Feeling: THE PINE FOR A PEN
And we were onto Day One.
The gong sang out at 4am, though I’d been awake since 3.22. I was a little fretful; the hour of meditation the evening before in a simple cross-legged position had rendered me rather sore – I was a bloody yoga teacher, and I was feeling the effects of still-sitting 60minutes in, with ten days of 12 hours each to go. All those pigeons and firelogs in preparation had quite clearly not cut the condiment. So up early, I was doing some toe touches and cobra waves to strengthen the core.
Another gong song sung at 4.20am, signaling settling into meditation. You see, the morning session of 4.30-6.30 gave you the option of doing so in the meditation hall with others or to be in your own room – I had thought that Day One I would do the group thing, with every session thereafter in my room. Why on earth would I voluntarily go with all the others and have to sit up, well, up-right, when I could chill supinely on my Shakti mat and maybe even have a little snooze?
So into the hall I went, parking up my little posy.
The 6.30 gong to signal the end of the sitting came quick. Feck, that went fast, I thought – then I realised I had been asleep for a good hour and a half of it. You see, with all my travelling I have taught myself to be able to sleep sitting up, so no one would’ve known I was unconscious as I was very vertical.
Breakfast was next, buffet style. Toast and cereal and all the standards, with fruit and all such as options too. Tay and I had made a promise the night before to always sit at the same seats next to each other – not opposite, goodness no, imagine the laughs – so we plopped down in partnership alongside and ate our morning meal in complete quiet.
Well, not complete – there was the sound of cutlery clinking and chairs changing and tea being taken. But with no chatter or chit chat, it was an extremely eerie experience.And 19 more of these to get through, I thought.
Breakfast was all over at 7am, with an hour until our group sitting. And although exercise was not allowed as such, we were able to walk around the short bush track should we so wish. I did so wish, so I laced up my New Balances and went round and round and round until 10 minutes to the next sitting.
As was to follow the next nine days too, 8am-9am was a compulsory group sit in the hall, an hour in which you were not allowed to leave, and from Day Four on, nor move. From 9am to 11am the choice was there as to alone in room or collectively in the hall, followed by an 11am lunch and break until 1pm (so many round-the-bush-tracks). 1pm to 2.30 the choice, 2.30 to 3.30 as one, and again a choice as to where from 3.30 to 5pm. Tea break – and I mean that in the sense of a cup, not dinner – for an hour until 6pm, with new students allowed to partake in fruit consumption while the old students made do with lemon and honey. Then a communal meditate until 7pm, a watching of a taped discourse until 8pm, then a last-of-the-day altogether meditate 8.15 until 9pm. (And you may have realised, no dinner).
Then bed, resting up to do it all again the next. And the next. And the next times seven.
I’m quite a disciplined person, and the idea of a set schedule to conform to filled me with a bit of glee at the beginning. For the middle few days, it was fear as I began to dread the 11.30 to 1pm window (seemed to be when all my thoughts turned to self-assassination). And the last little bit, I tried not to give it much more thought beyond where I was at each and every moment – not because I had become more mindful as such (though I had to a degree), but because the idea of three more or two more or even one more day instilled me with a sense of agitation for it to all just end.
Day One breakfast had me intent on procuring a pen.
I cursed myself and my stupidity as to surrender them all. In the lunch break I searched my North Face bag in every compartment and pocket possible for a rogue writer, to no avail. So I began to look further afield.
In the dining hall I scouted around every shelf and every sill. I enviously eyed the one in our manager’s – let’s call her “K” – hand as she jotted down notes to share with our assistant teacher – hereafter, “B”. I considered the one attached to the whiteboard where notices were, well, noted each day. But I decided all the above came against the very first code of morality we had agreed to – I will not steal.
(I did have a moment in mid-morning meditation where I deeply wished I was a wizard; I pictured myself wingardium leviosa-ing a pen from the locked cupboard right into my way, and wondered if anyone would open their eyes and notice it whizzing towards me. It was only later that night I realised I had my spells mixed up – call myself an HP fan! – and it was more a case of having to accio it).
So I hatched a plan.
