Feeling: A CHANGE
And just like that, it was the 10th. The days had gone by agonisingly slowly, but when it came to the last it felt like it had flown.
I went to brush my teeth after my 3.51am alarm, and came across my friend Kathrine in the bathroom; she gave me a stealthy fist pump and mouthed, “Fuck yeah!” Somehow, Goenka only knows how, we had made it to the end.
After the 4am med, we all raced down to the dining hall to see the noticeboard for the day. You see, we’d been told the schedule would differ from the preceding nine and we were all keen to know when we could finally actually acknowledge each other.
“8am – 9.45am, Group Meditation in Hall,” it said. “9.45am: Noble Silence ends.”
I sat through my last silent apples-on-apples (shoulder to shoulder with Tay) in a state of somewhat relief. I could talk. Talk! Actually converse with the peers that I hadn’t even eye-contacted for what felt like an age.
I was ready to spin some yarns.
The 8am med was walked to in a collective fizzle of ferment – everyone was hanging out to harp. I went into the hall and my eyes sought my set spot in the dimness. It’s you and me, I sent out to it. (Then realised I was actually a spot ahead of myself and actually looking at the girl-in-front’s pillow, not my own, so relocated my eyes and sent out again). And it was an hour-45 of no movement.
This time Goenka chatted to us a bit throughout, explaining a few further techniques and what not. Then the gong sung, and we were allowed to, well, be aloud.
It was weird though; I didn’t leap up and sprint on down the ramp to enthusiastically engage in chat as I thought I would. I sort of just sat a bit longer in my silence. A few more minutes for me. A little bit of self-talk and self-emboldening, before I brought my knees to my chest, stood up, and left the hall.
The rule was no speaking until you were at least at the end of the ramp; I made my way down, where a German girl was standing on her own. (Real pretty one that had super cool clothes the whole way through). I looked at her. She looked at me. And we both started to laugh. Very hard.
“I don’t even know what to say,” I said. She didn’t either. So we just laughed a bit longer. And then I went down to the dining hall.
A group of girls were sitting outside as I walked up.
“YOU!!!!!!” I got from about four of them.
“I wanted to come up and hug you SO many times!”
“I LOVE your dog pillow!”
“As soon as I saw you I knew you were going to struggle – you’re such a smiler!”
“I LOVE your dog pillow!”
“I nicknamed you ‘Nike’ because you were always going round and round and round the bush track and I would count your laps!”
“I LOVE your dog pillow!”
“You’re so disciplined! Every time I ever went to the hall, you were always there sitting so straight and into it!
“I LOVE your dog pillow!”
“One time I saw you do a sneaky run up the little hill when you thought you weren’t in view of anyone!”
“Were you patting your dog pillow?”
It was so, so, fucking so cool. We just stood and talked for about an hour. Just the funny moments we’d had, the hardship we’d hankered through, the things we’d experienced. It was incredible seeing the other females smiling and laughing – they looked completely different from the downtrodden souls I’d been witnessing the previous number of days. And to hear someone speak and realise they were German or French, or hear another talk and realise they weren’t from Germany or France was quite mind blowing.
Straight away, a little cluster of six of us instantly gravitated to each other. These are my people, suddenly shot through my mind. And then I realised aside from Tay and Kathrine, I knew none of their names so introductions were made.
From 9.45 until 2.30pm we were allowed to just hang out and relax, so we really got to know each other. I found out another few effects I’d made too: apparently one afternoon I had been giggling to myself, and had unknowingly set off a line of girls along my row to giggle too, so much so one had had to leave the room. I told another of my make-up notes, and she showed me how she had used her nail file to indent the Centre pamphlet, so she could pencil over it later and read what she’d “written”. Everyone asked if Tay and I had known each other previously, because we just seemed so in tune the whole way through (we did admit our bathroom break out to a couple of them). A couple of the girls told me how at the end of the discourse every night, they would wait for me, “the little blonde girl” to laugh as he did his hand salute. And everyone, I mean EVERYONE, came to tell me how much they loved my dog pillow.
(The woman who I had asked if she was ok the few days before also came up to me and wrapped me in a big hug. “I wanted to do this the whole time,” she said, cutting over my apologies for attempting to talk to her. That made me feel really peaceful, as I had been worried at what she might say to me).
