Day 1 – Getting into the Dhamma groove

(Here’s a link toΒ Part 1 in case you missed it!)

4:02 am **GONG**

My feet hit the floor even before I knew I was awake. I think it was more fear of missing something or being disrespectful than an actual feeling of wanting to get up. I quickly readied myself for the 2-hour morning meditation session before breakfast.

The grounds before dawn
Walking for a little woke me up!

Since I knew I was going to be tired, I had decided the night before that I was going to walk outside in the cold for a few minutes before entering the meditation hall so that I had time to wake up. I was afraid that if I was sitting cozily on my cushion that I’d fall asleep and then TERRIBLE things would happen… (of course this is all in my mind!)

After 10 minutes of looping around the womens’ side of the grounds, I felt I was ready to face the day – and begin my 11 hours of meditation slated for the day (and every day). Quickly, I settled on my cushion and assumed the position. I was not alone – a few others had come in before me. I closed my eyes and tried to calm my mind and begin focusing on my breath. You’d be surprised how incredibly difficult it is to clear your mind and simply focus on your breath. Idle thoughts keep flying in one side of your brain and out the other, leading to remembering something from long ago in the past, which reminds you of something you forgot to do three days ago, and then you feel bad… the mind is a messy place!

As the remaining students filter in, the CD begins, and we receive our morning dose of musical chanting and soft words reminding us of the technique we are to be using today, and words of encouragement. I’m slowly beginning to get used to Goenka’s accent. I almost understand all of the words he is saying in English now!

More meditation?I sat for as long as I could in a cross-legged position, then changed to have my knees folded up at my chest with my arms around them. Then back to cross-legged, and so on. If an itch arose, I scratched it. If I had to cough or sniff I just joined the symphony of bodily functions occurring every other moment in the meditation hall. I have no idea how I got through that first hour and a half… In the last 30 minutes of the morning sitting, more chanting in Burmese is played. I have no idea what is really being said, but apparently they are simply words of good-will and encouragement and love, to try and help us along. Goenka finishes with “Take rest, take rest,” and slowly we rise up, joints creaking and cracking, stretching and yawning, and stumble to the Dining Hall for breakfast.

Breakfast, I will learn, will be the same each day. Oatmeal, hot prunes in juice, granola with nuts, bran cereal, yoghurt, toast with butter, jam, or peanut butter, tea, coffee, and jars of sunflower seeds, raisins, flax seed, and sesame that we can combine in a variety of ways. I have been encouraged to eat the prunes at every sitting, as meditation often blocks up certain areas of the body, while unblocking our emotions and our mind πŸ˜‰ I sleepily choose my meal, make some tea, and find a seat. It’s odd eating together with so many people but not being able to talk. I listen to the clink of the plates and the chewing crowd.

Lunch was an amazing vegetarian dish, accompanied by the staple salad. Again, I had tea. Part of me grumbled that I wasn’t going to have dinner – but I would soon get used to this schedule.

One thing I remember distinctly from Day 1 was repeatedly checking the schedule to make sure I knew when to be in the meditation hall. I was terrified of missing a sitting and not hearing some important piece of wisdom imparted via audio from our teacher, Goenka.

4:00 am Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher’s instructions
11:00-12:00 Lunch break
12-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher’s instructions
5:00-6:00 pm Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm Teacher’s Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall
9:30 pm Retire to your own room–Lights out

The hours seemed to drag on. On my breaks, in fits of boredom – I began walking the grounds. There were not many paths, but I managed to try several different combinations and permutations of directions and loops. It’s amazing the things you find to do.

After 5pm tea and a break, we re-entered the hall for our last 1-hour group sitting of the day, followed by our first video discourse and another short round of meditation. I was really looking forward to the video – I had heard this was the best part of the day. My sources were not wrong πŸ™‚

The video began once everyone was situated. On the screen appeared a squatty little Indian man with grey and white hair. He was SO CUTE! And he has a sense of humour! It’s so nice to listen to Goenka talking to us so candidly, with such simple explanations of what we are doing here. We are offered examples and stories – which helps us all feel a little bit more human at the end of a long, silent day of meditating inside our own minds. It’s nice to laugh together as a group when Goenka makes a joke here or there.

After the video, there are about 30 minutes left to meditate before bed.

Somehow, I made it through the day’s meditation schedule.

Before I know it, day 1 is over. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. But just before I drift to sleep, I realize – only 9 more days to go…

[Read more in Part 3]