Beez in India – Chapter Eight – “The Silence Of The Beez”

 

When we last checked in with our intrepid traveling pair from Vancouver, Beez was stumbling around ancient ruins with sunstroke with his wife was getting sexed up by an Italian super-stud in a cliff-side cave. This time around, all is quiet.

 

The Silence of the Beez

Perhaps it was an unthinkable plan: take a very talkative man and force him to be silent for ten days. Yes, it would appear to be madness to my schoolteachers who consistently indicated that my social nature was disruptive to the entire class for 13 straight years. The Smugglers, who when learning that I was taking a ten day vow of silence, asked if I would be maintaining this during our tours, as they are so tired of hearing me blabber on and on about dating a fifteen year old, chewing on someone else’s band-aid, trying to smuggle hash out of Morocco… etc ad infinitum, and my dear wife, family and co-workers have never considered my extreme verbosity a virtue. Needless to say, I like to talk a lot.

Oh yes, and this being a meditation class, it might have been even more ridiculous to think that a man with a famous “skipping” brain, 20 second blackouts and a spectacularly unfocussed presentation style, would be able to spend ten days in strict focused meditation.

Could I pull it off?

Corrina and I attended the Vipassana Meditation course in Chennai from January 20-31st (Buddha originally created Vipassana after he reached enlightenment 2500 years ago).

Everything is completely free for the 10 days (accommodation, food, teaching). At the end of the course, you can make a donation for another student to learn if you wish. Hmmm... Everything is free… maybe it will be like a spiritual Club Med! We knew it was a serious commitment, but we were excited about the challenge.

When we arrived, we were given the instructions:

-          No lying (thus no talking)

-          No sex

-          No killing

-          No intoxicants

-          No reading material

-          No note taking

Basically, we were not allowed to do anything but eat, sleep, walk and study meditation.

Each day started with wake up bell at 4am and ended with a thud as my head hit the pillow at 10pm. The schedule was tough; we meditated for 11 hours and only slept for 6 hours.  That’s 17 hours a day with your eyes closed! I really didn’t understand how tough this schedule was until after day 1.

After reading the instructions, we were quickly divided by our sex, then filled in our registration information. We were asked to put all of our worldly possessions (passports, travelers cheques, cash, credit cards etc.) into a metal box to be returned at the end of the ten days. As we had no way to contact the outside world, I pondered the extreme potential outcomes. I could see the headlines:

 “Monks run amok partying on foreigner’s credit card!”

 “Nuns go nuts at ‘ladies nights’ with cash missing from whitie’s wallet”

“Master masters Moron’s MasterCard”

Anyway, this paranoia quickly evaporated.

At 4pm on January 20th, Corrina and I started on our own individual experiences at the meditation center. Women are separated from the men, but do meditate in the same large hall. No communication should occur between the students, so Corrina and I agreed not to look at each other for the 10 days. It was like going on separate vacations in the same resort. As we had our eyes closed for 17 hours a day, I left my glasses in my room most of the day, so I couldn’t see Corrina even if glanced over to her part of the meditation hall.

The weather was consistent for the whole 10 days: 28 degrees Celsius, clear bright sunny sky, and very little wind. My room was simple and pleasant (western toilet, two single beds, shower… but no hot water) and I didn’t have a roommate. Whoohoo, a little privacy for my naps! That first night I went to bed nervously thinking about the next day. I was concerned about sitting on the floor for such a long time period; at home I become uncomfortable after 15 minutes. But, as meditation is a mental process, hey, what the fuck, I’m sure I will be able to get a chair or back rest to make sure I’m extremely comfortable during the next very relaxing 10 days.

At 4am, the next morning a very loud bell starts clanging. I jump out of bed, have my very quick wash (cold water in a bucket, I couldn’t bear the idea of a cold shower) and head to the meditation hall. It is still dark outside, and as I enter the hall, I am assigned my seat, a 2 foot square cushion, with a tiny pillow on top, both about 2” thick, with a serious blue cloth covering it. I will be sitting right here for every minute of my next 110 hours of meditation.

 During the first day, most of the unpleasant surprises become rapidly apparent:

·         Bland vegetarian meals are served twice a day, with supper consisting of only a handful of puffed rice and a banana.

·          The meditation hall was directly under the Chennai Airport’s traffic path; every day there were at least 15 planes roaring overhead, close enough to see the airline name.

·         There was a constant “tink-tink” of Indian construction workers building more meditation halls.

·         And finally… the butt numbing, backbreaking, hand wringing, horrible torture of sitting on the floor for 11 hours was basically unbearable.

And here is the kicker. It was an amazing, life changing, thrilling experience.

After two days of desperately trying to silence my chattering, racing mind, I come up with an idea. I can’t concentrate because my pains are ruining my concentration; therefore, I left the silence of the meditation hall and went to the private office of the master teacher where certain verbal communication was allowed only if absolutely necessary. I asked the master teacher, a skinny old Indian man with a heart the size of his head “may I have a chair?” Looking at me, he replied in a very kind and grandfatherly way, “oh no, the chairs are for the handicapped and elderly only, you would just fall to sleep in these chairs” I’m thinking, for the first time in my life, “Fuck! Fuck! I wish I were handicapped!”

