Why are you so petrified of silence? Here, can you handle this….?
Did you think about your bills, your ex, your deadlines, or when you’re going to die? Or did you long for the next distraction? Honestly, everything of that (okay apart from the deadlines, they currently don’t exist for me), and much, much more has crossed my mind in the 10 days I’ve spend in total silence. But it has been the most amazing, educative, joyful, difficult, insightful and confronting journey I’ve ever made in such a limited space. City life, for awhile, was swapped for something so completely different. And I loved it. And Alanis (also the autor of the first few lines) actually became my hero. Like on the bike, also here only annoyingly little parts of songs got stuck in my head, repeating themselves tirelessly for hours and hours. When I got connected again to the “real world” I played these songs, to discover that Alanis Morissette has been singing exactly about what I’ve just been through. Alanis Morissette – Thank U

It was time. I felt the need to do something else than basically nothing, the urge to learn, to turn inward and observe what’s on the inside. Long ago I got to know about the existence of a 10 day meditation course, in full silence, run on solely donations of old students. Vipassana. Back home I already have looked into the options to follow one of these courses in Belgium, the nearest meditation center from the place where I lived. But courses filled up quickly and if I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to participate I found it a bit too much to take 12 days off for maybe nothing. So, like many things in life, I postponed. Maybe on the beginning of this trip Ruben and I could go. But when the plan of staying in France with Michiel and Sibel for a little longer evolved, the plan of the Vipassana moved to the background. But I believe often life has a right timing for things. Looking back, I now know that I would have gone kind of crazy to move from a 40h workweek and many things beside that, to 110h+ meditating in 10 days, in total social isolation. On our trip life has slowed down, we still do enough but definitely found and understood time to just be. And here in Mumbai life got even more peaceful for me, in most aspects. And after Ruben’s continuous talking for the past six months it felt like a true break. Just kidding.

It was really difficult to say goodbye to him. It felt so weird to, after such a long time of constantly being together, suddenly to be separated. And separated for real. I had to hand in my phone so no contact, apart from our telepathic-capabilities-under-construction of course, was possible whatsoever. But it’s also good, some distance. I think it makes you realize only more just what you have. I decided, for the occasion, to undo my lovely bike from the layers of dust he’s been collecting in the last month. Moving out of the city on my own frightened me a bit and Ruben even more, but after 20.000km I expected to be able to survive. And I did. With only a small bag of luggage bundled up behind me we moved swiftly through the crazy traffic, to exchange it for the smooth asphalt of the Indian highways after an hour or so. How much can you love a machine?! It felt like we’ve thrown off all our extra weight and like we can conquer the world together. Don’t tell, but we’ve actually quite proven we can 😉 I loved to ride again, to feel his power. But I was also quite afraid of what laid in front of me. Didn’t I hugely overestimate myself by thinking I’m mentally able to do this? Just how difficult was it going to be? I barely slept that night, and that says quite something. But backing out of it on this very last moment is not really my groove, so I gently forced myself not to turn around. After a little over two hours I arrived at the ‘ashram’, as some people pointing me in the right direction named it. Wow, then I’d finally stay in an ashram! Sounds so “goat-wool-socks” and vague, but well, vipassana sounds like that too. I unpacked my bike and kissed him goodbye. He’d stay just out of sight, and I think I had never not seen him for such a long time since the day I own him. Really a little sad.

I was actually going to do this! I was received by a large group of Indians at the place where I had to do the final registration. Actually I was a little disappointed that no one else from the west joined in, but I soon came to the conclusion that we all had to do it on our own anyway, so it didn’t really matter. And it was actually a bit of a discriminating thought.. But well, I’m not all zen yet, so they are still allowed. I received my own little room, which was I think about 4m2, maybe 5. But the size doesn’t matter, I was so happy with it! It even had a small bathroom attached to it with an actual (cold-water, but who cares) shower, oh my!! In our AirBNB we have to keep ourselves clean with a bucket of water. And sleeping alone, with no one disturbing me, such luxury. That first day consisted mainly of waiting and I wasn’t sure if we’d receive any proper instruction at all. But by the end of the afternoon, when I had to hand in all my valuables and, as it felt, really had to say goodbye to my boyfriend by switching off my phone, the instructions started. They told us, or me, because up until then I was the only person receiving guidance in English instead of Hindi, that we were not allowed to pick flowers, wear anything that didn’t cover our skin enough, we had to follow the schedule (from 4.30 till 21.30) strictly, were not allowed to read, write, have eye contact, say thank you or actually anything to anyone, touch other people, do any exercise apart from walking in the scarce spare time, enter the male area, etc. And we had to pledge ourselves to the five rules: abstain from killing any being, abstain from stealing, abstain from all sexual activities, abstain from telling lies and abstain from all intoxicants. And we had to persist in completing these 10 days fully, otherwise we had to leave now. Wow. After that our noble silence started, and with that, it begun.

