Last year, I came across posts about Vipassana meditation on Zhihu and was eager to give it a try. During the Vipassana course, everyone must pretend to be alone. Talking is prohibited, even eye contact should be avoided. No cell phones, computers, nor are you allowed to bring books or take notes. Wake up at 4 AM daily, and rest at 9 PM. In between, apart from eating, resting, and getting instructions (watching videos of Goenka), there is endless sitting meditation. When I eagerly filled out the online application form, I had no idea what I was getting myself into…

The sound of the bell reminded us of the time to meditate, to wake up, and to eat. Wanting to know the time outside of these events, I, who had long abandoned wearing a watch, carried a huge alarm clock in my pocket every day [Photo from Dhamma Sukhakāri@facebook].

Night Tour of “Chengtian Temple”

Going to bed at nine is too early for me, being forced to adjust to a new sleep schedule made me toss and turn. Just as I was drifting into a semi-conscious state, a loud snoring sound jolted me awake—ah, the person on the lower bunk started again. I calmed my impatient mood, gathered my sleepiness, and prepared to adjust my breathing to the rhythm of the snoring to fall asleep—unfortunately at this time another snoring sound rang out, louder than the first. They together formed a chaotic symphony, like a competition, one louder than the other (I later found out that normally they would be woken up by their own snoring, but the funny thing is that they both wore earplugs that night, so the snoring only disturbed me, who didn’t have earplugs). Under such circumstances, sleep was obviously impossible. Not sleeping well today means I won’t be able to meditate well tomorrow… My irritation, which had just calmed down, started to surge again…

Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore, I sat up abruptly, causing the wooden frame of the bed to creak, which was a silent protest against the snoring. I was angry, but I was also considering a solution. Maybe I could sleep in the meditation hall during the day. It has cushions, blankets, and is very quiet. I got out of bed, got dressed, and went out of the door—only to see the night sky as clear as water, free from the light pollution of the city, with the moon and stars exceptionally bright. In the cool night breeze, only the insects in the grass were making a slight noise, and my breathing also became clearly audible. Most of my anger faded away, I started to slow down and enjoy this unexpected night tour.

I strolled all the way to the entrance of the meditation hall, but unfortunately, the doors and windows were locked. I had to slowly walk back across the fields to the “concert hall” where the snoring symphony was in full swing. Maybe walking does help with insomnia, despite the “background music”, I couldn’t resist the sleepiness and fell asleep.

Walk Like a Wild Rooster

The calm and unruffled life of meditation has made me particularly observant of every little thing in daily life. The courtyard was unusually active today. A brightly feathered rooster and his girlfriend strode in, heads held high. Ignoring the fence, and compared to us humans constrained in our movement, they appeared leisurely, relaxed, and quite pleased with themselves. Half envious, half curious, I became interested in observing this handsome rooster. In fact, I had seen chickens many times, whether on the dinner table, in front of the tree roots by my aunt’s pond (or even in Cai Xukun’s music videos, haha). I never paid them much attention. To me, they were more of a name, a symbol, (an ingredient). Of course, as a human, I naturally towered over them. But now, after days of vegetarian diet, I could no longer see this rooster as just food. Its freedom compelled me to regard it at eye level.

I noticed that the way a wild rooster walks is quite distinctive (observation sample size: 1). It always lifts its legs fully before stepping forward, and after a few steps, it pauses, turning its head left and right, scanning the surroundings alertly with its eyes, its red comb shaking with each move. After observing, it would gently lower its claw and continue moving forward. It somewhat resembled a detective cautiously making his rounds, or a leader inspecting the work scene. I gradually became engrossed and couldn’t help but want to give it a try myself. I lifted my feet high, paused every few steps, looked left and right. Regrettably, I didn’t have a proud red comb on my head, so I wasn’t sure if I could capture even half of its swagger.

I also encountered this friend [Photo from Dhamma Sukhakāri@facebook].

