War and Peace in meditative mind
So how do you strike a balance in your mind for productive meditation? Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
“HAVE you ever meditated before?” asks the Venerable Kovida, my teacher.
It's the second day, we've already finished first two sessions of morning meditation and breakfast. I'm sitting on the wooden floor of his Interview Room with a handful of tanned monks, their feet tucked behind them as they sit on thin pieces of cloth they brought into the room.
I would be delighted to stay at the back of the room, against the wall, listening to the monk's questions, often in English, sometimes through a translator. However, Ver Kovida has addressed me, I try to find my voice – looking for the right tone and the right volume for the room and situation.
“Ah, good,” he says with a big, wide smile. Ver Kovida sits on the ground behind a small table, piled high with papers and little booklets.
“You can sit with your hands like this, or on your knees, or on your lap like this would be very good,” he says. With a certain joy he takes a few minutes of everyone's time to walk me through the basics of mediation.
“Always come back to your breath. Do not follow it inside or outside, stay right here,” he says, circling the area between his nostrils and his upper lip.
Pressing my hands together, I think him. I hesitate, wanting to stay and listen to what advice he doles out to the monks, but it seems important to clear space for others to come in and seek guidance – as even for these monks who have meditated for years and years there is much left to learn as they struggle up the pagoda to Nirvana.
On the third day, I stop being kind to myself. I begin to battle through my morning meditations. My breathing is short and fast, mentally counting to eight as I go.
“One (breathe in), one (breathe out); two (breathe in), two (breathe out).”
My focus is hard and sharp, driving into the darkness behind my eye lids, occasionally feeling that space drift away from what makes me feel cross-eyed to further a field. My breath feels to fast, but I'm told to breathe naturally, so I don't speed it up or slow it down, I just let it go: in and out, in and out, in and out – the counting in my head forcing the pace.
It is a battle; a war within myself where I don't have the resources to out maneuver my subconsciousness.
Venerable Kovida is not there for interviews on the third day. I had a few questions to ask him, though I'm not sure if I'm allowed more than one question. In these types of situations I am always hesitant to act, despite normally being an outgoing person.
I'm very curious about his thoughts on body sounds during meditation.
“When it comes to bodily sounds, such as belching and farting during meditation, should I hold it in to prevent disturbing others or just let it out?”
I had the question carefully crafted and ready to go. But he's not here today.
Instead, I fall back into my room and nap.
A routine that involves a great deal of napping starts to emerge:
3:45 Wake up
5:30 Go to Breakfast
9:00 Nap / light calisthenics, push ups and table tops
7:30 Shower and Bed
There is a great deal of napping.
One day, while standing in line for second breakfast (aka lunch/diner) looking over the bulletin board listing the names of all foreign residents, notices on meditation visas and rules for the center, I stumble upon a gem: yoga and Tai Chi are both allowed to be practiced in private.
The introduction to Vipassana meditation that Ivan gave me said that any other practices were strictly forbidden during the meditation retreat, but apparently that doesn't apply to the Pa-Auk Forest Monastery.
Inside my wallet, I fish out s small card with two Sun Salutation routines on it. The precious little card was a goodbye gift from a dear yogi friend of mine, who I had the great pleasure of meeting and climbing with in Phuket. Though the bell that was attached it it fell of shortly after the beginning of the trip, the card remained in my wallet. And now the little black figure on it that is doing the poses is my new yoga instructor.
With Aroon out of the room, I move through the positions, stretching my calves and and focusing on my breathing.