I didn’t leave my cabin during the 4:30 to 6:30 time slot. In the past couple days of “going easy on myself” I’d sat in bed, or leaned against the wall to support my back, or stood even. From 4:30 to 5:30 I felt like I got a decent meditation in. Not quite as focused as in the hall, but good.
There were distractions- sounds mostly. Birds and the things that go crackle and bump in the woods. And the room with just me had less weight. A room full of meditators has this density. All psychological I’m sure, but when you meditate with a bunch of people you feel like gravity is altered somehow.
But I sat and kept still, even if it was cushioned.
The problem was that 5:30 to 6:30 slot. 9 times out of 10 I’d get really relaxed and because I wasn’t in a position of great pain I would start to nod off. And feel bad about it. And start the practice again.
The morning of the seventh I had an amazing 4:30 to 5:30 and got up to go to the bathroom. When I got back from the bathhouse I felt pretty happy with my hour and decided to not meditate. To just relax in bed and save my energy for the 8 AM group sit.
I lay down and just observed my breath for about half an hour and then drifted off into a very light sleep. I woke at the breakfast gong and felt really fresh. I ate almost nothing and had two sips of tea and walked around our yard for an hour waiting for the gong for 8 AM, but also really liking that I had time to just walk. And not think. Just breathe.
The 8 o’clock group sit was great for me. The previous days the 8 AM had been one of the more frustrating. I felt stiff as hell and all of my problematic areas still groaned, but that hour of meditation, about ten minutes into it maybe, I felt again that calm and objectivity of the morning of the fifth. I even realized in a sort of “holy crap I’m doing it” sort of way, but it didn’t get my heart rate up. I could feel the grin spreading across my face, but I was okay with it possibly just being a flash in the pan.
This is what an hour of meditation looked like for me (I had a pattern that turned out to be pretty common):
First 30 minutes:
Good. I may have discomfort, but I can handle it. It may distract me, but I’m able to keep returning patiently to the practice of observing the sensations from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.
The 30 to 45 minute span:
Gravity does its thing. I start to feel more aware of the pain and my practice becomes less important. Or rather, more difficult to focus on. I’m ready to stop most of the time.
The 45 to 55 minute span:
Rarely anything but grit and determination. Observations are poor outside of the awareness of the increasing pain. My feet are numb, my back feels like it’s going to explode, I’m shaking in certain stressed areas. I’m waiting, impatiently, for the chanting to begin. because when Goenka starts chanting it means I have five minutes to go.
The last five minutes:
Easier. I still hurt, but it’s suddenly more bearable because I know it’s almost over.
The morning of the seventh I didn’t have any of these usual periods.
I had the “free flow” of observation and sensation from ten minutes in, to after the chanting. I actually didn’t come out of meditation until I heard people starting to leave for break. I felt amazing, like a low current of electricity moving through me.
My body felt like a single object made up of elastic, something, with infinite little particles swimming around in there. My left shoulder, which has been a pain for me for years, suddenly had no tension. I was still kneeling in meditation when I opened my eyes and thought that it must just be easier now. That my body had adapted and I wouldn’t feel anymore intense pain.
Then I tried to stand up and my legs were just as jacked as usual. The blood flow resumed at full kilter and stabbing needles were everywhere, but I was still grinning, and it was all good. I remember thinking it was cool that I finally had a good 8 to 9 time-slot.
I went to the bathroom and came back to wait for my consultation with the assistant teacher. When we went around and he asked us about the “free flow” I thought I’d be so excited to tell him, but instead I found I didn’t want to talk. I just shook my head ‘yes’ and waited for him to meditate with us for the ten minutes we got with him.
I went back to my cabin and sat again on my bed. Breaking more rules I kept my eyes open and looked out my window. I was only going to for a second and then return to “practice” but I could still feel the flow. And I just didn’t feel like moving. I didn’t feel like I wasn’t meditating because I was doing everything I would be doing if my eyes were closed. I was just staring at a tree outside my window.
