4:00 am: Morning wake-up bell
As literal as it is, they have a traditional "Gong" situated right outside our room where we sleep. This would be rung in the morning, and trust me, this works better than any sort of digital alarm clock you use back home. Unlimited snooze, and you'll find people waking up, some wearily from the lack of sleep, body's still adapting, some very energetic, jumping up, making their bed.
4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
Due to my insomnia, I usually meditate in my room since sometimes I am going through the day with severe lack of sleep. But I'll go to the hall sometimes. It took me afew days to start going to the hall! By this time, my stomach's grumbling, waiting for breakfast.
6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break
Breakfast time! There are 2 stations for breakfast, the ones in the front and the ones in the bad. You'll have to queue up and the volunteers would be toasting the bread while you can choose a wide array of spread to go with. There are tea, milo and coffee at the end of the long table with a hot water dispenser.
At the back station it's mostly cooked food; think bee hoon and porridge. I usually just go for bread and I'll make lots of them because I find myself getting hungry at 10. There would be a clipboard near the canteen, at the side where you would write down your name if you have some question with the teacher. Do also note that this is the only time you can talk (if you have queries to raise).
Seats are assigned, so we have to sit at the designated seat and not move around. After breakfast, I'll personally go for a walk, I'll get some sea breeze, and I'll do my singalong when no one's watching. It's a huge compound, so we have ample space for privacy. Sometimes I'll watch some birds, even though they can barely be seen. I try not to do that too much, I'm afraid that the bird might poop on me.
[8:00-9:00] Group meditation in the hall
This is our first major session, the teacher would play the clip and we would be doing a 1 hour guided meditation by S.N. Goenka. It's also one of my favourite session because I like to kick start my day feeling fresh. And my head is nodoubt clearer in the morning despite being a nocturnal creature of habit.
[9:00-11:00] Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher's instructions
We can choose to stay in the hall or return to our room. I'll usually go for a walk, a toilet break and head back to the hall. I'm here to learn and to meditate, so I want to spend as much time as possible honing the craft. I'll however usually stay until around 10.30-10.45 before getting myself prepared for lunch.
[11:00-12:00] Lunch break
There is only one station (at the back), for lunch. We would get our rice first and usually there are 3-4 dishes to choose from; all vegetarian. I usually try to eat everything, but I'll take note not to take so much. There are several instances where some students took alot without considering the others who haven't taken their food and we have a lack of food. The volunteers have to semi sacrifice and probably they ate bread for lunch. I was kinda pissed.
[12-13:00] Rest and interviews with the teacher
Remember the clipboard that we get to write our name? At 12pm you'll see a line forming outside the main hall where the teacher would answer our queries. I'll sometimes take this chance to bombard my teacher with questions. I'll sneakily write the questions on my hand and ask him, to which he'll laugh and said I'm too curious and asked too much. He always ask me to be patient and focus.
(If i dont have any question to ask him, sometimes I'll walk about, other times I'll do laundry, take a shower and lay in bed)
[13:00-14:30] Meditate in the hall or in your room
This is a huge buffer period as usually the teacher session would overrun. We would be in our room like kids since the hall might not be available (depending). I'll try to meditate, but perhaps its the lunch; I'll feel sleepy. Sometimes I'll doze off in an enlightened state of meditation.
[14:30-15:30] Group meditation in the hall
By 2, usually, we would be gestured to go to the hall. Most of us would gather and head towards the hall alittle earlier. We would be seated by 2.30, and this would be a guided meditation as we sit. The guided meditation would spend around 5 minutes briefing us what to do before letting us try it.
15:30-17:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher's instructions
This is the time where most students decided to slack off. You can see a lot of them leaving the moment the clock strick 3.30, even before our guided meditation said we can leave via the radio. I'll try to sit for as long as I can, but even I am no expert. Usually, I'll leave around 4.30, to do some stretching and to walkabout. By the time I leave, I was so surprised that there are only less than 3-5 students left including me.
[17:00-18:00] Tea break
My favourite time! This signifies the (almost) end of the day and a break after around 4 hours of meditation. Mind you, it is very tiring to not think about anything afterall.
For second timers, they would have to fast, for first timer we can help ourselves to drinks or a slice of fruit. Usually I'll down alot of water with the fruit to make me more bloated and full. On the 3rd day, I realize they put out the Milo powder, and I sneakily started taking a bowl of it (without making the liquid itself) and starts chewing Milo powder. I was laughing hysterically at myself like a drug addict with my teeth full of Milo stains. I feel like a God, I thought I found a "cheat code" to beat the hunger at night. I think I must have been caught because they stop putting out the milo can on the 5th day. I was devastated.
[18:00-19:00] Group meditation in the hall
Back to "work", I'm usually more energized right now after a meal. I'll be more cheerful since the day is going to end!
[19:00-20:15] Teacher's Discourse in the hall]
We will line up and walk towards the lesson room. This felt like when we're in primary school, as we are supposed to walk down the whole compound in single file. We'll all grab whatever seat that is available and we will watch the video where S.N. Goenka debrief us, leaving us with some food for thoughts. It's always nice to revisit these thoughts. After that, we would walk back, go for a toilet break if needed and do our last meditation session before calling it a day.
[20:15-21:00] Group meditation in the hall]
This is the shortest meditation time block and 45 minutes is a walk in the park. By this time you can see some students running out of patience as they are shaking their legs while folded, moving around, checking the time, some sighing as if it'll help the time move faster.
[21:00-21:30] Question time in the hall
I'm one of the first few "Kiasu" (afraid to lose out in Hokkien) students, so mostly I'll take this time to run off and head to the showers first since I don't have a question. A lot of students like to loiter around so it is good for me since we only have around 3 showers to go around. I'll always get done, ASAP, brush my teeth and be prepared to bed even before lights out.
I work the same way during my army time, so this is the part where I realize I have the MOST discipline in.
[21:30] Retire to your own room--Lights out
Usually, I'll be flipping around trying to sleep. Sometimes I'll wake up multiple times, but I'm glad to just stay in bed even though the mattress is no thicker than a double cheeseburger. It can be quite hard to sleep in, but that's why we're here to learn and grow. But I'll be hungry most of the time. I have to be very honest that I contemplated stealing food if I can't take it, but thank God I didn't. I would imagine myself eating a huge meal of Mcdonald's as I chew onto air and slowly drift into slumber.
Within my Singapore collection, one of my experiences is attending a Vipassana Meditation Retreat. It was quite intense, nothing like a vacation, but it was one of the best things that happened to me that I'll like to share.