Apparently the train that I catch from Mumbai at 6am is the meditation express. I catch or talk to at least 4 other people (all women, curiously) also on their way to Igatpuri. One of them in particular arrives with a HUGE bag and happens to be sharing my berth, leaving almost no room for my feet. I get a little huffy with her and she agrees to take the top bunk since she wants to grab a nap anyway and we prop up her bag on the seat so that there is room for my legs. I then think to myself, “What a great way to start 10 days of loving kindness, with a snotty attitude over nothing.” I am sure at this point that I am a hopeless bitch that no amount of meditative peace and harmony will cure. When she wakes up I apologize and we make introductions. Her name is Shumona and she is an independent filmmaker living in Mumbai with her husband for the last several years. She was born and raised in Pennsylvania but her family is originally from the north of India, not too far from where I attended my rural wedding.
After we arrive at Igatpuri, we go through the lengthy but well organized check in process. At the point they ask me to reread and agree to the code of conduct and surrender my passport, money and cellphone, I start to get a little panicky. Especially reviewing the part that says “you must agree to stay for the entire 10 days, no matter how difficult it may become.” I overcome it and in fact go out of my way to surrender my ipod, books, all writing materials, etc. Voila! I am an empty slate, stripped of all that defines me (materially at least), ready to have the eternal words of universal harmony inscribed on my being.
After getting checked in, I meet back up with my new pal Shumona and we have a great conversation, finding a lot of points in common. We then say our farewells and head off to our respective sections for orientation. Men and women are strictly segregated on the grounds of the center to avoid the temptation to commit “sexual misconduct”. They clearly haven’t considered gay people in this equation and I am horrified to discover a fair number of good looking men in our large group. I resolve to stare at the ground for the next 10 days.
I go to the basic orientation about the rules and we begin our 10 day “Noble Silence” and head off to bed. The schedule, we are informed, involves waking up at 4am, going to bed at 9:30pm, with 10 full hours of meditation each day, broken up slightly by breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea (no dinner), and video discourses from the master himself, Goenkaji.