Thursday, March 25, 2010

Vipassana course experience: the schedule

I am finally ready to start blogging about my experience during the Vipassana course a few weeks ago.  Life has been coming at me fast and I have found an hour meditation every morning helps me maintain a calm and balanced mind.  This will be a series of blogs since there is way more to talk about than you would want to read in one sitting.

The schedule is the same almost every day, except for Vipassana and Metta day.  It is very easy to fall into the routine of each day.  For sitting all day long, every day, I was still exhausted and could easily fall asleep when it came time for lights out.  (Sometimes, I was asleep even before then!)

So, this is what each day was like for me.

4 AM:  Morning wake-up bell. 
The first day I got up at 4 AM.  Once I realized you didn't really have to get up at 4 AM (unless you had to pee), I no longer got up at 4 AM.

4:30-6:30 AM:  Meditation in the dhamma hall or in your room. 
I usually meditated in my room.  As a matter of fact, I only went to the dhamma hall twice during the 4:30-6:30 AM meditation, prefering to meditate while lying in my bed.

6:30-8 AM:  Breakfast break and showers. 
I was usually the first person in the dining hall for breakfast at 6:30.  I would enjoy my bowl of oatmeal with orange juice and an apple, then back to the dormitory to take my shower at 7 AM.  You had to sign up for a shower schedule, so I grabbed 7 AM since I like a morning shower, not an evening one.  The remainder of the time was spent making my bed and tidying up the room I shared with two other women.

8-9 AM:  Group meditation in the hall. 
This is a required sit in the dhamma hall.  If you do not come to the hall, they will come get you.  It always started with an audio recording of Goenka chanting followed by guidance about the technique delivered in a guided format for about 5-10 minutes.  You spend the remainder of the hour in meditation in the hall.

9:10-11 AM:  Meditation in the hall or in your room according to the teachers instructions. 
After the 9 AM meditation we would take a 10-minute break, then return to the hall for further instructions.  The assistant teacher would play another audio recording with Goenka chanting and providing any specific instructions for the day.  Goenka would then turn the session over to the assistant teacher.  The assistant teacher (ours was Riban Ulrich) would then provide instructions for the rest of the period.  Usually, he would specify a group of students he would be talking with (new students - all, new students - female only, old students - male only, etc.) and everyone else could continue meditation in the hall or in their room.  When the assistant teacher met with a group of students, he would always call four of us up at a time (by name), then question us about our practice and if we had any questions.  We would meditate with him for about 5 minutes, then he would release us to return to our seat in the hall or our room to meditate.

11 AM-12 Noon:  Lunch break and showers. 
Again, I was usually the first one there for lunch as well.  You'd think I liked the food, but that wasn't the case.  (Not due to their cooking, but due to my finicky tastes.)  I liked having time to look over what I probably was not going to eat before anyone else arrived.  It also reduced the embarassment level a little bit when people could see just how picky an eater I am.  I usually ate very little though.  Maybe rice and some fruit.  I discovered I really don't like true vegetarian foods.  (I'm a Westernized-processed-food-Vegetarian.)  Once I finished eating my meager meal, I would take a walk along the women's nature path.

12-1 PM:  Rest and interviews with the teacher. 
This was your one break during the day when you rest your mind or can take a nap.  Many people would take naps or take a walk along the nature path.  The first few days I would nap, but eventually found walking the nature path to be a much more enjoyable use of my time.  It is where and when I had some of my most powerful experiences.  (To be shared in later posts.)  If you had questions or wish to speak to the teacher privately, you could put your name on a list in the dining hall before lunch.  Then at noon report to the room outside the dhamma hall until your name was called.  I only met with the teacher a couple of times privately.  Everything was pretty straightforward.  Most people spoke to the teacher to discuss the emotional upheaval they were experiencing or any confusion they may have about the technique.

1-2:30 PM:  Meditate in the hall or in your room. 
I took this period fairly seriously, but usually would do the meditation in my room.  Lying down.  In bed.  Sometimes, you would hear snoring throughout the hall during this period.  I had an extremely intense experience during the first day during this period which I will blog about later.

2:30-3:30 PM:  Group meditation in the hall. 
Another required group sit.  Same as before, audio of Goenka chanting, then directing the exercise for that meditation during the first 10 minutes or so.  Rest of period was spent in meditation in the dhamma hall using the specified technique.

3:40-5 PM:  Meditate in the hall or in your room. 
I would usually stay in the hall and continue meditating, unless my legs or knee was bothering me a little more.  Then I would take a walk or go stretch out in my bed in my room.

5-6 PM:  Tea break. 
There is no evening meal.  During this time you can have tea, water, juice, or fruit.  After the fourth day I no longer bothered to even go to the dining hall for this break.  This is another peiod in which you could also take showers.  I would usually spend mine on the nature trail.

6-7 PM:  Group meditation in the hall. 
Another required group sit. Same as before, audio of Goenka chanting, then directing the exercise for that meditation during the first 10 minutes or so. Rest of period was spent in meditation using the specified technique.

7:15-8 PM:  Teacher's discourse in the hall. 
This was an hour long video of Goenka delivering a dhamma discourse.  One of my favorite parts of the day.  One student commented (prior to when we couldn't talk anymore) that she always thought we should have popcorn and a soda because it was just like watching a movie.  Goenka is an excellent speaker and teacher.  Required attendance.

8:15-9:15 PM:  Group meditation in the hall.
Another required group sit. Same as before, audio of Goenka chanting, then directing the exercise for that meditation during the first 10 minutes or so. Rest of period was spent in meditation using the specified technique.

9:15-9:30 PM:  Question time in the hall. 
This period of time was available for students to sit before the assistant teacher and ask any questions they may have.  Some people would stay in the room and continue to meditate during this time.  Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn't.

9:30-10 PM:  Retire to your room. 
Prepare for bed.  Showers.

10 PM:  Lights out. 
I was usually sound asleep by this time.  The first couple of nights were difficult to go to sleep, but that was more of being in a new environment, than anything else.

...and that is pretty much how every day went, schedule-wise.  Now the experiences, that's a whole different story.  Stay tuned to find out why!



Page said...

Ah, the wonderful 4 a.m. bell.
I spent more time in the meditation hall during the sits. I found my mind distracted me too much when I tried to meditate in my room.
I really enjoyed the food.
I had oatmeal every morning as well...mixed in some prunes, apricots, sunflower seeds, flax seed and turbinado sugar with a splash of soy milk. Yum!
I am a vegetarian, bordering on vegan. Spinach lasagna, black bean burritos, marinated baked tofu, curried spinach - I was a happy camper. Several of our group asked site manager Kim to email us the recipes and she has.
Were you in G? I was G2.
I find it interesting you had a male AT. Our group had a male AT for the men and a female for the women. Our AT was Judy Barta.
I'm still processing what took place mentally...I know I'm happier!

Split Queen Box Spring said...

Good sharing, to practice Vipassana meditation, you need to learn mindful every moment, even you are eat, talk, walk. I learn from a guru with 30 years experience. He is Ajahn Wimoak and you can get his MP3 teaching for free download at:
Feel free invite Ajahn to your Vipassana meditation center.