I first heard of Vipassana a year ago and was completely daunted by the prospect of 10 days of silence in a Buddhist monastery. But after meeting many people during my travels that have done one and felt the benefits I have recently felt ready to give it a go.
Vipassana means ‘to see things clearly’ and I think clarity is always a good thing.
Shortly after arriving in Chiangmai I began to research monestarys and found Wat Ram Poeng which looked beautiful. Myself and Luke hired a scooter and went to check it out. We were greeted by the most stressed and frantic human being I have ever met. Little did I know he was the Vipassana point of contact, we later named him baby monk/ angry monk because he was super cute but pretty consistently angry. Seven fellow meditators were sat waiting in white when baby monk told me that there was an opening ceremony in 20 minutes or nothing for 2 weeks, it was now or never. I kissed Luke goodbye and changed into white clothes (you must wear white during Vipassana). Next thing I knew baby monk whisked us off shouting instructions at us that were yet to make sense. His favourites included “LERANING BY DOING”, “DOING DOING DOING”, “KNOWING KNOWING KNOWING” and “ACCEP ACCEP ACCEP” (he repeats everything three times). He also occasional says “we do it temple style” which I love.
Baby monk gets nothing done fast, he spends hours frantically running around but not a lot happens so we ended up at our closing ceremony four hours later than planned. After the ceremony, Vipassana began and we were shown the two styles of meditation we would be doing solidly for the next 10 days; sitting and walking meditation. We started by doing 15 minutes of each, one after the other and built up to around one hour sitting and one hour walking by day 10. I hit a wall at 45 minutes though so that was my maximum. My days went a little something like this;
4am – the monastery bell becomes your alarm clock as anything electrical is confiscated on arrival. So at 4am you get up, change into white and head out for morning meditation.
6.30am – Breakfast
7.30am – you can buy food/drink to put in the monks bowls as they walk past the temple at 7.30 every morning if you wish, I didn’t realise this until day 9 so I splashed out with popcorn and cakes.
10.30am – Lunch
I had heard awful things about monastery food but thankfully Wat Ram Poeng is the Ritz of monasteries, the food was amazing! There was a Thai and Vegetarian option which included either rice or noodles, a main dish, two side dishes and a desert. All of which were reliably yummy! Lunch is your last meal of the day and eating after midday is a strict no no.
After lunch you were able to sweep leaves if you wanted before heading back to meditation (that was your treat for the day 😉
My room was no Hilton. I later found out that the majority of people had a bed and hot water, thankfully I was so zen from my 10 days of meditation that I didn’t care. If I had realised this on day one I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been so chilled out.
5pm – Report to ‘teacher’. This was a brief conversation with one of the two ‘teachers’ to let them know how you were doing and where they would give you meditation instructions/ advise.
After reporting i would then meditate until 10pm. On average I would meditate for 10 hours a day which sounds crazy now but at the time it was totally normal.
Everybody has completely different experiences during Vipassana, I had to completely disconnect from time to attempt to be in the present moment. Somebody came up to me on what I thought was day 7 and started telling me about the closing ceremony the next day. I was so confused as I thought I had three full days left so disconnecting from time obviously worked. For me Vipassana was an incredible experience and my perspective has without a doubt changed for the better.