In this edition: 106 hours of meditation, out of which 23 hours were spent waiting for breakfast/lunch/bootleg coffee, 6 hours focussing on a single piece of snot in my left nostril, 17 hours lusting over the beautiful man next to me (more like 37 actually). 18 hours were spent counting down the hours and 32 hours to mentally write this liveblog.
10 minutes were spent totally tripping and then another 5 days waiting for it to happen again. All of 57 minutes were spent in deep meditative thought.
I’m starting to be over Rupaul’s Drag Race, so I let myself be locked up in a silent 10 day meditation camp to find new meaning in life. Whilst there I kept a minute-by-minute (mental) liveblog so that you guys don’t have to go through it yourself. And also as an excuse to not actually meditate. Meditation is really boring.
For those who don’t want to read this (possibly somewhat lengthy) blog I’ll summarise my key insight after 10.5 days of intense Vipassana meditation: It makes for an amazing blog.
So get over yourself and start reading you lazy shit.
Whilst planning for camp I realised that my visa was going to run out midway through the meditation and I emailed the centre to ask if that was going to be a problem. But I guess everybody was meditating, so I didn’t get a reply. I already had visions of sitting in the meditation hall on day 5 with a terrible pain and feeling horrendously bored and immigration police bursting through the door looking for me shouting: “SIR! You are an illegal alien in this country. YOU MUST BOARD THE FIRST PLANE TO BANGKOK”.
I figured this would be a best case scenario. But at the last minute I decide not to risk it and pop over to Bangkok for 38 hours, and I spend those hours efficiently engaging in any number of activities that the 8 Buddhist precepts forbid.
So about 39,5 hours after setting foot in Bangkok I arrive back in Myanmar a broken man and probably still heavily intoxicated. I tell myself it was a necessary break to ‘get it out of my system’, but in reality it has actually primed my system for a week of partying and expecting every minute of the day to be filled with stimulants.
Back in Myanmar I meet C at the airport in Mandalay and together we grab a cab up to Pyin Oo Lwin. I had to go with my Italian ladyfriend C, because the Neo-Buddha (whom I did the previous meditation camp with) seems to exclusively travel with her bed partner these days (about which we’re going to be having a very frank discussion soon). Pyin Oo Lwin is an old British hill station with a botanical garden, beautiful surroundings, and the cool climate of the hills. We have a night there before we go to camp.
We wake up from the best night of sleep we’ve had in months. It’s freezing cold (by Yangon standards) and we both slept like a rock under the thick covers. After a quick breakfast – without coffee, to get into the new meditation habit – we set off to the market and go on a buying spree for anything that might make our stay remotely more comfortable. Blankets, anti-biotics, pro-biotics, vitamins, hats, and instant coffee (just in case I get terrible withdrawal symptoms).
We have a (huge) last lunch during which I feel quite anxious and I spend most of it in my phone – since this is going to be my last contact with the outside world. And then we set off to the Dhamma Mahimar Vipassana Meditation Center where we register and are shown to our quarters. I get my own room, which is a huge relief and the bedding seems reasonably comfortable. I try to have a quick chat with all the (foreign) men – there’s 9 of us – so that I at least know who I’m surrounded by for the next 11 days. C has been escorted off to the women’s side of camp, and I’m not sure how much I’ll be seeing of her.
18.00 – Our fist meditation session starts – without dinner – and I find my designated spot in the meditation hall. Men and women are in the same space, but on opposite sides of the hall. I’m on pillow number 15, and moments after I sit down on the mat the most beautiful man East of Mumbai sits down next to me. FAAAAAAHHHHHHKKKKK.
He’s the only foreigner I didn’t talk to before and I realise instantly that this enigma of beauty will be my number 1 distraction from meditation for the next 11 days.
Then the meditation starts – and with that our ‘noble silence’ begins. That basically means we cannot speak, but also can’t glance or sign or have any kind of eye contact. I listen to the new rules being explained whilst glancing at Beautiful Man.
