Travel notes from my year in India (2004): Dhamma Giri Meditation Center. 8 of 16

It is dark. The air is heavy and stale. It is very hot. It is hard to breath and a bit claustrophobic: the cell I am in is only about 1.5 m long and 1 m wide. I am not in jail, but at the moment I wish I were: so much more freedom there! All my senses are screaming for help. Still, I refuse to move even a single muscle. My mind, with eyes full of panic, looses her last grip and with a dark scream falls into the abyss.

I have pushed her there myself; eager to unload some of the weight that is making higher summits look so unreachable, so distant. Past and future hold hands together. One moment two happy child running down a flower field on a beautiful spring day, the next two old witches shivering in the cold moonless night. In either case they are best friends, taking turns in the old game of craving and aversion. The young girl that used to shower naked on the neighboring roof in Gozo, my hamster falling from the balcony of the 11th floor, me and my brother holding hands under the blankets in fear of the noises of the night, looking at my child playing in the garden. Tears in my eyes and a smile on my mouth.

And pain, more than I ever experienced, sharper than when I got operated in the stomach, when the vicious doctor would punch me on the wound. I am temporarily freed by the bell announcing the 5 o' clock tea break. I want to run away, but they have taken my passport and my belongings. They want to make sure we follow the rules: stay the full 10 days, no reading, no writing, no talking, no cigarettes, no music. Nothing! Males and females separated at all times. Of the 600 people here, only another 4 Westerners. But we cannot even look at each other in the eyes, so it does not really matter. As usual, a glass of milk tea and some peanuts is all we get for 'dinner'.

The schedule here at Dhamma Giri is very strict:
 4:00 AM          Wake-up
 4:30 - 6:30     Meditation
 6:30 - 8:00     Breakfast and shower
 8:00 - 11:00    Meditation
11:00 - 13:00    Lunch and rest
13:00 - 17:00    Meditation
17:00 - 18:00    Tea
18:00 - 19:00    Meditation
19:00 - 20:30    Teacher discourse (on TV)
20:30 - 21:00    Meditation
21:00 - 21:30    Q&A (one on one)
21:30                  Lights off

I have somehow managed through the first 3 days of Samadhi, control of the mind. Slowly, in the absence of any form of distraction or escape, I have slowed down the internal dance, I have gone deeper and further in both directions of time until there was only one place left: the present. But now I am struggling in the real battle. As I attempt not to move from my cross-legged position without backrest for one full hour, pain proves to be a formidable opponent. At first I fight back, to no avail: it only gets worst. Then I try a different approach: ignore my enemy, pass by her as if she was not there. But once again she proves stronger than me. At last, after 3 full days of masochistic torture, I finally understand what the teacher has been telling me all along: equanimity. Treat pain and pleasure in absolutely the same way. At last my enemy is conquered and as quickly as she came, she leaves. It is a temporary victory: every time I fall back into thoughts of craving or aversion, she is back in arms, shining in her horrible armor. Now I understand: pain is in the mind, not in the body. Ruthless Anicha is my ally. No more anger towards the bellman that comes to wake us up in our dorms. I smile as I witness the Chinese monk with shaven head and an extremely slow walk attacks him ferociously. Anicha does not make friends with everybody.

As the 10 days Vipassana meditation retreat comes to an end, it becomes clear to me that this has been the hardest, most dramatic, and most beautiful experience. So many questions answered, so much more light on my path, so much weight taken off my back, so much love given back to me.


'Thus in symbols everything called to me: "It is time!" But I did not
hear: until at last my abyss stirred and my thought bit me.'

'It is not the height, it is the abyss that is terrible! The abyss
where the glance plunges downward and the hand grasps upward. There the
hearth grows giddy through its two-fold will

        'Thus Spoke Zarathustra', F. Nietzsche

'I name you three metamorphoses of the spirit: how the spirit shall
become a camel, and the camel a lion, and the lion at last a child.
What is heavy? Thus asks the weight-bearing spirit, this it kneels down
like the camel and wants to be well laden.
to create itself freedom for new creation that the might of the lion
can do.
The child is innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a sport, a
self-propelling wheel, a first motion, a sacred Yes.

        'Thus Spoke Zarathustra', F. Nietzsche