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Published: August 3rd 2014
We have just got out of a 10 day meditation course retreat. Ten days of not speaking, waking up at 4am, not eating proper meals after 11 am, men and women being separated, and most importantly, meditating over ten hours everyday, was hard. But now, we both feel strangely zen - less irritated by all the small annoyances around us, and like seeing things more objectively and positively. We are wondering, though, if our good mood is mostly due to getting out of the course, or due to actual positive effects of the meditation. I think it's probably both, but we will try to continue practicing Vipassana also back at home, at least it has great promises that continued practice will liberate meditators from all their miseries, energy levels and results at working life will improve, and genuine happiness and peace will arrive - let's see if these results will be delivered eventually or not, or will we just forget all about meditating as soon as we are back in our old ways 😊
The course was held at a nunnery in Ho Chi Minh City, the nuns taking part on the course with other students. The circumstances regarding accommodation
and such were really basic, we slept in female and male dorms with just a thin pillow and mattress. Or actually the men didn't even have a mattress, but only a wooden bed. Strangely, this did not bother our sleep much, as after being awake from 4am and having meditated long hours, by bedtime we were just so tired that we fell asleep immediately after laying our head on that tiny, thin pillow. The food on the course was definitely a positive surprise, really good vegetarian meals twice a day. Breakfast was usually noodle soup, soy milk and bananas, while lunch was rice with vegetables and tofu in different forms. In the afternoon we still got soy milk or tea with varying fruit. But that was it, so after the lunch at 11am and tea and fruit at 5pm, we no longer got anything to eat until the next morning. It was almost enough, I did not get hungry until the evening, Leo was more hungry from the afternoon, but it was still quite manageable.
Actual meditating took place in sessions of varying length between one to two hours. At first we just had to sit mostly still, but
were still allowed to move and change positions, and focus on objectively observing the breath going in and out of our nostrils. We did this for the first two days, and after that we changed to focusing on the area between our nose and upper lip for the next two days. It was hard enough to sit still at first, almost immediately after starting, we already started to feel numb in our legs and ache on our back, and feeling very uncomfortable about it. But all the time we had progress, and by the end of the course, we could actually sit for an hour straight without moving our legs at all, and even without feeling too much ache on our back.
Practicing actual Vipassana started on day 5, which among other things meant that we had to start sitting totally still three times every day, an hour at a time. At first this was extremely difficult, and I ended up moving at least my toes and back few times in every sitting, but it got easier and easier by the day. The Vipassana technique basically means just observing all sensations throughout your body, but distancing yourself from all
of them, both pleasant and unpleasant ones. So, your feet may be totally numb and your back may ache, but by the end of the course you reach a point where you don't feel like you have to care about it. You could just observe those sensations and let them be. According to Vipassana, this kind of objectivity could be generalized to all kinds of situations and annoyances you face in your daily life. We feel it worked to some extend at the moment, but like said, time will show the real results 😊
But, we did see some other places in Vietnam between our first visit to HCMC and the course. From HCMC we took a bus to Da Lat. Da Lat was a small city at highlands, so the weather was cool and rainy most of the time. Actually we weren't so crazy about Da Lat, our book promised colonial era buildings and pine forests, but well, those images weren't really fulfilled. Moreover, as it rained most of the time, we ended up sitting in cafés and restaurants most of the time. We stayed at a funny hostel, though, where the host was very sociable and hosted
a shared dinner among all the guests with free rice wine every evening. This was also the time for the World Cup final, and of course we had to see it, so we set alarm in the middle of the night to watch it 😊
From Da Lat we took another bus to Nhá Trang, which is pretty much a tourist resort full of Russians, they even have most signs at shops and menus at restaurants printed in Russian. We had just one day to spend in Nhá Trang, which I took very easy by visiting a spa for massage and facial and walking around a bit, while Leo took a diving trip. Apparently the diving was decent, but not nearly as good as at Bunaken.
After one day in Nhá Trang we boarded a train to Hoi An. Hoi An we liked a lot, and ended up staying for the remainder of the time we had before returning to HCMC for the meditation. Hoi An is quite a touristy town, but still nice, with cute old town, lots of shops, beach and nice green rice fields. We had a very relaxing hotel in the middle of green
rice field scenery, three kilometers from the town, and we rode bicycles to the town almost every day. Our main activity turned out to be visiting a shoemaker shop, because we ordered quite a bit of shoes. I had two pairs of boots, ballerinas and sandals, while Leo ordered two pairs of work shoes and two belts. It all seemed to be of very high quality leather and also high quality handicraft. Hopefully the shoes will then also last in the Finnish conditions, if they do, we can order more by email as the shoemaker will store our measures for later use.
During our time in Hoi An we really started to realize that our one year trip is coming to an end. Somehow going to the meditation course marked the end of our travels, and really made it feel concrete. We had very relaxing time in Hoi An, just taking things easy, but at the same time we felt a bit of blues for ending the trip, as well as some nerves about entering our 10 day retreat - how would it be like, would we hate every moment of it. So feelings were a bit mixed when
we hopped on a plane back to HCMC, and didn't improve after first arriving to the nunnery and seeing the basic conditions, then going back to the neighboring suburban streets looking for the last meal before going in, and finding that nobody spoke a word of English and finding a decent meal would be a challenge. Well, we found food eventually, and then, while we were walking back to the nunnery it started to rain, and while we stood under shelter, a man sitting on his terrace on the other side of the street signed us to sit with him, and offered us a cup of tea. So we sat on the random man's terrace with him, a woman and a child and drank a cup of tea while waiting for the rain to stop. This was a nice moment, and brightened our moods before walking in through the gates of the nunnery.
Choosing to spend ten days in the retreat meant that we missed on seeing Halong Bay and Sapa region, which we had planned on. It's a pity that again it feels like we missed the most beautiful regions this country would have to offer. However, we
are now happy with our choice - the meditation was surely a unique experience, and maybe, just maybe, will give us some good results also for our life after returning home. I guess we can always go back to see the sights of Northern Vietnam sometime later, but we might have not gotten a chance to attend a retreat like this again.
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