Life felt lighter. The extreme hurt and anguish and sorrow that had been swirling nonstop through me seemed to halt as happiness and laughter flowed on in. I realised how fucking lonely I’d been with no one to get silly or discuss things with, and how much I’d missed general interactions. How nice it was to chatter as we ate, instead of hearing nothing but clinks of cutlery.
Meditation from 2.30pm to 3.30 was a breeze; even though we weren’t able to verbalise in the hall, there were many a grin given and smile sent. I was sitting next to my new friend Jackie – one of the many who loved the Otto pillow – so I placed it between us to share.
And then it was another break, a little meeting about the following day and chatter time until 6pm – this time with dinner allowed for those who wanted it.
In the group non-moving med at 6pm, I found myself go funny again. Those momentarily muted feelings when with others came shooting back up as soon as I was silent. I found myself – so desperately wanting to talk to the outside world the entire time – suddenly scared to be back in touch with my everyday life. Goenka couldn’t calm me in his discerning discourse, and I was about to go to bed all antsy – until I crossed Kathrine and Jackie in the bathroom, and we stayed up having long, fun chats about nothing and everything.
November 11 – Release Day.
The 4.30am meditation was mandatory on this morning, as we were to learn to final aspect of Vipassana for our course – Metta.
Goenka explained via voiceover how at the end of every meditation session (advised to continue an hour in the morning and again at night upon getting back into the real world), one was to take five minutes to practice Metta – that being radiating out benevolence, loving kindness, amity, good will and good intentions for all others.
I got really emotional. My throat felt all constricted as the guilt swelled up and stuck there. But then suddenly, this massive sense of serenity came over me and three phrases came clear in my mind: I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you.
I started out with certain people close to my life that I had both knowingly to them and unknowingly to them, hurt. Then it moved into people from the past, not necessarily in my life anymore. Then suddenly, I wasn’t seeking out people; they were coming to me thick and fast. People I’d upset in a minor way, some in a more major, people I hadn’t thought of in years. It would’ve been about 200 people I apologised to by the time Goenka spoke again to move onto the next aspect – amazingly so, right at the point I had just finished “saying”, I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you, to myself. (After about three people came over to me after and asked if I was ok – apparently I had had tears in torrents down my face, but I hadn’t even noticed).
And even more amazingly, he then started talking of the exact same thing, of asking for others to forgive and to forgive others, exactly as I had just been doing.
The final chanting came (as we moved into our last few moments, a man from the other side let out a massive fart and it took everything I had to contain a significant chortle) and then we were at the full completion and aloud to leave.
My heart was quite honestly hammering in my chest. I was scared, oh so scared, to be reconnected with my life – all these bad scenarios and states were circulating my consciousness. We all lined up in the dining hall to get our valuables back, and while everyone else had breakfast I took my pom-pom bag and discreetly slipped off down the driveway.
After a quick hug and hi to Gemmy (“I’m SO sorry I lied to you!”) I carried on down the long lane and beyond to find those bars of bringing me back to it on my phone. The panic was rising and almost overtaking, when suddenly (always seems to be suddenly, doesn’t it?) an absolute oasis of calm came over me – What will be will be. And then without waiting for any messages to come through, I dialled up The Pedaller.
He very sleepily answered, and I realised it was only just 6.30am. Hearing his voice made me burst into tears – I was just so happy he was there, alive and well (though still a little asleep), and I had a quick five-minute natter to him before the reception went and the connection was lost.
I was absolutely fucking elated. And felt so stupid for my ridiculousness of thoughts the last ten days.
I went back up the driveway (another hug with Gemmy) and rejoined my girls. It was clean-up time; the day before we had been encouraged to sign up to a certain area, and me being me I had lassoed another four of my new girl gang into scouring the top bathroom.
We chatted as we worked, lots of laughing and lightheartness. I looked at the job list and thought of what would be the worst job to do, with me and another putting our hands up to clean the toilets. Actually not too awful, we did the seven stalls quite quick, and I chose another that would definitely be classed as the most disgusting – emptying the sanitary bins.
My word, I cannot put across how virtuous I felt after vacating those vats.