The meditation is based on the teachings of Buddha, but was lost for like 2,000 years. The practice has always been known in Myanmar however, being carried over from generation to generation by a small number of monks – keeping its pure form. One of those monks started opening those teachings to more people around the time of Myanmar independence, and one of his pupils was SN Goenka. He was a Myanmar born Indian, and Goenka brought Vipassana to the entire world. He died a few years back, and the entire course is based on tape and video recordings of Goenka.
(someone should fact-check that last paragraph. I was absorbed by you-know-who during the talk so it’s possible that not a word is correct)
So when meditation starts, we listen to an audio tape of Goenka explaining the technique. There are also a man and a women that sit in the front of the hall facing us, but their only formal role is to sit there and say “5 minute break” every now and then. And they are available twice a day if you have questions about the meditation practice. So we listen to Goenka who explains the meditation technique we’ll use for the next three days, which is rather simple. Breathe in and out and focus on the triangle that consists of your nose and the outsides of the top of your upper lip.
So yes, for 3 days, for a total of 35 hours we’ll be sitting on our mat, and focussing on the breath going in and out of our nose, contemplating important life questions like “is more breath going through my left nostril, or through my right nostril”, and “is my upper lip moist?” Nothing more. Nothing less.
On the plus side: Goenka says we can move as much as we like, which is a huge – huge relief. He also tells me to keep my back straight. Which I manage for about 3 breaths.
19.00 – We get our first evening discourse. During this time all the foreigners sit in a small room where we watch a recording of Goenka on TV. During these hourlong discourses he explains more about the technique and uses a lot of stories and examples. He’s a very good speaker, so it’s a very enjoyable hour.
When we walked into the room (girls from the girl’s side, and men through the men’s door) we all grabbed a pillow and sat down. To the shock of one of the Myanmar women volunteers that had to sit in the room with us to make sure nothing immoral happened. She immediately stood in the middle of the room and shouted “THIS IS THE ROAD” gesturing with her hands that a neutral ground had to be kept between the men and women’s side of the room. Like a demilitarised zone of sorts.
New insights: my breath is strongly routed through my right nostril tonight.
04.00 – Every morning we wake up to the sound of the gong. This morning I wake up with 7 days of Christmas by Beyonce in my head. Specifically the line “On the first day of Christmas my baby gave to me” – and then I don’t know what she actually receives so I just repeat that line over and over and over and over again all day.
I splash some water in my face and stretch a bit before slumping to the meditation hall. It’s damn cold so I wear all my clothes and bring a thick blanket. My entire body hurts, but that has more to do with Bangkok than with the first hours of practice. I silently swear at myself for having been so stupid.
From now on we’ll be meditating for 10.5 hours a day in 4 different blocks. The early morning block is shit, because it’s two full hours without a break and it’s pre-breakfast. I can usually concentrate for the first 30 or 45 minutes of it. And then spend 1.5 hour waiting for the gong to go to breakfast.
After breakfast I have a nap, and then the morning session – which lasts 3 hours with 1 break – is usually quite a good session. Then it’s lunch and a free hour – all of which passes by easily. But then the afternoon session starts. It’s 4 gruelling hours long (with only 2 breaks), and the afternoon session usually breaks me. It’s too long and I get annoyed or start doubting or get distracted. So by the time we have tea at 5 I tend to sit with my head in my hands feeling miserable.
Then the evening session comes. An hour of meditation and then TV time – which is great – and then a last half hour of meditation. The evening usually gets me into good spirits again and we go to bed at 9.
Back to Day 1. I’m quite tired and have the Beyonce Christmas song in my head all day. Then during the afternoon I get into a bit of a panic realising there’s so many days ahead. I’m sitting in my room and looking around it I realise there’s literally nothing of interest in it. Nothing that could distract me from the dull rhythm of monastic life in any way. It’s a bare room with white walls and two beds. There’s my bag, which has clothes and nothing else. My phone and book are gone.
