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Hard Work

Page history last edited by rsb 6 years, 6 months ago


** Hard work

The next morning I awoke at the 4AM gong, took a cold shower, and got dressed as quickly as I could.  


The water at the meditation center, in the morning, is exceptionally cold, most likely from wells that yeild barely melted icewater.  Later in the day hot water is available, but not at 4AM.  Most people showered later in the day.  


I handled the cold shower the way I always handle them (not that I'm a fan or anything), I basically flex muscles, grit my teeth, and bear it - this will definitely distract you from the cold, but it's doesn't make it any more fun.  


I walked quickly to the hall (small lights along the path light the way for meditators in the dark), and made it up there a bit before 4:30AM.  This day I was going to get past the pain.  I gathered as many extra cushions as I could, and fashioned an extremely cushiony kneeling seat on top of my thin mat.  I had engineered something like a saddle to kneel on made of cushions.  I knelt down on it and, for the first few minutes, no pain at all!  It was actually extremely comfortable!  I was going to ride this puppy to nirvana!  Woohoo!


After about ten more minutes, my legs fell asleep again.  


I noticed that my left leg fell asleep several minutes before my right, probably due to some trauma I had done to that leg in the past.  Interesting.  A few minutes later, the pounding began.  


It was not a little sharp pounding, but a huge pounding, almost unbelievable it could get this painful this fast.  I tried to focus on my breath as instructed, but kept returning to the pain.  It felt like someone was driving rail spikes into my knees and knives into my shins and hips.  Just @#$!ing unbelievable!  


I was determined.  This was the big fight.  I would get past the pain.  I didn't care what happened.  I was not moving my legs, or opening my hands, eyes or mouth.  It got worse, and worse, and worse.  I got past the point where you give in and accept any result at all.  Not caring helps a little, but not much.  Pain subsides a little, but it's like the ocean, there are always bigger waves where that little one came from.  


Only determination kept me going.  My teeth and fists were clenched the whole time.  My face scrunched up.  I could move my forearms, as that was not explicitly disallowed, and they were moving on their own after a while, somewhat wildly.  My breath was all over the place, breathing extremely fast, then not at all, but never regularly.  If I didn't have extremely short fingernails and plastic orthodontia in place, I would have done some damage to my mouth and hands.  From time to time, I was able to think.


At one point, a thought crossed my mind that made me stop moving.  "Am I crazy?"  


I had to take it seriously.  No one sits through pain like this when they can get up, go home, and sit in a lazy boy by the fire with their cat in their lap.  It's not rational.  I'm not rational.  


But I was still determined.  The pain pushed that thought out soon enough and I was partially spastic with pain again.  


Finally, after over two hours, the gong rang.  There is a clock outside the meditation hall.  4:21 to 6:37AM.  That's how long I spent in there.  


Two hours and sixteen minutes.  The most painful experience of my life to date.  I...did not expect that.


I took some pride in at least not running from the hall during that time, but it was a pyrrhic victory.  I would have fallen over if I could have when the gong rang.  


You can't fall over when your legs are asleep like that for that long.  Or at least I can't.  You can't move your legs.  To get up, you have to put your hands on the floor and move your upper body until your legs have some blood in them.  Then you can try to rub your legs to life, and gradually, painfully, straighten them.  A few minutes later and you have straight legs, and you have to gradually, painfully, bend them again.  Then you support your self with your hands until you are in a standing position.  Then you hobble, steps of a few inches at a time, for a couple minutes, until you can walk normally.  The whole process only took about five minutes.  


What was worse than the pain was the realization that I could not "ride it out."  You don't simply "get past it."  I had no way to avoid the pain.  The only way I could deal with it was to grit my teeth and bear it.  That was my method.  What was worse than *that* knowledge was the fact that for the first time in my life, just for a moment, I had considered myself at least a little insane.  I walked down the path to the dining hall, slowly, considering that.


After breakfast I returned to my room and examined the schedule again as I had not yet memorized it.  


