Getting to the Nilambe Buddhist Meditation Centre involved two bone-rattling tuk tuk rides, one broke down before the next one delivered me to the centre but not before my backpack had hopped around and fully squashed my lunch.
I had signed up for a five day silent meditation retreat. Online I had seen another Mindfulness courses for 10 days but going from novice to ten days of 10 hours a day meditation sounded like running a marathon without having jogged before!
The centre itself is wonderfully located on the outskirts of Kandy ontop a hill of tea plantations and a more tranquil place you couldn’t find though clouds and rain would roll up the hillside which wrapped the centre in an eerie mist.
In total there were 18 of us on the course, all westerners, but one couple who arrived with enough biscuits to feed an army mustn’t have taken to it and left the next morning but from then on it was the same group to the end. Going through shared activities with other in complete silence is odd at first – it feels both social and anti-social at the same time.
The schedule was the same every day – morning bell at 04.45 followed by meditation for an hour and then some tea. Knowing how bad I am in the mornings I had prepped myself by getting up at 6am on the few days prior so it actually wasn’t too bad, by the end I enjoyed this start to the day.
The schedule had a mix of light yoga which was excellently tailored for flexibility in sitting for the meditation, walking meditation and working meditation where you pay close attention to what you are doing. I chose to do work in the rock garden – literally down in the (tiny) weeds and cleared it completely by the end.
The downside was that when it rained there were leeches which amazingly seemed to find you and attach and they are tough little runt to get rid of!
The meditation itself it was Vipassana (aka Insight or Mindfulness) focusing on the breath. The instructions are deceptively simple: to focus on the inhale and exhale of breath and not be lost in thought. I’ve seen it best compared to the instructions to walk a tightrope – put one foot in front of the other and don’t fall off. Easy to state but incredibly difficult to do. I found myself buffeted by thoughts continually, sometimes not realising I had swung off on a tangent for a few minutes.
During the day we would have talks by the course leader Upul who advised on how to approach meditation or issues that arise – quite a few people mentioned past angry memories bubbling up seemingly from nowhere. In the evenings there was also a chanting session which I took a while to get into but by candlelight was a fitting way to wind down the day.
The accomodation itself was basic but fine – there is no electricity so it is a digital detox also although I did spy someone with their iPad around. The food was vegetarian and good – two larger meals for breakfast and lunch and a snack in the evening – well you hardly want a heavy meal when you head to bed at 8.30.
By the end of the five days I had really settled into the routine and it was strange to be leaving. Even more strange was to actually speak to some of the other attendees – one of which was a couple on their honeymoon. Considering they had to sleep in separate rooms and not speak to each other it seemed like a great preparation for a very long marriage!
I felt a lot more settled on the journey back to Kandy, in most part due to being in a minivan rather than tuk-tuk but I hope maybe in small part due to the five days of meditation.