It’s Christmas morning and a bell is ringing. I feel a flicker of dread in my stomach. I’ve never been big on the festive season, but that’s not the issue. All I know is it’s 4am and I have to get up, take an ice-cold shower and prepare for 10 hours of cross-legged meditation, silence and hunger (our last meal is at 11am). The world of tinsel and turkey couldn’t be further away.
I’m in Klaten, an unexceptional town in central Java, the unlikely backdrop for my first Vipassana (“insight”) meditation retreat. Buddha brought this ancient Indian technique back into vogue 2,500 years ago. From the mid-1970s, Satya Goenka, an Indian-Burmese businessman-turned-meditation master, sparked another renaissance, establishing 120 retreat centres in 80 countries, all run entirely by donation.