I had an hour to rest.  I tried to meditate for a few minutes just sitting on the side of my bed.  Nothing doing.  I was too distracted by my potential craziness.  What the hell was this place?  I'm supposed to be getting better at detecting sensation where my breath touches below my nose.  That's the part of the technique Mr. Goenka said we were on.  That was total bullshit.  I couldn't even keep still.  I reasoned that this was not for me.  This was for people who had been brought up sitting cross-legged.  Maybe D wanted to leave.  I wanted to stick it out, but I wasn't sure I would get anywhere.  I had to have a reason to do this.  I started to get depressed.


I walked back down to the dining hall and signed up for a 5 minute consultation with the instructor to take place that day at noon.  I had a lot of meditation to do before I could even talk to an instructor about all this.


Somehow I made it through the 9:30AM hour of meditation.  It took five minutes, as usual, to get my legs alive again, which I did as quickly as possible, because we only had 5 minutes between meditation hours.  


I sat back down when the gong rang, closed my eyes, and began meditating again.  They played an audio recording of Mr. Goenka singing a poem, and advising us to have a "calm and quiet mind" among other things I was having a hard time doing.  He also said to "meditate intelligently".  He said that a lot.  That stuck in my mind for the hour.  I remember telling myself I was not being smart about this, but not coming up with a good solution.  Just as the pain reached a crescendo again, the instructors spoke up, and told us we could meditate for the next two hours in our rooms.  The hour was over.  


Ten minutes later, I was in my room, sitting on the edge of my bed, eyes closed, trying to stay focused on my breath.  I did, but I was tired, and that eventually got the better of me.  I decided to sleep until the lunchtime gong.  


Sleeping during the time when you are allowed to meditate in your room seemed like cheating.  I wasn't getting my 12 hours in that day.  Sleep is an enemy of meditation.


After lunch, I walked along the beautiful paths until it was time for my consultation.  Then I marched to the meditation hall, arriving early.  The mens camp manager, who was not under a vow of silence, but spoke no more than he had to, called people by name and led them to their consultation.  


The consultation took place in a mostly soundproof room off the side of the meditation hall.  Certainly it was isolated enough to prevent others from hearing.  The consultation room, like most of the buildings, was in like new condition, tasteful, and impeccably clean, but small.  Just enough room for the instructor and a student to feel like they had lots of space.


When it was my turn, I tried to take as little of the instructors time as possible.  I entered the room, sat down, and asked my question:


"Good afternoon.  You know there is a lot of pain involved for me...um...and I am experiencing pain at the expense of focusing on the sensation...which is the point of the exercise, right? "Michael replied, "Yes.  We know there is pain involved.  Well, not 'at the *expense* of sensation'.  Even as you feel pain, you are supposed to maintain *some* awareness of the sensations caused by your breath.   That's how you build a strong mind."

"Oh." I said "It's just that, I kept my legs under me for two hours this morning and...I didn't make any progress."

"It will get better." He replied.


It was an important pep talk for me.  I thanked him and left, put my shoes back on, and walked out to the walking paths. 


I'm not sure I got Michaels point.  


The only thing that was clear was that I had no idea coming to the meditation center what I was getting into.  The practice, as far as I was concerned, was an exercise in dealing with extreme pain, repeatedly!  But man, what a lot of it.  This was going to take serious determination.  


What was I getting out of this again?  A strong mind, so I'm told.  I wasn't sure.  I didn't know if it would work or not.  But I definitely didn't want to quit.  I promised when I signed up that I would not.  I told myself that I was determined as a matter of honor to at least stay for the entire course.  Not reassuring. 


In subsequent meditation sessions, I struggled as I had before, and I had significant doubts.  


The pamphlet we were given listed several factors that will contribute to success in meditation, including confidence.  My confidence was in ill repair.  I wasn't making it through most of the hours without moving my legs.  


When I arrived the morning after my consultation, I threw all my cushions back in the now empty extra cushion pile.  It didn't matter how many I had.  It wasn't the point and it didn't stop the pain even if it were.  


In 24 hours I was back in front of Michael for another consultation. 


Next: Doubt 




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