of bone-crushingly excruciating. The idea is to overcome the pain through 'mastery of the mind' as physical stillness equates to mental calmness. All very well and all but to start with couldn't even sit for 10 minutes without needing to move. After day four I ached more than on skiing holidays and my hips had permanent shooting pains in them. During this time though the course moves you through the various levels of meditation and its actually quite fascinating to what extent you can concentrate your mind without all the distractions of life and other people. That said the Indian men and older ladies burped and farted with abandon in the meditation hall so were weren't entirely free from distraction!

By day 8 I had pretty much had enough and didn't really concentrate much for the remaining couple of days, but by then I could sit for an hour only needing to move my right leg once to stretch out the hip. That said the pain was just grinding me down, generally the mornings were fine but I think I was slowly tensing up over the day so by the evening it would be terrible. The evening video discourses started off being a really nice change from the rest of the day but towards the end I found them a bit preachy as I don't buy into the deeper aspects of the buddhist 'scientific' rationalisation of why you need to meditate which they would say is to reach enlightenment and be free from misery. Thats all very well but I'm just fine without enlightenment and am not really that miserable in the first place thanks very much! They were obviously filmed while Goenka (the founder) was on a western tour and he seemed to have an audience who found anything he said which could possibly be regarded as funny, completely hilarious - I started to find it all a bit obsequious, though to be fair he seemed to be a fairly down to earth, nice enough bloke himself.

On 10 day we could start talking again, although I intially felt wierdly reluctant to end the peace and quiet by then, and it was amazing how within an hour none of us westerners could really maintain concentration on the meditation after that. I could really see why the noble silence thing was important. We were all giddy with excitement of being able to find out what each other all thought and were no good to anyone! We had lost 2 girls over the course so by that stage there was only 4 of us and we made use of the time to catch up! It was interesting to hear how our experiences differed on what we found useful/irrelevant. The Indian women were all really impressed with us for completing the course and it was nice to chat to them and find out about them and thier lives, you don't really get to speak to Indian women here - exclusively men work in the hospitality industry and there are never opportunities to meet Indian women young, or married.

Overall I'm really glad I did the course, it was a real experience and a total break from the rigmarole of moving myself around the country mile by mile. I'm not going to be maintaining my practice by doing the recommended hour morning and night, but I'm sure a time will come in the next few weeks when I sit down and have a quiet hour or so to myself - and that was my aim really. I now have a technique to follow and I know what it 'should' feel like to know how far I'm able to get when I'm just dipping in and out of it.

Once we (the westerners) all got back to Hyderabad we had a lovely day or two sightseeing and chatting together - making up for the 10 days where we couldn't talk and now we've all gone our seperate ways. I write this from the train station in Hyderabad. I'm going north tonight into Madhya Pradesh on a 20hr journey to Kanha Tiger Reserve where I should have a pretty good chance of seeing Royal Bengal Tigers in the wild, not something I think you'll be able to see for much longer, and then I'm off to Mumbai again to meet Lizzie who's joining me for the next few months.

I know I've not uploaded any pictures recently so I'll do my best to do that soon - I'm not sure if there is internet at the Camp in the Reserve so it might be early Feb before I get a chance to do it. Lizzie and I are heading straight to Goa for some R&R before we go north to Rajasthan.

Hope this finds you all happy and healthy!