Then it was bags in the car, goodbyes and hugs all round, and Tay, Lucia and I heading off to St Helliers, Jackie following behind in her car for a quick coffee stop off on the way.
After a wrong turn, being caught up in a cycling race and a ride out in the whops, we pulled over at a café (not open, but no matter) and called some significants. I hustled a hello to Papa Henio, rung a happy-to-hear-from-me Mummy Dee Dub, and again got through to The Pedaller. My phone buzzed with notifications of many messages and emails and all such lark, but no part of me at all wanted to read in and reply – I wasn’t ready at all for it.
The day before, Tay, Lucia and I had discussed how glorious it would be to go to the beach. Sit in the sand, listen to the waves, even more so to be there at 11.11am (on the 11thof the 11th). So we carried on our way over the Harbour Bridge.
The joy that we had all experienced on leaving the Centre suddenly (again with the suddenness!) gave way to subduedness. We all sort of sunk into a little silence (you’d think we would’ve had enough of that), commenting here and there on how weird we felt. When we got to the beach, the busy-ness of it was a little beating, so afar 11.11 came (I tried to get a screenshot of the lock screen and its four 11s, but just as I pressed it clicked over to 11.12, of fucking course) we got back in Gemmy and carried on. (Honestly though, we must’ve looked like we’d had a really hard weekend at a festival or something – everyone kept staring at us in our hippie-ish clothes and our vacant expressions, obviously thinking we’d been on a big bender).
We went to the supermarket to get a few bits and pieces, and I tell you what – that place was horrendous. Everyone was so hurried and harried and harassed-looking; it was so loud and blaring and bright and beeping. I actually ended up saying to the girls that I’d meet them outside because it was a bit too much for me in my state.
After they had a fuel at, well, Burger Fuel, and we had some good, deep yarns, I dropped them at the airport and then I carried on my merry way home.
And here we are, three weeks on to the day.
I waited to post this fourth part; I felt a week on from it and me claiming I was a changed person was a bit premature. But three weeks after its ending I feel is long enough for those little shifts in myself to be claimed as actual amendments.
First, the physical stuff: I got lots of comments on how much darker my hair turned in those ten days. When I went in it was very much blonde, but on leaving it was most definitely a lot more brown. And as a nail biter since the tender age of six, I have only ever grown them out once – four weeks, the first time I went to India. But during the course I noted I hadn’t bitten any of my nails at all, and I’m proudly pleased to say they could actually be classed as long still (except my thumbs. I wrenched those bad boys off in a mindless state the other day. But the other eight are still elongated).
I was talking to my pal Paul about it, and he gave an interesting take on why he thought it might be the case; what with all that intensified concentration on the finger tips and the crown of the head, much, much energy is being sent to those areas, meaning stimulated growth and what not. So my lengthy nails and bountiful natural balayage makes sense to be so significant.
Also, I lost my voice two days after getting home. And since then, my voice has changed its pitch a little and it gets raspy easily when I’ve talked more. Though I don’t think I am as much – in the first fortnight back, one of my flatmates asked me multiple times if I was all right as I “seem much quieter and have softened quite a bit”.
And on a more mental, internal level?
Before going to Vipassana, a woman had told me I would spend a lot of my time questioning my life, what I was doing and where I was going. But for me it was most definitely not the case; if anything, it absolutely solidified my belief I am moving in the direction that I am meant to and that I want to go. There was no doubt at all about what I’m doing in regards to career and personal life choices – it only made me all the more sure.
No. Vipassana for me wasn’t going in with any questions or expectations – the only want I had was the wish to learn to sit with myself. For me, it was about what came up with being in that secluded state and my all-encompassing thing was guilt and a fair bit of self-hatred for a good portion of the time there.
There were a good number of realisations, many that I will not share as they will remain in my knowledge only. But one was my relationship with alcohol – I decided that for a while, no time on it but for a while, I wouldn’t drink any. I realised that for me, alcohol is a synthetic sensation of high and harmony, where I want to find that within myself and not from an external source. And further, I tend to get a bit reckless when on the wines, so decided that if I was to consume alcohol it would now only be in environments where I felt “safe” from turning into the Wild One.
