This is the second part of my experiences at a ten day residential meditation course I recently attended. Read Part One here.
There are the kinds of people that can spend over twelve hours a day sitting absolutely still in one place with their eyes closed and find immense peace while doing so. There are such people, but one of the many things I learned in this meditation course was that I sure as hell was not one of them. I cannot, even if my life depended on it, sit in one place for so many hours unoccupied AND still. It is just not possible! And the meditation gods know I have tried.
The first night, after the long pre-course talk and the official commencement of the ‘Noble Silence’ (which means that not only is verbal communication prohibited, but so is gesturing or nonverbal communication of any type), as I walked to my room in almost absolute darkness, I felt brave and confident that I would not be afraid during the night. Hot maybe, uncomfortable too, but fear isn’t something I was expecting to feel because I am used to living alone. I just spent almost a week sleeping alone in my new apartment, I can do this. As I thought these pseudo brave thoughts, I was startled by the voice of a young girl who came up from behind me and blurted out without any introductions, “I am so hungry. I did not have that evening snack and I didn’t know there won’t be any dinner but now I am so hungry and I don’t know what to do.” I stared at her point blankly. She wouldn’t have been more than twenty years old and I felt sad looking at her waiflike body. I smiled very awkwardly and with a shrug, continued walking. I wanted to follow this noble silence business till I could. Besides, how do I tell her I made exactly the same mistake she did?
The night was warm and the windows and doors rattled all night keeping me awake for the first half and punctuating my fitful sleep in the latter half. I could not wait for the morning to come and put me out of my anxiety-ridden, I-am-going-to-be-abducted-by-a-wild-animal misery. But the morning came while it was still dark and I woke up feeling like a jet-lagged person, except, I hadn’t even properly begun my journey into myself yet.
The day would begin at four with the siren from the meditation hall filling up our rooms followed by two or three ‘sevikas’ who would roam from door to door with a tiny but freakishly loud (as all things over there were) temple bells. They would ring these little bells, right outside your doors till they actually saw you put the lights on. They would not knock on your door, or god forbid call out your name. They would just stand there in the darkness, not knowing what you are doing inside and rattle that bell in their hands. The sound of temple bells reminded me of my mother and her daily prayers, or when she offered food to the deities at home. To be woken up by the same sound of bells already made me feel blasphemous.
I woke up on the first day in with no volition to bathe while it was still technically dark outside, so I just freshened up and wailed at the extra layers of clothes I had to put on in the heat until I hit upon a great idea in the ‘heat of the moment’. I went commando. For the rest of the course. if I did not have the choice to not wear lesser outer clothes, I rebelled and did away entirely with my inners. Ah, the sweet freedom. I walked, secretly liberated to the meditation hall for the next two hours of meditation. I could so get used to this.
The schedule for the days during the course went something like this:
4 am – Prison siren and freaky temple bell wakeup call
4:30 – 6:30 am – Meditate in the hall or just doze off sitting upright, it is a valuable life skill
6:30- 7:15 am – Breakfast or stuff your faces because we had no dinner yesterday
7:15 – 8am – Bathe, wash clothes, walk or sleep some more if you are already in an alternate dimension like me
8 – 11 am Meditate some more or alphabetically name all the books you have ever read in your mind, and then do the authors
11 -11:45 am Lunch or the only real meal in the whole day
11:45 – 1 pm Rest or the favorite time of the day to sing to yourself or regard the wrinkles on your fingers very closely
1-5:30 pm The Lord save you because there is more of, you got it, Meditation
5:30 pm Tea and Dry snacks or a reminder that you are not getting any real food tonight
6 – 8 pm Power through this because it is the last slot of your favorite, that’s right – meditation
8 -9:30 pm Dude-with-hair-coming-out-of-his-ears-and-nose-will-tell-you-how-to-live-life-morally pravachan
9:30 pm Lights out or wait endlessly for the wind gods to stop rattling your doors and window as your try to sleep
I was there for all of four days, not the mandated ten. But those four days were enough for me to learn ALL the lesser mortal lessons I could really digest at that point in time. What did I learn? In spite of the weird and rather frustrating experiences I am glad I did this. But truth be told that I am gladder that on Day Four I argued my way out of there and into the real world. I learned that my life, in all its chaos and mess is beautiful, it is interesting and engrossing and challenging and yes it makes me cry often but it also makes me laugh. I learned that I am lucky to be surrounded by so much love from the people in my life that staying away even for a few days without the warm comfort of affection and support was unpleasant. I came back out and told each and every loved one how much they mean to me, and for fueling that gesture I am grateful to this course. I learned that life is short, and time is ticking by, two hours don’t seem like much when I am watching my favorite sitcom in marathon mode, but when I was sitting in the meditation hall, tears welled up in my eyes, just thinking and imagining how sad I would be to lose my life as I know it, my job, the people I love, my books, my writings. Two hours is a long time to count your blessings and I feel grateful that I ran out of time before I ran out of blessings. I learned that peace is already inside me and no one else can ever really tell me how to become a good person. That I would like to figure out, all by myself. And so as I dragged my trolley bag behind me as I left that place midway through the course, I turned back and smiled. All the windows were closed and no one even saw me leave, but I looked up and there it was, the gorgeous open blue sky.