New insights: none whatsoever
4.00 – I wake up with I don’t know how to love him from Jesus Christ Superstar in my head. I’m not sure if this is about loving the Buddha or self love (there are no other serious contenders at the moment). Except for Beautiful Man, but I know exactly how to love him. In fact, I’ve been fantasising about just that for the previous 36 hours.
I don’t know much about Beautiful Man except for his striking beauty. He looks mixed. Could be some Persian or some Indian blood. Or maybe just Latin. He’s got long black hair in a manbun and a thick beard. He’s tall and has a broad chest and broad shoulders. He sits very well and doesn’t move much, so I suspect him of doing quite some yoga. When he gets up after a session he uses his fists to push himself up, which makes me thinks he also does boxing or something. Then there’s all the tattoos on his feet and legs (the only body parts I’m allowed to look at since we’re supposed to look down).
6.30 – YEAH!!! Mohinga for breakfast. I think it’s going to be a good day.
8.00 – Meditation is going quite well and the focus on my breath is not too difficult to keep up, although my mind wanders a lot of course. I’ve started bringing the meditation pillow I brought from home into the hall, and I use the different pillows to build a small skyscraper under my ass (YES YES… MAKE YOUR JOKES) and then I sit on my knees. In that position I can take it for 30 minutes without moving or looking at the clock.
11.00 – I’m drinking incredible amounts of water all day, because peeing is the most exciting activity of the day.
14.00 – The town of Pyin Oo Lwin is also home to the Myanmar Military’s Defence Service Academy, which is the most important military academy in the country where all the elite officers are trained. For the last two days now I’ve been wondering why people keep lighting fireworks in the middle of the day, until I realise that it’s actually gunfire. The academy must be close, because we hear the trumpet in the morning (I first thought that Myanmar trucks had started installing really elaborate car horns, to the tune that the military trumpeter plays when we commemorate the WWII deaths in the Netherlands).
The military also does exercises in the morning and they sing military songs while they do it. And the meditation hall sometimes has chanting on the audio recording. That leads to this fairly absurd situation:
Mediation hall: Hoooooohmmmmm baddddii Ammmmmmbiiiiaaaaaaadu
Military: push HARDER push HARDER push HARDER push HARDER
Mediation hall: Ammmmmmmmbiiiiaaaaaaaadu teeeeeeemmmmmbadiiiiiiiii
Military: push HARDER push HARDER push HARDER push HARDER
16.30 – I’m meditating in my room and the afternoon is dishearteningly long again. At a certain point I see the 7-eleven banana that I forgot to eat in Bangkok sticking out of my bag. It’s wrapped in plastic 7-eleven packaging, and the mere sight of it gives me a pang of longing for Bangkok. It nearly drives me over the edge.
17.00 – I finally pooped.
18.00 – So I was complaining earlier that being 17 metres away from a military training ground was distracting for meditation, but actually there’s a much bigger distraction from within. People in Myanmar are inclined towards burping on any given day, but it seems like there is a common belief that one should under no circumstances withhold a burp during meditation. Every time the hall reaches complete silence, there’ll be a super loud burp cracking through it.
I dream of getting up and walking to the front of the hall and to stand there as an orchestra conductor and make everybody burp the Radetzky March.
In the beginning I was thinking it must be C. who’s doing the burping. Because having spent the last months at the office with her I can attest that she burps more than a teenage football team that’s high on Coca Cola. But having gotten such intimate knowledge of her upwardly moving stomach gasses I was surprised not to hear the distinct sound of her burps from across the hall.
New insights: none
4.00 – Woke up with Working 9 to 5. Though it’s more like 4 to 9.
8.00 – A new level is introduced at meditation. If we breathe through our nose long enough, we might feel a tingling or itching sensation on our nose. The area of focus has also been narrowed further. For me this is fantastic motivation on the meditation mat because I see this as a competition. If today I feel an itch between the upper lip and the nose or on the outer ring of the nostrils I’m still in the race to leave this place enlightened.
11.00 – I’m in the dining hall and I sit on my designated spot by the window and next to the wall. We’re seated by age and in the same position as in the meditation hall, which means that even in the dining hall I’m distracted by Beautiful Man next to me. He tends to overscoop on the buffet and eats faster than I do. Not very mindful.
