Day four and counting…

Ten and a half hours of meditation a day are taking their toll. Sessions vary in length from 45 minutes to two hours but it takes just a few minutes for pain to start shooting down my neck and into my back. It also feels like a red-hot poker has been jammed into my left thigh and calf.

Description: switching positions like a yogi on a espresso buzz

I’ve given up trying to maintain any semblance of zen-line calm and am switching positions like a yogi on a espresso buzz. Left leg over right, right leg over left, both legs to one side, straight out in front of me, kneeling. Each position offers a moment of tantalizing respite before the familiar pain returns – with a vengeance. “Are we there yet?” I whine on repeat to nobody but myself. And will my body or my min break first, I wonder?

Thankfully I have something to keep me sane. Food. The vegetarian, Indian-inspired fare is delicious. Breakfast may consist of savoury semolina with cinnamon and prunes, yoghurt, fresh bread with jam and fruit. There’s no coffee but rooibos tea is plentiful as is refreshing ginger-infused water. Lunch, the main meal of the day, is from 11am to 12pm. It could, for example, be a tofu and spinach stew served with brown rice and sticky date balls for dessert. A tea break from 5pm to 6pm serves up seasonal fruit (it’s February and I get my pick of peaches, plums, nectarines, bananas and grapes).

The dance

Description: The dance

Recording of SN Goenka – the world – renowned teacher of Vipassana meditation – intersperse our chanting, which accompanies the beginning and end of our sessions. I’ve come to look forward to his soothing voice reminding me of the law of annica (meaning “impermanence”), or urging me to be equanimous.

Every evening we watch a video of his non-sectarian teachings and the discourse reveals a little bit more about the practical technique as the days unfold. I’ve never been told in such uncomplicated terms how to meditate. For the first time I begin to believe what those purveyors of zen have always said: “Anyone can do it.”

With sex days worth of pain threatening to explode in my thighs, calves, back and neck, and doing my best to accept this reality rather than wish it away, I notice something unfamiliar. That feeling of hot mental rods stabbing my body is beginning to diminish. Instead of wanting more of this (i.e. less pain), I observe the event as calmly as I can.

And like a Disprin dissolving in water, I watch as the pain swirls away. Try as I might I can’t help but punch the sky – silently, of course.

In the absence of external noise, the critical voice in my head (of myself and of those around me (has been astonishingly loud. Today, though, it has begun to quieten. I notice too that we strangers, who haven’t said a word to each other, have begun to move differently. What in the beginning was an awkward two-step-imagine not being able to say “sorry” if you bump into someone – has returned into an intuitive, harmonious dance.

I get it

Description: Relax !

In between meditating and eating, we rest. Who knew sitting could be such a tiring exercise?

Today, our ninth day, I’ve decided to meet with the resident teacher. I want to know: Am I doing this right? I don’t receive a definitive yes or no and leave feeling disappointed. Later I realize this is a path taken for and by yourself – those after pats on the back need not apply.

And then, just when I begin to think I’ve arrived and that really there’s nothing to this meditating malarkey, my practice deepens just a tiny bit and I realize there’s  no such thing as ”getting it” at all. I don’t need to ask the teacher to know that this is where my journey really begins.

Post-breakfast on our 11th day, our noble silence ends. We may not have spoken for 10 days but chatter comes easily to our group and email addresses and telephone numbers are exchanged. I’ve travelled just an hour out of Cape Town but I’ve gone far enough away for me to feel refreshed, invigorated and very peaceful. And, armed with my new skill, I’m ready to rebalance my world outside.

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