Remember "Eat Pray Love"? That cheesy bestseller about that American woman traveling to Italy, India and Indonesia to find herself? Well, I felt like I did a bit of a shortened version of it.
I had a week of eating in Kandy and Ella, finding back my appetite for food, and indulging in all the good stuff Sri Lanka has to offer.
And now I was in the Pray Section. I had signed up for a 5 day meditation retreat in the hills of Kandy.
Just long days of sitting and meditating.
I had left Ella via bus because the trains were still on strike, and made it relatively quickly and easy up to Kandy. There I met up with my dear chocho aka Tamzin again. We celebrated with a late afternoon meal at my now favorite place in Kandy, the dosa place, and shared a massive curry, and 2 dosas. The waiter looked at us and warned us that it would be a lot of food, but we wanted that food - hell yeah! We managed to eat almost all of it! Absolute piggies. Totally stuffed we did a little walk around the lake, followed by an evening spent on the internet, scrolling through facebook as if there was no tomorrow. Because for the next 5 days there would be none!
The next day we took the bus to the buddhist meditation center 1 hour outside of Kandy. Well, we got off at the junction of the dirtroad, that is. The center is 7 km up a steep hill in the mountains. In the middle of nowhere. Away from everything. I guess that's the point. Worried about the food situation of th upcoming days (would it be just plain rice and lentils every day?) we took comfort in our last meal before the retreat - a little shed at that dirtroad junction had some wadas in the window so we got a few of those, and then the guy offered us someof his dhal curry. Served on metal plates covered with plastic (as they do), it was fabulous and felt a bit like the last supper. We soaked up the goodness with our wadas, and were fially ready to hop onto the tuk tuk that would bring us up the hill.
We got greeted by a sign at the gate "Silence please. Meditation retreat in progress", way colder damp weather and - well, silence.
The center is run by a friendly meditation guru. We got showed to our kuti, our little room (or cell). Prison like beds out of concrete with thin simple mattresses. No mirror in the bathroom. No electricity so pooping by candle light. Fair enough, I hadn't expected a luxury resort. On the table a part of a book somebody had left. Page 105-166 of - Eat Pray Love. The Indian part of course.
We are waiting for our first meditation session in the afternoon - and I am already bored. Oh dear.
The daily schedule is:
Wake up gong at 4:45. Meditation from 5:00-6:00
6:00-6:30 Morning Tea
8:00-9:30 Working Meditation
9:30-12:00 Meditation (sitting, standing, walking), followed by some teachings
12:00-14:00 Lunch, Rest and Reflection
14:00-14:30 Walking Meditation
14:30-15:30 Self-guided Meditation
15:30-16:30 Tea and more working meditation
18:00-18:30 Dinner Snack
20:00-21:00 Group Discussion, Questions and Answers
I am aware this is already quite a moderate meditation schedule, broken up in parts and including some movement, not like hardcore vipassana retreats of 10 days straight sitting. And still. There was no day I didn't want to leave.
What did I expect!? It's like running a Spartan Race without having trained at all before. I didn't have any meditation practise! Here and there a little, combined with my yoga practise but that was it.
I must say I had underestimated this stuff.
The first morning during our cup of morning tea I felt an intense bliss and joy to be in this special place, I had tears in my eyes and was flooded by gratitude.
Sure enough, this feeling would soon be replaced by an ever increasing feeling of irritation, frustration, and the growing wish of climbing over the fence and run away as far as I could.
Of course. Impermanence. All emotions are fleeting, that's why we should not give much attention to our them or our thoughts. Easier said than done though when all you want is go back to kandy, eat Masala Dosas and chill by the lake.
The hardest part was the lack of exercise or movement in general. The yoga in the morning - yin yoga! Veeery gentle and veeery slow. Just like everything these 5 days. The walking meditation is walking in slow motion, the way the teacher talks about our sufferings and thoughts and so on - suuuuuuuuuuuuper slow. Very frustrating when you are used to our day's fast pace, and are an efficient German. More than once did I think "Get to the point, mate!!!". Shame on me and my un-mindful mind.
