2:30am. Three hours seems to be all the sleep my body wants, so I get up to take a leisurely shower while the other women sleep. I’m washing clothes in a bucket when they start to wander in at 4am. I ring out my sweatpants and t-shirts and hang them on the clothesline, pleased that I’ve laid claim to the scarce supply of clothespins before anyone else, but before long it starts to rain, so I take the clothes inside.
I’ve got my GoreTex and my fleece, and I know rain. I can do rain. I stroll the path between the dining hall and the cabins and smell the trees. The aspen have gone to gold. Their leaves twist and clatter in the wind. They’re dwarfed by the towering lodgepole pine and Douglas fir. I walk on the soft carpet of needles, hold my face up to the sky, marvel at the height of the trees, at the rings of cloud encircling the mountains. I stop to examine the resin-clotted bark of a lodgepole pine. At its base, I recognize the shiny dark leaves and blue berries of a salal bush. I’m back in my rainforest. Home. And now I’m longing, aching for Vancouver, which I’m not supposed to be doing. Clinging, clinging, clinging – dukka, dukka, dukka.
Below the cabins I hear water. There’s a stream down there, but the plastic ribbon prevents me from exploring. The squirrels have been putting up their winter stores since we arrived, and the weather doesn’t slow them down. One drops pine cones from sixty feet above, scampers down the trunk, races across the trail at my feet, and climbs on a stump to chatter and squeak at me, the interloper.
In the meditation hall, a bowel chorus plays. The moaning and sighing of the other students’ GI tracks sounds like whale song. Apparently Debi and I aren’t the only ones having trouble with the diet.
For a moment today, I get a fleeting glimpse of freedom. Just enough to shore up my resolve.
At the tea break, I have some hot-spiced apple cider along with my tiny glass of milk. I’m essentially fasting for 19 hours a day, and it’s fine. I fantasize about hamburgers and pizza when I’m lying in bed at night, but I don’t feel like I’m starving. If I really can’t bear it, I could always sneak out to my car and get the protein bars and almonds I’ve got squirreled away, but it’s very cold tonight, and wet. I lie in my bunk willing my feet to warm up and the cold from the window singes my face. I pull the sleeping bag over my head and drift off, wondering about carbon dioxide poisoning.
Day 8 – Daddy Issues
We’re supposed to maintain a meditative focus all day today, no matter what we’re doing. During the morning session in the hall, Goenka’s chanting is driving me mad. It seems louder – so loud, in fact, that it’s causing me pain. It’s a vuvuzela chorus, designed to make me suffer.
It’s still raining. It seems like everyone is coughing and sniffling. One guy to the left of me rearranges his cushion again and again. The buckwheat stuffing makes a hissing sound. Someone else cracks his knuckles. This, during the time when we’re supposed to be as still as statues. I’m sitting with my eyes closed, but the noise is bothering me. Another sound starts up on the men’s side, like someone is popping their lips open. Is someone really doing that? I listen for a while, and then in exasperation, I turn and glare in the direction of the noise. The men’s liaison is standing by the door. His eyes are open.
More chanting at the end of the hour, and I’m about ready to scream. When we take a break, the men’s liaison approaches the assistant teacher, says something to him, and points at me. They both look at me. I look back. Just try me, fuckers.
And then I realize that it was water. The sound that drove me into a rage was dripping water. But it was so loud. I must be getting a migraine.
Back in the cabin, I’m left to face the feeling of being trapped while someone drones at me on and on, and the helpless fury it evokes. Where does that come from? I know where it comes from. Funny that just yesterday the smell of the forest and the rain brought back a faint memory, and I thought, “I’ll have to call Dad and ask him about that time when…” He’s been gone since 1989.
I sit on my bunk, on my cushion, my sleeping bag tucked around me to keep out the cold, trying to calm down, trying to meditate, and it occurs to me that this may the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s surgery without anesthetic. Quitting drinking, quitting smoking, running a marathon, getting a divorce – none of those caused such acute discomfort as this.
After lunch, I discover a handful of walnuts wrapped in a napkin on my bunk. Debi. She’s been eating nothing but yogurt and honey for a few days, and now walnuts, which she’s sharing with me. Last night we agreed to go back to Noble Silence for these two days when we’re supposed to dedicate all our time to meditation. We last until 4:30. Debi comes into the cabin and says, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” I laugh.
During the evening discourse, Goenka says that tomorrow we’re going to learn a new meditation practice. He says that over the past eight days, we’ve created a deep wound, and this practice will be like a balm on that wound. Later, for a moment, I feel the world drop away. I’m sitting at the back, and everything in front of me becomes insubstantial. I become transparent. The room disappears. The floor isn’t there. I panic.
I walk back to the cabin, slowly, meditatively, and there’s an animal standing by the door, quite still, staring at me. At first I think it’s a lynx, then it turns its head and I see the long nose. A coyote? Then it runs, flashing its bushy tail. It's a fox.
Later, when I’m returning from the bathroom, it’s there again. It lies down in my path, hops up, bounces around, and takes off into the trees. A playful fox.
(To be continued...)
(To be continued...)