July 16, 2005
I returned Thursday from meditation camp in Shelburne, Mass. For those who don’t know, Vipassana is a course where you sit 12 hours a day and meditate and not talk for 10 days (www.dhamma.org). Many of my cousins have done it and speak highly of it, and i thought maybe it would help me get more organized and concentrate better.
Day 0 (june 29): arrive at center. i’m unsure about their high-carb vegetarian diet, but dinner was pretty good. also was assigned a room in their shiny new hotel building, not an old tent. at 8pm the course starts and talking stops. let’s meditate! grab some cushions and sit down and squirm for an hour.
Day 1: full day of meditation. supposed to sit and focus on your nostrils. can’t sit comfortably, so try to fake it by just sitting still. experiment with more cushions. finding the food very tasty – breakfast is oatmeal with stewed prunes and oranges – how gourmet. during discourse i unfortunately find out that this is not ‘concentration’ camp but ‘enlightenment’ camp, which isn’t quite what i am looking for, but will give it a try as long as i’m here.
Day 2: ow! try sitting on meditation bench instead of cross-legged. seems better i can sit still for almost 20 minutes. supply of available cushions is running low. not sure if i’m meditating or not. discourse raves a bit too much about Buddha, crediting him with inventing string theory. ask house manager for WD40 to fix squeaky doors.
Day 3: meditation bench is hurting the knees. start sitting on lots of cushions stacked up like a stool. sign up for interview with teacher (ming) to ask for advil and tylenol. he says no, the pain is good, just focus and it will go away. whatever. also wish to tell him a joke, he asks if it’s related to my meditation? it’s not, so he says wait until Day 10 when we can talk.
Day 4: vipassana day. instead of focusing on the nose we can focus on everything else. but i just writhe in pain. vegetarian pork buns at lunch taste very, very bad. ask ming again for advil, explaining differences between anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs. ask house manager for allen wrench and screwdriver to fix door closers. both requests denied.
Day 5: knees feeling more inflamed – decide to go home before doing permanent damage. ming tries to get me to stay offers me space to sit against wall. i say ok i’ll stay, but ming still refuses to hear my joke. wish i had brought that plastic puma paw from Bush Gardens, to plant curious animal tracks in the mud outside.
Day 6: ming gives me advil – i think he feels bad. that makes me happier. and finally i meditate properly! experimented with breathing through the mouth instead of the nose. ended up breathing really fast. so, mind was equanimous, but body thought it was running. Look, I’m a monk!! ming gives me thermometer to check for a fever. no fever – temp is normal. i’m careful to warm thermometer to 104F before returning it, so in case ming checks, he knows it works.
Day 7: smaller panic attack during meditation, but glad meditation still seems to have an effect. oatmeal and prunes breakfast is getting old, so am back to drinking lots of milk. ming still refuses to hear joke. ming tells me to stop sweeping floors.
Day 8: i’m upgraded to pagoda! old students generally get to meditate in the pagoda instead of the big hall. pagoda turns out to be a little disappointing; i expect a pagoda like larry ellison’s house, and i walk into this one and think, “What is this – a building full of closets?” being led to my “cell” feels like the doctor handing me a plastic cup and showing me to the bathroom. getting bored of meditation, and eager to go home and research my idea for an improved toilet tank cover. ming says i should clear my mind of jokes. discourse makes more ridiculous statements about biochemical reactions, but because of Noble Silence i cannot argue, which is very frustrating.
Day 9: getting really bored. instructor tapes getting to be too long, unbearably long with all the Cantonese translations, and discourses are filled with too much dogma. at night i move everyone’s left shoes to the left side of the hallway and the right shoes to the right side of the hallway. ming says no to joke again.
Day 10: finally no more Noble Silence – we can talk now. sound really strange not having spoken for so long. many fellow students were under impression i was mentally retarded since i always seemed to be making faces at my dinner plate. tell ming the joke. he asks ‘is this what you’ve been meditating on the past 10 days?’
Day 11: this is the day everyone leaves. volunteer to clean kitchen thinking that’s where the party will be. the place reminds me of frat, but larger and more serious. explain to ming the problems with meditating under incandescent lights. time to go home, but car won’t start. door slightly ajar and dome light was on for 11 days. battery is completely dead. stay overnight.
Day 12: ok, problem is more than the battery. suspect engine has seized because oil was low. spend the morning doing work around camp, replacing the old mattresses with mattresses that are high and luxurious, and unusually bouncy (“hotel-quality”). make a pot of chai.
Day 13: having fun doing more odd jobs around the center. go on field trip to smith college to check email, which is very overstimulating to my mind and eyes which are still in slo-mo. make a large pot of chai for everyone.
Day 14/0: busy day at camp as new students arrive. much organizing, cleaning, and cooking is done. get my car back with a shiny new alternator. make humongous pot of chai.
Day 15/1: i get job listening for snoring new students during the 4:30am sit in the meditation hall, while all other servers/staff are sleeping in. new students all see me and must think i’m this great meditator. ha! time to leave.
Overall, happy i went to camp and recommend it to anyone willing to give it a try. The program is contaminated with a bit much dogma, but the technique seems to have merit however it works.