Women

Could the key to life balance and harmony be found on a 10-day silent meditation retreat? We turn down the volume to find out.

From foo-foo spiritual workshops to practical psychologist sessions, I’ve done work to improve the clarity of my inner vision. Still, there comes a time when it gets a little cloudy. It’s tricky to remain positive when you’re wondering why life has handed you lemons.

I’m looking for a tool. Something practical I can use when I’m down - but also when I’m feeling good. I’ve heard of a meditation technique called Vipassana that encourages people to lead balanced and harmonious lives. So I’m heading to Dhamma Pataka, a Vipassana center in Worcester, in the Western Cape

Description: Blissful Thinking

I turn into the driveway that leads to Dhamma Pataka, a collection of low-lying buildings beneath the Brandwacht peaks of the Hex River Mountains. My nerves are sloshing with anticipation. I’m wondering how, if I’m to be silent, I’ll know what to do when I reach the end of this road. Thankfully there are signs (with actual English on them – what was I expecting?) and talking is allowed during registration.

Reluctantly, I hand over my car keys and phone. The administrator reminds me of my mother – a good sign, I think. Still, my life back in Cape Town seems far away and without an immediate escape, I begin to feel claustrophobic.

My car is just outside, I remind myself, and with the help of some deep breaths, the panic recedes. I’ve jumped my first hurdle… now what?

Initiation

Not surprisingly, the answer is meditation – and lots of it. It’s 4am, and I’m being coaxed from my slumber by the sounding of a Buddhist gong – it’s the most pleasant way I’ve ever been roused.

Thirty minutes later I’m sitting cross-legged on my meditation cushions (a large selection is provided so meditators can get their perch “just so”). My seating arrangement feels pretty good but two hours is yawing ahead of me. Seriously? I’m supposed to meditate the whole time?

Just a new minutes in and my perch feels rather “so-so”. I’m forced to change positions – a couple of others have already done the same. Although I tell myself this is no place to be competitive, I’m glad I’m not the first to crack. I also wish I’d brought a watch.

Description: My seating arrangement feels pretty good but two hours is yawing ahead of me.

My seating arrangement feels pretty good but two hours is yawing ahead of me.

On day two, I decide to scope out my fellow meditators before we begin. Who are these people? Each morning we file into the hall before the sun has risen; men use one entrance, woman another. We sit on opposite sides of the room, a blank of windows to our tight through which a gentle breeze blows. Some are fluffing and folding pillows into impressive architectural creations. Others, their backs poker-straight, hands gently folded in their laps, appear to have already arrived at their destination. Again I feel that prick of competitiveness – I too want to “get there”.

Description: Others, their backs poker-straight, hands gently folded in their laps, appear to have already arrived at their destination.

Others, their backs poker-straight, hands gently folded in their laps, appear to have already arrived at their destination.

The house I’m sharing with three other women is simple – but’ it’s spotless and spacious. From my bed, I can look out onto trees and the dusty horizon beyond. There’s to be no interaction with other meditators but I feel unnatural to pass these three women with eyes downcast. I smile at one, and when she doesn’t return my gaze, I can’t help but feel hurt.

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