For my birthday this year, I took inspiration from Jack Dorsey’s enlightening experience and answered an advert on Craigslist for a 10-day deluxe Vipassanā retreat.
Here is my diary documenting the experience…
I called the number on the advert and was put through to ‘Graham’. I told him I was enquiring about the advert and asked where the retreat was based. ‘Doncaster, not far from Sheffield,’ he told me, and informed me that the train tickets were not included in order to give me an enhanced poverty-stricken experience. I booked my ticket for Doncaster that very night and went to sleep in anticipation of the gloriously spiritual awakening that lay ahead.
The next day I arrived in Doncaster and Graham, my Vipassanā monk, met me at the station. He led me to the retreat, which was a modest three-bedroom terraced house he shared with his girlfriend, his ex-wife, and his five children.
My lodgings for the next 10 days were to be a small building to the back of Graham’s house, constructed of large gray bricks and a wide metal door which could be opened by sliding it upwards towards the roof. Ingenious! As I entered, I admired the brutality of my surroundings, and was struck with a sense of wonder at the assortment of abandoned materialistic goods (a rusted kettle, a cardboard box filled with X-rated DVDs, several smashed up televisions, and a Dora the Explorer BMX) all piled up in the corner as if to say ‘Fuck capitalism!’ I already knew this was going to be an incredible week. As it was already 4 p.m., Graham handed me a grubby-looking mattress and advised I ‘get some kip’. I eagerly took his advice. Already, this experience was impressively authentic. For a mere £3,500 I would be taken to meditative heights beyond my reckoning.
The next day I awoke at 5 a.m.. My back was aching and some oil from the floor had leaked into my backpack. Thankfully my iPad was unscathed. I measured my heart rate with my Apple Watch. 98bpm! Already 10 down from my usual waking heart rate. I sat on my mattress and waited for Graham to arrive and give me my itinerary for the day.
At 1:24 p.m., Graham woke me up with a can of ‘Stella Artois’ which I assumed was an energy drink. Dutifully I drank it, then I was instructed to walk to a McDonald’s located two miles away and bring back some food for his family. This was my favorite part of the experience. Handing out burgers and chicken nuggets to Graham and his children, as his girlfriend and ex-wife stood in the kitchen smoking Benson & Hedges, complaining about their neighbor’s ‘sex noises’ the previous night. When the meal was finished, I was told to wash the dishes and then walk the streets for the next few hours. I asked Graham what the purpose was for this exercise. ‘I dunno, just fuck off for a bit,’ he told me. I complied. I walked for three hours until my mind cleared, and darkness fell. When I returned to my lodgings, Graham had placed three cans of Stella Artois next to my mattress with a note explaining that they would help me sleep more deeply. He also left me a bill for £22. As I drank the unusually harsh liquid, my brain became awash with strange thoughts and visions. I eventually fell unconscious.
Upon waking at around 2 p.m., (I am unsure as my Apple Watch had somehow fallen from my wrist and gone missing), I found next to me a 24-pack of Stella and another bill for £50. As I was uncommonly thirsty, I opened one. The next eight days are a blur. I must have tapped into a primitive mindset. I only have vague recollections. Crazy images haunted my dreams. At one point I think I vomited onto a small dog or possibly a child. I seem to remember burying my own feces in a plant pot outside a restaurant.
As I slowly regained my senses, I felt a strange kind of inner peace. My head pounded with the drums of ancient tribes. My nose assaulted with the raw stench of sweat and vomit. Had I reached Nirvana? It’s possible. The time came for me to leave. I held out my hand in a friendly gesture to my Vipassanā monk, the man who had gifted me this otherworldly experience for a nominal fee. He held out his own hand and gave me a final bill for £170. I paid him and set off for the train home.
One thing that struck me before I left, Graham was wearing an Apple Watch! I never did find mine, but it was comforting to know that perhaps in some way, my own ways had also rubbed off on him a little.