Clean and Elegant

Clean and Elegant

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Vipassana Diaries: Day Zero

At the centre in Montebello, we had to fill out a form verifying that we were at an adequate level of health. Once again, I had to fork over details on my previous eating disorder history. I became all red and flustered. Despite the doctor’s note I’d begged an oblivious Halifax doctor to sign, I was certain the organizers would decide that my prior crazy times made me unfit to complete the course.

On the back of the form I had to provide a short autobiography. I wrote that I was a writer and then proceeded to write the most boring story of my life I have ever come up with.
I was born in Kingston, Ontario. I had an active childhood. I studied creative writing and translation. Apparently, this didn’t improve my writing skills very much. I have extensive experience working with people with disabilities. Blah blah blah. Once I had an eating disorder but now I’m totally cured. Please let me do the course. The end.
I handed in my form and never heard about it again.

Before going to our rooms, we had to hand over all our electronics, phones, writing materials and objects of spiritual significance. Rebelliously, I clung to my hot pink fanny pack which the Boatman had bought for me as a going away present. Otherwise I broke no rules.

Me and my dorky fanny pack. My goal is to bring back the fanny pack during my trip to India. It cost 6 dollars at the Park Lane Mall, Spring Garden Road.
That night, we ate our last dinner for ten days. The Buddha never ate meals after noon and so now we were all going to try and be like the Buddha. New students were allowed to have fruit and tea at 5 p.m. but otherwise we were out of luck. On Day Zero, however, there was an enormous platter of hummus and raw vegetables and an abundant salad bar that reminded me of the buffet at the all-inclusive I’d stayed at in Mexico. I loaded up my plate to mountainous heights and sat at a table of girls who all looked under 25.
“There are a lot of cute guys over there,” said one skinny blonde girl. “I just love guys with long hair. She stood up and went to the hot drinks table where she stirred some instant Maxwell house coffee into a mug of hot water.
She can’t be any more than 21, I thought. “How old are you?” I asked when she got back.
“21,” she said.
After dinner, I was relieved to see a fellow Ashtangi from Montreal. She was a hard-core vipassana meditator, having completed 20 and 30-day sits in much more austere centres in South America. I ran up to her and hugged her, forgetting the rules that we weren’t allowed to touch. She didn’t mind.
We circled around the trails of the centre and she answered all sorts of questions. Her commitment to the practice was clear. She said there was no other kind of meditation like Vipassana. It totally transformed her life.  I love a hard-core practitioner, having just completed seven years of hard-core Ashtanga yoga practice myself. She was sitting this ten-day course as a pre-requisite for a 30-day course Brazil the following month.
In Brazil, everything was way less cushy than here in Montebello. They went days without showers and their beds were all squished together. There were no little shelves to leave your folded clothes and at each meal all they got were tiny handfuls of peanuts.
I felt mildly guilty about my massive pile of vegetables and my trepidation about missing ten days of dinner.
But not everyone can turn into a Buddha all at once.

At 7 p.m., the Noble Silence would begin. We were not even allowed to look up at each other’s faces. I would prove to be rather horrible at this.
After they explained all the rules, segregation of men and women began. No more cute boys with long hair to look at. We went to the meditation hall where we put together our draft configurations of cushions and prepared for our first meditation instruction. This began with piped in Pali chanting by S. N. Goenka. Each emphatic melodious phrase ended with a somewhat half-dead drone. Then there was a big pause. It seemed like maybe it was over, but oh no, on he went with the next line. On and on and on.

Mr. Goenka. Charming fellow, I would later discover
I found myself thinking of the 21-year-old blonde girl and her cute boys with long hair. I imagined everyone I knew coming across Goenka’s voice for the first time and had to repress some irreverent laughter. Had I known how little laughter was in store for me in the days to come, I might have done a better job savouring it.

The End.
(Stay tuned.)



  1. oh day zero sounds intense! i would say that it's a bit weird to assume that practicing in a more austere setting makes you a better mini-"buddha". I would think it's not about more than who roughed it the most...

    1. Yes, there definitely were a ton of rules, but I think it was up to everyone to interpret them for themselves. I will say more about the rules later. In Brazil, it was probably less about being a "hard core Buddha" than it was about using the facilities available, which just happened to be rather humble.

  2. I'm thrilled that you are writing about it, I'm so interested, but Vipassana isn't ready for me yet.