On day 4 – I observed the sensations as I slowly concentrated on each individual part of my body. I sweated and itched and fought through the morning, struggling to calm my mind, accept my suncaras as they arose and fully practice Vipassana. After lunch, the teacher checked in with each person, asking how well they could feel sensation on their body, how they were handling it mentally, physically and how long were they sitting without moving.
Oh yeah, that part. The whole not moving thing. That, I wasn’t so great at yet. However I was amazing at understanding how long an hour was without opening my eyes, without looking at a clock. Apparently, not talking for 4 days meant I was basically a Mayan who told time by looking at the sun. Well, kind of. If Mayans were blonde and blue eyed and flew across the Ocean to Asia where they sat inside a fanned room with electricity on a cushion with their eyes closed and didn’t look at the sun. Whatever. Same same.
So, in line with the precepts, I admitted to my teacher that I could only sit for 45 minutes. Too much gross pain in my legs, too many thoughts. But 45 minutes, yes I can sit without moving. He smiled at me – curious about my thoughts, I’m sure – and kindly said “ok, next time, you try, 50 minutes.” I liked this approach, baby steps. I could fucking rock at baby steps.
But alas, the next two hours went by and each time, I once again found myself wiggling my toes and slightly tilting my hips forward for relief. I waited for the chanting. The dull, foreign words that resonated at the end of each meditation. “Where is that stupid voice,” I cried inside. “Come on! There can’t be more than 10 minutes left. I’m a Mayan right now Goenka!”
The time between minute 45 and 60 was always torture as you waited for the brrp, brrp, brrp over the speakers. Finally, I heard the tunes I knew. I gritted my teeth and tried to accept each second knowing it wouldn’t be much longer until I could unfold my legs, and check to make sure nothing needed to be amputated due to lack of circulation. I tried to come to my breath, I tried to think anicha. anicha. a-fucking-nicha. I opened my eyes – how were all these people so serene? How is this only day 4? What the fuck am I doing here?
When the bell rang – I pulled each foot out from beneath my now heavy legs. I turned to face the side of the room and stretched them in front of me. I bowed my head and felt the relief as the blood returned to my toes. Then I realized, I was hungry.
“Please let it be Pad Thai for dinner. Please let it be watermelon or pineapple, and please tell me those cookies I love so much are back.” When I walked into the cafeteria, everything I had hoped for – was there. My mood changed, something was going to be different for the afternoon session. I could feel it.
I took a walk around the small jail circle. I hand-washed my laundry. I took a shower. I brushed my teeth for the third time that day. I told myself it didn’t matter when or if I reached a true state of Vipassana, if I could sit without feeling anything physically or mentally, if I could not generate any new suncaras to multiply my misery. I said, “Annie, it’s only day 4 – don’t expect anything. Just stick to the baby steps.”
When I came back to my cushion for the 1.5 hour meditation, I let go of everything. 50 minutes of not moving was all I had to do. 50 minutes of just accepting whatever it was that came up and not reacting. I closed my eyes. I positioned my legs as comfortably as I could, not knowing if I would feel the urge to adjust immediately or 49 minutes in. And then I went part by part, from head-to-toe, toe-to-head just acknowledging each sensation as I moved on to the next. That’s pain, I said. That’s also pain. That’s a tingle. That’s an itch. I kept going, and going.
It’s funny, sometimes during meditation you don’t know if you’re half sleeping or in some sort of trance. There were multiple times when I’d open my eyes and felt like I’d been asleep for hours. Some of those times, (like the 4:30-6:30 a.m. times) there was a good chance I was. This was another one of those times.
During the next hour, I felt like I was floating on air. There was no struggling, no thoughts, no pain. There was nothing I craved and nothing I tried to run away from feeling. Instead there was a humming. A white light moving swiftly over each part of me, moving as quickly as my mind moved to observe the sensation. No stopping. No pausing to listen a little harder. No darting away.
It was sheer bliss. I never wanted it to end. I could feel the misery just disappearing from me. I could feel the happiness take over my body, until I was smiling from the inside. I didn’t move. I didn’t move for 75 minutes. And when I finally opened my eyes, I was fully awake. I sprung from my cushion, no tingling sensation that made me stretch my legs out, no sweat dripping down my forehead. I continued to walk on air all the way down the stairs. All the way to the drinking fountain. And to where Godzilla lived. I looked over the porch and stared at the forest behind me, and the flowers beside me and understood why Vipassana had this unique style, following and impact.
Holy. Fucking. Shit.
I had only experienced something on this level one other time. When I was done with an amazing yoga practice and felt like I was floating in thin air. I went back to my cushion when the bell rang – ready to do it again. Another hour of group and an hour of individual meditation was all that stood between me and tea time. I was going to own it like Cortes owned the Aztecs.
After some ginger tea and a fruit I still cannot name (and maybe a piece of peanut butter toast with honey) I returned back to the cushion ready for another ascent into my thoughtless heaven. But no, it was back to the struggle and pain and unnoticeable movements before the chanting came back on. The easy, white flowing hum had disappeared. The magic had gone. Montezuma had his revenge and I was ready for bed.
Now, I just had to avoid Godzilla on the way back to the cabin.