To travel is amazing. Is cool. Is exciting. But to travel is also tiring and exhausting. Now that I’ve been back for a month, I realize how tiring traveling can be. The fact of moving constantly, the fact that you have to readapt every other day and face new realities and new people can be tiresome. I don’t how many times I had to repeat my story. Where I’m from, where I’m going, why I’m traveling and so on. Over and over again. Everybody goes “Wow! I wish I could do the same!” and maybe they really mean it, but then they don’t do it. Maybe because they know deep down inside that to travel is actually a “job”, it takes a toll on you, like every other job. Maybe they know that it can be lonely, and that sometimes you feel lost and abandoned. That traveling is not just about money and meeting people and see cool stuff. Traveling is also getting to know yourself, testing your limits. And sometimes it is scary. Sometimes you don’t know if you’ll make it, you don’t know what you’re going to eat that day, or if you’re even eating at all, you don’t know where you will sleep and who you’ll meet. Of course it’s all part of the adventure and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in this world, but sometimes we all need to stop and make home even if for a couple of days. We all need a little consistency, for some peace of mind. And then your feet start to itch again and you’re ready for your next adventure, for your next connection, your next flight. Now that I’ve been back for a month, I feel the urge to move, to pack my bag and go. I’m nervously checking the flights and I’m already thinking about my next trip. I have this need to meet new people, see new places, eat different things. I need to feel free, to be out in this world, the travel bug had infested my body and there’s no cure. I just need to travel. I can’t explain the adrenaline that rushes through your veins when you arrive in a new place, when to talk to someone new, when you have to face a new problem in a strange land and you manage to solve it. I really miss all that, and even though I love my family and I like to spend time with them, the call of the wild is stronger. I left this instinct sleep for a few years but now that it’s awaken again there’s no way to put it back to sleep. I watch the pictures from my trip and I’m back there, with the sounds, the smells, the breeze and my heart starts to long. I have to be patient and wait just a little longer and I know it’s for a reason. But it’s really hard, I’d take the first plane out if I could, but I’ll try to calm myself and use this time to organize better my next trip. I’m like the scorpion from the tale, it’s beyond my control.
So I finally moved out of Myanmar too. I stayed a little less than a month but it felt longer. And not because I didn’t like it but rather the opposite. Myanmar felt good, I made a home for a little while in Yangon and I was really having a good time. People are nice, food is good and cheap. The land of men in skirt (it’s actually called longyi) where men (them again!) chew all day long betel nut and get their teeth burned out by limestone (an utterly disgusting habit), where blood red spit is everywhere, where they drive on the right and the steering wheel is on the right also (second hand cars from Japan) made me feel welcome. Not a single moment of insecurity, not a moment where I felt I was in danger. But as we know all good things come to an end and it was time for me to move on. I was on the stage where it’s either you settle down and find a job, or you leave. And I left.
To close my adventure with a bit of a heartbeat I realized when I was half way to the airport that I left my passport back at the hostel where I spent my last night. Luckily I left well in advance so I had the time to make a U turn, go back to the hostel and make it to the airport to catch my flight. But jeez my heart raced!!!!
So now in Dhaka Bangladesh I think about my days back in Yangon and for the first time I am nostalgic. Dhaka is very different from Yangon, it’s a crazy city and people look at me as if I was an alien. Buy it’s fun, my CS host is extremely nice and I’m sure that by the time I will get use to this new dimension it will be time to take my next flight.
(DISCLAIMER. The following words are just a reflection of my experience and feelings regarding vipassana. I don’t mean to pass in any way a judgment on vipassana and people who practice it)
I did it. Well, not really. I started it and I left after a few days. It was just not for me.
I entered the gate a little nervously as I felt like an aspiring monk entering the gates of the monastery. But I was sure of what I was doing. I really wanted to experience this thing of which everyone who done it before spoke wonders. Registration was quick and uneventful (although they took our passports, as per law, and told us to leave all our important things, money, phone, credit cards in the locker and it felt a little like a kidnapping) and we were showed to our rooms. First deception. In the webpage it was indicated that we would have a double room but instead I was given a bed in a dorm with other 30 beds. OK, no big deal, I slept so many times in a dorm, I’m not here on holiday so it’s OK (kinda…)
At 6pm we were served dinner and after that we were to go to Dhamma hall for presentation and there again another strange thing happened. We were given our seats and we’re supposed to stick to them for the entire time. No free sitting … Strange, but again, no big deal.
Presentation over we did some meditation and I realized that my back was suffering. I thought to myself that it was normal, it would get used to it. Time to bed.
The morning after we wake up at 4 am, time for some toiletry and then meditation from 4.30 to 6.30. My back was soar so I was shifting position every 5 minutes, no much concentration was possible but again I thought it will pass. At six comes the next surprise. An excruciating chanting in Sanskrit (or whatever the language is…) from a seemingly dying man. Here an example.
