Colin Zhu recently graduated our Chef’s Training Program. If you’re talking about an integrative approach to health, he’s one of those people who walks the walk. Along with his Natural Gourmet credentials, Colin is a Doctor of Osteopathy (now in his residency), a certified health coach, and a competitive runner. Colin’s latest foray took him into the realm of meditation. He recently spent 10 days at the Vipassana Meditation Center where meditation, nature, and healthy food provided the ultimate mind-body-spirit experience. Here he shares his experiences with us . . .
June 19th, 2012
I had the good fortune to attend a 10-day meditation course at the Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelbourne, Massachusetts this past week. This retreat was located on a beautiful and serene ranch enveloped by thick brush (think of the movie Bambi and you’ll know what I mean). With its aesthetic lodging, echoing meditation halls and a newly constructed pagoda, this luscious locale invites the most dedicated meditators all year round.
Nineteen-hour days are filled with ten and a half hours of pure meditation. Interspersed throughout are two meal breaks and a tea break during the dinner hour. Because not much energy is expended during meditation; there is no necessity to eat in the evening.
In addition to sitting in one place, some light walking is encouraged but that is as much you are allowed to do. “Silence is golden” is finally understood as one finds no communication from the outside world is allowed, nor between each meditator, 24/7, for ten days straight. Mental silence is dependent on this.
The all-vegan meals (with optional dairy) were what I looked forward to. For breakfast, they had oatmeal served with stewed prunes, oranges and cinnamon; Chinese congee (porridge) with marinated tamari, seaweed and Chinese pickles; assorted local and seasonal fruits; sprouted breads; and my favorite . . . millet bread topped with apricot spread.
For lunch, there were tantalizing meals, including hearty miso soup with carrots and spinach; baked marinated tempeh with tamari, ginger and cilantro; red lentil dhal and curried vegetables; and non-dairy mac and cheese with nutritional yeast, to name a few. Each meal always had a raw item; a large bowl of organic mixed romaine and red lettuce serve with chickpeas, shredded carrots and shredded beets; and homemade dressings like lemon-tahini and sunflower-tamari – everything to satisfy even the most anxious meat eater. There were also atypical condiments such as miso, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, tumeric, daikon pickles and ground flax seeds.
Interviewing the kitchen staff, I discovered the wondrous dedication of these volunteers, who simply gave their time to serve the meditators for each of these 10-day retreats. I was surprised there was no head chef, only volunteers with mixed, sometimes limited culinary backgrounds. According to staff, the original recipes followed Ayruvedic principles, wherein the four elements of earth, air, water and fire and their energies are absorbed in the act of eating, thus nourishing the meditator. Baking, steaming, sautéing were the cooking methods most commonly used; frying was the least used. Labels properly indicated the ingredients of each dish to cater to those with allergies and food sensitivities.
Attending a course like this, and having no previous experience in meditation, was like diving into Niagara Falls without knowing how to swim. However, as challenging as it was mentally, it instilled in me a sense of awareness and understanding of practical wisdom. For those who have not meditated, in its truest meaning it is mental training for the mind, especially living in today’s society. I came out wiser with the understanding of what love and compassion actually mean and the necessity to spread them to others.
Bhavatu Sabtu Mangalam (May all being be happy) – S.N. Goenkaiji
For more information on Vipassana meditation, visit: http://www.dhamma.org/