When the 4am bell chimed, the air was just as baltic as it had been all week, my fingers were their usual morning shade of frostbite blue and my frozen nose was about to fall off my face. I was still shaking with cold beneath my twenty five layers of disco but something was different.
I could feel it, I could taste it, I could smell it.
Freedom was in the air.
VIPASSANA DAY 10
We filtered into the hall one by one. On the outside I was shuffling slowly along with the rest of them, but on the inside I was skipping like a spring lamb jacked up on amphetamines – giddy is an understatement.
It was our tenth day of vipassana and only a matter of hours before silence would be broken. I had a zillion things to say and was excited about being able to talk at one hundred miles per hour to anybody who would listen.
At breakfast I slowly sipped my chai, sneakily looking around the room hoping to make eye contact but everybody was still obediently face down and it turned out we had another three hours of meditation in the hall before the announcement would be made.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
After three more hours of morning meditation, Goenka declared the liberation of our speech.
Our voiceboxes could now come out of hiding, our lungs, our lips and our chattering teeth could start making those noises and sounds we know as words and those rhythmic vocal messages we know as sentences.
We could now communicate with other fellow humans and not just the seventeen personalities inside our heads.
As we rose up from our cushions, there were smiles on every face but our lips remained closed. We walked out of the hall and down the steps in our usual shuffling trance, but the pace picked up as we made our way to the dining hall where there were stalls set up selling books and T-shirts.
And then as we congregated on the lawn, one by one, our vocal cords began to vibrate and we became a chattering chorus of sopranos, tenors and altos crescendoing our way through the airwaves with dramatic force.
BREAKING THE SILENCE
Within a matter of seconds the entire energy of the place had changed and those first few minutes of normality being resumed passed before me in slow motion.
We’d gone from silence, solitude, lacklustre energy and palpably painful emotion to loud laughter and liveliness.
We were like a gang of excitable puppies bouncing round from one huddle of people to the next, splattering eachother with words and questions and stories.
I saw, heard and felt everything. There was a distance and a closeness between all of us that is hard to explain.
I already knew these people even though we hadn’t uttered a word, I already knew their voices in my head. I wanted to hug them like long lost friends. I was there amongst the madness and I was part of it all.
But quite bizarrely, at the same time, I felt like a ghost, an observer, a watcher, an alien. I felt like I was seeing it all play out before me through a screen.
Words were rising up from my stomach but I was choking on them when they reached my throat. I’d almost forgotten how to have a conversation that wasn’t with myself.
Their words were mushed up before they reached my ears. It was all just a buzzing sound, a harmonious humming. My vision was clouded. Everything around me was merging into a fuzzy coloured blur.
Maybe it was too much for my senses to take or maybe they were feeling things clearly for the first time.
MEETING THE CAST
The lunchtime bell chimed and we poured into the dining hall ready to dine with the people we’d sat alongside having breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for ten days but never spoken a word to.
We were no longer banned from looking them in the eyes, asking them to pass the salt, or offering to top up their water.
My mindful eating experiments of trying to chew every forkful fifty times went out the window immediately as I shovelled the Burmese deliciousness into my mouth and enjoyed my first sociable meal in over a week.
I was sat opposite Chatty Cathy and to my left I had two starring members of The Dhamma Diaries.
The first was Katrina the Yoga Instructor from Spain who turned out to be Eva the Meditation Teacher from The Netherlands. She was quite possibly the only person whose energy I’d felt during the silence. Her warmth and love and kindness was oozing out of her pores and I could feel it whenever she was close.
The second was Beth the travelling artist from Bristol, who turned out to be Abby the Yoga Instructor from Seattle who has made a home on the island of Koh Pagnan, not far from where I was headed next. She was just as excited as I was to be able to speak again and a few minutes together over lunch was just not enough, so we made a plan to meet up in paradise.
Word of Dhamma Diaries got around and the next minute I had people tugging my arms, interrupting my conversations and huddling around our table wanting to know what their character’s name was and what they were all about.
Then all of a sudden, one of the petite local ladies slipped through the cackling congregation, ducked under gesturing hands and made a bee-line for me. She started tugging on my polka dot jumpsuit.
“Beautiful, beautiful” she said before cupping my face with both of her hands and smiling at me with all the wrinkles in her friendly face. “Beautiful. Beautiful, brown face”.
Frankly, it was all a bit hectic and I didn’t quite know what to do with all of this new found fame.
After I’d gobbled down my vegetarian curry, I headed out to my place of peace – The Cake, for one last lunchtime revelling in the afternoon rays.
LIFE LESSONS FROM ANTS
I was sat leaning against the south-facing wall enjoying some voluntary silence when I witnessed one of my greatest lessons in life being acted out by a gang of tiny six-legged creatures.
Life Lessons From Ants I called it and, in my head, the whole scene was narrated by David Attenborough – so please read on in his voice…
A pale, grey moth with translucent yet intricately patterned wings makes her way slowly up the powdery blue facade of the pagoda. Her moves are calm and graceful. She goes almost unnoticed, gliding up the temple wall as if she were skating on ice.
Upon closer inspection, you can see that her right wing is torn and her antennae are missing. She is in fact, lifelessly levitating upwards towards a small hole about two feet from the ground.
She’s being pulled along by one small red ant. His jaw is locked around the tip of her upper left wing and he’s dragging her, patiently and persistently towards the nest.
She’s at least one hundred times greater in size and weight and most probably around fifty times his weight, but he moves on tenaciously. He keeps tight hold and although sometimes he may stumble backwards, or falls down a little, he doesn’t let go. He doesn’t give up. He keeps on pulling her upwards.
Within a few moments, more ants join him in his plight to take this beautiful winged creature into the nest. Some help take some of the weight by taking her lower wings and pushing upwards, others scurry along ahead to guide the route.
Together, they pick up pace and within a few more moments she’s pulled swiftly, deep inside the nest. A tasty feast for the colony.
*David Attenborough voiceover ends
That one little ant, the first one, he never let go – not even once, and it reminded me of something somebody said to me eighteen months ago.
“We’re a lot stronger than we look”.
It’s such a simple statement but carries so much meaning.
If we hold on tight and never let go, we can drag dead moths up walls. We might fall back a little sometimes, but if we keep on going we’ll reach our goals. And if we can get support and guidance from others, then we’ll reach them even more quickly.
We really are stronger than we look.