From the top of the head, to the tips of the toes. A Vipassana memoir. Part 1.

Picture courtesy of the Dharma Dipa Vipassana Meditation Centre website.

From opposite directions.

It’s early April 1993 and I’m standing at Victoria coach station in London waiting to board the coach to Gloucester. Once there I’m to take a local bus and then a walk up a lane will take me to the Dharma Dipa Vipassana meditation centre. It will be my first visit there and trepidation would be an understatement. My only previous experience of meditation practice was a couple of years before when a flatmate introduced me to the basic technique and we sat for 15 minutes.15 minutes? I was about to begin 10 days of it. There’s real fear in the belly as I start off on the coach from Victoria. Fear of failure and fear of the unknown. And a deeper seated fear that I’m not capable and not worthy circles around my head and stomach. But more of 1993 later perhaps when and if I need to call on it.

It’s now late March 2015 and I’m at Haymarket railway station in Edinburgh and I’m about to set off for the same place from the opposite direction. I haven’t been since 2001 and whilst there’s some nervousness from across the years it’s an in perspective tremor of anticipation. It’s a looking forward to seeing and being in a place that has been a permanent part of my affections for many years now. Awareness of the work to come in the following days adds that spark of spice known as doubt. Old doubts about being able to complete what’s asked of me are in healthy perspective and the old emotional damp cardboard of unworthiness is conspicuous by its absence. I’m feeling good, alive and invigorated by a beautiful bright sunny spring morning.

Getting reacquainted with old new friends.

Arriving and stepping off the coach that brought me from Gloucester train station I see almost as many changes within Dharma Dipa as there have been in me over the years. New road, new car park, new admin, canteen and accommodation blocks. Seems a lot can happen in 14 years. Registration done I take a walk about to re-familiarise myself with my new old home for the next ten days. The meditation hall, which I’m still thinking of as the “new” meditation hall, looks unchanged. It still impresses me with its restrained graceful lines a perfect symbiosis of the utilitarian and the elegant. Strolling past it slowly I get my first look at the male exercise area. There is now a small area of woodland at the top and bottom of the field.

There’s not long to wander around before the gong calls us to the hall for the beginning of the course and the first session. Vows are taken to observe “Noble” silence, (no talking, hands signals, gestures, eye contact or other forms of communication I might have missed out) as well the basic morality code of abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual contact, intoxicants and telling lies. Noble silence is pretty much essential for number five. The course couldn’t work without it. That done its bed before an invigorating fresh 4am start to day one.

Day 1.

March 28th and Day 1 starts with a successful 4:30 to 6:30 early morning session. By successful I mean I had not only remembered the term for strong determination correctly after all these years, “adhiṭṭhāna”, but had managed to carry it out in its practical sense in the very first session of the course. For the unfamiliar this means maintaining the same posture for the period of meditation you sit down for. I felt very pleased with myself, though of course there was no ego involved at all in that feeling of satisfaction, honestly. Ahem. I wouldn’t do that again this course except in the “Vipassana” session on Day 4 but it still set the tone for the course. I “was” capable of doing this and of getting through it successfully. I was aware of the danger of complacency and over confidence and I was determined to keep them to a minimum. All of this was possible in the quiet confidence I was able to take from this very first session.

But this is “me”, on “my” course. Not “you” on “yours” if you do one. If I’m lucky enough to be here again it will be utterly different and unique. I may have a first session that has me in pieces physically and mentally and still come to the end of the course satisfied, content that I had done the best I could that time. Please do not take this as a description of what it will be like every time for everyone. This is merely my experience of one course, just wait until I get to 1993 in detail, but that’s another story in every sense

Day 2. Eurythmics day.

Here comes the rain again. As Day 2 is weather wise so in large part will be days 3, 4, 5 etc all the way to day 8. Though in fairness there will be few break periods that are a complete wash out due to the rain.

That was a short paragraph but it was a very small gag, even if it was true. But gags or at least humour, and it will be surreal, will feature here. But along with laughter comes the pain of why I’m here. Such is the nature of this undertaking. Sitting for long periods, an hour at a time for about 10 hours a day, does deliver fatigue quite efficiently. I’m sure it’s not imagination but the impression is strong that on each course Day 2 has been the day reality has set in for me. The freshness of Day 1 has been replaced with stiffness in muscles and joints and a body that’s changed its tune from “ah this is the life” to “ok, I’ve had enough now can we go home”.

The mind can’t hide from the body the knowledge that there are another 8 more fun filled days of fatigue and hard work ahead. So the body screams its tantrum in the most efficient way it knows how. This is where the first real test is taken. It is said Day 2 and Day 6 are the worst, the wanting to leave and run away home days. They have a point. The body screams again its familiar scream. The scream we all know, that of the petulant child that lives within the pain of us all. This embodiment of our mental immaturity will be our most dangerous enemy here. Apart from our imagination but we’ll get to that slippery character soon enough. The next stop here will be Day 4, “Vipassana Day”. The true beginning of the course.

About Jim Laing

The Buddha said there were four kinds of people. Those who run from dark to dark, those who run from light to dark, those who run from dark to light and those who run from light to light. From a life going from dark to dark to having a few years running from dark to light, with scuffed hands and knees from sometimes falling, I may be getting the hang of it now. How it began is not now how it is, I need a quiet space, After the noise of the day, So I take sanctuary in the creativity, And my soul feeds, On sometimes dark, Sometimes light fantasy, And I dare like many to work, But stay up off my knees, To dream, perchance to suffer, But always still to dream. Here are things mostly lyrical and poetic, with nonsense sometimes, reviews and personal musings. The coffees hot and always black. The words not necessarily so.
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