The last stop on my journey before returning to Europe was a 21 day meditation retreat on the Nagarjuna hills, on the outskirts of Kathmandu. The place is called Osho Tapoban, and they offer week-long retreats, 3 week packages or just a regular meditation schedule which anyone can attend to for as long as they want to. I signed up for 1 week of vipassana, which means silent sitting meditation, followed by two "normal" weeks and an almost week of "no mind" programme (more of that later) before my flight to Finland on the 6th of June.
I'd really been looking forward to the retreat, but of course things weren't that simple. I had quite a lot of resistance still, mainly to the fact that we had to buy robes for the meditation, one maroon for the daytime sessions and one white for the evening satsang (which I ended up using maybe 4 times, since my mind often convinced me that after a full day of meditation, a couple of episodes of Agents of SHIELD would be a better idea than to listen to Osho videos). The cheapest ones didn't cost that much, but in principle I have a problem with the fact that I had to buy an outfit to be able to attend something. It does have a unifying aspect to it and I got used to wearing mine pretty quickly (plus having to wash the damn thing was a good excuse for not attending some sessions I didn't feel like going to ;)) so it was all ok in the end, though.
Vipassana is all about getting still: sitting in silence and being the observer. In the beginning it's easiest to start by observing your body, not giving in to the mind's impulses of moving this part or that, or scratching an itch. And learning to disregard the creeping discomfort which starts inevitably at some point during the 1 hour sessions (if you don't choose to sit on a chair which was also an option, but I found it too easy to nod off on a chair, so I tried to stick to the cross-legged posture). After that we move on to observing the breath, coming in and going out. And after that, we try to catch the thoughts as they emerge, and observe them. The point isn't to stop the thoughts, but just stay the observer and not get carried away by them. But getting carried away is also fine, it's all a matter of learning and practicing. And it does get easier: I had some wonderful calm periods when there were either no thoughts or I could spot them when they started and move my attention back to watching my breath straight away. Yay!
I also chose to be in silence during vipassana week, which is the "normal" way to go when doing vipassana, but there in the centre I think there were only 2 people who actually did it, myself included. I also gave up internet for that time, which was a challenge, especially in the beginning when my mind was going "AAAARGH WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE, THIS ISN'T WHAT I WANT" and trying to convince me to spend the last days of this leg of the trip by indulging in something "fun" instead of sitting on my ass and observing the movements of my mind. There was even a bird whose call seemed to be "POKHARA, POKHARA" which is a lovely area some 200 km west of Kathmandu, were I could've gone hiking and just being in nature... A tad tricky, trying to concentrate on meditation when there's a real life, feathery reminder outside, trying to persuade me to abandon the meditation ship and swim ashore to the island of earthly delights.
The mind really doesn't want us shining the light of awareness on it and seeing what it's up to, trying to make us believe all sorts of things that just aren't true. But I persisted. The actual silence in the retreat wasn't as difficult as internet-silence, since most of the residents were locals or indians and spoke mainly Hindi, so there wasn't a danger of me being pressed into joining a conversation. Things got trickier when my friend from Koh Phangan, K, arrived, since of course I wanted to share my experiences and thoughts with her, but I persevered, only cheating with a couple of written notes ;). Her arrival also lessened my isolation, as now I could be around people who were talking in English and even "take part" in conversations, which K was having for me, introducing me to people :D. It was a lot of fun actually, and the first day after I broke my silence was also a cool experience as I actually wanted to talk, which is something I struggle with quite often.
There were a couple of westerners and younger people around as well, so we spent some time hanging out with them, doing some sunset treks and escapes to Thamel. A really nice bunch of people, but for some reason I didn't feel that big of a connection with them (not including my lovely K). Probably it was just me, not really making the effort either, but it felt that more conversations and a deeper connection would have meant more pushing, and I felt quite ok being in my own little bubble, enjoying the solitude, silence and relative emptiness of the mind and concentrating on the meditation (ok, and Agents of SHIELD and food blogs, towards the end ;)).