Difference Between Actions and Reactions

Goenka Guru said that we should not indulge ourselves in reactions to external stimuli. I was confused: when thirsty, we need to drink water, when hungry, we need to eat, when someone rushes over with a knife, we need to run away quickly. These subconscious reactions are protecting us, aren’t they? With this question in mind, I went to the teacher of this course. The time after lunch was the only time we could speak. Outside the teacher’s small room, there was already a long queue. When it was finally my turn to enter, she was sitting cross-legged on a cushion. She was a petite granny, always dressed in a dark-patterned robe, wearing drop-shaped earrings. Wrinkles were etched on her brown face, inlaid with bright eyes - in short, she embodied all my imaginings of a “sage” or “wizard”! After settling in, she smiled at me and patiently listened to my stream of questions. I instantly liked her.

Regarding my question, the teacher said that reaction and action are not the same. The poor reactions that Goenka Guru referred to are those made when our mind is not calm. For example, if someone curses you, and you angrily curse back, this kind of reaction disrupts your inner peace. However, actions are different. When we take actions, our mind is calm and rational. There are many times when it is necessary to take actions, even strong actions, in response to situations. I understood, what distinguishes a reaction from an action is not the intensity of its content, but whether our heart is calm or not. So, if someone curses me, and I curse back without any ripple in my heart, it could also be considered a kind of action, right? LOL.

Lunch was completely vegetarian and surprisingly delicious! My companion said she would come back to volunteer just for the food [Photo from Dhamma Sukhakāri@facebook]

Can Arranged Marriages Also Be Happy?

On the last day, when we finally could talk, everyone chatted about their feelings and their own stories. The volunteer aunt who cooked for us is from Saudi Arabia. She pulled me and my companion aside, telling us her daughter was about our age. When she learned that, contrary to her daughter, we two had no interest in drinking or clubbing, she was greatly surprised, “Really? You’re so young and you’re already exposed to Dhamma, you’re really fortunate!”

The sister who took care of our daily life and maintained order was volunteering for the first time. She was very patient and took care of everyone’s needs and problems, no matter how big or small. She was fair and chubby, wearing thin-framed glasses, and she was always gentle when speaking. Only after talking to her did we learn that she is a residential teacher in a boarding school - so we are like her slightly older children! The night before we said goodbye, someone initiated the idea and everyone took turns leaving words of gratitude for her in a notebook.

An Indian sister said that her back pain miraculously disappeared during the process of observing the sensations throughout her body! When girls chat, it always inevitably turns to the topic of relationships. As the conversation got more animated, we learned that her parents are in India, and they have many servants at home. She once had a boyfriend, but free love was not allowed in her family. She had no choice but to break up with her boyfriend, give herself some time to recover, and then accept various marriage proposals. She even made a table, detailing and comparing the various indicators of the proposed suitors (I imagined a huge Excel spreadsheet). However, she had one condition: her husband couldn’t interfere with the work she likes. She studied for a doctorate in mathematics and computer science, but most men don’t like their wives to be prominent, especially in male-dominated industries. With this condition added, the number of suitors dwindled. Fortunately, she met her husband who appreciates and supports her career choice. After meeting once or twice, they got married. Now she is a teacher at a university in the UK. “I thought I would never meet anyone who loves me as much as my ex-boyfriend did after we broke up. But my husband loves me in ways that I sometimes can’t even imagine.” She said, her mouth curving and her eyes shining as she spoke. We were first surprised, then envious, and finally happy for her. When exchanging phone numbers, we found her phone’s keyboard background was a picture of her husband and her together! After hearing her story, I suddenly felt that there’s nothing wrong with arranged marriages after all…

The sunflowers produced seeds while I was there. I tried hard to control myself not to pick the seeds, not to disturb the tranquility of a sunflower.  [Photo from Dhamma Sukhakāri@facebook]

“Police Car” First Experience

On the last day, a cool lady offered us a ride to the town’s train station. She was tall and gentle, wearing a green shirt with Chinese characters on it. It turns out she was practicing Qigong, which amazed my friend and I. Even cooler, she worked in a prison, teaching inmates meditation. Our luggage was crammed into her small car. On the way back to the station, she drove so fast it felt like we were about to take off. The feeling of weightlessness as we went up and down hills made me grip my backpack tightly without making a sound. The lady noticed our tension and explained a bit embarrassingly, “I often drive a police car alone on duty… I’m gentler when I have passengers…” So this was the gentler version!! Luckily, the journey was not too long. Rounding up, I can also say that I’ve ridden in a police car!

After craving meat for ten days, I finally got to eat an English breakfast in Ipswich.  [Photo from Dhamma Sukhakāri@facebook]