The really sad thing is, I should have blogged about this right after I came back. So much time has passed the details of some things have faded. I know they are there, somewhere. But access is denied at this time. Only the bigger things still stand firm.
I approached the second day, Thursday, with some enthusiasm but wondering how in the world I was going to get through T-E-N days of this.
The wake-up bell rang at 4 AM and I got up. There was a 30-minute period to get dressed and visit the bathroom. You had the choice of sitting in your room or in the meditation hall. I had been assigned a cushion in the center of the room without back support. I had not yet found that "sweet spot" that allows me to sit for longer periods without back support and minimal pain. I knew that I would be very uncomfortable for an hour and a half sit, so I opted to meditate in my room, leaning up against the wall. The time passed very slowly it seemed, but I remained focused on the sensation of breath within the triangle region of my nose.
At 6:30 the bell rings again for breakfast. By this time I am ready for a break. We walk slowly and silently, single file to the dining hall. Breakast is served buffet style with each person fixing their own plate and drinks. In the dining hall it is very silent and all you can hear is the scraping of dishes with utensils, pouring of liquids, and the sounds normally associated with breakfast. Each person sits at a table that is affixed to the wall. A few spots had windows to look out of, but for the most part you stared at a blank wall while you ate. This helped you from accidentally making eye contact as you would if sitting across from one another.
I'm not a hot drink person (except the rare hot cocoa when it's cold outside), so I opted for a tall glass of orange juice each morning. Breakfast was oatmeal and a sliced apple or banana. As I mentioned previously, I'm not only a picky eater, but not very adventurous either. So I kept it safe and simple. The entire time I ate I tried to remain focused on the sensation of breath moving in and out of my nostrils, as instructed the previous evening during the discourse with S.N. Goenka. It was quite challenging. At the end of my meal, I signed my name on the list to meet with the teacher at noon that day. I had been told by Olga, our female manager, I had to speak to him about changing my seating arrangements.
I had signed up for the 7 AM shower time, so I finished breakfast and headed back to the dorm for my shower. After my shower I busied myself making my bed, cleaning my room, and putting away my belongings.
At 8 AM the bell rang once again instructing us to return to the meditation hall for the mornings first group meditation. One of my favorite parts at the beginning and end of each meditation was the chanting. I love chanting! The audio began with Goenka chanting and then providing us with brief guidance to begin our meditation period. We sat in silence which is an awesome experience to sit in a room with 45 or so people all sitting in silence and focused on the same intention. I still enjoy group meditation immensely. There's just something about being connected in a room full of people with the same intention that is different from the enjoyment of sitting privately. I won't say I'll ever choose one over the other though. To me, it's all the same. It's sitting.
About 40 minutes into the meditation by back began to ache horribly and my legs were completely numb and screaming. I was in quite a bit of discomfort but was trying so hard to sit still and not move. The knee cushions I use are filled with something that isn't quite silent when you shift on it. When Goenka began to chant again I thought I was going to cry with relief. Goenka instructed us to take a brief break and return for teacher instructions in 10 minutes. Almost everyone left the room to use the restroom and/or to stretch. I did both wondering how in the world I could sit another hour with my back hurting like it was.
We returned to the room and received our instructions from the teacher in the room. Each day he would instruct a different group of people to stay behind while the rest were free to stay in the room or return to their room to sit. Most would choose to leave the room and sit elsewhere. Some would sit in the hallway, some outside in a chair, some in their rooms. The first day the teacher instructed the new female and male students to stay behind. He called us up four at a time to sit in front of him. He would then look at each one of us in turn and ask if we understood the instructions and if we could indeed feel the sensation of breath. When asked, I told him I could. We then sat with him for about 5 minutes to meditate. After that, he released us to return to our rooms or our cushion in the hall to continue meditating until lunch time.
That first day I returned to my room being too uncomfortable to sit in the hall without back support. I sat in my room on my bed and leaned against the wall. I remained focused on the sensation of breath flowing in and out of my nostrils. When the bell rang at 11 AM, I joined the others in returning to the dining hall for lunch. The same as breakfast, everyone was silent and only the sounds of people eating could be heard.
After I finished my meal, I decided to check out the nature trail they had mentioned during our orientation. Grabbing a banana, I set out for the trail located behind the dormitory and meditation hall. Walking silently, with head bowed and looking at the ground, remaining focused on the sensation of breath, I entered the trail. It wasn't very long, but I learned to savor every single inch of that pathway. I came to feel an intimacy with those woods that I can feel even as I sit here and type these words. It was my slice of heaven for six days.
At noon the bell rang again to indicate it was time for the afternoon break. During this time period you were to rest and did not have to meditate. It was also the time when you met with the instructor, if you desired a private audience for questions. I met briefly with the teacher to request a chair to reduce strain on my knee and back. He agreed and told Olga to make it so. After my session with the teacher, I returned to my room and napped, as did most everyone else.
