Blow by Blow

Day 1

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.

Day 2

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.

Day 3

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.

Day 4

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.

Day 5

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.

Day 6

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.

Day 7

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.

Day 8

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?

Day 9

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.

Day 10

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.

Setting the Stage

I’m not a big fan of rules and tend to do what I think is right, which is not always what I’m told. This being said, the ten days of meditation include a code of discipline that prohibits contact with the outside world. As this is a pre-requisite for signing up for the course and an important factor in remaining focused, I will willingly oblige. Because of this you will not hear from me for a while as I slip into the zone.

I’m sorry to drop off the radar so soon into my trip but it is beyond necessary. I am including a daily blow by blow based on my experience last year so you may follow along with my meditative journey.  Once day ten is complete I’ll show signs of life and we will be free to resume our little adventure.

Setting the Stage:

It’s the cusp of winter in the Blue Mountains and the Blackheath compound is made up of units reminiscent of cell blocks. My bedroom contains a low twin, wood framed bed and as the meditation hall is the warmest space on the grounds, it provides ample motivation to spend as much time there as possible. The alternative is to huddle inside my sleeping bag like a caterpillar poked with a stick.

Men and women are segregated and there are about 50 and 75 in attendance respectively (yes, that many people do sign up for this thing). The sleeping quarters and dining areas are separate and we sit on opposite sides of the meditation hall. The point of this experiment is certainly not to troll for dates, so all attempts to catch the eye of a handsome tree-hugger from across the steamy meditation space are out.

The meditation hall is enormous. There is a long strip of gray carpet running down the center, separating the room in half. Square, blue cushions are placed in symmetrical rows on either side with the men on the left and women on the right. Seats are assigned and my spot for the next ten days is on the inside, adjacent to the blue runway, three rows up from the double doors at the back of the room.

Meals are served in a dining hall with arguably, the most breathtaking panoramic view for kilometers. The serenity of a sunrise awakening the plush misty valley below imparts unadulterated inspiration to power through the morning meditation just to bear witness. Note: It’s likely if news of this spectacular view gets out, someone will want to rip down the center and erect a resort, so shhhhhh, let’s please keep this our secret.

Believe it or not, there are meditation police. The police-woman is thin, wears a burgundy beret, cocked slightly to the left, dark framed glasses and carries a clipboard. Very much like Santa, she keeps tabs on who’s been naughty, constantly scanning the room and scribbling notes. I eagerly anticipate the massive piles of gifts my good behavior is bound to earn me.

Off to See the Wizard

G’day from the land of oZ!

Projected by the tailwinds of time, after fourteen hours in the air the mysteries of aviation drop the airplane into Sydney two calendar days after the flight commences. Undoubtedly, one of my favorite sounds in the world is the hum of landing gear deploying and this morning was no exception. It means stepping out of the capsule and touching my feet onto the soil of a destination I couldn’t reach by sprinting. It’s someplace I wasn’t when I started and holds the air of mischief not yet accomplished.

Immediately after landing I quickly glide away from the city-scapes surrounding the Sydney airport and into the deep fog-engulfed valleys of the Blue Mountains. Stopping off in Katoomba, a quaint little mountain town that reminds me of Park City. Adjusting my eyes to thew new digs  I set about getting reacquainted with the main street, intersperced with locally owned restaurants, galleries and shops it's set against a pristine wooded world of rocks and valleys.   It feels like home with an accent.

The air is heavy and gray with a drizzly humidity to match. My hair is already beginning to take on weight and by morning I suspect I’ll be sporting a full afro. In the two days prior to joining one hundred fellow meditators, I’m staying at a youth hostel at the end of the street. While well beyond the phase that would still consider me a youth, it’s convenient, impeccably clean and boasts an enormous communal kitchen.

This new home base will make an excellent transitional portal, both before and after my cerebral cleansing. The Blackheath Vipassana center is two train stops over and to give you an idea of what the next ten days are about here is the schedule:

4:00 a.m.                         Morning wake-up bell
4:30 - 6:30 a.m.             Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30 - 8:00 a.m.             Breakfast break
8:00 - 9:00 a.m.            Group meditation in the hall
9:00 - 11:00 a.m.           Meditate in the hall or in your room
11:00 - 12 noon               Lunch break
1:00 - 2:30 p.m.              Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30 - 3:30 p.m.              Group meditation in the hall
3:30 - 5:00 p.m.              Meditate in the hall or in your room
5:00 - 6:00 p.m.             Tea break
6:00 - 7:00 p.m.             Group meditation in the hall
7:00 - 8:15 p.m.              Teacher's discourse in the hall
8:15 - 9:00 p.m.              Group meditation in the hall
9:00 - 9:30 p.m.             Question time in the hall
9:30 p.m.                          Lights out

You may be wondering why this sounds like a good idea? For someone with extreme rule-averse tendencies as myself, why is indeed a reasonable question.

"Vipassana means seeing things as they really are. It is the process of self-purification by self-observation. One begins by observing the natural breath to concentrate the mind. With a sharpened awareness one proceeds to observe the changing nature of body and mind. This truth-realization by direct experience is the process of purification."

Just to be clear, meditation is not about religious affiliation and if you speak to my mother please explain to her that I’m not joining a cult. But haven’t you ever wondered what the point of all this is? We wake up. Go to work. Come home. Eat, sleep and do it all over again. Along the way we make some friends, have children, develop neurosis, and pass them along, just like good little Doozers.

I’m tired of distracting myself with the minutia. There is something out there beyond what I can see with my own eyes; of this I am certain. Admittedly, I am not going to solve the great cosmic riddle after ten days of sitting with my eyes closed. But the deeper I penetrate the nature of my own thoughts, the closer I come to untangling the misconceptions and prejudice that cloud my perception.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.