At the beginning I laughed but after 5 minutes I was going mad and wanted to scream ENOUGH!!! Thankgod I refrained myself. At 6.30 the whining was finally over and we had breakfast. A little break and some napping. At 8 we were back in Dhamma hall. More meditation and more shifting position, more chanting and it was time for lunch. At 11am. One hour break and at 1pm back to meditate. My back was already screaming in pain but I wanted to resist. It was my duty because I had been accepted and took some else’s place so I had to stay. Some more meditating, suffering, shifting and chanting later and it was tea break when according to the website we were to be served some fruit juice or a piece of fruit. But arrived to the dining hall all we found was a fluorescent carbonated soda that I would never even dream of drinking in real life. But that was the dinner, no more food until next day so I got my bottle and drank it to the last drop. Some more sitting, chanting, suffering later it was time for an explanation video in dining hall.
It was supposed to help us during our journey in vipassana but the audio was so bad I got only half of what was said. At 8.15 pm we were back to Dhamma hall and at 9.30pm we were in bed.
The following day was the same thing only I managed to have a low chair to help with my back problems. And it did help – my back – only now it was my neck that took all the pain. And the second half of the day I started to question myself and to wander if that was really what I wanted. But I decided to take some more time and see if it got better. But I was not able to concentrate and “work” properly. I started to see what in my opinion was wrong with the situation.
My back was getting a hard blow from all the dullness, the chanting didn’t mean anything to me (and I bet I didn’t for the majority of people in the room …), everyone was suffering from the sitting position as we were all trying to stretch as much as we could during the short breaks we had. No physical activity is allowed, nothing, nada, niet, rien, niente! So what about the old saying “mens sana in corpore sano“? According to vipassana even the physical activity is “bad” as it distracts you from meditation. So the only thing allowed is to sit, concentrate on your breathing and clear your mind. And think about nothing. And I asked myself : what’s this? What’s the good in this? What kind of living is this? What’s the good I can provide just sitting all day and thinking of nothing? If we were born to do NOTHING the whole day we would be clams so… Why am I here? I’m not condemning the entire meditation practice and as a matter of fact I actually enjoy it for a short period of time (one hour is enough for me) but 11 hours a day is a bit too much (again my opinion). I know I’m an action-holic and I like to DO, but I’m genuinely convinced that physical activity is the best practice to clear the mind and at the same time fix your body (as long as it is done in the right way). Stillness is not a natural state, everything moves, flows and evolves, nothing is immutable not even the rocks and sitting like a lotus flower the whole day cannot be positive. Getting good shouldn’t necessarily go through suffering (and sitting in that position is suffering for everyone). Listening to some incomprehensible chanting cannot have any good return on people if they dunno what it’s said.
I was expecting something else, I thought it was more like a free meditation place, with some guidance provided by the teachers. I was expecting some real teaching on Buddhism, I was expecting some guidance but the teachers just limited themselves to sit and tell you to breath deeper if you could not concentrate. It was all more like a military camp, a dogma place where you are told what to do and you do it no questions asked. That was really too much for me. I don’t work like that. So on the morning of the fourth day I made up my mind and decided to leave. I was not happy there and it didn’t make any sense for me to stay. I inform the teacher and what he did he just laughed at my face probably thinking that I was a weak mind and didn’t get the enlightenment, I was not a noble soul. I don’t care. Life is more than that, people are around us to help us, to provide us of the security we all crave, not to be ignored and not even looked at (because it was “noble silence” and no eye contact was allowed), they are not some pollution in our lives. They are not there to “distract us”, they are not, or should not be treated as ghosts walking around us, the breeze is a good thing, it give us a good feeling of fresh and relief. It’s not a nuisance that mingles with our own breath (contrary to what the webpage says no walking meditation was allowed either). Maybe I wasn’t doing it right, maybe I wasn’t doing it for the right reasons, maybe I’m not enlightened enough, maybe I’m not a noble soul, or maybe I’m just too stupid to understand the real meaning of all that. But I’m a very pragmatic person – some say I’m too pragmatic – and I don’t like to do things just because someone said so, I like to understand what I do, I like to feel I’m DOING something and if it’s good for me and beneficial for the society it’s even better. Vipassana is the contrary of what I believe in. I probably should have asked more questions before doing it but I don’t see this as a negative experience. Maybe I’ve been too ambitious, maybe I should have done the 4 days course but I’m still glad I did it. My goal to do vipassana was to get to know me better and I do now. I know what I want, what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. For me it is still a success. Know thy limits. If people can really get a benefit from vipassana I’m more than happy. It’s just not for me. Whatever works. That’s what matters.
I could do with the wake up at 4am, I could do with the chanting (with a big effort) I could even do without dinner (if you do nothing the whole day you don’t get that hungry) but I certainly couldn’t do with the sitting and suffering in silence for something that it’s no good for me. But again I don’t regret doing it. Things are just things and what matter is the lesson you can get from them, what matters is to get the good out of them and use it to have a better life and that’s what’ll I do. Now I know myself a little better and I’m gonna use this knowledge to have (or try to) a better life. Things are for a reason and no matter what happens they are good because they guide you to the place you are supposed to be.
If you want to know more:
THE COURSE TIMETABLE
The following timetable for the course has been designed to maintain the continuity of practice. For best results students are advised to follow it as closely as possible. (but you’re really not allowed to do differently…)
4:00 am Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
11:00-12:00 noon Lunch break
12noon-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher’s instructions
5:00-6:00 pm Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm Teacher’s Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall
9:30 pm Retire to your own room–Lights out