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Vipassana meditation in the Blue Mountains

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Spending 10 days in silence and meditating for 8+ hours a day may not sound like your idea of a dream holiday. However, if you want to experience an inner calm that continues long after that first day back at work I suggest you put down your pina colada and keep reading.

There are many techniques for releasing life’s stresses:  Staring trancelike at reality TV often induces a certain state of mental numbness, while others prefer to exercise. Alternatively, getting shitfaced and sleeping with strangers is a popular weekend choice, although harder to sustain with age. I’m not saying I’m opposed to any of the above, but have you heard my inner monologue?  Seriously, it’s pretty hard to shut that thing up. In search of something more effective, I discovered Vipassana.

As someone who has completed at least one 10 day course I’m known in Vipassana speak as an ‘old student’ and can therefore book into shorter courses that run alongside the 10 day-ers. Having learned the technique in New Zealand and India, I thought it was about time I organised a visit to my local centre, the Vipassana Meditation Centre* in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. They offer one day courses on Sundays for ‘old students’ like me.

When I say local, the Blue Mountains are still a two hour train ride out of the city so my day started ridiculously early, with a taxi to Sydney’s Central Station to catch the 5.50am train. I had intended to get in the meditation mood by staring wistfully out the window at the natural surrounds, but this was hindered by the fact that it was dark for most of the journey. After listening to Irish backpackers drunkenly slur on about their night out, which was obviously still in progress, I made my way to the designated ‘silent carriage’ (what a fab idea) and curled up on a comfortable seat, sleeping my way through the journey.

When I awoke I found myself surrounded by towering eucalyptus trees. Being a lover of new places, my excitement grew as I skipped off the train. After a slight detour to the conveniently placed Blackheath Growers’ Market**, where I located my morning caffeine hit, early morning grogginess was a distant memory. I arrived at the centre refreshed and greeted the small group who were to become my fellow meditators. The property itself is insanely beautiful, consisting of a giant flower garden surrounded by trees and wildlife. It really feels perfect for meditation. A softly spoken woman, who radiated calm, greeted us and announced herself as the teacher.We made our way to the cool brick meditation hall and silence began.

It’s no secret that we all have issues of some kind and if you think otherwise your friends probably spend their nights away from you talking about your ‘difficult’ personality and annoying alcoholism.  The aim of Vipassana is to firstly calm the mind, secondly to bring problems to the surface and thirdly to overcome negative thought patterns. While that may sound a little complicated, part one starts with the simple task of observing the breath as it touches the upper lip.

Easy right?? Maybe for a second or two, and then the thoughts started to bounce around in my mind. Focus was almost impossible and the whole day stretching out ahead became completely overwhelming. My mind felt like a frustratingly cluttered desk, with all my thoughts written on pieces of paper and piled up high. I felt like a fan was oscillating around the room, and just as I put a pile of papers in order, they would blow away again. It was exhausting, even though I was going nowhere with this task.

As I persevered with observing the breath I eventually felt myself let go of my panic, and the need for order became less important. I would pick up one ‘thought’, contemplate it, file it away mentally and throw away the useless piece of paper it was written upon. Then, all of a sudden  – well, not really a sudden, more like after a long, long time – I found myself with a completely clear mind. I felt focused and inspired in a way that felt simultaneously natural and phenomenal.

We broke for our BYO (Bring Your Own – a very Australian concept) vegetarian lunch and stretched our legs by walking around the flower gardens in quiet contemplation. I was secretly quite pleased by my efforts. It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but colours really did seem brighter and birds chirpier.

Part two took things to the next level, using the technique of Vipassana to bring up previous memories and revisit them with neutral observation, not reaction. I experienced a rainbow of emotions and observed them all while focusing on the fact that everything in life is constantly rising and passing away. I won’t spoil everything for you but by the end of the session I felt like a huge weight had lifted off my shoulders, and that was only after one day in meditation.

After making my way back to Blackheath train station I sat in calm silence throughout the journey home. I shunned my usual Sunday evening glass of red and fell into bed, exhausted but peaceful, taking care not to wake my inner monologue, which was finally asleep like a little baby.

MEET THE LOCAL: JENNIFER GOODWIN

*The Vipassana Meditation Centre is located in Blackheath, which is approximately two and a quarter hours west of Sydney, not far from the Great Western Highway and the railway line. They advise visitors to catch a train to Blackheath station where possible as car parking is limited.  

**The Blackheath Grower’s Market is part of The Australian Farmers’ Markets Association (AFMA), a voluntary organisation convened in 2003 to create a networking entity committed to supporting the development and growth of best-practice and sustainable farmers’ markets across Australia. The markets take place at the Blackheath Community Hall, corner of Great Western Highway and Gardiner Crescent in Blackheath on the 2nd Sunday of every month from 8am – 12noon.

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