Feeling: SENSATIONAL – BUT NOT IN A FEEL-GOOD WAY
Day Two dawned as did Day One. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to go through each day bit by bit; rather, just a little insight or major-ish moment or twinkling of truth that I can recall from my lipstick notings).
I spent the 4.30 to 6.30am session making up a yoga class in my head, subtly going through little movements to see if they worked. I was pleased to come up with a pearler sequence, and found myself only slightly distraught upon realising my lipstick wouldn’t get too far on writing it out.
No matter, I told myself. The first challenge is remembering it to write upon getting out of here.
Breakfast as per the daily, then the gong sounded for out 8am group sit in the hall. Goenka instructed us that rather than focus on just the breath, we were to focus on the triangular area from the nose to the base of the top lip – so I did that for about a minute-and-a-half then gave way to my monkey mind.
Being a bit cooler (in temp, not myself, may I clarify), I had my baby blue fleece blanket wound around me, head and all. It shot me back to memories of nativity plays at school, where I somehow always ended up playing Mary, blue tea towel swaddling my head. Then I had a clear as quartz recollection of year 2, Mrs Belcher’s class, where one Christmas I got given the part of head sheep (was there actually a head sheep at the birth of Jesus?) at the feet of the three wise men.
I was intent on being the slickest sheep out. I appropriated a sheepskin mat thing from my Nanna’s house and belted it around my midriff for the opening night (on the verandah of the intermediate block back at Our Lady of the Rosary Primary School, Lower Hutt). I thought I was hot shit. No one was more sheep-like than me, certainly not the other two to the side who had half-hearted wool ensembles. And thinking of my sheepskin-wrapped, six-year-old self back in 1997 prompted my blanket enfolded, 22-year-old (ok ok, 27) self in 2018 to break out in giggles.
Seriously, if you’ve ever had to not laugh at a time it was really not appropriate to laugh, you’ll feel my tribulation. I was fully heaving in hilarity, the image of myself nestling up to baby Jesus (a Baby Born wrapped in a tea towel) becoming all the more delineated as I tried to push it from my mind. It was an absolute ordeal keeping it together, but I managed to until the 9am gong sound signaling a 10-minute reprieve.
Splashing some water on my face I settled myself down, and returned to the hall for the two-hour sit until 11.
I think my subconscious self knew stuff was about to turn to shit, and was giving me a bit of light heartedness before I moved into melancholy. Because at about 9.25am or so, I was consumed by culpability.
The guilt had arrived.
Big things. Little things. Minor things and major things. Things from long ago, things from recent times. All coming at me hard and fast, bombarding me and blitzing me like hail in a, well, hail storm. Remember this? My mind said. Remember that? Remember that time you put a note in Macy’s** desk telling her she needed to wear deodorant when you were 12? Or when you harried that girl that owed you 50cents because you wanted a Moosie? (To clarify; Moosies at the Baradene tuck shop were $1, and 50cents meant being able to halve one with my bestie Meilissa). Remember that time? Remember this? And fuck girl, do you remember THAT?
Oh please, I begged to any higher power that could possibly be. Please oh please take me back to Jesse Pinkman’s parents.
But to no avail. It was at this moment that I found out that what doesn’t sit with you figuratively doesn’t sit well with you literally either.
That lunch break I put on my New Balances and went round and round and round and round the bush track (when we could speak again, one of the girls said to me, “There was one day where you were dressed completely in black and were walking so fast you were almost running. I thought, something has definitely set her off today.” Amen sister).
And I found my need for a pen had completely dissipated, reforming instead for an intense need for The Pedaller.
Now, I’m not what I’d call a needy girlfriend. Now and again there is the whole, “I can see you’re online, stop looking at cars on marketplace and reply to my message” sort of thing, but for the most part I’m pretty chill. What with me going away and him always off riding his bike we are used to bouts apart, and we never stop each other from going off to pursue our passions (as long as they don’t involve other people, of course. I’ll just clarify that in case it sounds like we encourage the willy-nilly). But at this point in time, when anxiety and apprehension and all things A were rising like the tide in myself, I had this overwhelming yearning to just be with him NOW.
And this remained a consistent sense throughout the rest of my incarceration – sorry, stay.
In the case of all things honesty, a couple of times I did try to telepathically communicate with him. Reggie, I’d powerfully put out, picturing him in his shed working on his car, If you can hear this, ring the centre, make up an excuse and get me out of here. (Upon being reunited I asked him if he at any time could “feel” me talking to him; “Nah mate,” he said. “Obviously the wind wasn’t blowing all the way down to Waipuk.” I was a little disappointed because I’d flirted with the idea of becoming an extrasensory and parapsychological person, and this put paid to that pipe dream).
The rest of the afternoon I found myself just hanging out for the nightly discourse and hearing my Indian Opa. I found his explaining of things and subsequent enlightening of myself gave me the drive and motivation to feel I could do the ten days. It worked, he calmed me down, and I went to bed a little less frazzled.
Day Three: it was a different story.
