Continued from In the Shadow of the Mountain I: A silent beginning
No thuds on the door. No jangling alarm clocks. We woke up at 4 a.m. the first morning to the tinkling of bells.
The assistants went around all the rooms and dormitories ringing tiny bells. Lights came on one by one. And somnolent women in trailing nightgowns spilled out of their rooms. As I stumbled down the dimly lit path to the Meditation Hall, there was that familiar feeling of anticipation and apprehension which precedes an adventure. I couldn’t wait to begin.
I went to my cushioned seat, closed my eyes and as per instructions began to ‘observe my breathing’. As if on cue, thoughts of yesterday and the day before stormed in, stomping out any effort to even locate the breath. ‘This is going to be tough,’ I thought. And in the next few minutes that changed to, ‘this is going to be impossible’. My mind had worked out the equation: eyes closed = sleep. So when I wasn’t staving off the mutinous flow of thought, I was embarrassedly shaking myself awake.
This Rip Van Winkle effect continued through the morning and into the afternoon. If this continued, I thought, I was going to be VERY relaxed at the end of the course and not one bit enlightened. I spoke to the teacher hoping for some tips to stay awake. She calmly said, ‘It’s your first day and in a new environment. You’ll be fine tomorrow.” She sounded more certain than I felt, so I relaxed.
By the end of the day, I was deeply mortified. One WHOLE day of observing the breath and I was no closer to gaining any control over this openly rebellious mind. One moment I was observing my breath and the next moment I was replaying an old conversation or writing a blog or humming an obstinate tune. I laughed bitterly at all the times I thought I had a mind of my own. Hah! My mind had me. My thoughts were thinking me.
Day 2 was no different. But I stopped battling this willful creature that was my mind. It wasn’t a match of equals anyway. Again and again, I simply drew it back to the breath. Sometimes it took a few seconds, sometimes minutes ticked by.
Towards evening of Day 2, I began enjoying the chase. After a day and a half of stalking, the ‘observer’ had grown stronger. Instead of catching up with its quarry at Thought No. 10, the observer grabbed its coattails at No. 5. The quarry continued to dodge, but now the crosshairs were trained on it.
By Day 3 we had progressively narrowed the ‘observed’ area from the entire nasal passage to just the entrance of the nostrils. I could now tell exactly where the slightest breath made contact with the skin and could feel the slight flaring of the nostril with each exhalation. But those were the external sensations. The prolonged observing drew my attention to subtle vibrations under the skin. I felt the tip of my nose quivering each time I focused on it. Like a bunny rabbit, said the incorrigible mind .
Now, with this newly sharpened mind, we were ready for Vipassana.
Part III – Mastering Anicca