Tired Of The Sound Of Your Own Voice? I Have The Solution… (Pt3)

Mmmm, another idealistic portrayal of meditation. It's like how I think of smoking... The idea is quite appealing, but in practise it's a whole other story. PS. I quit smoking years ago

To bring you back to the present, it’s around 0500 on day 1 of my 10 day vipassana meditation course. my fellow students & I have been given some rudimentary instructions regarding the practise the night before in the hall just before the noble silence kicked in. Basically we were told to sit silently & breath through our noses. Not to control the breath & not the try to imagine any visions or images. We were also told not to verbalize anything, even something seemingly innocent like just saying these instructions to yourself. Just to focus on the sensation of the breath from the area above the upper lip to the area just inside the nostrils. We weren’t told much more than this. For me these instructions presented a challenge from the word go for multiple reasons as I will now detail (Disclaimer: Prepare for some bitching & moaning) –

  1. Any meditation I had done prior to this course had focused on visualizations & verbalisations, we were now instructed strictly not to visualise or verbalize.
  2. I find it almost impossible to sit still for any length of time longer than five seconds.
  3. Additionally to the issue above ( I believe it is a seperate issue)  I have a (mild) scoliosis (curvature of the spine) so when I try to sit straight I always feel lopsided. Try to close my eyes & sit straight & it’s worse, after an hour with closed eyes, an inch to one side feels like 10.
  4. We were to not control our breath. I practise Yoga, plus I have been to some vocal coaching lessons & I have always been instructed to control deep breathing into my diaphragm. As surprising as it may seem, focusing on my breath while simultaneously releasing conscious control of it was difficult & frustrating.
  5. From time to time I get hay-fever… My entire 10 days at Blackheath I had terrible hay-fever without so much as a zyrtec to ease my suffering. Imagine this: You have terrible hay-fever, watering eyes, running nose, constant sneezing & you are supposed to sit still (& here’s the best part) focus on the one area of your body which is the focal point of your condition: the nose. It was like fate had played a sick joke on me.
  6. Last but certainly not least, audio clips of Goenka chanting are played at certain times during meditation & I found it very distracting. It doesn’t go through the entire meditation sessions but in the mornings there is an extended chanting medley towards the end which from memory goes for about half an hour.

An artists impression of what I felt like most of the time when trying to meditate.

If you missed my first 2 installments, it may be a good idea to start at the start: Here they are Pt1 & Pt2

by  around 0600 most of the students had arrived in the hall & a strange, strange sound began to emanate gutturally from what sounded like someone’s bowels. As it turned out, it was a recording, it was Goenka & it was what they would have us believe was “chanting” it sounded like an off-key elephant/swamp-beast/whale/Indian-Barry-White attempting to do recount some strange kind of Romanian folk ballad.

One thing about the chanting is that it is all in the Pali language of which I now know a few words (you learn some as you do the course) but at the time I knew nothing.  I don’t know if you have ever listened to music in a language you are unfamiliar, but if you haven, one thing you may have noticed is that you tend to involuntarily add your own words to fit the sounds of the unknown words. Now there is various chants that Goenka likes to do but one of the ones most often repeated ones has a phrase in which I swear he says “She’s a DJ Geeza DJ” Over & over like some sort of UK Dub-step-happy hardcore-house sample (no I don’t know much about dance music)

So I sat there trying to be still with Emcee Goenka rocking the mic, sneezing every few minutes & seeing how long I could go without having to blow my nose, trying to focus on my breathing but not control it & not visualize anything. As anyone who has ever had a runny nose can attest, it’s one of the most excruciatingly itchy feelings when you have a runny nose & you don’t blow it. My nose is getting itchy just writing this. With that being said, sometimes I would let my nose drip like a tap. Pretty gross I know, but it was just an extra challenge to me. I had a tissue, but this was about adhitthana(Pali word: [adhi.t.thaana]:Determination; resolution) It’s really funny how you’re mind wanders when you try to focus on something as simple as your breath. So many chaotic disconnected thoughts shouting at you persistently. That’s something I will go into in more detail in the next instalment. For now,  after what seemed an eternity, it was 06300… Time for breakfast.

