Friday, February 4, 2011

The Vipassana Experience Part II

Day 1 begins, as promised, with the sounding of a bell at 4am, a sound which will become hatefully familiar over the coming days. It’s easy rising on the first morning, curious as we all are to see what lies ahead. We will spend almost all of our time in dhama hall number 3 where I’ve been allocated cushion number 14. There’s a split right down the middle - men on the left, women on the right - and everyone faces the stage where two teachers sit; the guruji facing the males and who does all of the talking and instructing and his female counterpart who seems to be there in case of emergency. It’s explained to us how we should sit and exactly how we should meditate. In fact all of the instructions are given to us by tape by a man whose voice comes to resemble Johnny Cash singing his entire catalogue backwards from beyond the grave having consumed one too many bottles of JD. It’s hard to concentrate on your breathing when each time you hear your instructor speak you‘re waiting for him to break into Ring Of Fire. Backwards.

On the first day we’re asked to focus our minds on the inhalation and exhalation of air through our nostrils. Nothing else. ‘Easy’, I think to myself. Wrong. Try it. Seriously, try it. Assume the classic meditation position, sit there and focus on your breathing and nothing else. See how long you last. I thought that I’d be good for a few minutes at least but after about ten seconds, my mind is racing elsewhere and this is to continue for the entire day - a Tom and Jerry mental battle between what I should be doing and what I am doing. And I have to face 10 fucking hours of this. And it’s only day 1. Christ, what have I signed up for?

But, little by little some progress is made. I manage, at most, 30 seconds of unbroken concentration by the end of the day and convince myself that this is progress. You’re actually too busy concentrating to realise that you’re bored. And if you start thinking that you’re bored then that means you’re not concentrating….inhale….exhale….inhale. Over the course of the following days the techniques fortunately get more specific and require even greater powers of concentration which, in theory, should be coming more naturally to me. By days 2 and 3 we’re asked to focus on the sensations in a triangular area framed by our nose and the area just above our upper lip. Now by the second day the only body part where I’m feeling really strong sensations is in my arse - if I could focus on the sensations in my rear end then I’d have reached Enlightenment in record time. Breathe in…breathe out…breathe in…..

Break and lunch times are bizarre, if for no other reason than we all walk around a reasonably confined space pretending that no-one else exists. As for the food, well, let’s just say that it could have been a lot worse but there are some hideous looking stew-type concoctions that not even Oliver Twist would have looked for second helpings of. It’s only on Day 5 that I realise that on the previous four days I’d been adding chilli powder to the Indian equivalent of Rice Krispies. On the day I discover this I try sugar instead but it tastes like shit and so I go back to the chilli powder on Day 6. This may all read like mundane stuff but, to me, this was as exciting as it got in there. In fact to pass the time each day menial tasks such as laundry, cleaning the room and brushing your teeth were lingered over and looked forward to - anything to kill the time.

It’s on Day 4 where we’re urged - some might say compelled - to sit unmoving for the three one hour group sittings we have each day. Now, my body was just not designed with the lotus position in mind. Generally I can last twenty minutes before my legs scream in protest and I have to move to revive them but as we’re asked to give it a go, I try. By the end of the week I manage 40 minutes which, to me, is an achievement. We’re told to ignore the inevitable pain that will occur, to understand that it’s our body rejecting the purity of dhama. Great, try telling that to my two legs who clearly couldn‘t give a shit about the purity of dhama, they just need regular blood flow again.

Sitting in the hall together for the 10 days we’re treated to a sound and light show of farting by the Indians around us. We westerners have a repressed attitude to farting, a concept which is clearly alien to those around us. One day as I return to the dhama hall, I stroll in just behind an Indian man who stops abruptly to stare at the floor. I stop out of respect - perhaps he’s having a mental epiphany - and he farts loudly in front of me and then casually and serenely moves on as if nothing happened. An anal epiphany.

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