The meditations were interesting, especially the dynamic one which always started the morning. It involved 10 minutes of fast, deep breathing to get the energy moving, 10 minutes of letting loose all the madness inside by howling, screaming, shaking, talking gibberish etc., 10 minutes of jumping with arms raised, going "huh" and concentrating on adding onto the life energy in our "hara", our center, located in the lower stomach (according to this branch of belief), then standing still with the arms still raised for 15 minutes and in the end dancing for 15 minutes. A challenging meditation, but a very good one, and good exercise to start the day with. I only held my arms up the whole 15 minutes a couple of times, but I still showed myself that I can do it if I choose to. I don't think anyone actually did the whole 15 minutes... But I did howl and scream like a banshee. Ah, fond memories: screaming like a madman in the middle of Nepalese jungle, wearing a maroon sannyasi (a person dedicated to meditation) robe, surrounded by a bunch of monkeys. What weird places this life takes me to! Gotta love it.
The last week was a therapy week with a program called "No mind", which entailed an hour (!) of the madness-howling/gibberish/whatever your body wanted or needed to express followed by an hour of silent sitting. It was very interesting to see what kinds of stuff came up and let itself be felt and experienced through crying, shouting, punching a pillow or just talking gibberish. An intense 5 days of purification, experiencing sadness and letting it go, moments of pure joy and strength and belief in myself. I highly recommend the experience! And I don't think I've ever screamed at the top of my lungs anywhere. That kind of noise just isn't fit for the modern society we live in. Not even in our summer houses can we actually make as much noise as we want; there are always neighbors around who will complain if you start your days by screaming and shouting all your trapped madness out. I think I could've done it in Karnataka when I was trekking in the jungle as it was pretty deserted, but I didn't have this technique in my repertoire back then. It is very very liberating, let me tell you. Everyone should have a go. But no wonder the Nagarjuna hill monkeys seemed a bit looney, having to listen to that day in and day out :D
|Getting to know the neighbors|
The monkeys, them I won't miss. They were everywhere: intimidating us into dropping our trays when we were trying to put our leftovers in the trash bin. Snatching our morning bananas. Digging through the garbage and sending the tiny ones for deep-dives in the leftovers bin. Running around on the roofs making a lot of noise and hanging from the power cables. Stealing laundry and shoes. And just generally getting into all sorts of monkey business. I learned that it isn't wise to look a monkey in the eyes, as they tend to take it as a challenge and come at you, hissing. Yes, they hiss. Also eating inside your room with your curtains open isn't a wise move, if you don't want a bunch of monkeys sitting on your window sill, trying to get the window latches open. Yes, we were technically in their forest, but they still creeped the hell out of me. No, they are not cute, no matter what you say to try to convince me. But I managed, and did actually only get touched by one once. And I don't think anyone got bit ;).
So, all in all the meditation experience gave me plenty. It gave me a chance to be kind to myself and not judge myself for not taking part in everything that was on offer. It gave me a chance to observe my mind and get glimpses at the deep stillness that lies beyond all the traffic noise of the thoughts. It gave me a chance to experiment with the amount of social contact I need. And it gave me a chance to get more closely acquainted with a horde of monkeys.
Before leaving Nepal I stayed in Thamel long enough to go drink a ridiculously sugary and delicious coffee frappe, buy last minute souvenirs and do a bungee jump and a canyon swing adventure. Because sometimes a moment appears in a girl's life, when a bungee jump just seems like a necessity. On normal standards it doesn't really seem to make a whole lot of sense: travelling 4 hours on a bus to jump off a 160 m high bridge, have a mediocre lunch and then travel back 4 hours. But normal life is boring and mad people are the most interesting ones, so off I went. Wow, what a thrill! There's really nothing like it (well, before I've tried paragliding and skydiving, which are on the menu next). And no, it doesn't feel anything like flying. It feels like falling like a rock. And you don't really remember that much afterwards for all the adrenaline, so the videos they shoot are quite useful. We also wore a GoPro camera so we could shoot our experience first hand. Very neat, although the prices of the videos weren't that cheap. But hey, the package did include a T-shirt :D. If you're ever in Nepal and in search for some adventure thrills, go check out The Last Resort. They also do white water rafting and canyoning!
|The bridge of doom|
|Does your soul tell you it's a good idea to jump, when you see a view like this?|
As I'm writing this, I'm sitting in the flat of one of my best friends since University times and listening to the rain beating on the windowpanes. My time in Finland is almost done, only week to go before I return to Berlin. I've had a wonderful time, gained like 5 kilos with all the yummy stuff I've been ingesting, and will tell you all about it in the next post! Stay tuned :)