Vipassana 10 Day Meditation
by Jim Wolff

December 2001 - January 2002

All words and photos by Jim Wolff unless otherwise noted.


On 26 December I left home in the morning and picked up Chintana, a Thai woman in her sixties, and Nathan, a twenty-two year old English guy, at their homes in the San Fernando Valley and we drove out to Joshua Tree. Traffic was light and we got there in about two and a half hours. We pulled up in the parking lot and looked around. There were several large building near by a cafeteria/dining hall, a church, and another large building we would later call the meditation hall. Nathan and I carried Chintana's bags to one of the "Ridge Huts" where the women would be staying. The ridge huts consisted of several buildings, each of which had several rooms with baths and little kitchens.

About four hundred yards to the east was the men's area. Nathan and I walked over there and checked out the rooms. The rooms were all in one long L shaped building. Rooms were on each side of the building and access was obtained via passageways through the building from one side to the other. The rooms were elongated hexagons with large windows covered with old Venetian blinds. Most rooms had two single beds and a pair of bunk beds, a bathroom, and a closet. Doorways and a short hall lead to the adjacent room but we keep these closed.

After a while we walked back to the dinning hall and checked in. One side of the hall was for women and one side for men. During the course, women and men would be segregated to the greatest extent possible. I filled out a form and then was interviewed by Misha, one of the managers. He assigned me to room number fourteen and bed number one, which I know would be a relatively quite one based on its proximity to Highway 62. The windows would face west toward the San Bernardino Mountains and specifically the snow-capped summit of San Yacinto. From here we would also be able to look across the area between the main complex, the women's area and the dinning hall.

Nathan and I drove over to our room and we unloaded our bags. Nathan was in room number nine. I opened the door of the room and saw another guy there. Later, I would find out his name. What was funny was that was there with a woman. I said hi and asked if the beds had numbers on them. I looked down at a bed and found a number. I had a single bed near the door. I was thankful not to have a bunk bed. My roommate realized he had put his stuff on the wrong bed and placed his bags in the right place now that he knew where the bed numbers were. I say good by and left to park my car in the designated area. Once the course starts, we were not to revisit our vehicles until the end. I checked in with Nathan and he said he was going to rest.

I decided just to wander around for a while. I explored the area between the main complex. Here there were two dirt roads one running north south and the other east west, which is the one we took to the dining hall and meditation hall. Surrounding the roads was the natural desert sagebrush, cactus, and a few Joshua Trees. It is on these two roads where we would be allowed to walk, the only exercise allowed during the program.

Outside the dinning hall there was a large triangular pond filled with golden and white coy. Dead straw colored reeds sprouted four or five feet above the surface of the dark water and appeared like a frozen fountain. In the south corner of the pond was a small waterfall. The water spilled down gently and filled the air with gurgling stream sound. Except for the first day's meal which included an orientation and question and answer session, I would have all my meals over the eleven day period outside. I would sit and listen to the water, and enjoy the feel of the wind and sun on my body, while clouds passed overhead.

I walked over to the meditation hall but it was closed. I could see through the window that the managers were placing blue square cushions across the floor. One large aisle ran from the front of the room to the back. Facing the front of the room all the men would be seated on the left side and all the women on the right side. Another aisle ran from the main entrance dividing the men's area in half. The area to the left of this aisle closest to the teachers in the front of the room was for the old students who were seated based on the number if times they had taken a Vipassana course. The to the right of this aisle in the back of the room were for the new students and they were all seated in order of age with the oldest nearest the front.

At some point, I walked back to the room. When I got there I also needed to go to the bath room. I opened the door and saw a guy lying on the bed next to mine. He was a tall athletic looking guy. I walked past his bed and instead of going to our bathroom I mistakenly walked down the little hallway leading to the other room and when in to the other bathroom. As I shut the door I could hear the guy getting up and hear the hallway door being closed. I finished my business and left the bathroom to find the hallway door to my room closed and locked. I knocked on the door and then heard my roommate get up and open the door. He then proceeded to give me a lecture about how we needed to keep the hallway door locked so that people would not be walking near his bed all the time and he showed me that there was this whole other room and that this was his room. I listened very carefully to everything he said but I was confused; how could we go to the bathroom with the hallway door locked. I told him, yes I still was not sure what any of this all had to do with me. He started to explain it all to me again and then it finally hit me. He thought I was in the other room and was using his room as a hallway. I also realized I had mistakenly gone to the wrong bathroom. At that point, I told him explained to him my mistake and that I completely understood his concern and agreed with it and it would never happen again. At this point he said fine and that he would not say anything more. I guess he wanted to get ready for the ten days of not talking. I left the room and realized one of my roommates was a bigger type A than me for a change.

Around 6 PM everyone gathered in the dinning hall and I met back up with Nathan. We found a seat near the food serving area and then Roy, the head manager, started the orientation. This consisted of a reminder that at the start of the course, which would begin after dinner, Nobel silence would begin and continue until the course of over. Roy did a great job is explaining everything and there were no surprises. Several people asked questions then we were allowed to eat. On this first night, I ate inside with Nathan and we talked. This was the only meal I would have inside for the entire time I was there. I wound up having all my meals, breakfast, lunch, and the evening snack outside on the patio. There I enjoyed viewing the sky, desert, pond, and also all the other students come and go. Another thing I had stopped doing was shaving. I had stopped shaving on 22 December and would not shave again until 6 January before going back to work.

After the meal, we had a short break and then we were all to assemble in the meditation hall. At the men's entrance Roy called out everyone's name and then gave them a number. My number was fifty-two. I found out later that older students were seated in order based on how long they had been students.

To be continued.



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