I really loved the philosophy behind Vipassana because it is nothing of a sectarian or religious nature – it is purely about learning to control the mind, for anyone, irrespective of race, faith or nationality. Furthermore, the whole concept is run on a donation basis, meaning you are already paid for – whatever monetary amount you gift goes into paying for future students to come and experience it. And there is no judgment at all about what you give – if you can afford more, you give more; if you’re a bit strapped, you give what you can and no one belittles you for it.
I rate that.
There have most definitely been some deep subtle shifts in me. I find things don’t ruffle me as much as before. It’s almost like I take a pause before reacting to something. I feel I’m not as impatient or not as affected and sensitive, which is quite massive for me. A situation occurred a few days after I got back and rather than get upset inside like I usually would, I almost completely impartially came to a conclusion without involving my emotion. And it felt so good.
I haven’t used my diary since October 31. So intense with my scheduling that I would even put times in for showering and shaving my legs, I decided it was over-organisation to the point of crippling. So instead, I had a wall planner behind my door that notes things that aren’t routine or a weekly “always” and just look at it in the morning. If something is of great importance to remember, I may write it on my hand. And if not, and I forget to do it, I put it across for the next day. It’s so freeing and refreshing and my days feel so much longer. It took me five days to read through and respond to all my messages and emails when I returned, and even now I don’t find myself feeling the intense need to reply to things straight away, but rather leaving them until it suits me better and I can do a more decent response.
I ended up doing 15.5 out of the 17 non-moving sit sessions without moving. And now I believe I really do Experience Sensations Equanimously – when I am aware of it. The other day I scrapped my whole leg down a rusty nail and rather than let in to the sensation of pain, I just observed it and it didn’t hurt. It was weird, and a bit surreal, but it was actually quite incredible to realise I could do it.
Goenka always talked of how people can study meditation, know the ins and outs of it, know all the theories and philosophies and book stuff, but that’s just intellectual wisdom – it’s not the experiential wisdom you need to really and truly know. And I realised that’s what I am with a lot of my life – knowing the academia behind things, but not necessarily practicing as I praise. I’ve always raved on about how being mindful and aware and all such sorts are vital for living a kind and happy life, but until I actually did Vipassana myself, I had not experienced it to actually feel and know it.
Have I kept up my meditation? Well, for the first week I got up at 5am each day and did an hour. Then it slipped back to 20, and three times. This last week I’ve probably had about two ten-minutes at it – but rather than feel guilty as I would’ve before, I told myself need to change things a bit to ensure I can get it in. If an hour in the morning means a much earlier night or a shortened cardio session, so be it – I know for me, exercising my mind is more important than getting that 60 minutes of exercising my body each and every day in.
A friend told me of a friend-of-a-friend’s-aunty, who on returning from her ten-day course, slept in a tent in the backyard for a week. “I bet I shall be the same!” I said in response before I left. “But I won’t even have the tent. I will weather whatever, um, weather, comes my way under the bare sky.”
It wasn’t quite the case – although I did sleep on the floor the first night back, the influences on me haven’t been quite so overt. They’re much more inside myself, and here and there I catch myself doing or not doing something and am a bit in awe when I realise it’s not how I would’ve used to.
I feel I have changed. And I want to keep that going. So I have decided that I shall do everything in my power to do Vipassana as a yearly thing, be it in New Zealand or overseas. Next year I’m looking at Tibet or Nepal as the place, maybe even both,
When I say Vipassana was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, I really mean it. I have accomplished some physical stuff like yoga training and Base Camp and such lark, and other more mental-engagements like my hard-out self at Uni. But those ten-days of silence, seclusion and self-dwelling was beyond anything, and to have completed it has made me realise that I am pretty fucking strong in my mind.
I feel here it kind of deserves some sort of profound statement to end on. But I don’t really have anything – although it has been profound in my person, I just don’t have the same to portray in words. It’s just chilled me out a bit, I feel a hell of a lot more harmonious and in that respect, the pressure isn’t there to put out something powerful.
So rather, I think I’m just going to say that I now really, really know myself, how I am and how I work.
(And actually, that’s pretty fucking powerful in itself).
“Work diligently. Diligently. Work patiently and persistently. Patiently and persistently. And you’re bound to be successful. Bound to be successful.”
- S. N. Goenka
“The consequences of today are determined by the actions of the past. To change your future, alter your decisions today.”
- S. N. Goenka