The days proceed and it becomes apparent that the pain from sitting on the floor is a critical part of Vipassana. Everyone has pain if they sit for more than one hour, not just me, (wow so it’s not all about you eh? Imagine that! – ed) so the mind must be trained to accept that pain is part of life. I thought this was going to be a nice, relaxing, ten days of contemplation. I didn’t know that I signed up for the Buddha Boot Camp!

And I can’t leave; I have made a commitment to stay for ten days.

There is a small dirt road about 70 feet long, called the Gent’s walking path. During our “breaks”, I walked up and down the path in my blue Indian Pajamas, each length taking about one minute. After day four (12 meals down, 20 to go!), I started to feel like I was some Mafia Don who never gets dressed while serving his 20-year prison sentence (except I’m even jealous of prisoners, they at least get to play cards!) It also reminded me a little of that scene from Midnight Express where the prisoners walk in circles. During one of my walks, I realized… “Whoa, hey I can just jump over that fence, make a run for it and I will be free! I don’t have to embarrassingly tell the Vipassana people that I am too wimpy to pull this off!” This thought was quickly followed with, “Oh yeah, the kindly bastards have all of my money and ID in a locked box, I guess I ain’t goin’ nowhere!”

On Day five, I made two amazing discoveries. At 4am, I started my day with my cold bath, but black water spouted out. I decided to use the other cold water tap, and after five minutes, it starts spurting out the most exciting love juice: HOT WATER! WHOOOOOOHOOOOOOO!! Oh, Wednesday is an auspicious day for Beez!

The second discovery was much more serious. After five torturous days, the meditation technique started to work. The philosophical concept behind Buddha’s Vipassana is that we are all suffering because of Cravings (for things, prestige, events) or Aversion to unpleasant things (I don’t like that person, I feel uncomfortable). We are always suffering because we can’t get what we want or can’t get rid of what we don’t want. Buddha’s unique contribution to this understanding of the human mind was creating a meditation technique that slowly releases our cravings and aversions. The first step is to stop adding new cravings and aversions, then slowly start to release our deeply engrained habits. Kinda like waiting for water to evaporate out of a full glass of water… if we keep on putting more water in every day, the cup will never become dry.But philosophical understanding is only a small step, we need to have direct physical experience to reduce and finally clear craving and aversions. This is the most important point. Even if I were to clearly write up what happened, step by step, one would only understand it from an intellectual level (Ska-T excluded -ed), which has little value, you must physically understand the experience.

The course is built for skeptics. No faith is required; we were instructed to believe in the technique only if we could physically feel the meditation working. I don’t mean like an emotion, I mean like a physical sensation like goose bumps. And I can tell you, full heartedly, that I could feel it working. I was so excited by the end of day five, that my brain literally felt like it was on fire, very similar to having an extreme fever (which, panic-stricken, I instantly checked: no fever). The freaky thing is that there have been sensations happening in my body all my life which I had never noticed.

I spent the rest of my five days working hard to eliminate my craving for these new sensations.  Ooo, the sour taste of irony. It was like being given a new toy and being told to just look at it.

My curiosity continued to build every day. I desperately wondered how Corrina was doing. Each morning, I would glance over at her chair. I would see her blurry figure and think “great, she’s still here!” Every day, I got a stronger and stronger feeling of real pride that Corrina and I were able to stick at this often gruelingly hard work; together as a couple. The learnings were so deep and so motivating.

Finally, day ten arrived. We did it! CC and I were finally were able to talk to each other and she told me her version: She arrived at her room to find that she had a roommate, an Indian women in her 50’s. Over the 10 days, her unfortunate roommate was moaning and groaning in agony, ALL day and ALL night. She was crying in bed, all night long. On the first night, Corrina heard what she thought was the woman opening and closing plastic bags, which turned out to be the sound of her mattress each time she moved, every five minutes because of her discomfort.  This meant that Corrina was unable to sleep for the first THREE nights of the course. Corrina was asked if she wished to change rooms, but wisely and bravely, chose to learn from the experience. She caught on to “Buddha Boot Camp” a long time before I did! Amazingly, she also loved the course.

Now, one may wonder if I managed to maintain my silence for the entire ten days of meditation. In fact, I did not. I made one small error. At 4:30am on Day 6, I sneezed and followed this up quickly with a very precise and echoing “EXCUSE ME”. I was horrified, as were all those around me. No one else said a fuckin’ word the whole time.

When the course ended, I was relieved. I was excited to get back to the “living”. I instantly made a list of all of my new plans, enough work to last at least three lifetimes! So often during my concentration I found myself slipping into fantasy life planning. This course was a real eye opener. I still can’t believe that my body has sensations that I haven’t noticed. I’m starting to wonder, “what else can my body do?” There are so many people with such crazy stories like “time travel” and “telepathic powers” and “Aura Visualizations”. Is it possible that they are true and I just haven’t had the motivation, the teacher or the time to learn how to experience these things? Well, I’ll have to leave these questions to sci-fi writers for now.

In Chapter Nine, Beez and CC pack up and leave the little house by the beach in Pondicherry and head north to Bombay and beyond.

In Chapter Ten, Beez better be on tour with the Smugglers in North America or he’ll be in deep shit – deeper than a cow patty on the front lawn of the Taj Mahal so get your silent ass cheeks back here Beez! Which begs the question… did you ever fart during the ten days on the cushion? A real ripper? “Whoa… hey sorry about that one gang! And that one! Ooop- and that one!”