That mind. One time in yoga the teacher was asking "Where are you now with your thoughts? Come back here" so bring us back to our awareness. I just thought "You don't want to know my thoughts" having just thought about where to get best a fanny wax.
Working meditation was sweeping and removing leaves. A sisyphus job, considering the wet and cool climate with leaves falling every day. Oh, did I mention the leaches? They were everywhere. Lovely little creatures, helpful to practise loving kindness when they suck the blood out of you. Sigh.
The first meditation sessions my mind was racing at the speed I woul scroll through Facebook. Often times I would drift into this half-asleep state where your thoughts don't even make sense. It gets all a bit psychedelic.
Well, they call it thhe monkey mind, chattering along all da long. And funnily enough, durin gthe first days there was a horde of monkey around the center, running over the roof of the meditation hall as if they wanted to make a point about that monkey mind. The last days, when my mind had calmed down quite a bit, the monkeys outside had disappeared too. I almost thought the center had hired them as a metaphor :)
I actually didn't meditate that much. I thought. A lot. I thought about the past week with Rahul that had been so much fun. I thought about the yummy food I had eaten, and what I was going to eat when the retreat was over. I thought about friends, lovers, sex, future plans, travel plans, basically everything my monkey mind could come up with to distract me.
Because the mind (or the ego) is basically like a little pouting child. It doesn't like it when you don' give it attention. It comes up with anything to get your attention. Say, you focus on your breath, then the mind gets bored instantly, and come up with yet another thought. It's hopeless. You have to make friends with the mind. Have a look at the thought, don't judge it, drop it.
My back starts hurting, and my knees from sitting sitting sitting. My skin gets bad and spotty. Everything is damp.
Thanks to all the Heavens - the food is amazing! Good traditional Sri Lankan food with Rice and Curry for Lunch, savory breakfast stews, even some desserts for lunch. Dinner is just a light snack of toast and jam, so I have to ask the chef to save me some rice from lunch since I don't eat gluten.
BUT - I got heavily constipated! I guess it is the lack of movement and exercise. Maybe it is also a metaphor - digestion and mind are full of shit that needs to come out. Maybe that is also why the Buddha always has such a big belly - constipated, dude!
On day 2 I sneak secretly to my room during the working meditation to do some exercise. Just some squats and push ups. I feel my muscles withering away by just sitting!!
The good part too is that you have soo much time. I could write a whole book in the time when I should be meditating. Maybe not the point but just shows how calming the mind can bring out more creativity.
On day 3 I am having a meltdown and cry a bit during the walking meditation. I want to leave badly. But I don't. I don't kow why actually. Nothin gto prove. But I am not a quitter. Only 5 days I tell myself.
Thanks to the book part Eat Pray Love I find back to the mantra I had used before, and I am using it now for the meditation: Om Nama Shiva Ya. I say it over and over in my mind and it is the first time I can actually focus and my thoughts don't drift off.
It did get a bit better on day 4, and the last session on day 5 felt like I could sit here forever. maybe just because I knew it was over after this.
At the end, I am happy it is over. Very happy. Maybe it is not for me, maybe I am just not ready. I do believe meditation is a great tool, and I have learned a fair deal during those days. But it doesn't make sense to me to do it that intensely and extremely. The physical body needs movement.It is very exhausting to meditate that much. Plus, there is a whole world out there, and human beings. What good is Metta (loving kindness) if you don't practise it out there in the real world?
Tam and I get into the van that brings us back to Kandy, to the sunshine, to the people, the tuktuks. We have a drink at the posh Helga's Folly above the kandy Lake and book a hotel room. Then we take the nicest hot shower, wash off all the dampness and walk (walk! Moving!) into town to have a big fat Masala Dosa. Well deserved.
I am having a big fat poop too. ;)