By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANIERO – Meditation is becoming an increasingly popular activity in Brazil. In a country noted for its religious diversity and famed for its frenetic metropolises, it is little wonder that Eastern meditation practices, widely acknowledged to calm the mind and improve health and well-being, are becoming increasingly appealing to urbanites and holiday-makers looking for a way to unwind. Under the rules of dharma (or righteous duty) many courses choose to operate on a donations-only basis making meditation open to all.
The Dhamma Santi Vipassana Centre is located in the rolling mountains north of metropolitan Rio, where the dramatic saw-toothed splendor of the Serra dos Órgãos gives way to the gentler crests of the Serra do Mar. Nestled in the cleft of a steep, grassy canyon lined with fruit trees and surrounded by lush, forested peaks, it is difficult to imagine a place more perfectly designed for introspection.
Vipassana meditation is a form of mental training that aims to provide insight into the true nature of the mind by observing physical sensations in the body. Originally from India, Vipassana has gone global and courses are offered in countries the world over, free of charge. The Dhamma Santi Centre in Miguel Pereira is Brazil’s only purpose built Vipassana centre, but retreats are also arranged at temporary sites in São Paulo, Planalto Central, Paraná and the North East.
Meditation is often seen as something of a ‘soft’ practice. These ten day ‘boot camps’ are anything but. Physically and mentally demanding, each day begins with a 4AM wake-up call and ends at 9:30PM after ten hours of meditation. Mobile phones, cameras, books, pens and all other sources of distraction are seized at the door and locked away for the duration. Stealing, lying and killing of any kind are prohibited, (not so difficult you might think, until you find yourself sitting on a nest of biting ants, or shut in a dormitory with a hungry mosquito!)
After an easing-in period for the first three days, students must sit for three full hours each day without moving a muscle – not to scratch an itch, relieve pins and needles, or assuage a cramping muscle. Leaving before the ten days are up is out of the question, as are eating after midday, prayers and yoga, and even having sexual thoughts. But perhaps the most challenging rule of all is the observation of noble silence – no talking, no touching, no eye contact – no communication whatsoever.
For some, the demanding schedule and battalion of rules prove too gruelling, but for those who complete the course the sense of achievement is enormous. Wholesome, vegetarian food and clean, basic accommodation are provided. Due to its popularity advance booking is essential – see www.dhamma.org for more details.
For a gentler introduction into the world of meditation, the Art of Living Foundation is an NGO whose delightful mission is to “uplift humanity by bringing peace”. They offer free, one-hour guided meditation sessions in Jacarepaguá on Wednesdays, Barra on Thursdays and Botafogo on Sundays. For exact times and locations see www.artedeviver.org.br/agenda. Alternatively, the Sivananda Centre in Botafogo offers a free meditation session at 8PM every Friday. Free classes beyond Rio state are listed at www.sahajayoga.org.br.