Then suddenly I realise that the women must also be seated by age and C was the oldest woman in the group. Which probably means that C is on the other side of the thin wall next to me and I long to shout CAZZO in Italian against the wall.
In the meditation hall C is sitting at the far end of the line I’m in, and I keep wanting to push over the old Myanmar man next to me to set off a human domino and make C fall over. But unfortunately there’s too big of a demilitarised zone between the male and female side for it to work.
17.00 – The afternoon killed me again. I’ve been having Baby Shark in my head for hours now which is something no man should ever have to go through, and I decide to start breaking rules. I brought my emergency instant coffee sachets, and although they don’t actually taste like coffee even in the most deprived kind of setting (it’s the 3-in-1 kind – god knows why I didn’t at least buy Nescafe). But it’s the thought of coffee that counts. And besides, we get some kind of terribly sweet drink during tea time (I think the volunteers don’t know it has to be diluted with water), so I’m either drinking sugar disguised as coffee or sugar disguised as juice.
So now I’m sitting here drinking my bootleg coffee and doing my illegal writing and am feeling quite good about it. And I’m totally using this blog as an escape from meditation by now.
I wonder how everybody else is doing at camp. Seems like the other guys are getting through quite okay, although I did hear one Danish guy anxiously asking the staff if they had coffee. Or at least cow milk he added with desperation in his voice.
New insights: I realised why everybody’s farting and burping so much. We get tea-leaf salad every day at lunch, and if there’s one dish in Myanmar cuisine that will get your gasses moving it’s tea-leaf salad. It’s the only side-dish that we get every day and I think it’s slow torture by the chef because she’s pissed cos nobody can speak up to thank her for the food.
4.00 – Wake up with Grease’s “Tell Me More, Tell Me More”. Which is the one thing I cannot do. Also: waking up at 4 is still not great. And the early morning sessions are pretty shit. Managed to focus for the first 30 minutes and then just sat there for another 1.5 hours waiting for breakfast.
You try to wait as long as possible before looking at the clock – which hangs at the back of the hall – being absolutely certain that at least 37 minutes must have gone by. And then you look and it’s only eleven minutes. This constant juggling with postures and thinking “I’m going to wait until I hear the military trumpet at 5.30 until I move”. And then you’re thinking: “fuck the military must be sleeping in today because it must be waaaaaaaaay past 5.30 by now and my legs feel terrible I’m going to look at the clock and move”. And then it’s 5.17.
9.05 – A big part of the teaching is that everything is constantly changing and nothing is permanent. It’s like living by a river. Every day you see the same river. But in fact the water that makes up the river changes completely every minute. Another important part of the teaching is that you need to experience everything in stead of just learning it from a teacher.
I wasn’t really buying it all, but just had a massive shit during the 5 minute break and can tell you that I am now an entirely different person from the one who was sitting on this mat just 6 minutes ago.
On the meditation front I’m starting to feel more sensations around my nose. I basically sit there and scan my upper lip from millimetre to millimetre. Sometimes I feel nothing, sometimes I feel something tingling. The best case scenario is if you have a drop of snot in your nose that’s making its way down sooooooooo slowly. Every time I feel a drop I’m like “YEAH!! THAT’S LIKE TOTALLY 42 MINUTES OF INTENSE FOCUS COMING DOWN MY LEFT NOSTRIL”
I’ve also started creating an elaborate world on my upper lip called Snorrenland (‘Moustache Land’ in Dutch – you’d think I’d come up with something more creative with all this time to spare). Snorrenland is inhabited by the Snorren People and they live underneath my nose. They survive off food spills that get stuck in my moustache and most of the Snorren People enjoy gherkins from a young age.
Every time I have a cold they think it’s cyclone season and they have to hang on for dear life. Luckily they have a really good disaster management agency and the moustache acts like a mangrove. They think they’re heavily affected by climate change, losing a lot of their mangrove every 9 days or so. But actually it’s me shaving.