You see, halfway into Day One, I had started getting headaches behind my right eye. Piercing, pressurising ones, that had my eyeball aching and the pain shooting up into my brain. Being my short-sighted eye, I felt if I had my glasses at hand to have on here and there, the headaches might tone down notably.
So I asked K if there was any way I could possibly retrieve them from my valuables bag. Where – as It happened – there was also a pen.
(Just to clarify here; while we were in “silence”, both the male side and the female side each had a manager whom they could take to if any issue arose, and an assistant teacher they could ask any questions relating to meditation. So though I only talked twice to anyone else – the situation shall come – I was actually allowed to talk to K and/or B if I so needed). (And a couple of times, I did definitely so need).
It’s not a lie,I justified it to myself. You genuinely would halt those headaches if you had your glasses to act as an antidote.
K agreed, coming to retrieve me from my room in the 5pm tea break (I was in a legs-up-the-wall, sacrum-release-on-a-block position when she knocked. Have to say it, she didn’t look at all phased).
We went to the valuables cupboard and my heart pranced with potential. A pen! A PEN!! I could write as I wished, whatever I wanted. Oh 24 hours without one had been hard – but no more pining!
Or so I thought.
K watched me very closely as I retrieved my glasses case from my little pom pom bag. So much so, I realised trying to retrieve my pen would be very risky. I attempted to circle my pinky finger around it to hide beneath the glasses, but no to no avail; the glasses were out, the pom pom bag was zipped back up, and the moment had gone. (And it was a little lie in the end; my glasses weren’t even in my pom pom bag. They were – very knowingly to me – in The Pedaller’s wardrobe back in Cambridge. So I went back to my dwelling holding my aviator Quay sunnies).
Instead of taking it dejectedly however, I decided to take it in my stride and utilise other items in my room – the next nine days all I noted was in either lipstick (I didn’t see it as a waste of my Karen Murrell Sugar Rush Pink, but a necessity), foundation or mascara, all on my alarm clock instructions and back of my vegan menu sheet.
Again an hour of group med was from 6pm-7pm, then it was our first discourse in the hall.
Succinctly, let me give you a little spiel.
So Vipassana was brought to the west by a one S. N Goenka. Indian by descent, Mr Goenka was born and raised in Myanmar (Burma), and after a lengthy career in business came into contact with the Vipassana technique. Training for 14 years, Mr Goenka moved to India in 1969 and started teaching Vipassana. It started with tens, then hundreds, then thousands, attracting all people from every part of society. And very soon, people from all around the world travelled to India to learn the technique also.
Mediation centres were established under his guidance over the course of 45 years, and operate in Asia, Europe, America, Africa, Australia and – of course – New Zealand. All of which are taught through tapes of him in his hey-day, back in 1991.
It began to be that every night I would hang out for this hour of Goenka telling us tales. In the visual recordings where I could see him, he reminded me of a little Indian Opa, cross-legged in his high waisted bottle green pants and white shirt (Goenka, not Opa), so joyous and captivating and speaking so much sense. And this first night when I first saw his face, I knew I would need the nightly discourses to get me through.
In the first hour he spoke of Vipassana being like a surgical operation of the mind. Making an incision, and lots of deep rooted pus and unpleasantness seeping out before the balm was applied at the end. How things would come up about the self, in memories and moments and aftermaths, and how it would be hard.
I thought back to my 12 hours of meditation that very day. Although I was meant to be purely concentrating on the breath moving in and out of my nose, I had spent a good 70 per cent of that time trying to recall if we ever saw Jesse Pinkman’s parents again after he bought their house in Breaking Bad, analysing the scene where Big left Carrie in the atrium on their meant-to-be wedding day in Sex and the City – The Movie, and trying to work out the Battersby family tree.
Is that the depths of me? I thought, a little crestfallenly.
It became very apparent on Day Two it most definitely wasn’t. And that the first day would end up being the only one I didn’t fraughtly long to leave.
“In meditation, you withdraw from others and focus your attention inside to gain purity of mind and wisdom energy. Then you must become extroverted and use this energy. When you take a long jump, you must first take some steps backward. Then you run, and make the jump. Like this, you first withdraw, observe yourself, develop clarity and unlock the wisdom. Then you make a long jump into society, to serve society. These two steps cannot be separated.”
- S. N Goenka