Anxiety absolutely enveloped me from dawn (well, before so really) to well after dusk. The whole day it was a case of unease, from eating my stewed apple atop sliced apple for breakfast, to even after getting the go from my mate Goenka at night. Guilt and onus and remorse and self-reproach came in more fucking full-on flows than ebbs, and it seemed endless. It was here I decided the hall to meditate was now my only option, as being in my room was just too much for myself.
Plus, in the afternoon in the voiceover instructions, Goenka informed us that tomorrow, Day Four, would be when we actually started Vipassana meditation.
What the FUCK have we been doing for the past three days? I fumed, seeing that same infuriation mirrored on the faces on my first-time peers (not that I was looking, of course).
Right, I said to myself as I got into bed at 9.07pm. You can’t leave at four days. But completing five is respectable – it’s halfway. Better yet; six is your favourite number! So if you did a full Day Five, packed that night, did the two-hour med on the morning of Day Six, you could be out by 6.45am, on the road with a stop in at Cambridge to get your laptop, then on the way to Hawke’s Bay and The Pedaller. Beauty, plan. Set. And anyway, you can’t leave just yet – you haven’t worn your new skirt yet.
So Day Four I told myself to just try and keep it together. Two more breakfasts, two more lunches, two more afternoon breaks where I usually had a bit of a breakdown (Day Four’s was overcome by sitting on my bed after my bush walk rounds and plucking every single hair out of my left leg, while replaying the the court scene from Legally Blonde in my head. Hey, I was taking whatever worked).
And it was the day in which the no-movement started.
I don’t discuss the Vipassana technique in too much detail through these lengthy and often irking yarns, partly because I feel I wouldn’t be able to do it its deserved justice, and also as I feel it should be explained by an actual Vipassana teacher. But just a little bit to edify why you are instructed to sit still even though it’s stupendously sore after 20 minutes.
So a massive make-up of Vipassana is the idea of sensations. How at all times, absolutely all times, our subconscious self is working with and reacting to these sensations, while our conscious mind remains unawares until it becomes gross and intensified. In becoming gross and intensified, we react with aversion, or if it is pleasant and feels good, we react with craving and longing for more. It is these two sensations that come up in everyday life and prompt the making of Sankara – that being mental dispositions and habit patterns. When we sit with these sensations and do not react we realise the law of nature, being impermanence, and as we learn to remain equanimous – equanimous, equanimous, equanimous. In doing so, our deep Sankara arise and settle as gross, intensified sensations before they are eradicated. We also learn to know the areas of our body that sit in blind sensation, and concentrate on taking the energy throughout the body so there is subtle sensation everywhere.
So the three one-hour group sittings each day, from Day Four, were to now be three one-hour sittings of non-movement. However you chose to sit at the start was how you were to be at the end, with no opening of the legs, the hands or the eyes. And on Day Four, we had two hours in a row to kick it off.
It was one of the most excruciating things I have ever experienced. I wasn’t sad at all, but as I body scanned from the crown of my head to the tips of my toes, I had tears absolutely rivering down my face. I have to admit I did have two position shifts throughout the 120 minutes (cross-legged through to on the knees, which remained from then on my posture of choice), and when the gong sung there was a collective sigh of absolute relief from all around.
It was at this point that I hadn’t spoken aloud to anyone but K when trying to hustle my “glasses” or when she caught me having a little cry and asked if I was ok, or B when she called a couple of us at a time to the front of the room to check on our progress. Although there had been a couple of instances on the bush walk track where sneaky smiles were sort of exchanged (eye contact very, very fleeting and more a case of smiling at the ground rather than each other), I had been with no one but myself for four days. (There was one point where I was extremely tempted to pipe up; my Birkys made a loud squelching sound as a group of us walked to the hall one night, and I was fraught in wanting to tell all around that it was my shoes making the noise, not myself. But I couldn’t, and for the next few hours I was slightly stressed thinking others might have thought otherwise).
I can totally understand why solitary confinement is seen as a punishment for those having committed serious crimes. Honestly, that being with no one bar your own thoughts is fucking severe and comes into self-castigating. And it is so intensely lonely.
In the afternoon session (one we were able to move in) I heard a girl a few rows behind me give out a little anguished sound. That’s Tay, I recognised. The sound gave way to a little cry, then a weep, then an all-out sobbing. And it absolutely broke my heart.
The yen to get up and go to her was so strong, but I knew it would be completely cut off by K. I heard Tay get up and leave the room, and I peeked under my eyelid to see K follow her out (honestly, that woman moves with no sound. Unlike myself and my scuffing, door banging tendencies).
Five minutes later K returned, but Tay did not. I had this sense that she would be in the up-top bathroom, so I quietly (as I could, but there was still a good scuff in there) left, put on my squelchy Birks and made my way to meet her.
She was washing her face, so I stood next to her. Our eyes met in the mirror.
“Look, I don’t give a fuck about keeping quiet right now,” I said. “Are you ok?”
