The first day of sitting for ten hours in silence is like the first day of school. Listening to the chatter in my head is like getting re-acquainting with old friends and sparks the aura of a fresh start. This is, until the ticking clock reveals my analogy may be a bit off. I am then forced to admit that it’s more like the inmates are running the asylum and they may indeed require extradition to someplace with tighter observation.
By the end of day two most of the baggage wheels have been tightened and sliding the mental outlook into a smoother ride. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a full suitcase rolling around, but by day’s it's consolidated into a moderately sized carry-on. The onset of pain however, associated with sitting immobile for twenty hours, is beginning to surface.
My dreams have taken on a colorful vivacity only overshadowed by their prophetic nature. Prohibited from discussion, I am unable to discern if this is my unique experience or if this is a collective sleep-scape and fringe benefit of tapping into the silence of the universe.
I begin waking at 3:30 to perform Yoga stretches. It’s the only way of protecting myself from the deepening pain I feel in every one of my joints.
This evening in the dark of night, leaving the dining hall for the 6pm session, I hear the only two words uttered all week by the girl who occupies the cushion to my right: ”It’s snowing!” The lightly falling snowflakes accompanied by her childlike expression of wonder create a pristinely delicate experience.
Nightly, we sit back to enjoy the recorded screenings of S.N. Goenka’s discourses. These entertaining talks encourage a deeper understanding of the process and help to connect some of the ethereal dots. He’s remarkably funny and is also the Indian version of Tom Bosley. Yes, I’ve just compared the man responsible for one hundred plus worldwide meditation centers to Mr. C from Happy Days.
These discourses become my sole incentive to make it through the last hours of the day. Knowing Mr. G will slash another date from the calendar and that I’ll get to hear a story that will make me want to clap my hands and bounce up and down in giddy amusement are my new conceptual carrot. I think the silence may be getting to me.
The only sounds in the meal hall are those of silverware clanking against dishes, dishes dropping on the table and the muffled squeals of wooden benches dragging across floorboards. Based on the tortured looking faces of my allies it is evident there are exorcisms taking place behind the closed doors of their cells. And as is if I need additional proof, the meditation police-woman, one by one, begins removing cushions of my fallen comrades from the floor of the large room.
There is a woman assigned to the spot behind me, who we’ll call Princess. She sighs uncontrollably and readjusts her positioning every thirty seconds.
As the mid-point is crossed the phenomenon catches on and meditators begin dropping like autumn leaves in the forest. Regardless of the agreement we all signed there are widening gaps on the floor between those of us remaining. The pain of sitting is becoming increasingly unbearable.
I am convinced Princess has been sent here to test me and her verbal discomfiture is made known to everyone within earshot. I am willing her with my mind, to open her eyes and react to the empty spaces around us with a monkey-see, monkey-do style epiphany.
I am becoming one with the pain. It is circulating through my body in waves, bringing me deeper into my meditations.
I may or may not be imagining a mighty lightening bolt penetrating the wood-framed structure, leaving only a charred hole and wafting smoke stream from the cushion behind me, after a swift yet vaporizing strike. I may or may not be smiling at the thought.
Anyone that has stuck it out this long is likely in it for the long haul and I’ve begun drawing from the strength of those around me. The regiment is paying off. The inside of my head is calm and I do, at times, feel connected to something vast.
Princess shows up now only for the mandatory sittings during which she ruthlessly takes out her anti-peace & love frustrations. With each forceful release of air from her lungs I expect her to kick me in the back, claiming retribution.
It feels as though a hot metal pin is running the length of my shoulder blades and down my spine. Did I really quit my job for this?
The mid-morning session begins with one of the last pillows being removed from the hall, this time, from the spot behind me! I settle into an entirely new level of comfort.
Upon conclusion of the morning session we are free to speak. Joining the others in the dining room the chatter is on par with that of the girls’ room at a high school dance. I immediately spin on my heels and return to the meditation hall; it’s simply too much. After another hour of silence, I breathe out one last sigh of peace and make my way back. I quickly say hello and good-bye, pack up my things and begin looking forward to what lies ahead.
As this was last year’s adventure I’ve still got the next ten days to look forward to. I’ll see you on the other side.