I wake up to the sound of the bell from a distance and my first reaction was “oh, this bell is for meditators, so I (the yogini) can sleep a little more” Hah, I am very prepared! It is 4am, still dark and I grab my towel to rush to the communal, open-air bathroom to prepare.
According to the schedule, we have about 10 hours of meditation every day, starting from 4:30, finishing at 21:00. In this first day, I must have spent about 6 hours fantasizing about Ino, 2 hours fretting about some trivial past issues, 1 hour planning the next step of my trip and then maybe an hour trying to meditate. Very fruitful day when Vipassana is concerned. By midday, my hands and my feet are swollen incredibly. Knowing that I will not be allowed to do yoga, I tried to “stock up” by practicing about 5 hours every day in the last few days. That much mobility, followed by a 30 hour bus ride and then all day trying to sit cross-legged seems to be taking its toll on my lymphatic system. By the end of the day all muscles in my body was aching from trying to sit and my mind was exhausted from trying to meditate yet slipping into all sorts of wild thoughts.
My muscles, especially my back is sore and I barely drag my ass to the meditation hall by 4:30. Although my mind is still half asleep, I have a really good meditation session. Some deep-rooted issues pop up to the surface. “Why have I been obsessing about this, why can't I let go of that?” all the answers come. It caught me unprepared to face some mental patterns so soon and I start crying, but they are tears of relief.
The rest of the day, meditation also seems to improve significantly, I think I fantasized about Ino only 5 hours or so...
Observing the old students, I figured that I need to spend every minute out of the meditation hall resting. So I become very efficient in breaks. When the bell rings, I am one of the first to rush out, pee with the speed of light, quickly refill my water bottle and then go to my room to lie down even for a few minutes. If the break is longer than 15 minutes, I try hard to fall asleep as this seems to be the only thing to reset my back and my knees. The meditation cushions are 60x60 cm,the rear 25 cm of it slightly higher than the rest to give room while sitting. Ideal form for people with knee or hip problems as a flat cushion is very painful to sit on for extended periods of times. I secretly try to do stretching exercises while everyone else closes their eyes to meditate. It partially helps with the pain, but I crave for a strong massage session.
The meditation center seems to be built in two symmetrical sides, separated by a partition about 2 meters high. Guys are on one side and we are on the other side. In the meditation hall there is no partition but we sit at a considerable distance. Even meditation cushions are marked M or F. So I wonder what happens if I put my butt on an M-marked cushion? Probably some bad karma will come and bite me in the ass.
During one of the resting hours, I find myself brushing my index finger at a spot under my bed frame, where the wood was rough. Then I realize that I try to touch everything constantly; the seams of my mediation cushion, the bed frame, hardwood floors. This is some serious sensory withdrawal kicking in, not being able to talk, read, write, listen to music etc makes me feel very weak now. All I can do is to touch stuff so that I at least the texture gives me some senses.
The Vipassana training is very systematic, it builds on new things every day and the teacher makes sure that we understand the previous step before we move to the next one. We are constantly encouraged to keep trying. And today is a big day as we will jump a major step. We're all excited and looking forward it. We are given the instructions and asked to practice. Oh and from now on, 3 times a day, for duration of one hour, we are not supposed to move. These will be called “Sittings of strong determination”. Not only was I periodically slipping away from the meditation hall to drink more water and to pee, I was also becoming quite effective in turning my 60x60 cushion into a mini yoga-mat. In 4 days, I managed all sorts of leg and arm stretches, spinal twists and hip openers and was just about to develop a trademark technique for back bends, and now I am not supposed to move for an hour? Impossible... For one thing, my knees are repetitively injured and I cannot sit in any position that requires me to bend my knees at any angle for more than 6 minutes. Then of course also I fidget a lot. Here I learn that there are two types of tricks that our minds play to us to keep us away from focusing: one is to shut off by sleeping and the other is by constantly being distracted and having impulses to move. I am definitely the second type. I wish I was the sleeping type though, I could have at least faked being into deep transcendence. Instead I keep itching my head, rotating my neck and peeking at the clock for the lunch break. Especially fueled by yoga, I cannot even imagine having the Buddha determination where I would sit in the perfect lotus for an hour, with a serene smile on my face.
Besides the worry to sit, actually everything else goes quite well. I heard some horror stories where people ran away on the 3rd day unable to put with the pressure, emotional issues etc. Even in the registration form, there are lengthy questions about past history of depression and drug use which was kind of scary. No one questions your mental history unless they will mess around with it; so I was expecting some serious trouble. Well when I look in the mirror, I see dark circles under my eyes and even in 4 days I lost weight (which is because I am super selective with what I eat and refused to eat anything but fruits and stir-fried veggies) but mentally and emotionally I feel really stable and strong. Noone else in our group of 80+ meditators seem to be losing it too.
In the 4 “sittings f strong determination” sessions that I had since yesterday, my determination lasted no longer than 5 minutes. However I am very charged by the evening discourse, where Goenka talks about how one needs to “dissect and analyze the pain, go right into it instead of trying to avoid it”. In the last sitting of the day, I get into an easy cross-legged position and start meditating. I manage the first ten minutes without any problems. Pain kicks in my left knee after 15 minutes. This time I stay with it; I focus all my attention in my knee, try to find the spot where it originates, what type of pain it is and if there are any secondary sensations beneath the pain; yes, I feel it there is a lot of throbbing and heat. It becomes unbearable, I feel as if my knee will explode. Then I start to fear if I am risking some serious injury by putting so much strain on it. Injury be it; I know the chiropractics, osteopaths and whatnot in Ubud who can fix it so I tell my mind to shut up. Trying not to cry, I now start to shiver and some minutes later the pain actually decreases. It doesn't go away, but the throbbing is now more like a flow of tingling sensation and the heat is not unbearable. I never thought I would have passed that threshold, define it clearly in my mind and feel it dissipating. Finally I hear the bell that ends the meditation sitting. I then open my eyes to see that it's been 25 minutes! From 6 to 25 in one sitting is great progress. This was my “fight club” moment where acid is poured over my hand and unless I accepted the pain it would only keep hurting more and more. Yet I don't feel victorious; one of the things I learned thanks to Vipassana is not to get attached to any feeling. All things good and bad will pass; nothing in life is permanent so there is no point in getting attached to anything.
Now only if I can get up from the cushion and walk back to my room...