It’s another all-day meditation day, but from the time I wake up until 2pm, my mind is a neurotic dog, waiting for its owner to come home, gnawing the fur off its flanks and pacing, pacing, pacing. By the time it finally settles down, the rain has stopped and the sun is breaking through the clouds. I put the clothes I washed two days ago back on the line, hoping they’ll dry.
There are numb areas on the left side of my face, along my cheek and around my eye. I have vertigo, and my cognition is choppy, like my brain is skipping. It’s a migraine, but a painless one. No headache.
We learn metta practice. We’re instructed to develop a feeling of lovingkindness in ourselves, towards ourselves, and then to direct that feeling toward all other beings. I try to stop my mental griping and go along with it. Goenka intones, “May all beings be haaaaaapppppppyyy. May all beings be peeeeeeacefuuuulllll.” This makes me giggle, which makes lovingkindness easier.
Everyone in the meditation hall seems to be farting. Blow-hole girl next to me lets out a poot-poot-poot, and exhales hard through her nose. The knuckle-cracker and the cushion-rearranger are still at it. None of this bothers me.
At the break, I approach the assistant teacher. “Is the chanting designed to drive us crazy?” I ask. He looks pained. It’s Goenka’s way of doing metta, he says. It’s meant to calm and sooth us.
Debi brings me walnuts again. They’re delicious, but I worry that she’s not getting enough to eat.
Another cold night. I use the blow dryer to warm up my toes and the inside of the sleeping bag before I crawl in. It’s freezing in the cabin. I want to leave, just get in my car and drive until I’m home. I talk myself out of it and count the hours until the retreat is over: 34.
I sleep, and dream that I’m strangling a little girl. In the dream, I realize that she’s me. She doesn’t seem to mind that I’m strangling her, but I stop anyway.
Day 10 – Noble Chatter
The group meditation ends at 9am, and Noble Silence is officially over, though men and women will remain segregated until the following morning.
People leave the meditation hall and go to the washroom or to their cabins, not speaking. I go to our cabin. Debi comes in a short while later. We sit quietly together, talking, as we’ve done for five days. Outside, the chatter begins. Debi and I listen. As the minutes pass, it grows in volume and excitement, punctuated by giggling.
“I have no desire to go out there,” Debi says. Nor do I. “We could be the shy recluses,” I say. “They have insecticide for those,” she says.
Lasagna and apple crisp for lunch. I join in the chatter and apologize for my incessant coughing. The girl who sat next to me says that at some point she realized that she’d begun exhaling loudly through her nose. She worries that it bothered people, that she’d become “The Exhaler” in everyone’s minds. I assure her that this isn’t the case, thus breaking the fourth precept. Another of the women dismisses my coughing as not particularly annoying, because she knew I couldn’t help it. The cushion-rearranger and the knuckle-cracker, however, really pissed her off.
I like these women more than I intended to. They’re bright and funny and full of life. Many of them are world-travelers. One who doesn’t know my name calls me Juniper, the name of my cabin. “You just seem like a Juniper,” she says. No one has caught my cold.
During the evening discourse, Goenka reveals that we have been living as renunciate monks and nuns for the last nine days, observing the five precepts, being housed and fed through the charity and care of others. I wish I’d been more in tune with this, because if I’d been viewing myself as a nun, I’d have been more at peace with the process. Instead, all I’ve been able to think about are the goddamn rules and the relentless misery.
I take a shower before bed, thinking I’ll avoid the morning rush. When I get out, five of the women are engaged in giddy conversation by the mirrors. The Exhaler is tells a story about her star-crossed romance. I wait for her to finish before drying my hair. It goes on for forty-five minutes.
I get into my bunk for the last time, and think, Why can’t I just leave? The course is over. What’s the difference if I leave now or in the morning? But I’ve been here for ten days. What’s twelve more hours?
Day 11 – Breaking Camp
In the morning, we get Goenka’s final discourse. His tone is very schoolmasterish as he urges us to continue meditating for two hours a day once we leave. This guy really over-delivers. He says, “Your liberation is up to you. No one can do this for you.” I almost lose it. I want to stand up in the meditation hall and scream, “What do you fucking think I’ve been fucking doing for the last ten – no, eleven – no, TWELVE fucking days? Fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck you!” But I don’t.
We have a final meal together. I mention to the assistant teacher that I’ve been angry a lot of the time I’ve been here. He thinks this is great. Abe comes up behind me and wishes me a happy birthday. I respond in kind. He cracks his knuckles. The other women at the table wish me a happy birthday. “I turned 46,” I say. No one says, “Wow, you really don’t look it!” Clearly, they’re not prepared to break the fourth precept.
I introduce Abe to Debi, and he bombards her with questions about the massage school, interspersed with lots of self-deprecation and a variety of inappropriate remarks. She shoots me an amused look over his head. “He’s a puppy,” I mouth back at her.
It takes a long time to get everything cleaned up and put away. Debi and I decide we should eat something before we get on the road. Leaving the camp, I realize my eyes are not quite ready for driving. Ten days of having them closed much of the time has dulled my vision, and despite my eagerness to get home, I’m glad when we stop in Ketchum, the town nearest the camp, for a late breakfast.
Over eggs and Canadian bacon and elk sausage – and coffee! – Abe talks non-stop, jumping from one topic to another with a rapidity that leaves Debi and I awestruck. “Oh, look – a squirrel!” I say, teasing him. “Do you know what movie that’s from?” he says. “I don’t remember,” I admit. “Up,” he says, pleased with himself.
On the way home, I put on Nick Drake, which makes the aching in my chest worse, but it mellows Abe out. I try to pay attention to the sensations in my body as I drive, but it’s a relentless ache that will only leave me once I’m in my front door.
I’ll probably do this again next year.