In the morning I still wanted to go home. I went there in the first place because I was pretty miserable though. So despite feeling broken and battered I really didn’t know what I would do if I left. I was on vacation and everyone expected me to come back all calm and wise.
Before I decided to sit a course I wasn’t thrilled with my job, wasn’t doing much with my BFA but writing novels I never sent to anyone (if you know the Salinger short “secret goldfish” it was a lot like that). I wasn’t thrilled with much of anything I was doing. Didn’t even know why I was doing most of it.
I wanted to go the distance to see if I could learn anything. Anything would do.
I had to let go of that idea of doing it perfectly.
You have this idea when you’re there, especially when it’s your first course, that no one is having as tough a time as you. Everyone around you in the meditation hall seems still and calm and serene. You feel like you stand out. Like everyone, all these little buddhas around you, know that you have no business there. When everyone can finally talk at the end you’re amazed how many people felt the exact same way. Most everyone.
Some of the things you’re told not to do that I now knew from the assistant teacher were recommendations more than requirements I started to allow to be possibilities. The importance had shifted to both survival, and learning as much of the technique as I could. One of those things was that at a new student’s level of practice meditation should only be done indoors, in low light, with as few distractions as possible.
“Of course Gotama (Buddha) achieved enlightenment under a tree. But he had already done years of work on his concentration.”
The message was very walk-before-you-run.
After the morning gong on the 5th day I was walking back to my cabin from the bathhouse to begin meditation.
I was going to sit in my bed with my legs extended, something that was not allowed in the Meditation Hall.
I was still in a great deal of pain- my back, my shoulders, my right leg especially- everything hurt. It was still dark outside as I walked past a bench made of an old slab of wood and two tree stumps. And I just stopped, standing. Eyes open and looking at the way these two tress came together in front of me. I could just barely make them out in the dim light. Their branches formed a pentagon and I just felt okay for the first time since I got there.
It was the first moment I was really present for completely. I let go of the idea of where I was headed in the immediate future, let go of the idea of other people beginning to wake up and walk around me. I just sort of stood there looking at those two trees. I didn’t think about how long I should stay or how long I had been there. I just stood there.
My breath awareness was established at that point, but I was always so weirded out by how little space it took up. You’re only supposed to focus on your nose, but I was aware of feeling that my breath stayed just in my lungs and went thinly up to my head. The rest of my body was tension. I knew rationally oxygen had to be getting everywhere in my body, but there was a disconnect in the feeling. I felt myself contracted and protecting myself from everything around me. And I realized I couldn’t remember anything different than that.
But that morning, still so completely crushed and hardly able to believe it, I started- I don’t want to say believing.
Vipassana isn’t a belief system. It’s a physical practice. Like racquetball or juggling or making that fart noise with your hand in your armpit.
That morning there wasn’t anything left of me to make me feel better. I went to bed feeling like crap and woke up without much more going on. Maybe resignation. Or surrender. I didn’t have any of the fight or ideas of myself that I’d shown up with on Day Zero. All my old tricks were like looking at sticks and stones in the face of an oncoming modern army.
Nothing to me but breath. There were these trees. And a light breeze. And the sun slowly coming to life. And all I had was my breath. It was bizarre because there was comfort and I never would have thought to look for it there. I’d spent four days waiting for every part of my mind that I thought could make me feel happy to step forward and show me how great I could be. And nothing came of that. But breathing felt different now.
Like someone had given me all the water I could drink as I stumbled out of the desert.
I was breathing and it was all I wanted right then. I stood in that spot without the slightest movement. Without closing my eyes. Without thinking really about anything but how thankful I was for each breath I was taking. Like being spoon fed the best ice cream.
The sun came and the birds woke up and I knew I had to let go of it. As much as I wanted to stay in that one spot for the rest of the course. I had to go eat. And prepare for my day.
Meditation in the hall was still fantastically painful.
I’d started using a stool, but it was just pulverizing new parts of my body that were fresher. It gave my legs a rest, but killed my knees and ass. And the back. There’s nothing you can do for your back.
I had moments throughout the day where I could feel my pain objectively. It wasn’t as bad as everything leading up to it. You’re told that if in 10 days you experienced 2 minutes of “pure flow” it would be a start. It would be worth it. I was aware of my painful Day 5 without craving that feeling I’d known in the morning, knowing it would continue to be hard, but that reality was worth it.
I didn’t know shit about reality. Practice, practice, practice. I just kept going.