11.00 – Shit. Just. Got. Real.
Till now it was fairly easy sailing. Sure, the days were long and sure I’m doubting things every time we have the 4-hour long afternoon session. But they’ve just introduced us to the technique for the rest of the days. In stead of focussing on our nose we’ll be doing body scans, focussing on every inch of the body from the top of the head down to the toes. And then up again. And down again. And up again. But that part’s great, I was starting to be done with my nose. And the whole moustache people fantasy was getting out of hand too to be honest.
But mostly: We. Cannot. Move. Anymore.
That changes everything. I instantly tensed up and got so stressed that I couldn’t even sit still for 18 seconds.
I think I seriously have the worst posture of the entire hall. I wouldn’t even know how to make a straight back if my life depended on it. And then in front of me are all these 60-year-old Myanmar men who sit dead still for hours at a time. And the Myanmar women are even more still. And they’re all at least a generation older than me. They only occasionally open their mouth to burp.
After the ‘no more moving’ news we get a short break and all the foreigners are kind of hunching together – all of us in shock and wanting to share our distress but unable to say anything. Or maybe it’s just me projecting my feelings.
I feel like leaving right now. Better to give up now than to give up after two days of agonising pain.
17.00 – During the afternoon tea break with my illegal coffee I do contingency planning in my room with all the pillows I have. If I’m to survive this I’ll have to bring a third pillow into the meditation hall, to build myself a throne of sorts. And then maybe – just maybe – I’ll make it out with both my legs intact.
18.00 – So with our new technique we need to go over our entire body and note all the sensations. At the moment it’s quite unambiguous all over the body: complete panic.
New insights: I now realise why I always think I have an STD. Turns out that if you focus on a certain body part long enough you’re bound to get a tingling sensation.
4.00 – Woke up with Alles Is Te Koop in my head, a Children’s song that means “Everything is for Sale” which is ironic – again – because enlightenment is the one thing that doesn’t come in a truck from China and is for sale on Alibaba.
(actually, no. There are exactly 100 pages of products on Alibaba featuring ‘enlightenment’)
8.00 – Have been too preoccupied with concentrated meditation to have a song in my head and I managed a full hour on my knees without moving. The only problem is that this did hurt my knees to the extent of them being unusable for the next 2 months. I stumbled out of the meditation hall looking like I just finished the 4-daagse.
And the new technique introduced yesterday is not as bad as I feared. I might even walk out of this place with a better posture at the end of all this.
To manage all this I have started bringing a blanket into the meditation hall – in addition to the 3 pillows I already cary around to survive.
We have 3 one-hour sessions a day during which we’re not supposed to move at all for a full hour. I spend these sitting on my knees with the throne of pillows underneath. At the other times we’re allowed to move but should do so as little as possible. I sit cross legged during that time – which I’m terrible at. But I’ve started putting the pillows and blanket under my knees for some additional support. However I also sit on an extra thick pillow, which means that the pillows that support the knees need to be even higher.
It’s becoming a very elaborate structure and I basically feel like an airplane in the hangar with wing-shaped scaffolding to hold everything in place, if you know what I mean.
16.00 – I’m having super intense sessions today. A bit scary actually. I started hallucinating a bit and saw all these patterns in front of me. Sometimes they would almost morph into something, but I could never quite see what it was.
It was pretty intense and my head kind of locked on my neck. And I could either fight it, which would lock my head further, or I could let go and then everything would soften. Don’t really know if it’s something I should dive into further to see what’s there, or if the lesson is to never fight it but to let go and ease out of it. It felt quite scary and at some point I had the feeling that some hand was trying to grab me. And the pressure on my head was insane.
