I call it a half marathon because I always referred to the 10-day Vipassana course I took back in 2010 as a meditation marathon and this was technically half the time. But now that I’ve actually run a marathon, I’m reconsidering this altogether.
I’m going instead with child birth. The first one you have no idea what to prepare for. And for some it’s worse than others.
Since my first one was GODAWFUL, I thought this 4-day nonsense would be a breeze.
Yes, the second one is easier, as they say. You’ve given yourself just enough time to forget all the trouble. BUT, au contraire, mon frere, IT’S STILL CHILDBIRTH!
3.5 days and 35 hours of meditation. I hardly had a minute to fret over the silence: no books, no technology, no writing, no nada.
Just you, and, worse: YOU.
As I arrived at the meditation center on Wednesday eve, I was pleasantly surprised to walk into The Four Seasons of east coast Vipassana. Compared to the summer camp where I endured 11 days of silence and pain in Blue Ridge, VA, this was boughie.
I was greeted by a smiling face who could sense the urgency when I asked for the ladies room. She allowed me to bypass 3 lines (a big deal at this tightly run joint) and got my room number and immediately took me to my suite. I liked her instantly. In times like these, yes, a toilet is the way to my heart.
I wasn’t in the mood to be chatty at dinner. I ate in silence, awkwardly avoiding eye contact from the nice-appearing woman opposite me at my table. I was already scoping out my pillow mates, eavesdropping on their light conversation.
The characters immediately fell into place:
The Mindful Eater: She takes the smallest bites and then chews each morsel 157 times, taking in and savoring each bite. I’ve cleaned my second plate before she even finishes her salad. Watching her is kinda like watching your toddler try to figure out something on his own. At first it’s sweet and you’re really excited and then it makes you crazy and you end up just taking it from him to hurry up and do it for him instead. That’s the idea at least.
The Mindful Walker: Hands together behind the back, head bowed, eyes averted down. Who knows if she’s really contemplating or just playing the part.
The Picky Eater: It’s a vegetarian buffet, take what you get, yet the picky eater always finds a way to ration her plate into 6 little piles of stuff she just pushes around, scoffing at each bite. She will inevitably sustain off coffee and heavily buttered toast and jelly the entire sit.
The Pregnant One: She gets to do whatever she wants, whenever she wants. Everybody loves both her and the baby; no questions.
The Cute Old Lady: She is everybody’s grandma. She is tender and kind just in her presence alone. With a no nonsense attitude, we all wonder why are grandma isn’t/wasn’t this cool.
Then later …
The Lazy Meditator: At the sound of every bell she looks like she just woke up from a deep sleep. We all both love and hate this chick.
The Gassy Quartet: In a dimly lit room, with eyes closed, they are hard to identify. You only know them by the region in which they sit and the flute in their glutes.
The fidgeter: She coughs, she itches, she crackles, she pops. Even in your most compassionate state you wish you had a taser for this chick.
Even I learn my part in the end: “Mama Bear” from someone who found my restlessness endearing. In fairness, I’d describe my part more as: The Busy One.
Perhaps an avoidance tactic, I immediately assumed a job as we took our Noble Silence. Now as an “old student” we are asked–if we’re willing–to give service during our sit.
I pushed this thing around , which spat out more stuff than it picked up. Who invented this thing anyway? It sucks! Actually, it doesn’t suck at all. It stinks! I finally just found a broom and started sweeping the damn carpet.
Day 1 was mostly a breeze, I got totally cocky until I missed the damn break again. I did this in my 10-day course. We generally sit for an hour-and-a-half or two hours at a time, if you miss a bell–well, you’re mindfully fucked.
Or, at least that’s how I see it. Too stubborn for my own good half the time.
I was in the pagoda (a wing in the building where the private meditation cells are located) and pretty blissed out, really enjoying the peace and quiet. The pain in my folded knees began to tell me that we had neared time, but I’m a stickler for the bell. And nothin; I got nothin.
So I sat, and I sat; and I’ll be damned. I missed frickin tea! When you don’t eat past noon, 5 PM tea is akin to the Holy Grail. Not to mention, an hour’s opportunity to stretch.
When the bell finally rang at 6 PM, it was time to get right back down on the cushion for the group sit in the meditation hall.
I might have cried a little, like I did in VA, [cough] OK, a lot, but I actually worked through some heavy shit.
Struggling through the pain, I heard that voice for another time, “This is the pain you’ve caused others.”
It dawned on me though that, yes, I’d recognized it [the pain I caused] and accepted it all, four years ago in the throws of very similar pain … but perhaps the defilements lingered because I’d never properly forgiven myself.
So there I sat, alone in my cell: “Yes, that one. Uh huh, and that one too. Yup, oh God, that one also.”
Each person I betrayed, each cigarette I “borrowed,” each test I just so happened to see the answers for.
The whole laundry list: one by one.
When I finally stood up, using the window sill to steady my new fawn-like legs, fast asleep, I felt lighter. Freer.
And, I have to say, much less fixated on tea.
… to be continued.
I leave you with this: Run toward the pain. Blow up it’s spot.
The kindness continues … thank goodness no one took me up on that ride offer, I forgot I had smoothie spilled all over our back seat (elisa). That was fun to finger out of the seat belt well this morning after sweeping and laundry chores at 6 AM. I also came to the rescue of someone’s wiper blades when I ran over with my ice scraper. During the course I took it upon myself to rebuild all rock gardens that had fallen over (except ours had no sand and no potentially glamorous beach). Again, this was all about keeping me busy, and also about making people smile.
Kat Hurley is a transformational author, speaker and personal development coach, making over motivation @The Year of Magical Dreaming. For the full 411, visit kathurley.com, yo!