Thursday, May 26, 2011

Vipassana - Rehab for Poor People

After 7 hours, 5 near death experiences, 3 dead animals, 2 punchers and 1 extremely annoyed Ramesh we arrived at Pune Vipassana Meditation Centre… which turned out to be the wrong Pune Vipassana Meditation Centre, the one we needed was another 1 hours drive away called Pune Riverside Vipassana Meditation Centre! We eventually arrived with an even more annoyed Ramesh, 3 hours late.  It said on the confirmation letter that if you arrived after 5.00pm your place would be given away, luckily I had rang up twice, asked Ramesh to ring up, sent 2 emails and asked Paul to contact them to make doubly, tripperly, quadruperly sure I still had my place. I wasn’t missing the opportunity to write a fantastic blog post purify my mind, for anybody!
I think they call it shabby chic
A construction site at a meditation centre-
only in India
After registration I made my way to the dorms, the first thing to strike me was the quiet sense of tranquility that surrounded the centre, the peacefulness, the birds singing and the calm breeze in the trees, the second thing I noticed was the working construction site slap bang in the middle of the complex and signs apologizing for the noise, so I knew this particular feeling would be short lived! After a five-minute walk down a stony path I arrived at my room, number ¾ (I know stupid) I stepped inside, Oh-My -God! It was like something out of the TV show 'Banged Up Abroad'! The floor was a brown dirty, pooh colour, the walls were stained with the blood of squashed Fly's and Mosquitoes, metal bars adorned the windows and the beds- (yes beds, I was sharing my room), mattresses (if you can call them that) were about one inch thick and were laid on a plank of wood attached to the wall. The bathroom toilet room had no shower, just a tap and bucket to wash in and the toilet was leaking from the bottom (but I was used to that) I wasn’t expecting five star luxury but I couldn’t imagine these conditions were going to help me achieve my 'balanced mind full of love and compassion'! I was concerned.
At 7.00pm we were ordered to the main hall for a pre course meeting, as I was late I hadn’t seen anyone yet so was intrigued to see the type of person a course like this attracted, I was expecting an abundance of white travelers and was completely shocked when I discovered that I was the only white face! The majority of people were Indians from local villages, with an average age of around 40.  In typical Sophie fashion I entered the packed hall late, through the Men’s entrance and was immediately told off by the assistant teacher, a great start! The teacher went on to tell us about the separate areas for men and women and other useful information, including that we were not allowed to kill any living creature (including Mosquitoes) followed by a warning about the frequent presence of Scorpions and Snakes at the centre. At this moment I instantly regretted every time I had turned over the channel on Steve Erwin’s, annoying, Australian face and opted for an Eastenders omnibus instead! The size, colour and approximate weight of Pat Butchers earrings wasn’t going to help me if I encountered one of these deadly critters!!! I had been foolish! After an hour or so of carefully listening to an old crackling casette tape we were told the Noble silence had started, which meant no more talking or communicating for the next 10 days! It had begun!
We next made our way to the main Dhamma Hall where meditation took place, the teacher sat at the front, on what looked like an extremely comfortable, goose feather, memory foam padded chair, we were told to sit cross legged on an extremely uncomfortable blue rock pillow. He pressed play on his tape recorder and the sound of a man chanting started, it genuinely sounded like this man had a very bad case of indigestion and I couldn’t help but burst out laughing, I felt the gaze from the assistant teacher penetrate my body and quickly composed myself. The tape then went on to tell us to concentrate on our respiration and observe any sensations that occur in the area of the nose, nostrils and upper lip. All I could think about at this point was why bananas are yellow and not blue. After five minutes the only sensation I was getting was a great big pain in my bum, no one had warned me of this, it was like torture, I knew from that moment that being in silence was going to the least of my worries!
After an hour of meditation (or daydreaming) the session ended, and we made our way down the stony, poorly lit pathway to our bedrooms where I was finally going to meet my roommate! I had already been in bed 15 minutes and was dropping off to sleep when I heard a massive belch, followed by a fart any teenage boy would be proud of. My roommate had arrived. She was approximately 70 years old, short, plump, had grey hair and was wearing traditional Indian clothing. She sat on her bed and starting taking medication, there was a lot of it, I counted 15 tablets in total but it was the cream that she applied from head to toe that was the problem, the smell made my eyes water and I can still feel it on my chest, the name Tiger Balm Lady was born.
On the first night Tiger Balm Lady insisted on sleeping with the bathroom light on and the fan off! She was up and down out of bed like a yo, yo and at one stage sat on the floor and started shouting ‘PARLE, PARLE, PARLE’ at the top of her voice, I was so scared, I thought she was insane! Maybe she was? Maybe her medication was for mental illness?? I stayed under my mosquito net with my eyes firm shut, praying she wouldn’t kill me. At 3.30am she went into the bathroom and started washing her clothes, I could finally try and get some sleep! At 4.00am the morning wake up alarm went off, although tired, I was extremely relieved I had survive the night!
At 4.10am the assistant teachers would come around and ring a little, annoying bell outside your door until you opened it and showed you were getting ready, they would then give you another 10 minutes before they rang the bell again, repeatedly, until you were out of the door and on your way to the meditation hall, and this (including the crazy behavior of Tiger Balm Lady) was to become an everyday occurrence.


  1. LMAO!!!!!!! BEST BLOG EVER!!!

  2. Hehehe.... I've been waiting so long for this post. Please write more and fast. Was the tape of Goenka ji? I am still haunted by his voice around 8 years later.... "equanamous mind...". Oh and his chanting my god! I would've gone mental over your room mate... and how awful, you can't even open your mouth to complain to her, or tell her to stay in bed and turn the damn light off!

  3. Thank you both!
    Kismet, thank you so much for writing this comment, I was spelling 'equanamous' so wrong not even spell check could sort it out and i need it for the next part so thank you! Yes the tape was of Goenka i should add that too! As for my housemate, everyone did sympathise as she was the same in the hall but she was old! You had to laugh xx

  4. This is truly amazing and I cannot wait to hear how you stayed silent the rest of the 9 days! I also have read that most places to not allow cameras - was that at your meditation center, too, or were you so amazingly sneaky about it? Either way, proud that pictures made it. Yes only in India would a construction site and a 3/4 room number really happen.

  5. Oh, Kismet is me (Sharell) stupid Google signed me in. I don't think I spelled equanamous right either... and I don't think I'd even heard of it until that course!xo Can't wait for part two!

  6. Hi Kelly, your right no camers are allowed but I took these on the 10th day once we were given our stuff back! It would have been easy to sneak a camera, valuables, writing materials and phone in but i wanted to do it porperly x
    Sharell it sounds good enough for me - i'm going with it! new post up in 5!

  7. only in india a room with number 3/4...thats epic!

  8. you went to the wrong place.. Igatpuri is the place to go.. Better center, well maintained, Pune is a newer center.. so might have had problems.. still Igatpuri is the best among all.cooler place.its also easier to travel there..


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