May 25, 2011

My tryst with Masochistic Meditation: Vipassna, Part 1

I just read somewhere,

Being happy is another way of being wise.

A fortnight ago, I would have said 'uhhh… I know that!' and then quickly gone on to read something else, because I had no idea what it meant. I would have forgotten about it and life would have gone on.

I guess it took an agonizing, grueling and ego-shattering 10 days of masochistic meditation for me to really get the meaning of that statement. Now, the truth in it gives me goose bumps.

Yup. I went for the 10 day Vipassna meditation camp.
Yup, I didn't speak a word (including sign language) to anyone for ten days.
Yup, the last meal I had was at 11 am everyday, for ten days.
Yup, I sat in the meditation hall in excruciating pain for 11 hours, for ten days.
Yup, I lived in a brick, 11ftX6ft room in 45 degrees Celsius, with one ceiling fan, for ten days.

And, yes, I can't wait to do it again!

Okay before you shut this window, I'll admit, I thought about running away every one of the nine nights.

The tenth night, I knew I was leaving in the morning, so that doesn't count.

The truth is, they were probably ten of the most physically strenuous days of my life. Not that it was a mental cake walk.

The problem wasn't that a deafening gong woke me at 4 am, or that I couldn't scream for it to 'SHUT the h*ll up!'.  The problem wasn't that in the half dream like state of consciousness, sitting for two straight hours in the middle of the night felt like 4 inch nails being hammered into my back. The problem wasn't that even though my last meal was at 11 am the previous day, at the breakfast table I couldn't shove food down my throat fast enough to make a beeline to my room and catch a fifteen minute power nap.
No, I don't think sleep deprivation was the problem.
I didn't mind the three spiders (baby tarantulas, in my expert opinion) under the bathroom sink, with whom I had a silent agreement. I knew that it was in the interest of all four parties to honor the settlement to stay out of each other's way, during 6.30 to 7.30 am, when I had no choice but to use the bathroom. In return, I would give them fair warning and knock
on the door loudly for fifty three seconds before

Don't ask me why. The spiders wanted fifty three seconds. Nothing more, nothing less. I figured it must be a weird spider ritual.

I also had a fragile peace treaty with the two baby geckos that seemed to have leased out my Crocs (my footwear of choice) for the ten nights they were seemingly available. The understanding we had reached was that they were free to enter my shoe, when I was asleep at night. In the morning, at 4am sharp, I would point my flashlight at them and they would scamper out in peace and not return till I was asleep again that night.

I had also negotiated with the three million mosquitoes in my room that they were free to nibble at my feet and fingers. No trespassing on the face, though. Malaria ridden mosquitoes, were obviously banned from the room. We had a bit of trouble with a few rebels who decided to attack the delicate skin on my upper arm, but all in all, the arrangement was a success.

I was good at handling the heat. I had managed, somehow, to remember to bring an umbrella.

Okay, fine.
It was my mom's idea.

I vividly remember the dejection and gloom which walked me all the way to the room, at nine in the night, every night. Sore muscles, knees buckling under my own weight, I used to wonder everyday, if I'd reach my bed before or after I pass out. I also wondered, if I'd wake up the next morning.

But I always did. Without fail. I'm not quite sure how.
I guess the fact that the first sound you would hear was the chirping of the birds helped. It wasn't the abrasive babble of the city bird mafia fighting for turf. It was actual singing.

The fresh summer breeze that blows only for nocturnal animals who are awake at 4 am, helped too.
The rocky hills that surrounded us, almost protectively, definitely made it easier. The stray pup that always seemed to wait for me while I washed my plate after lunch made me smile everyday.

The fact that you were in the middle of nowhere, with no one but yourself was strangely comforting.

So the first lesson I learnt at the Vipassna meditation centre was this:

It's only in the midst of extreme hardships, that you experience the simplest pleasures. That's when you get to know what's right and beautiful in the world.

 What I didn't know (and I just found out a few minutes ago) was that the first three days of meditation was developing my mental balance. And its with this mental balance that I was developing a ballast that was keeping me stable under extreme conditions.

For those of you grinning smugly, yes. I do consider living with wildlife in my room, in 45 degrees Celsius, EXTREME conditions.

Anyway, I'm not the one who's saying this. Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and author of Coming to Our Senses (Hyperion, 2005) is saying it.

Got anymore questions?
Didn't think so.
Afraid of the PhD power, aren't ya?
I've done my research... on the research they've done. 

Part 2 coming up. Don't go anywhere.
Unless you have to.
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The Pious Hippie by Ms. Pious Hippie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.