Exquisite Boredom - A Meditation Retreat Vignette

Exquisite Boredom - A Meditation Retreat Vignette

Day 4

4:16AM.

4:17AM.

4:18AM.

By now I've been banging on the snooze button for three minutes, wondering why the blaring won't stop. A few more tries and I start to suspect the sound isn't coming from next to me at all.

Then it dawns on me. 9PM yesterday Michael knew 4AM today Michael would try to sleep through the morning 2 hour session, so he outsmarted the current, disoriented, cranky, poor sap with a second alarm clock hidden in the shower. Tricky devil.

4:29AM.

Some shoulder stretches and a very thorough flossing and tooth brushing later, I'm shuffling through blackness towards the meditation hall. (Who flosses in the morning, right? It's amazing what boredom can do for your dental hygiene.)

I am not the first one here. Focus vibes are thick and palpable in the meditation hall. I step across a room which has been perfectly architected for "communing with the universal truth": onto heated tile that eliminates the need for a centralized (noisy) furnace, under dimly lit light, across carpet that muffles my footsteps, to my cushion.

And then I realize I've forgotten my water bottle on my nightstand.

I freeze for second, ruminate in my misfortunate, but then take a deep breath and recount Goenka's mantra: to accept the current moment, in all its perception and sensations as it is. Yettah Buddoh - As it is.

So as it is, I close my eyes and begin the morning sit, which per usual, starts with my mind settling in to the bodily functioning of 80 others. I've heard it all at this point: burps, stomach gurgles, loud breaths, sighs, crackling knees, and

OH LORD WHAT IS THAT SOUND?

Oh, it's just Cataclysmic Charles again. Cataclysmic Charles, as I've come to lovingly nickname, is a graying man with a beer belly, about the age of my father (So bless his soul), who sits one back and left of me. He suffers from, as I've deduced, some chronic gastrointestinal condition which causes violent eruptions of curps (coughs and burps, they happen simultaneously, I swear) every 15-17 minutes.

When I first heard one of his episodes, my initial reaction was shock, then a bit of disgust, then anger. "How dare this guy come and sit, knowing that he would disturb a room full of people so regularly?"

3 days of stewing in my annoyance eventually melted into tolerance and understanding; Charles deserves to be here just as much as I do. He wants to be happy just as much as I do. He is probably suffering from something that can only make me more grateful for good health. Sadistic or compassionate? I'm not quite sure.

Charles' symphony is followed by the morning chanting, aka trying my hardest not to fall asleep to melodic pali incantations of scripture. It's the only moment of the day I meditate with my eyes open so I don't teeter to the floor.

6:35AM.

I'm strolling through the break of the most beautiful sunrise I've ever seen. A Stephen King-worthy layer of fog rests on the landscape, with a few pink streaks piercing through. A couple of the men have stopped ahead. Some also awestruck by the canvas above us. Some listening intently. I pause too. There's a woodpecker somewhere above us, banging his little head against a really hard object repeatedly. He's probably going mad on a 10 day retreat, too.

Early morning cows graze 50 meters ahead of us. It is here I have one of my biggest epiphanies of the whole retreat. Cows do not moo. I mean, the sound is a very poor approximation. Like, meow and woof are pretty good, but moo? It should have been unnnhh , because the consonant sound is more guttural, more drawn out. But then I guess unnnhh isn't as catchy as moo*.*** And I hear unnnhh more often from humans, at the end of these long sits when we finally get to uncross our legs.

Maybe I could make a documentary about the origins of animal noises. I add it to my mental list of films I have to produce upon returning to the world. Among them: a recounting of the life and teachings of the late S.N. Goenka, who's teachings guide these retreats, and a dramatic portayal of the superhacker team that saved Obama's healthcare.gov.

I'm really bored here.

Excruciatingly unstimulated.

And I love it. How rare the chance to feel bored these days? How unique the opportunity to sit with one's thoughts; one's raging judgement of others, self-pity, and irrational fears of not "doing this right"- as if there is some objective hierarchy for how we exist. How lucky I am to glimpse a life free of the "tyranny of shoulds".

6:39AM.

I've assembled my breakfast and close my eyes to begin eating so I can focus on the sensation of taste.

I take a first bite of my concoction: a mixture of almond, sunflower seed, raisin, peanut butter, flax seed, cayenne pepper, nutritional yeast, sesame seeds, salt and butter. It's a carefully curated mixture which I've experimented with as the perfect balance of ketogenic, nutritious, but not nauseating (man some of the tahini + miso that I have tried in there did NOT go well).

Why keto? There is no dinner here, so being fat adapted is an advantage to not feel hungry.

7:59AM.

Back the meditation hall after breakfast and a quick snooze. I'm assembling another one of my neurotic creations, the stack of cushions that will get me through Additanti, which in pali means, Strong determination, which in my world means "sit for an hour which you are not supposed to move through excruciating pain and try to smile inside".

I've got a system:

  • Two square squishy blocks wedged between my ankles and the floor cushion, two bean bags each between my ankles and my legs to reduce the pressure of my shinbones. The left has to be about half an inch higher because my right leg is crossed above.
  • 3 hard cushions underneath—my round cushion to elevate my hips just the right amount, but not too high because that strains my upper back.
  • My blanket, wrapped around but not completely so air can still flow in (the room gets heated by bodies pretty quickly).
  • And my arms placed palms up and about halfway up my thighs to lock my shoulders in external rotation. This one's a must. Shooting pains in my shoulders tend to happen at about minute 45 of every hour if not.

8:00AM.

The chanting begins, a signal to commit to my posture until the chanting at the end of this hour signals it is ok to release.

I really should have recentered the beanbags under my feet better. I can already tell my left foot one is going to fall asleep about 20 minutes in. Well, the opportunity is gone. I will have about 128 more hours to improve my cushion game.

Ah.... and I really have to pee too.

As it is.

As it is.