The next thirty seconds were such a relief and release. We had a frenzied, whispered discussion about how hard it was and how from now on we would eat breakfast and lunch outside.
“I’ve wanted to leave pretty much every day since the second,” I admitted to her.
“You can’t!” she said. “You said you’d take me to the airport, so you have to stay.”
Feck it, I thought. If I do leave now, the guilt will only grow.
But Day Five arrived and I was in glee as I ate my stewed apple atop sliced apple, smug in the surety that it was my last silent breakfast.
The morning somewhat breezed by – though the guilt kept coming up like vomit, I told it to feck right off. I’m out of here in the morning, I told myself. Oooooooo, I could even go to Wellington and see my Aunty Rose for a few days, then head up to Waiterere and see Sas and the kids at the beach! It’ll be like an unexpected holiday.
In the afternoon breaks, B was available to see in a five-minute slot to ask any questions relating to meditation. I booked in for 12.30 and quite contently made my way to the little interview room to tell her my proclamation.
First I asked two questions; what was actually considered the crown of the head (Goenka had said, “Where babies have no bones” which confused me as in yoga teacher training, I learnt this to be more on the frontal part above the forehead), and then if his chanting was in Pali or in Hindi (“A mix,” she said).
“And now I have a statement,” I said. “I have this really deep, gut sense that there’s somewhere else I’m meant to be. Not like, ‘Somewhere else I’m meant to be’ in a transcendent way,” – I had to clarify, accompanied by waving hands to further explain – “but in a physical way. There’s somewhere else I should be right now, so I am going to leave in the morning.”
“You’re exactly where you’re meant to be,” she responded calmly and tranquilly and all things composed. “It’s your mind telling you things to run away. But you are exactly where you’re meant to be.”
Well, feck. That put paid to my leaving plans.
After a brief chat I left, feeling absolutely gutted to the core. Fuck, it’s not as easy as just going. I thought. I think I may be here for the full ten days now.
The 2.30 gong sounded for the non-moving group med in the hall. I honestly have no idea how I kept it together to set up on my spot, settle onto my cushions (now numbering six) and close my eyes to start scanning. All I know is that ten minutes later, a burble of desolation arose and I had to get out of there. So I got up and gapped it.
As soon as I reached outside air, I sat on the ground next to my squelchy Birks and started to cry.
Absolute ran-sacking sobs that shuddered my whole body. I’m not much of a crier at any given time, but this was like when Hunny Bunny died combined with when Bampga passed to when I got my first (and only, can I say) C plus at Uni.
I knew I should get off the ground and retire to my room but I physically couldn’t move. Like genuinely just couldn’t get up. It was like all this heartache and pain was cascading up from my core and overtaking all sense of functioning. This is exactly where I’m meant to be.
I heard my name and looked down the ramp to see B standing there, gesturing to me to go with her. Somehow I managed to get up and follow her to her little room, where I sat on a cushion and just cried.
And cried. And cried.
After about five minutes I quietened a bit and she got me to breathe with her. My first inhale wasn’t overly clear (a lot of snot had lodged in the noseholes – sorry, nostrils – so I had to grab a tissue and have a big blow which got us laughing). Then I had enough composure to talk.
And I talked. Honestly and completely and answering any questions she sent my way. The first time I said a lot of it out loud, it felt freeing. But it also made it all feel real.
(Sorry, the subject matter is most definitely not going to be shared!!).
And then B talked. Calmly and tranquilly and all things composed. She talked with rational (which I most definitely had none of at that stage), love and a whole load of sense. How that this was a storm, my mind dredging things up, and that although it was hard to face, that other storms would still come. But that it was a good thing, how it was dealing with stuff rather than pushing it away, and it needed to happen otherwise it would in a big explosive bang at a later date.
“A good way to deal when things arise is to do as Goenka says and stay with the sensations,” she said. “Go to the crown on the head” (now clear where this was) “the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet, concentrate on those areas and eradicate those Sankara.”
And she said a calm, tranquil, composed but very firm no to my request to just call The Pedaller to say hi.
“It will take you out of the course,” she said. “You are here. Be here.”
I managed to do the second two hour sits of the day with no movement at all, keeping my mind exactly where it was meant to be (whenever it went to Elle annihilating Chutney in the courtroom I bought it back to the moment of “here”).
And after the last-of-the-day sit, I found myself at the sink doing some hurried handwashing. With the idea set I was going to be out the next morning, I hadn’t bothered doing any. Now I was staying, we needed some clean tops.
Feck it, I thought. Equanimously.
“We cannot live in the past; it is gone. Nor can we live in the future; it is forever beyond our grasp. We can live only in the present. If we are unaware of our present actions, we are condemned to repeating the mistakes of the past and can never succeed in attaining our dreams for the future.”
- S. N. Goenka
“The mind spends most of the time lost in fantasies and illusions, reliving pleasant or unpleasant experiences and anticipating the future with eagerness or fear. While lost in such cravings or aversions, we are unaware of what is happening now, what we are doing now.”
- S. N. Goenka