sitting in silence, days 8 and 9: blanker body, better mind

So, Day 8 rang in just like Day 7 did, except more areas of my body felt blank, and sensations all over were dampened. This struck me as a little amusing, and I reminded myself of the fact that vipassana really isn’t about the kind of sensation you were feeling or if you were feeling it — it’s about the equanimity, the no reaction.

Also, while my body felt a little dampened, my mood and my mind felt great. That whole cliché of a giant weight being lifted off of me is just too true to pass up in this case — i felt like my shoulders were less tense, my chest more open. A part of me was sad that I’d felt the way I had for so long, but a bigger part of me was — is — happy to be on the other side of it.

Day 8 marked a huge turning point for me in terms of my ability to meditate. Since day 6, I’d found that sometimes during meditation, I felt pain in my hips and knees and back, but when I got up at the end of meditation, none of those places hurt any more. The pain wasn’t “real” or at least it wasn’t lasting. I started to view it more of a suggestion, i started to view it more with the lens of “anicca” (A-knee-cha)

Ah, anicca. The word means “impermanence” or more literally, “inconstant.” The idea of anicca, when applied throughout your life, is that everything is always in changing, in a constant state of flux. Everything, therefore is impermanent. You get fired and hired from jobs. Children grow up. People are born and die. You have happy points in marriage and difficult ones. You cry and then you laugh.

If you don’t understand that everything changes, that everything is in flux, you suffer — again, another source of misery. If you are sad and you think the sadness will never pass, that you will be sad forever, you suffer. If you are joyous and think that you will always have joy, then when you don’t, you suffer.

From a body perspective, anicca means that all sensation is impermanent. It has arrived, it will stay for a while, and it will pass away. A good example is the sensation of an itch. Itches are the WORST, right? Right. When Goenka first mentioned that sensations come and go, to try not react to them, i assumed he made a special exception for itches. Because not scratching an itch would be sadistic, right? Have you ever tried not to scratch an itch? It’s torture! But, no, itches were included in the whole “non-reaction” thing.

And while I was terrible at not reacting at first, the interesting thing I found once I truly tried to not react was that no matter how intense an itch felt at first, no matter how real it felt, it did pass, and relatively quickly. And not only that, but I found that by viewing the itch as a neutral sensation to be examined, and not as a painful or uncomfortable sensation to fix, it actually made the itch less…well…itchy.

Just like the pain in my hips, by knowing the itch, or the pain, was impermanent, it was like I took away its power to cause me to suffer through it. Instead, I could be curious with it.

So on the eight and ninth day, when my ability to see things with impermanence, my ability to not react grew stronger, my meditation grew deeper, despite the blank spaces. I found myself looking forward to meditating, prolonging my meditations, not wanting them to end. I left meditating times with a clearer head. I was happier and quieter. When we were introduced to our pagoda cells — individual meditation cells in the quietest building you’ve ever been in — I felt like I might never leave. And while I still wanted very much to go back to my life, and while I was excited for returning to the world of books and writing and friends and Joe, I started to understand how monks and nuns could live in seclusion, in silence, could live full lives that were largely full of meditation.

Now, I don’t want to paint a picture here that makes it seem like all was sunshine and rainbows, because that isn’t true. That eight and ninth day, my meditation practice was awesome and deep, yes. But my anxiety was a different story. After almost 7 days of having hardly an anxious thought in my mind (even during my emotional experiences), the full force of my anxiety hit me in the gut the nights of Day 7, 8 and 9.

Night is a pretty classic time for my anxiety to flare up. And those nights, as I laid in bed unable to quiet my mind (which had been so quiet during meditations for Day 8 and 9!), my mind was bursting with worst-case scenarios of things that could have happened to people I loved while I was out of contact. like maybe Joe had been hit by a car while biking. And maybe I’d given everyone the wrong emergency number to call and so they couldn’t get in touch with me. And maybe they did call the center but the center decided not to tell me because i was meditating and they didn’t want to interrupt. Or maybe it wasn’t Joe, maybe it was my mom, and something was wrong with her. Maybe she was in the hospital. Maybe my sister had been trying to call my for days and couldn’t get through. Maybe she was furious at me. Maybe there had been a death. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

It had been quite a while before this level and this number of worst-case scenarios had visited my mind, and even though i tried to talk myself down and tell myself i was just panicking, my concerns were quite unlikely, and even though I tried to use the CBT methods I mentioned previously, it was almost impossible for me to truly believe that nothing had gone horribly wrong on “the outside.” (I’ve since brought it up with my therapist and we’re going to explore it a little more, since I was pretty surprised by the strength of my anxiety those nights.)

It was also on Days 7, 8 and 9 that my mind started waking up in other ways. I found myself thinking of the things I had to do when I got home, about the stories I wanted to write, about moving tasks I had to get done, about whether i wanted to get or not get a job. Basically, it was like my mind knew that there were things it could think about and it totally wanted to start getting up and running again. The thoughts were moving slower than usual, sure, but they were there, and it was interesting to see the kinds of things my mind suggested I concern myself with.

And then, Day 10 came! And the talking could begin…

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