As I mentioned in Pt1 of this series of Vipassana meditation themed blogs, day 1 was one of the hardest days of the course & quite possibly one of the hardest of my life. We were not told, nor was it hinted that after three days of this, we would be given additional instructions & the practise would gradually begin to evolve. This made the first few days all the more trying (atleast for me) because I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel apart from finishing the damn course. As far as we knew, the whole 10 days would just be “breath, don’t control your breath, don’t visualise your breath, don’t think about anything except for the sensation of the breath. If the breath is deep, let it be deep. If the breath is mild, let it be mild.” The reasons for not telling us that the practise would change are not evil however, they actually dovetail with the Buddhist belief of learning, which is that you only learn 1 thing at a time. I actually think it makes a lot of sense (though at the time it was torturous) imagine learning about a complicated topic, let’s say music (should be easy for me to use as an analogy as I am something of a musician) if I were to teach you music 101, I would probably start with something simple like the notes on the treble clef EGBDF & a memory aid used to remember it “Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit” as I remember it. Although as that link to Wikipedia has informed me, some of the more colourful variations include “Every Girl Bangs Drunk Friends”, “Elephant Goes Boating Drowns Fast” & the racially allusive “Every Good Black Dog Farts”. I am meandering from the point here which is that I would not try to explain to you that later on along the line, if all goes well with your training I will be teaching you about things like relative diminished chords & their relative dominants. It would probably go over your head. In the same fashion, you are only taught the very first portion of the lesson to begin with, once you master that, you are shown the next bit & so on.

I’m going to leave things here for now, there really is a lot of thoughts & experiences I want to get across, like the time on the last day when this Asian guy up the front of the hall burped quite loudly during meditation (as he did from time to time during the duration of the course) & on this occasion myself & James & myself could not contain our laughter & we started to do that stifled snicker laugh you do when you’re trying really hard not to laugh at something. We lost our battle with the giggles & soon others joined in, even the girls joined in. It didn’t take The Sitting Man long to pipe up with a very stern “continue quietly!” & the laughter was quickly subdued. I can tell you that we were on the pinnacle of the whole hall erupting, I was actually willing it, but it never happened.

Buddha's evil brother Ahddub! Instead of peace & an end to suffering, he just wants to kick you in the balls (or vagina) & steal your wallet.

Tune in next time for Pt4 (possibly the final) of my series of blogs covering my experience at a 10 day Vipassana meditation course at Blackheath. Next time I intend to tell you more about the practise & the theory behind it. I’ll also go into some of the darker side of my experience at the course.

Thanks for reading, I hope you find my blog of some value. You can subscribe with the link on the right if you wish to be updated when I publish new blogs. Drop me a comment below if you have any questions or thoughts. I’d be happy to discuss it further. Don’t forget to click the thumbs up & share this blog with your friends if you enjoy it.

Until next time…

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5 Responses to “Tired Of The Sound Of Your Own Voice? I Have The Solution… (Pt3)”

  1. Poor Phoenix… i have witnessed you with hayfever and it aint pleasant sunshine!!

    Men are such babies when they’re sick!! A woman just picks herself up and soldiers on… I went to school with chicken pox! (the school sent me home, as obviously I was contagious =P)

    LOL at getting the giggles… I admire your strength SP at sticking it out for 10 days!! I know someone who got thrown off a weekend course coz they kept laughing… and that would be me also I fear… one of the many reasons why I can’t take a yoga class =P

    in sum, great job again phoenix!!

    looking forward to seeing how you go from day 1 in 3 parts to days 2-10 in 1 part =P

    • I never said I would cram the remaining days into one final blog… Did I? One thing I promise is to make my future blogs shorter… So obviously if the remaining meditation blogs are shorter, there will be more of them coz I still got a fair bit to cover.

      A couple of guys were kicked out of my course on the last day. I’ll explain why in one of my remaining blogs.

      Thanks for the comment MG.

  2. Thanks for this review. I’m thinking about attending one of
    these courses in February. I know there were some serious elements
    to your post (having hay fever), but I found the way you wrote your
    experiences hilarious! Cheers, Hiten

  3. […] Pt3 is ready to go & will be bumping your way in the next few days, why not subscribe & you will have the luxury of an email notification :) If you like this blog, share it with your friends, I appreciate your support. […]

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