At 1 PM the bell rang again indicating time to return to the hall or sit in your room and begin your afternoon meditation period. I decided to lie in bed and practice my breath meditation. About 45-minutes or so into it, I began to see these images flickering behind my eyes. They moved very rapidly and were difficult to ascertain what they were images of. All I could say for certain is they were images of people and scenes, as if viewing many different clips of movies from many different eras and settings. I began to feel frightened as they moved so very rapidly and I could not remain focused on any one image. As my heart began to pound (my breath in my nostrils completely forgotten at this point), I saw the image of a large snake wiggle vertically on the right from bottom to top. Once the snake had left my sight, the images stopped. All I knew was I felt pretty freaked out and there was no one I could talk to about my experience.
At 2:30 the bell rang again to return to the meditation hall for group meditation. I sat there, freaked out by me experience, and attempted to meditate. As if my feelings of agitation were not strong enough, my legs began to ache horribly and the idea of nine more days began to seem impossible. I began to doubt myself, "I'm not strong enough. I can't do this. I'm so weak." I thought. At 3:30 we were released again to continue in the hall or return to our room. At this point, I returned to my room and just lay on the bed staring at the ceiling wondering, "What in the world am I doing?" as my heart continued to pound in my chest.
At 5 PM the bell rang calling us back to the dining hall for our evening break. There is no evening meal, only fruit and lemon water. I thought I liked lemon water, but when I tried it the lemon was too strong for me and instead, I just drank ice water and sliced up an apple to munch on. I sat at a window, staring out at the cold outside, and wondered if I could really do this after all.
At 6 PM we were called back to the hall for another hour group meditation. It took me all I could do to sit in the chair and not squirm. It was a required sit so I could not return to my room without notice. Through sheer will, I sat there until it was finally time to get up again. I darted out of the room at tne end of the sit, pacing and trying not to cry from the pain and anguish I felt.
At 7 PM we returned again for the evening discourse by S.N. Goenka. In 1991, a recording was made of S.N. Goenka teaching the 10-day Vipassana course, same as the one we were taking. Each evening there was a video taped discourse, same as he gave in the classes he taught. I wish I could tell you I knew what he said, but I spent the time twisting in my chair and praying for an end to it all. The minute we were released from the room, I ran straight to my room, climbed under the covers and tried to stifly any sound of my crying from my roommates as they came into the room. There was absolutely, positively, no way I could sit through another hour in that room!!
As the dormitory quietened and each person returned to the hall, I lay in bed and gave myself over to my tears. I began to sob and had never felt so alone, so frightened, and in so much discomfort as I was right then. I was miserable! But I still had not identified WHAT I FELT. All I knew was I wanted to run home right then!
For each required sit, the manager would come get you if you did not show up. True to form, Olga soon came to my room to inquire if I was coming to sit. I informed her I could not. As I explained what was happening to me, her eyes filled with tears and she told me she would let the instructor know. I nodded my head, put my pj's on and climbed into bed thinking it was the last I would see of anyone for the rest of the night. I was wrong.
Olga returned telling me the teacher had asked if I would come meet with him after the group meditation around 9:10 in the meditation hall. I told her I would. When I heard everyone coming out of the room, I put my clothes back on and returned to the hall. From 9-9:30 PM, students can approach the teacher to ask questions publicly, but silently as people are still meditating in the hall. I sat in my assigned chair and waited for him to call me.
He called my name and I approached. He asked me how I was doing and I asked him if we could please speak privately. He said we could and asked everyone to leave the room. Once everyone was gone, I fell apart and began to sob again. I told him about how much I missed my husband and what a physical ache it was. I told him about the physical pain and I just didn't know if I could take 9 more days of sitting. I told him how I couldn't get comfortable to meditate. I told him about the images I saw before me during the afternoon meditation, but I still could not convey what I was feeling. I mentioned my fear that maybe this was too much for me and my bipolar condition and my mind was going to snap. Finally I looked at him and through my tears blurted, "I'M JUST SOOO SCAAARRREEEDDDD!!!" I was surprised. Up to that moment I had absolutely no idea what I was feeling was F-E-A-R. L-O-T-S of I-T!
That teacher is one of the first teachers I've ever had who could show what true equanimity is. In case you need to look it up, it basically means to feel compassion for another without investing your own emotions into their drama or the outcome of their situation. I felt his compassion, but his encouragement was more logical than a plea to "stick with it". He made me feel as if it truly didn't matter to him if I went or stayed. He had nothing invested in it because the course was about me, not him. There was nothing he could do for me, but answer questions about the technique. He was compassionate to my suffering and understood how beneficial this could be to me, but it had to be my choice.
Those are the wisest of teachers. The ones who realize they cannot convince you to do something. You must come to it on your own and your movitation must come from within. They can encourage and guide, but when you make the decision and make it on your own, the inner strength you feel is much stronger. This is how he guided me.
I left him and returned to my room. I changed back into pj's and climbed back into bed. With the key chain with the photo of my husband and I clenched tightly in my hand, I cried myself to sleep wondering if I had truly lost my mind. What in the world was wrong with me that I couldn't just be happy with what I had? Why did I have to keep searching for that unknown "something" that I just knew was OUT THERE.