A good six hour sleep dressed like a cross between Iris Apfel and the Michelin Man, five hundred secret sit ups and a ten minute secret wall squat.
Today was gonna be a great day.
VIPASSANA DAY THREE
My routine was now firmly established. I leapt out of bed with the first gong strike at four, oil pulled then brushed my teeth while doing my secret exercises in the bathroom and blasted myself with an ice cold bucket shower.
After that I was well and truly ready to take myself off to the meditation hall for two hours of focusing on the hocus pocus of the mind.
After two hours of deep concentration, I was a little startled when the six thirty gong chimed and woke me from my trance, but soon came alive when I realised what time it actually was – chai time.
I did a little dance like Carlton from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and excitedly bopped my way through the sandal shufflers towards the dining hall.
After one silver cup full of chai and some diced fruit enjoying the silent company of others I headed out to watch the sun rise.
I wandered up the white stone path, past the knobbly tree trunks and the huge spiky yellow leaves, past the small white flowers with bright yellow pistils and slightly uphill towards the East where there, tucked behind the meditation hall, was the most simply beautiful temple you’ve ever seen.
I called it The Cake and it became my one place of sanctuary. I etched a heart into the ground next to the South facing wall with a small pebble and that became my spot, a meeting point for me and my thoughts.
The Cake was where I’d watch the sun slowly rise over the backdrop of caramel coloured hills in the morning and drain my brain while sipping on yet another cup of chai. It was where at lunch time I’d enjoy the midday rays blazing down on my arms and where in the evenings I’d sit to face the West and watch the sky turning every shade of orange while I thought of home.
It was a round, powdery blue building that matched the morning skies.
At the top of the temple there was a huge golden tower in the shape of an inverted alms bowl with a vane in the centre. It sparkled and glistened no matter what time of day it was, as did the smaller towers that surrounded it. These were the candles on my cake.
The flat round roof was decorated with swirls and waves of whipped cream lined with powdery blue icing and its sides were tickled with golden chandeliers and pillars with golden crowns.
Every day, I’d sit there watching the world wake up and watching it go to sleep, then blow out my make-believe candles and make a wish.
THE NOSE KNOWS
For the first two days of our vipassana retreat we’d done nothing but focus on the breath coming in through our noses and the breath leaving them.
On day one I could feel the coolness of the air coming in and the warmth of the air leaving my body but by day two I was focused on the sensations. I could feel the tickling blast of life being vacuumed in through my nostrils and on the exhale, felt it pushed back out again.
On day three we continued the work with sensations and I noticed a stronger feeling just below the nostrils, above my upper lip. Sometimes it would tingle, sometimes it would tickle and sometimes it would softly pulse.
It was moving, I could feel it all moving.
We were focusing on such a small area of the body that with every meditation sitting our minds were becoming more and more focused and more connected to our physical selves.
I could tell mine was getting sharper as the time lapse between distracting thoughts was getting longer every time.
In one of the afternoon meditation sessions we were summoned up in pairs to walk to the front of the meditation hall and sit cross-legged on the bamboo mats in front of one of the teachers.
Do you know the pledge? she said to us both, softly.
I didn’t have a clue what was going on. What pledge? Were my friends right and I’ve accidentally joined a cult? Have I signed something I shouldn’t have?What on earth was she saying?
Katrina the Yoga Instructor from Spain (who turned out to be Eva the Mindfulness teacher from the Netherlands) seemed to be nodding her head in agreement but I had no idea about any sort of pledge, so I looked at the teacher with puzzled doe eyes and asked her kindly to repeat.
Do you know the pledge?
This time I scrunched up my face with obvious bemusement and asked her again.
Do you know the pledge? Do you know the pledge? she said, slightly more aggressively.
In the end I just gave up and nodded my lying little head, praying to all the Buddhas of all the worlds that she wouldn’t ask me to start chanting out some sort of oath. I would have ended up free-styling and the first thing that was coming to mind was God Save The Queen. This seriously wasn’t the time or place for a national anthem I know about ten words of.
Then she pointed to her nostrils.
Ahhhhh, the breath. Yes, yes I do know the breath.
I felt relieved to finally understand what was going on and thrilled to have not broken yet another cardinal sin (lying) on only day three.
Every evening we’d sit around in a small octagon shaped building, another one full of crumbling turquoise walls, with an old fashioned wooden clock that had stopped its ticks and tocks at eight fourty-seven.
For some reason the setting reminded me of the first few chapters of Orwell’s 1984 but instead of messages over the speakers we were watching a faded video from the 80’s filmed by somebody with highly questionable camera skills.
It was a talk by Goenke, the Burmese-Indian teacher of vipassana who really made this course what it is today.
He was quite the character, sat there solemnly still in his lemon shirt and matching longhis with eyes that are so relaxed you can’t tell if they’re open or closed.
His face was full of peace, full of widsom and full of mischief all at the same time. He had stories to tell, so many of them, and they were fascinating and insightful, even if they did drag on a little sometimes.
He talked about the vipassana technique and where it all began, how secular it is and how word has been spreading. He gave examples of the teachings and altogether made me feel confident that I’m somewhere along The Noble Path already.
Most of the time he had my full attention, but on the odd occasion when I felt a little bit bored or sleepy, I’d entertain myself by looking at his wife who sat patiently and persistently beside him for each of his ninety minute talks.
Most of the time she kept her focus and looked straight ahead without fidgeting but sometimes I’d notice her body slump a little and her eyes wander around the room. Doing Scouse voiceovers for her was quite possibly one of my favourite memories of the whole experience.
In my head she would roll her eyes, tut and fidget dramatically to make it clear how bored she was, then she’d say things like
Oh bleedin’ ‘ell, is he bangin’ on about feelin’ the air through your nostrils again?
If he says anicca, anicca one more time I’m actually gonna lamp him.
Oh Em Gee, absolutely fumin’ I’m missin the Hollyoaks omnibus for this , hurry up ya bellend.
Inappropriate as ever, but entertaining as hell and it kept my eyes from closing. Plus if you can’t laugh at life a little bit, then I don’t really understand the point.