19.00 – FUCK I WAS FLYING JUST NOW! I WAS FLOATING IN THE SKY AND THE FLOOR WAS GONE!!! I had a really good session – deeply concentrated. At a certain point my entire lower body had gone numb, and then I couldn’t figure out which hand was on which knee anymore, to the extent that I didn’t even know which limb was connected to which body part. It all felt completely disassembled. And as I was leaning forward trying to make sense of it all I lost the floor underneath me and was just floating in the sky. Am pretty sure my ‘real-life’ body was leaning forward so much that I was on the verge of tipping over. But thank god I didn’t…
It takes take five days of your life and your knees will age about 5 years during that period of time, but then you do get a free trip!
20.00 – OMG I just got a wink from C.
Floating and a wink…! Best. Day. Ever.
New insights: none.
4.00 – In stead of waking up with a cheap pop-song in my head I now wake up with random Buddhist chanting. Life has really taken a turn…
6.30 – There was a huge bowl of raw onion at breakfast, which made up for a lot of suffering during the early morning session.
And as I sit there eating breakfast and looking out the window at the only part of the ‘outside world’ I’ve seen in the last 6 days, I realise how quickly I go from being so happy about being grounded and wanting to live a wholesome life, to profoundly wishing an AirAsia A320 plane would land in front of the dining hall and open it’s doors and have someone shout “Bangkok? To Bangkok anyone?”. I see myself jumping up, throwing my chair to the ground, sprinting outside and grabbing hold of the handrail just as they start lifting up the stairs and being the one person who manages to catch the flight out.
Yesterday I found the boarding pass of the flight here in my bag. It mentioned the flight number, date, time and chair number, and the fact that I didn’t have luggage, and I read it 7 times and then once more. It was by far the most interesting thing I’ve seen in the last days.
8.00 – I slept bad and feel super tired today. And I’m pretty sure I’m gaining weight. Every time I do a bodyscan and I get to my stomach my only sensation is a blob of fat pushing against the elastic of my backpacker pants.
Yesterday Goenka was talking about I, I, I, and me, me, me, and the importance of losing your ego. Today I’m thinking it over and I totally agree to it, but I worry about the consequences. Like, I genuinely don’t know how to not start a sentence with I, except by adding “Like” before it.
10.30 – Every now and then we have to come to the teacher in the front in groups of 5 and he checks whether we understood the technique right. I asked a question about natural breathing, but he didn’t really understand it, so Beautiful Man – who is still sitting beside me every minute of the day – repeated the word “Natural” with a distinctly latin accent. So my guess is now that he’s Spanish.
12.00 – Went to the teacher in private this time to ask what the hell is up with the hallucinations and the floating around, but again he didn’t understand the question, which is actually quite annoying. I wanted to ask if these hallucinations are something to explore, or if I need to learn to let them pass, just as we learn to let every other thought pass during meditation.
After not answering my question he asks me to stay on and translate for another student – as if knowing how to say “how much is the banana” in Burmese will allow me to translate a distressed meditator’s questions about his meditation technique.
15.00 – Wow I keep on going into these deep kind of meditative states when I sit down properly. Wasn’t really expecting this, and they can be quite intense. I really need to sit dead still for it, but then I slide into them quite easily. Earlier I saw myself as a kid and was floating along, and just now I had this super nice tingling feeling all over from the neck down.
17.00 – I finally ate the 7-eleven banana and it was hard as a rock. I could literally hear the ‘knack’-sound when I bit it (I had been wondering why it didn’t turn brown after 6 days). Those bananas are literally the only non-processed food in the entire 7-eleven. That’s why they put plastic around individual bananas. Otherwise people wouldn’t recognise it as food.
18.00 – CAAAAZZOOOOO some sort of music procession is happening next door. I think it’s a pagoda festival on wheels. It sounds like a slow moving Dutch carnaval parade and it’s driving me crazy.
In Myanmar the distinction between an electronic music festival, an advertising truck, a pagoda festival and just some random lottery sales guy with a tiny street cart with massive speakers can be surprisingly difficult to make when you have to judge it by sound alone. But I’m thinking it’s a pagoda festival, and that means it could take days.
New insights: I’m going to be chill about being in the slowest lane at the supermarket when I get out of this. Also: if that’s going to be my biggest take-away point then this whole undertaking is a terrible waste of 10 days.