After a rough night in which I discovered that I was still able to hear my neighbor snore and that mosquitos aren’t scared away by mosquito repellent it was time to really start this course. When my alarm went off on a crazy early 4:00 in the morning the first thing that exited my mouth was a grumpy ‘detention camp’. Shoot! I wasn’t supposed to talk and I think this kind of talking certainly isn’t allowed. I bet I got tested, right away, because when I entered my lovely tiny bathroom a big fat mosquito lazily flew by me. Ruben and I got ourselves trained in becoming high-end mosquito killers, but here I wasn’t allowed to kill any being. I was only just able to keep my hand in place, and quickly went back to grap a cup and piece of paper to catch the damn thing, shake it a little too much (this was allowed, right?) and free it outside. Off I went to the Dhamma hall, the central hall in which, men on the left, women on the right, we spend basically all our time meditating. In these first few days we had to concentrate on breathing, specifically to feel your natural breath on a very small area of your body, just around your nose. Throughout the course I felt like the teacher, a wise looking, calm and cute old man, merely was there for decoration. He barely explained, but we listened to audio tapes in which we were told this practice was to sharpen your mind, to become aware of the smallest of sensations, to later start with the real vipassana technique.

The first few days, in which I expected to have the urge to run away on every unseen moment, were actually quite a bliss. I discovered I might secretly (or not secretly, if you know me you decide) be a super anti-social person whose purpose probably is to live as a hermit on top of a lonely mountain somewhere far from civilization. To me, it was a true delight to have no contact at all. No nosy peeks at me, because I’m the white girl, no socially forced hello’s or thank you’s, no awkward conversations on topics or with people that couldn’t really interest me, no disturbances on a moment that doesn’t really suit me, just nothing, only me and my thoughts. And I loved it. Only I became to doubt my social skills a bit, but well, who cares. I also expected that my head might quiet down for a bit, when it would be silent for such an extended time. But it didn’t. Maybe it got a little more quiet, but often I found myself lost in some kind of daydream or nightmare, when actually all I had to do was focus on my breathing. The difficulties of meditation.

My head ran off to very weird places. Somewhere in the beginning I’ve spend almost two days on planning a wedding, for example. My own wedding, to be specific. In the beginning it was fun, and I really planned something awesome, if I can say so myself. If you read this, my imaginary wedding is happening at your place, Michiel and Sibel, just so you know 😉 But by the end of the second day it drove me completely crazy. What the hell was my head doing?! Why am I so occupied with something that isn’t actually on our planning, something we’re not working on at this moment in our lives or anywhere in the near future? My planning turned into questioning. Why is this happening? Why does my head go mad for this? The answer saddened me. If I was honest, I had to conclude that I am just very, very afraid of the things I long for the most, to never happen. For Ruben or me to die before we ever get to that point. Actually the same happened before this trip. Some things are too big to imagine, at least for me. This trip was far too big too. So I was convinced either of us would die before we got started, that all our savings would go up in flames or that he’d leave me for some 16 year old that didn’t even have a license yet. It’s in my genes, I know, not the 16 year old, but my worrying. The mother of my mother was so worried about everything that she spend her whole life frightened for everything that might or might not happen. I didn’t even tell her I went off to Australia for half a year because we expected her heart not to be able to handle that. But it is such a shame, and we miss out on so much if we do. Because I strongly believe a podcast I listened to a few days back is right. Fear is only in our mind. It’s like making bad horror movies that no one else wants to watch, and far most of these doomed scenarios are never ever going to happen. So why don’t we make comedies, or thrillers in our heads, instead?

