I travel when I need a break. When the noise is too loud and things get messy, it feels good to get out and get away. It helps me keep things in perspective. In February 2018,  I embarked on an unusual adventure; one unlike any other that I’ve experienced before. Instead of charging out into the wilderness like I usually do, I dived within.

My mind was is a mess. I do not, for the most part, understand it’s nature. It jumps like a monkey from thought to thought, and while writing helps me cope with it on rare occasions (such as this) it’s very nature or purpose eludes me. Each of us is forced to grapple with our daily ups and downs, and we cope with it differently. Some smoke, some pray, some eat lavishly, some stay silent, some go out too much, some even quit life. I assume this is the nature of the mind. But surely, surely there is a way to contain it? Surely there is peace somewhere?

meditation_centre_in_sri_lanka

As I shed the kilometres from Colombo to Kandy; 8 hours and 200 kilometres away, I tried to release my grasp from the things that held me down, like a flower shedding its petals. I travelled to Ududumbara, about three hours past Kandy to a place called Nisala International Meditation Centre to find some answers, some sort of meaning to my shaky interiors.

Last year was horrible. I lost someone permanently. I cannot seem to comprehend loss. I know it happens. I know it is natural and that it happens to everyone. I also know that life goes on. I know that I will be me again, my balanced self. But somehow, losing people brings me great sadness. I feel I lose control of what is happening around me and I become unhappy with that change. This was my journey to make sense of it.

The Meditation Retreat

I didn’t think I could do it at first, but this year I had made a promise to myself that I will do things that scare me or pushed me out of my comfort zone. Stepping into a setting that is completely different to what I am used to, helped. And now, after my second four-day residential retreat, I am happy that I made the leap the first time.

The retreat is an intense four day, silent, residential retreat on Vipassanā meditation; to see. I arrived in the pitch darkness at 8pm on Friday night and was taken by a gentle tuk driver assigned to shuttle visitors back and forth. The Acharin (short for Kamatacharin or spiritual teacher) gave us instructions on how the following four days would go by. We are to wake up early and be in the meditation hall ready to meditate by 4 am every day. We are not to talk with each other. We are to speak with the Acharin about what we are feeling after each meditation exercise and ask questions relating to our experience. We are to be honest with each answer. We are to maintain discipline at all times. And most of all, we are to enjoy and immerse ourselves in this experience.

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The view and food alone are so worth the trip there!

Noble silence

To search within, you must first switch off.  my cosy room at the retreatWhen I first heard about the “no talking” rule, I was worried. I’m a very chatty person. How could I even imagine staying silent for four days when I can hardly shut my mouth for four hours!? By the beginning of day one, I found this to be the most peaceful of all breaks. Communication devices are the next to go.

Now you are on your own, free to explore your own depths. I was terrified at first. Inside my head, all alone without anyone or anything to distract me and keep the monkey inside me entertained. But it turned out to be the most liberating discovery. No one even looked at the other person and nodded. You’d think that was very rude but on the contrary, I think we all felt it. A certain respect for each other’s presence and own individual journey in discovering oneself.

How is the meditation?

I’ve heard and read of the merits of meditation, been forcefully compelled to do it once a week for about seven years at school. It seems like an awful lot of effort and frankly, I didn’t want to do it because I just got sleepy 99% of the time.

After this meditation retreat, I realised that all the meditation that I’ve ever done in my life was wrong. Had I done it right, I would have wanted to keep doing it.

The peace that comes with stilling your mind cannot be explained, it can only be felt.

You know how you are asleep and everything feels really good and relaxed? To me, it felt as though I was asleep but fully aware. I was not weighed down with any of my worries and concerns, and I just was. I just am. For just a moment, there is no inner chatter. There are no thoughts, emotions or memories.  There is no white noise. No checking phones for messages, no scrolling social media endlessly, no thinking about anything really. We are so used to constantly think, think and think. One after the other, a never-ending train of thought.  It felt heavenly to take a break from all that fluff inside my head.

Acharin says “You are on a platform. You see trains come and go. You do not get on these trains, but watch from the platform.”

And that is exactly it.

I don’t want to spoil the fun for you. This is something that you must feel on your own. It is a journey that you, yourself must feel intrigued to follow.

cow shed and mountain view
Cowshed with a mommy cow and a baby cow against the mountain

Did I get homesick? No. I’m used to staying away from “home” so I wasn’t. To me, home is where I am most peaceful. And among these strangers, several hours away from my friends and family, I found the peace I was looking for. I feel I need more practice, for sure, because I did have thoughts inside my head, I did get distracted. But this is a positive start, and I am hopeful.

When I stepped out of the meditation hall, I was greeted by the most beautiful view of the Knuckles range that I had ever seen. Flowers scattered throughout the compound and I went about ‘witnessing’ these elements in my surrounding and just being present. I did not think about back home, my losses, my ambitions or my worries. It was just me, present in that moment.

nisala meditation centre_knuckles mountain range.jpg
Mist engulfed the range in the morning, just before the sun poured it’s rays and took over.

Why do you need meditation?

The reasons were different for everyone at the retreat. You don’t have to be depressed or upset or in a state of unrest to try it. I don’t know what it would be for you, but it is an experience that I think everyone should go through atleast once in their life.

Meditation is the art of stillness and mindfulness. You need mindfulness to survive in the world, regardless of what your mental state is. When you go about your day being mindful of what you’re doing, there is less clutter and more clarity. Ideally, it should be taught in every school. Seeing as how Acharin’s youngest student is only seven years old, I’d say this is something really worth looking into!

flowers bloom
The entire compound bursts into flowers.

I have been trying to convince my close friends to try this since I was convinced by a friend too. Some of them strictly refuse, saying that they will get bored and tired. But I keep asking them to give it a go because it will change their life. It has changed mine, and the way I look at the things that happen around me. I still can’t control the things that happen to me. But I have started to accept these changes, and not get frazzled by it. Or atleast, I try not to. I’m still learning. There are times when I still lose it. But I try to stay still and mindful of whatever it is that is making me go crazy.

As with many things that shape who I am, it was my mother who first encouraged me to try this, and for it I am grateful. It is beautiful to see how we support and connect and inspire our inner circles to be great. It is probably the second in a long list of positive things that she has influenced me to do. Third and fourth points being vegetarian and inspiring me to write respectively.

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With trees sprouting from her head!

If you would like to experience this, Acharin G. Wijenayake conducts a one-day meditation session at the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress on the 3rd Saturday of every month from 9 am to 6 pm.

Email Dilrukshi on meditationwithacharin@gmail.com so that she can you to their mailing list and send a reminder email every month. She is the second student of Acharin (when he started teaching 10 years ago) and the present Director of Retreats. Food and refreshments are provided on a donation basis and you can sit on chairs (not cushions on the floor as in at the retreat) and have an introductory session to meditation.

For more information, call +94713876444. Come for a one-day session and experience it.

Mettā.

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