4.00 – Woke up with Leave Your Body by Lucky Fonz III. Which once again seems quite suitable.
9.00 – A fellow camp inmate just walked by in elephant pants and in my head I instantly said “stupid backpacker”. Was quite shocked by how it took only a fraction of a second for me to voice that judgement in my head. I think normally I’m more subconsciously judging but these thoughts seem to be more out in the open this week as you’re closer to your subconscious.
11.00 – we just got our own meditation cells inside the pagoda, so in stead of doing private mediation in my room we have this cell. It’s basically a bare cell of 2 x 1.5 meter with a hole in the ceiling for oxygen and a meditation mat on the floor. It could be terribly depressing, but so far I think I quite like it.
Day 5 was definitely a high – in that I literally felt high and was flying – and since then I’ve been craving to have that back – which is obviously counter-productive. I do still have some very interesting deep meditations every day though.
14.00. – OMG OMG our cells have our name written on it on a piece of paper and I now know that Beautiful Man – who is obviously in the cell next to me so that I can still hear his very move (and bowel movement) – is called Valentino. So latin it is!
15.00 – The foreigners here were already the ‘procession of the crippled’ every time we stumble out of the meditation hall after an hour of still mediation. And like me, most of the foreigners have been progressively adding pillows and blankets to our meditation attire, and now that we split our time between the meditation hall and the cell we look like we’re going to a slumber party every time we move to the cell. Even more so because al these 60-something Myanmar men walk to the pagoda in a swift stride, followed by all these young foreigners in the prime of their life who can barely walk and have pillows and blankets under both arms.
18.00 – Fuck. I just realised my meditation technique is wrong. So this entire technique (and so many other meditation techniques) are about body scans, and I just realised that I scan by moving my eyes to that body part – even though my eyes are closed, I move them in the socket. This explains why I’m not feeling any sensations at the back of my head or on my back; my eyes can’t look there. It also explains why I keep moving my entire upper body like a joystick, it’s to help my eyes focus on body parts they could otherwise not see. I’m pretty sure I’ve been doing this for years – since I started with meditation basically, and I have no idea how to stop doing it; it’s super ingrained. It also explains why my head’s been feeling so much pressure during long meditations.
I only noticed today when a new technique was introduced whereby we’re not going from one body part to the nexts, but scan the left and right sides of our body simultaneously. It sent my eyes in overdrive because they were in total rapid-eye-movement going left-right-left-right-left-right in milliseconds.
Feeling pretty shit about this and wish I could talk to the teacher for advice. But I already know he wouldn’t understand the English.
4.00 – Woke up with “Woke up, Got out of bed” from the Beatles. Can’t think why.
4.30 – So I tend to be the last person to get into the meditation hall in the morning, because when we have a two hour session there’s not a chance I’m gonna be getting there 11 minutes early. This morning I walked in at 4.25 – just as the staff was walking out to come and search for me. I gave myself a few more minutes of moving around, and then at 4.28 I gave one last look at the clock and got in position.
And at exactly 4.30 to the second the pagoda festival next door started blaring their music. This means my slumber party is now complete. Because not only did I bring my eye mask to the meditation hall to see if it would help against the rapid eye movement (it did), but I also brought my earplugs in case the pagoda festival was on. In addition to all the pillows and blankets of course.
This has definitely cemented my top position in the ranking of ‘Oh My God These Stupid Foreigners, Why Can’t They Just Sit Down and Meditate’.
I look like a nutcase with the pillows and blankets and eye-mask. And yes – I realise that meditation is about learning to cope with all that shit, but the setting in ‘peaceful’ Pyin Oo Lwin town is asking for a lot. On the one hand there’s the sound of constant gunfire coming from the left side of camp, while on the right we are now fully consumed by a Myanmar Pagoda Festival. It’s probably just a neighbourhood festival, but it has the speakers of a major EDM festival. Add to that the fact that we’re by the one road that connects Myanmar with China so every single product that is sold in this country of 54 million people is shipped by our centre in a heavy containertruck.