The course continued, and I found it awesome to learn more about the technique they were using. Goenka, the guy who brought back the Vipassana technique in the pure form from Burma to India, where its roots lay, kept on telling how secular the technique was, that while it forms the roots of Buddhism, it isn’t connected to any form of religion or dogma or sekt. I believed so, largely. I was told it is a method to purify your mind, and basically forms the art of living, in which you solely search for a universal truth, the truth of impermanence, through which suffering that all human beings endure can be eradicated. As I said we’ve spend the first three days focusing on our breath, to sharpen our minds. After that the ‘real Vipassana’ started. I secretly expected something magical. Maybe we’d start floating around on our meditation cushion? Or we’d be overwhelmed by an awesome meditation flow in which hours slipped by like seconds and the universe revealed itself to us? But none of that was happening. The Vipassana technique appeared to be something I was already familiar with, a kind of bodyscan in which you observe, initially, every part of your body separately and try to find sensations, which can be really everything, from heath, to pulsing, to moist, to itch, well you name it, on that particular part. Later on we moved to a kind of flow in which your focus literally flowed throughout your body without much obstacles. As I said, the technique claims to give the possibility to eradicate all suffering, because, as I was explained, we humans tend to attach. We attach to all the sensations that are a result of our in- and outside world. We largely attach with feelings of aversion to the bad things, and craving towards the good things. Through observing your inside world, the sensations you feel, you learn to see that everything, no matter how big or small, is impermanent. And if we truly understand that, we learn to stop reacting, to stop craving, stop creating aversion, and we finally take it in our own hands how we perceive the world. Because if someone is mad at you, and (let’s be gender-unbiased) she’s abusing you madly, it’s the same as when someone gives you a gift you do not accept. Whose is the gift? Not yours, it’s still from the one who gave it to you. It’s all about perspective.

But, with my protestant upbringing, I couldn’t help but casting doubts at some of the points that were made. I still think it’s fascinating just how our upbringing, throughout our lives, will have influence on basically everything we encounter, regardless of what our convictions currently are. After a while our teacher explained about the seeds that we plant are the fruits we pick. That every action we take is followed by a reaction. That all, in essence, is a continuous backfire of that what we have been planting. I can believe that. But it came to a point where, without questioning, he explained that throughout all our lives, this works as well. In all the lives we had and all the lives we will have, we receive the fruits of what we’ve been planting. I strongly think that as soon as you start talking about a before- or afterlife you’re talking religion, in some way or the other. So I just sat, and listened, and questioned. And at the very end there was a relieving conclusion. You know what, they told us, take whichever part you think is right, and leave all the rest. Maybe somewhere on the way you come back to it and have to conclude it was right. Maybe not, or maybe that happens somewhere in one of your next lives. Well, who knows.

Besides the interesting and educative parts of it, I already mentioned it was difficult and confronting as well. I think it is quite normal to expect that when you’re in such isolation and if you’re quiet for such a long time, your demons kind of start haunting you. So they did for me. First my introspective gaze brought me to the relationship in which Ruben and I have been before, which started about 7 years ago. I will not bother you with all the details, but many, many things have been crooked between us at that time. I found that, even after all these years, there is still the hurting, the blaming, the pain. So I cried, I let it all go. And when I pulled myself together again and found my way back to the Dhamma hall, I searched deeper. I could only conclude that the hurting and the pain is not something done to me by him, it is something in which I had full shares. I haven’t treated him or myself, or some other people around me, with the respect and love I should have had. Sometimes you learn as you go. And, regardless how difficult it was, that has been exactly the path I needed.

Other demons came up as well. Like in a vision I was drawn back to the last few weeks of my fathers life. Where I thought I’ve taken enough time to process things, I was confronted with the fact that I didn’t. I was reliving the last few moments in which I was with him. His mental outburst, a delirium as the doctors later called it, showing that he so wasn’t ready to let it all go. At that time, I was glad it happened to be me being there at that moment, not my mom or one of my sisters or brother. But it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever witnessed. My father, who could be mad but never became aggressive, at that moment became terrifying aggressive. He ripped of his masks, that gave him the so much needed oxygen. He wanted to get out of this damn place, he shouted. His body was too weak to respond to the things his mind came up with. But with all the strength left he pinched my wrist down, telling me I wasn’t his child, I wasn’t allowed to retain him from leaving. I couldn’t even touch him, put his mask back on to undo the blue color that started spreading in his face. After a long while one of the nurses sat on the opposite side of the bed. He had pinched her arm down too, and we both weren’t able to unravel ourselves. She looked at me, and all I remember of her were her long curls and angel-looking face. She gently squeezed my shoulder while my eyes filled up with tears I couldn’t shed. She understood. It took endless hours before a doctor was finally authorized to sedate him.

