It’s 5am and Im now regretting, being all rock ‘n’ roll and attempting to sleep in Bologna airport over night just to save £80. With a hardened cellophaned paper towel roll that I forraged as a pillow and a metal bench as my bed, I drift in and out of pathetic micro sleep until the final straw comes, when a beeping cleaning buggy continues to slalom around me.
I am on my way to do a 10 day vipassana meditation in “Fiaggi” Italy near Bologna.
After 2 trains, a bus and a walk up the hills, I have arrived. I am put in a dorm room with 4 other beds in there. After an introduction and meditation, three youngish guys all get ready for bed, they are in their 20’s and will be my bedroom buddies for 10 days. There is also one old fart who I will just refer to as “fucking git” who after one hour spends the entire night snoring like a banshee and even with my industrial earplugs I cannot sleep a wink through his abuse.
I’m now totally sleep deprived and have to spend 12 hours meditating with my eyes shut. Not an easy thing I can tell you. At lunch I go to find the organiser who’s the typical stereotype of a new age tree hugger; dressed in his multi coloured patchwork hippy rags and has the demeanour of a creepy, softly spoken children’s TV presenter. I kick up a diva stink and tell him I can’t sleep in the room with aforementioned “git” and I get shoved into a one man tent. I just about make it through the day and at 10pm get ready for bed. I fall asleep almost instantly, but after 2 hours, I am wide awake and alert as if Ive had a full night sleep. My body seems to have been conditioned to only expect tiny crumbs of sleep now . I stare at the tent ceiling until 4am when the morning “dongs” are sounded.
We start the day and after three sessions at midday, I hit a brick wall. I start to feel faint, and hallucinate. I am angry and desperate and feeling like throwing in the towel and it’s only day 2. I am desperate for sleep but have another gruelling day to power through behind my own eyelids. Everytime I shut my eyes I drop into dream land. I am woken up during one meditation by the organiser, and told not to fall asleep again. I have to fight it all day long, when all my body wants is to slip into beautiful slumber. After surviving off adrenaline and the power of will all day, I start waking up and becoming alert at 9pm – an hour before bedtime. Acute panic that I will not sleep again kicks in and so like any true yogic-buddha-master, I drop a valium. It knocks me out after 40 mins and I sleep through until the morning 4am bell goes off, although I wake not feeling rested at all.
It feels like a total blur, but day 4 arrives swiftly. My body has acclimatised to only sleeping exactly 2 hours every night, with little cat naps imbetween sessions.
So this is how it all works; at 4am the morning starts, and you take your seat in a big hall with men one side and women on the other, all sitting cross legged facing the front. A voice recording of Goenke starts (the Indian fella who brought the meditation to the west) He makes daft noises as if he’s singing along to the crazy frog song, before he instructs the class on the meditation we will do for the next hour or so.
The meditation starts off for the first 2 days with just focussing on the breath out the nostrils, (this is to concentrate the focus like sharpening a knife) then focussing our attention on the bodily sensations going from the top of the head to the soles of the feet and back up again, continuously all day.
When you sit with yourself in silence for 12 hours a day, you kind of begin to notice a fair bit. Being totally present and observing my body and how it reacts, I noticed that as I would scan down (the vipassana sweep), whenever there was a strong sensation such as an ache, I noticed my mind wandering onto negative thoughts, and whenever I scanned over fairly neutral and bland sensations, My mind wandered onto pleasurable thoughts, such as girls. It was amazing to notice how much my monkey mind would do anything it could to avoid the present bodily feelings and reach out to grab the juicy fruits of thought. So much so that i’d find myself spending more time in my head replaying past events than at the task at hand feeling into my body.
Simply put, I think too much.
I over analyse everything, I zone out a lot, I have a constant inner critic and commentator. When asked how I feel I used to reply ” I THINK I’m ok”… When probed again I’d say ” It’s like being wrapped in cotton wool” or “like hitting a brick wall” . Not realising this was not a description of my own bodily sensations but articulation through thought in the form of a metaphor.
I’ve realised this is the way my body/mind has developed from a young age. It feels safe when it runs away from itself. Thoughts have become the hideaway from being in the body and feeling the present moment because at one point, the pain in the present moment was so painful, that I moved my awareness up into my head to seek cover. Rationalising, creating blame, shame, rehearsing a defence case for an imminent confrontation and generally thinking out the situation, to take refuge, instead of being in my nervous system and accepting it.
I realise that this is the reason I am so messy, I am disorganised, I travel so much, I procrastinate, I start reading a book and after one paragraph find myself on Facebook, why I can’t fall asleep when I need to sleep, and when I can’t wake up when I need to, why I can’t focus one one thing for too long, why I indulge in play when I’m meant to be working, and why I indulge in work when I’m playing. It is why I generally sabotage the present moment, because once upon a time, the present moment was so painful, that the candy of disassociation was so sweet that I became addicted to it. This addiction then became my adult monkey mind and calcified the bad habits and behaviours over time as my so called “personality” traits.
This then is also why, when I feel neutral, empty or insecure in any given moment, I distract myself with indulgences either with thoughts, or in the external world consuming more and more “stuff”, in order to overlay a seemingly more pleasurable sensation to my body.
The consumerist world plays off the fact that we as a collective have unresolved emotional baggage, and instead of getting us to go inwards and empower ourselves, we are enticed to buy more shit we don’t need, in order to give ourselves a temporary fix. But of course the novelty wears off, and the feelings come on again, creating this constant consumer > brand cycle.
I now realise, if I am to become the man I’m meant to become, I have to identify with these childhood patterns/karmic programming and work through it instead of take the easy route and pacify myself with self indulgences which are dangling in front of me at all times.
Each day feels like a week but finally the 10 days are up. We spend day 11 cleaning up and helping out around the retreat and finally we are released at which point I open a can of beer I have had waiting for me in my bag.
Fuck it I deserve this one!
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