Honestly, I could have put my meditation mat under the Dagon Centre Flyover in Yangon and I would have had a more peaceful setting.
6.30 – I had a hard papaya at breakfast for the second day in a row, and I’m super okay with that. Juiciest papaya in the world or hard papaya… I’m completely equanimous with both.
10.00 – After a crappy early morning session and feeling stressed about my eyes I just had a really good session. Nothing special happened and I wasn’t flying. But I also din’t feel painful anymore. My legs were asleep and they should have hurt, but I was okay with it and it didn’t bother me; just a deeply concentrated hour. Maybe this is what’s meditation is about.
16.00 – Ugh… I’m done with this shit.
Every time it’s the 4 hour afternoon that breaks me. I blame the system, but actually it’s my own strength of mind that keeps giving up at the end of that session. It doesn’t help that the audiotapes keep talking about free flow. Which is basically that you get tingling sensations all over your body. Almost every hour the tape discusses at length what you need to do when you’re in free flow, and after thatthe tape says “oh and if you don’t have free flow just stick to the old technique and under no circumstances should you feel bad about not having free flow”. Which is obviously not the case.
I’m pretty sure that not all these foreigners around me are free flowing and tripping all over the place, but since I can’t talk to them and the only human contact I have is a voice on a cassette talking about free flow it’s hard to not feel like I’m missing out on something. I’m finding it quite demotivating. And besides that the tape talks a lot about being equanimous about your feelings. That means having the same feelings towards a terrible pain in your legs as to freeflowing the shit out of things. You should not want one more over the other, and in fact craving for freeflow and having an aversion to pain stands for everything that’s wrong in our life and when we do so during meditation it actually reinforces that. In other words: it makes things worse.
But who are we kidding here. Of course I want the damn freeflow. The freeflow feels great! Also, the feeling of your lower body dying off is something I feel significantly less enthusiastic about. So hearing this over and over again becomes quite demotivating.
The other thing Goenka keeps on talking about in literally every other sentence is the phrase “solidified, intensified gros sensations”. Like: “You might be experiencing freeflow or you might be experiencing solidified, intensified gros sensations”.
JUST SAY SCREAMING PAIN!!!
Halfway through day 9 I started checking out. With the finish line in sight I started thinking about Yangon and work more. My eyes were still hurting from using the wrong technique but it was particularly that the audio tapes were so focussed on a state I wasn’t in that was demotivating.
So I kind of gave up, thinking the meditation was drawing to a close anyway. But I still had like 17 hours of meditation left, which is a bit long to sit through and wait. So I decided to just daydream it out. Which was definitely problematic because my daydreaming tends to be very ego-reinforcing; so in the last 36 hours of camp I managed to pretty much cancel out all the gains I made in the first 9 days.
And so the fact that the last couple of days were a struggle and that I gave up trying in the end means that I left camp with mixed feelings. Throughout the retreat I didn’t emerge myself enough (mentally writing this blog during meditation definitely played a roll in that), and I could have probably gotten more out of it. C had a much harder time (she was sharing a room and nobody told them there was a hot water tap somewhere, so she was stuck with freezing showers at 4am). But she also had a much more intense experience and therefore got a lot more out of it.
At the same time – reading back the experiences also makes me remember that I had valuable moments on every day of camp. And I also know that one retreat isn’t going to change your life – though my whole problem is that I always keep hoping for quick fixes in my life.
So with the knowledge that from each of these experiences you come back a little bit wiser and learn something new about yourself and your place in the world I’m still happy to have gone and I look back at it positively. I’m not sure if I would recommend the camp to everyone, but I would definitely recommend starting meditation to everyone. It’s a bitch to start off with, because the moment you sit down your mind starts racing and you just get more stressed (at least that’s what happens with me when I haven’t meditated for a while). But then when I get into it again I can tell it’s making my mind calmer and it helps to focus on the things that matter in life and to let go of the things that just bring short term joy or an ego-boost. A good starter is the Headspace app if you’re interested in meditation.