On his last night, while his body was still fighting and his mind seemed already gone, I sat next to him, in his dimly lid room. His slender hand laid on top of his bedsheet. My father was a contractor, he always worked with his hands, that used to be big, rough and strong. I remember when our cat, Otto, came living with us, somewhere in the previous millennium, the little kitten fitted exactly in just one those strong hands. But the cancer has worn him down. And in his slender, long fingers I saw it. These are exactly my hands. My tears fell on his fever-heated skin. Just how badly I wanted him to watch the stars, some of my favorite pieces of the universe, with me for so many more times…
It’s been rough though, to handle these demons that have been haunting me, but it’s been good too. I think things found a little more of their place.

Going back to the normal life was weird. The 10th day was a kind of acclimatization day, in which we could talk to each other and where we received our phones and other belongings back. It was so nice to share experiences and to hear how others have perceived it. I couldn’t help but feeling a little proud when someone told me that every morning she was convinced of running away. She obviously didn’t, but luckily the struggle wasn’t as big for me. Throughout the few meditations that followed I had to conclude how happy I was everyone’s phones were taken away. At least 15 calls or messages came in on full volume. I know Indians don’t really know what quietness is, so actually they all managed pretty well. It felt a bit desillusional to leave this wonderful, peaceful environment, in which we all seemed to resonate at the same, happy level. Though I was happy to be traveling with my little monster. Mounting my bike again felt like a little wonder. I’ve missed him, and riding was simply awesome. But when I was on top of a mountain and saw the big, chaotic city of Mumbai with all it’s endless ugly towers, stretching out in front of me, covered in an ever present cloud of smog, I felt sad. Hello crazy world, I really have to live in you again. But of course there was a good side to it, it was amazing to see Ruben again. I kept being surprised by his new sexy short hair. I simply couldn’t stop touching it. And I promised myself to never again not speak to him for 10 days.

We, separately, decided that maybe we could stay longer. Ruben’s work was finally going really well, jobs were coming in and events and parties were booming again, and he really liked it. A few days after I came back we went to one of these parties. It felt a little alienated to be amidst of such superficial looking, appearance based Russian models. So not the world I want to be in right now. But I was happy I got to meet Ruben’s Venezuelan originating Indian best friend and colleague, which is a really cool guy. And after a few free drinks, and loads of free food for the guys, we just danced our asses off. So badly that my butt even had sore muscles the next day. But the parties weren’t the thing that convinced me to stay longer. Honestly I’m quite done with feeling a little purposeless, so staying longer practicing my housewife skills wasn’t an option. At the Vipassana I came to the conclusion that maybe I should for a yoga teacher training here in India. I am still a beginner, but now I have time, I don’t have to take a month off for it, I don’t have to fly to a bohemian destination and pay shitloads of money. And it just feels like the time for it. So this is my little new adventure. Tomorrow it all starts, whaaaa! 🙂 And just as a little future perspective, free yoga classes for all the people I love in New Zealand!!

What's your reaction?

1 Comment

  • Hester
    Posted February 8, 2020

    Lieve Joëlle;

    Heb je blog met veel interesse gelezen. Soms met enige ontroering. De reis die je maakt is niet alleen over stoffige landweggetjes en bergen, maar ook een reis binnen in jezelf. De herinneringen aan de laatste dagen van je vader zullen niet makkelijk zijn, ik voelde je pijn en angst terwijl ik het las. Maar ik ben toch blij om te lezen dat je dit zo intens gevoeld hebt tijdens je meditatieperiode. Dingen hebben soms tijd nodig om op hun plek te vallen. Om zich aan je te tonen. Ik wens je veel inspiratie, liefde, geluk en rust. Maak er wat van!❤

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