At last the buffer day dawned when the oath of Noble Silence would be over. After the 8 am to 9 am session, we would be allowed to speak to each other, we would get our mobile phones and we would be allowed to write. Funnily enough I had become used to not talking and the act of talking appeared irrelevant at that point of time. We were allowed to talk on this day so as to allow us a process of buffering / shock absorbing, before we went out in the world of everything else.
In the morning session we received further instructions on how to proceed further in our skill even after returning to our routines and lives. There were muted murmurs in the gathered group of women. We were formally releasing from the oath of noble silence. We spoke to our ten day neighbours. My immediate meditation-mat neighbour told me that she had been upset for the last few days as she got news from her home that her little daughter had taken ill. It wasn’t serious, but enough to make her feel restless. The lady behind me was Bhavani, from Dubai, and she was attending the Vipassana camp with her husband, with whom she would talk after ten days, despite him living in the same campus in the ‘Men’s zone’.
We were asked to form lines outside the meditation hall and were systematically given a brief tour of the pagoda. We saw the chamber where Shri Goenkaji used to meditate.
And then we were off – to collect our mobiles and call up people.
I called up my son first. And I could not speak properly. Words came haltingly and I had to give thought to minimise words and get points across. I was spacing out the words differently. I then called up a list of my closest people after intervals for recovery in between calls. I spoke to my husband in the afternoon, when he was free to talk after his surgeries. There was too much to tell but I was unable to say it all or even a fraction of it. Silence had started feeling comfortable.
During the lunch break we mixed with each other. The men and women were allowed to intermingle and speak to each other. That’s when I realised that some people had attended the program together. There was a son and mother. There were many couples. There were friends, siblings.
The amount of sound and noise in the dining hall was amazing. Everyday during meal times, the resounding sound of metal over metal – the sound of the steel plates and spoons and glasses clashing over each other – appeared harsh to our ears over the thock silence we had become used to. But today NO METAL was heard. We all were talking so much. The metallic clinks were submerged in the sound of human interactions.
Over lunch we spoke about our current experiences and routine mundane lives. We discussed how the experience had been for us. Awesome, said Maitri! Oh OK said Ahana.
One of the delightful features of the twelve days spent here had been NOT HAVING TO PLAN ALL THE DAILY MEAL MENUS! I expressed that and Maitri, a psychologist from Mumbai, gave simple tips to simplify this part of life by fixing the 3-meals menu for a week during Saturday evening family meetings. It had been working for her for the past 4 years, she said.
I visited the huge kitchen area and congratulated the person in charge and thanked him for cooking healthy meals for us everyday. He said they had been feeding around 1500 people everyday including participants and staff. There were many residing in the Tapovan, which was at some distance from our area. These were people who had come there for advanced and extended courses of 1, w or even 3 months. We did not have access to it!
The entire course is free of charge. How can a price be placed for training someone in skills which are deemed to be essential? And what price for this fantastic process? How does anyone decide that this much is befitting? With these thoughts in mind, Shri Goenkaji has fought his way through keeping this process free for everyone and anyone who wants to give it a fair trial. And on the last day there is an appeal to donate as much as one feels like. So, there were lines open for donation – as much as one wished and as much as we could comfortable give. There was no minimum or maximum cut off. Some have ₹ 50/- some ₹ 100/- and there were those who gave more. There was a book store and a CD / DVD store, in case one wanted to take home the written versions of any part of the course.
Outside amidst the nature it was different. There were groups of youngsters talking and laughing and exchanging their experiences. I was amazed to see so many youth in the age group of 20-30 years. The authorities were taken aback by their facetious levity. Twice in front of me they were asked to move to a different spot and not laugh and talk so loudly. I wondered who they were. I am always fascinated by that age. The age when everything appears possible. I approached them and asked how so many of them had decided to attend such a strenuous ten day meditation camp together. They informed me that Vipassana was a part of their two year fellowship program. We discussed matters further. I had noticed few of the girls from that group. One especially used to somehow be somewhere near me when I was standing in line for meals or water. I discovered she was a graduate in Islamic history, now enrolled for the fellowship. There was a civil engineer, other graduates, all excited to be talking to each other. Everyone had had their own journey for ten days. The inherent generational cynicism stopped them from exchanging the good bits. Their initial impulse seemed to be to exchange the hardships and to make fun of some aspects which appeared silly. But on further probing I realised that changes had occurred, for the better, whether they accepted that or not. We discussed ‘craving’ and a youth said that he needed to have his craving at that age. Another had doubts about whether The Buddha had really escaped the cycle of birth and rebirth!
There were too many doubts floating around in their minds. They were shy and reticent about it. And yet they had questions to ask me when they heard that I am a neurologist.
We talked about job stress and future and so much more! There was a young lady who was an assistant director from Mumbai! There was an architect, a free lance copy-writer! Young people who wanted to explore the truth about themselves, youth who were diverted to Vipassana because they were already into Yoga! There was a young Montessori teacher, the youngest child brought up with pampering, who had been horrified by the concept of Noble Silence and no smiling at each other policy! She was happy to finally talk. And she did that non-stop.
Everyone’s reason for being there was different. Everyone’s journey had been different. And yet here we were – all together.
A young girl’s told me her story of how she would be anxious of feeling hungry at night as the ‘dinner’ was at 5-5:30 pm. So to fight that anxiety, she scavenged through her belongings and found 7 lozenges of Strepsils. Then she calculated how she would need a fraction of a lozenge per day. She felt better knowing that she had SOMETHING as backup. She told me how she budgeted and managed to save 4 tablets at the end of the ten days! There had been more for everyone during these ten days than just watching breaths and sensations. The life of a monk or nun had also brought out qualities among everyone.
We spoke about response as against reaction. We spoke about how one is not compelled to react to stimuli around us and how there is an option of a response given at a later time after accessing our hard drives of rational thought. We spoke about intuitions. We spoke about changing oneself, about self growth, about different ways of personal growth. There were a few who had attended high end costly courses in self development in Bangalore.
Youth are searching for ways to grow. They want structured guidance. They want a rational commentary explaining why our mind is so and what is the meaning in the method to train it! They want to acquire the skills and understand the processes. They want to know. They want to grow.
Talking to the youth was as inspiring for me as the process of Vipassana. I was full of more ideas for the immediate future and that impatient thought made me restless for some time. In the evening session, it was difficult to stop our murmurs and whispers. We were transformed to kindergarten children, wanting to share thoughts and exchange ideas. The meditation session and Shri Goenkaji’s discourses helped us get back to a level of quietness.
Tomorrow he said, before we left, we would be taught the details about Maitri Sabha. He warned us not to crave for the sensory pleasure that the process delivered. Don’t be trapped into a GAME OF SENSATION, he warned us! He reminded us to be equanimous. And he reminded us to report at 4:30 am tomorrow. As usual.