For some strange reason, they don’t count Registration Day as Day 1. My mom was so kind as to drive me all of the way to Joshua Tree for the retreat, and used every minute of the drive to convince me everything was going to be ok… It was a lot of “I can’t do this” and a whole lot of “Well, I’m not turning around” from my mom. En route, I was experiencing symptoms of a UTI. I didn’t know if it was psychosomatic or whether it was the real real, so we stopped by a sketchy gas station to purchase some cranberry juice. I kept thinking it probably wouldn’t do anything with the amount of sugar in it. Do you like cranberry juice in your sugar? We decided to have my Last Supper, or Last Lunch in this case at Sister’s Natural Café in Joshua Tree, before entering into silence.
You can arrive at the center between 2-5 PM on Registration Day, and we got there at around 2:30 PM. We entered in the women’s side (genders are separated to eliminate any… um…distractions), where I filled out a registration form that re-iterated the same questions I had answered in the online application. They asked for us to agree to stay all 10 days. One woman slightly scolded me for my shoulders showing. I explained that it was close to 100 degrees outside and I was really warm. She responded that everyone else had their shoulders covered, and we should adhere to the dress code as soon as we step onto the property. I’m off to a good start, I thought…
I was given a room in the dormitory, with no roommate. I was excited about this privacy, considering how small the room was. As we were standing outside, I realized I had forgotten a sun hat, and that walking would be the silver lining during this whole potentially cloudy ordeal. It was one last excuse to escape, and so my mom drove me to a nearby Walgreens to buy a sun hat, some extra socks, and a miniature flashlight since there isn’t much light (or light pollution) on the property. This little getaway gave me enough time to make any last phone calls and texts. Once my mom finally left, I sat quietly in my room, and thought, holy shit, this is real, this is happening! Although I had Xanax at hand, I had agreed to not use any mind-altering substances while there. I started to put everything away and signed myself up on the board for which day I would clean our communal bathroom and showers, and at which time I would be showering. This helps to avoid any confusion or miscommunication. I briefly spoke to a couple of my dorm mates, one who I let borrow my extra ear plugs. Another gave me six bottles of Essence Alkaline Water, just out of the kindness out of her heart. I definitely got the community feel and felt a lot less alone in this. Plus, I had no idea the alkaline water would eventually help out my UTI (which was real after all), and later serve as a way to hold all of the lemon water I would drink.
Dinner started at 6 PM. We had a bowl of delicious lentil soup and salad. I sat next to a newbie, an ‘old student’ (her third time) and a woman who had completed 10 other silent retreats, leading her to write a book on it. Didn’t catch her name. According to them, the cuisine remains basically the same across all retreats. Insight was given on how the third day might be the hardest, and a strong recommendation to not quit. It is completely worth it, they said. Before leaving the dining area, I spotted a sign-up sheet to meet with the teacher for 5 minutes tomorrow. I’ll take any excuse to chat, so I signed up.
At 7 PM, we all gathered together, men and women separated (of course) to go over the Code of Discipline and its precepts. They asked that if we do not feel we align with the Code of Discipline and its precepts, that we should leave. Otherwise, we are expected to stay for all 10 days. He mentioned that endangered Desert Tortoises sometimes sneak in and that we aren’t to scare them, otherwise, they could excrete themselves and die (spirit animal?). He then asked that no one use anything coconut based, as it attracts ants, and to ask our manager for any replacement non-coconut based products that we might need instead. All of us hippie/alternative gals gave a darting look of ‘um. No?’ One of us even asked our manager about that, and she admitted that she herself was using coconut products so we just left it at that.
At 8 PM, we met at the meditation hall for our first group meditation. We were told that Noble Silence would begin when we entered the hall, so we got all of our chatter out before then. How does this not count as Day 1 again? They assigned us seats and I was in the third row on the edge. Next to me was a row of chairs for the older adult women who may not be able to sit on the floor. We were introduced to S.N. Goenka (foremost lay teacher of the technique of our time) over the loudspeaker, who chanted us into the 45-minute meditation, and asked us to focus on breathing, while repeatedly using the word ‘scrupulously.’ He also went over the rules again and had us repeat them back to him #callandresponse. We all chuckled when he said that old students cannot sleep on luxurious beds as a rule. Is there such a thing as a luxury at a Vipassana retreat?! I know I am not supposed to write during the retreat, but I technically didn’t see it as a written rule. Also, what else am I supposed to do? After the meditation, I took a shower at my allotted time, and I just hope for the best tomorrow.
Vipassana Day 1: Registration Day aka Welcome to Dhammaland (a 12-day Journal of my Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Experience)