April 29, 2009
I’d like to tell you a story. This is going to be a long one, so either sit down with a cup of tea and some time on your hands, or pick the section that your eye lands on, and read just that. Or skip it entirely, and come back to it someday if you feel compelled. I’m going to look ahead now and try to break this into more manageable pieces, so you can read them individually, or put them together as a whole piece if you’d like.
For those of you who have been following along with me, you know that I entered the monastery to practice vipassana meditation for a further ten days. This story begins on the second or third day.
I reported to the office of the head monk on that day, and when he inquired as to how many hours I had meditated, I told him six. I was expecting him to ask me to do seven hours the next day. He asked me to do ten. Something in me snapped. For the next few hours, I watched my mood get worse and worse. Everything was bothering me. Bugs seemed to be biting me everywhere, on my arms, my hands, my face. The sun was hot, and my clothes were sticking to my skin. It was ninety-five degrees in the room with a fan on. I was agitated, and fidgeting all over. By seven o’clock, I was feeling terrible. It was time to report back to the office for our opening ceremony.
When I got there, there were still some nuns inside talking to Ajahn, so I waited in the outer office with three or four other people who I didn’t know. They were also waiting to do their opening ceremony. They were all huddled together in one corner, giggling and talking quietly. I walked over to the other side, where no one else was sitting, and took a seat on the bench. I folded my legs, put my hands in my lap, and closed my eyes. I felt the pain moving all through my body. I hated being there, I hated the sounds around me, and I hated the breeze blowing in through the screen. I hated everything just then. I remember opening my eyes at one point and looking at the golden offering trays on the table in front of me. I thought to myself, “I’m in a nightmare right now. I need to wake up. Please wake up. Please wake up, Sarah.” I began repeating this over and over as I sat there with my legs crossed and my hands in my lap. “I’m in a nightmare right now. I need to wake up. Help me wake up. Wake up, Sarah. Wake up.”
By the time we got into the Ajahn’s office, I felt my throat constricting with tears. I knew I wouldn’t cry in his office, but the feeling was strong, and it was hard for me to repeat the ritual words after him. I kept my hands pressed together in front of my heart, prostrated when I was supposed to, and followed along with the ceremony, but I was in a lot of pain, and I just wanted to leave. I remember looking at Ajahn at one point, this sweet, kind man who has helped me invariably, and I thought to myself, “Ajahn, even you are a part of my nightmare right now.” And then, “Wake up, Sarah. Wake up.”
I got back to the room and pulled the sitting mat to the far corner. I wanted to be as far away from the door as possible. I didn’t want anyone to hear me cry. I dropped my pillow at the top of the mat, and a folded blanket on top of that. Then I got down on my knees, dropped my face into the soft pile, and began to sob. I cried and I cried, letting it all out. I heaved into the pillows, rising every few moments to blow my nose ferociously. This went on for a long time. I would look around the room in between sobs, through bleary eyes, and think to myself, “This room is a part of my nightmare. That stupid timer is a part of my nightmare. My purse is a part of my nightmare!” The more personal the object, the more it pained me. Even the book I’ve been raving about, “The Power of Now,” became a part of my nightmare. I remember looking at it and thinking, “Eckhart, even you are a part of my nightmare right now.”
Somehow, at some point, I got up. I’d been crying for the better part of an hour. I remember lying there on my side, curled into the fetal position. I had wrapped the blanket over my head to muffle the sobs, and my breath was hot on my face. The sobs died down to hiccups, and the hiccups gave way to silence. A feeling of stillness came over me. I took a few deep breaths, and wondered, “What do you do now?” The answer was clear and immediate- “You get up.” So I got up. And I turned on the timer. And I began to walk. I walked slowly back and forth across the room, my arms folded behind my back, and my mind very dull. My eyes burned from crying, and the fan made it worse, but I just kept on, walking slowly, noting every step. I meditated until ten o’clock that night, then turned out the light and went to sleep.