Lunch rolled around and I thought about not going. I wasn’t hungry. When the kitchen guy came around with the gong I just watched him pass my tree and didn’t jump up to get grub. I think I sat another ten minutes or so. by the time I got to the dining hall just about everyone was already seated and eating. I had a small portion and no tea and left probably before anyone else.
There was a little patch of woods we were allowed in and I figured out a few days earlier that the course boundary signs were positioned in a way that made it look like the wooded path was a dead end. So most people just used half of it. I had the swatch of woods to myself for day seven.
From 11:30 to just before the 1PM gong I sat leaning against a tree (it was at an angle that took pressure off my back entirely) and just staring off into space.
I wasn’t spaced out. I was hyper alert, but I felt high as a kite, like I was on something.
I was almost giggly but also still aware of the pain in my back and legs and knees. it just felt different. It was definitely pain, but it was not as bad a feeling. It had an element of being interesting, observable. I kept telling myself that this was going to crash soon and I should accept it.
I don’t remember where I meditated from 1 to 2, but at the 2:30 Group meditation I was able to drop right into the free flow as soon as we started. At 3:30 when we were dismissed to return to our quarters if we liked I found that I was fine where I was. I meditated without any problems for another 45 minutes. When the pain became more pronounced I got to this point where I could have “toughed it out” like before, but instead I quietly got up and went back to my back-supporting tree.
I remember going to the last group sit at 6. The day had flown by and I still felt high. I could feel my heartbeat throughout my body. I felt like I was shaking because of it, but when I’d hold my hands up and look at them they were solid. When I looked down at my body it wasn’t moving, but it felt like all my muscle fibers were making thousands of tiny little adjustments to make me more comfortable, like memory foam.
I started feeling these bizarre sensations. My face would have this pressure that felt like someone with really fat fingers pushing on it. It didn’t hurt. It was like a massage. The heartbeat feeling came with a light sound in my ears. I hadn’t been that relaxed ever and to be also so far from sleep.
During the 7PM discourse I hugged my achey legs and watched. When it was time for our last break I skipped it again and returned to meditation.
I went to my cabin ready to sleep and was fine with the thought that tomorrow it would all be a festival of pain again. I’d had that fifth morning beginner’s nirvana all of one day. I wouldn’t have said then that it was the best day of my life, because how can you qualify stuff like that. But it was definitely the calmest day of my life.
Then things got stranger. After a day on the course I was used to falling almost immediately to sleep. That night I closed my eyes and all those inexplicable sensations continued to happen and I wasn’t trying to meditate. I was trying to sleep.
An hour passed and I kept having to open my eyes because this feeling of physical expansion came. It felt like I was one of those Pilsbury cinnamon roll tubes, and that my body was oozing out of me. I felt enormous, but light. The same points on my face had the fat-fingered pressure, my back was arching on its own, and my chest was pushing out. I had a hard time believing I wasn’t dreaming, but I heard someone get up close by and the sound of a door convinced me this was all real.
I had a concerned thought, because the sensations were so intense and akin to drugs that I thought maybe someone has slipped me something.
I decided to get up and go to the bathroom and throw some cold water on my face. I needed to sleep after all. The gong waits for no man. On my way to the bathroom I happened to run into the course manager. I told him I was worried because I couldn’t sleep, that I’d had a great day, but that now I was a little worried.
He told me it was normal and starting saying how powerful the technique was. I wanted to tell him to settle down, but he was all very matter of fact and monotone. When I asked him what I should do so I could sleep he said to return to breathing.
“You probably won’t sleep.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Don’t worry. You’ll be fresher tomorrow morning than if you had sleep.”
I didn’t believe him really for a second, but I didn’t need a follow up to ‘go back to your cabin and enjoy the sensation of being stoned out of your mind.’ Or into your mind? Or something. I felt fine with relaxing and breathing and feeling good.
I went back to my cabin and got comfortable, unrolled cinnamon buns all night.
I didn’t sleep.