I’ll start this by saying; if you haven’t read part one yet, follow this link here and catch up.
Second piece of housekeeping; apologies for keeping you waiting for part 2. Life flew past in the last two weeks, although it’s not really a justification – especially given the fact I just spent another 4 days water fasting and sitting on the sofa, but I chose to write about the fasting experience instead, again. So where’s that post, Chris? I wasn’t happy with it, so haven’t posted it, yet. The weekend before that I was down in Melbourne watching the tennis. You get the picture. 2019 has not got off to the productive writing start I was hoping it would, but such is life, right? I’m not sure Tony Robbins would be as convinced by that justification.
So as you may recall, I endured an internal dialogue of nonsense for a forty minute meditation session on the Friday night, then slept like a log. I woke up on the Saturday morning to the sound of a small bell being rung outside my small bedroom. As my conscious slowly returned to me I realised where I was, and all of a sudden felt like I had left the modern world and taken up residence in a monastery. Which I kind of had.
I got up, showered, and dressed (no yoga pants or brown long-sleeved t-shirts – I had some rather fetching grey shorts from Zara and a plain black tee – I figure enlightenment does not demand a certain sartorial style – it’s bigger than that, people).
I make my way to the dhamma, making uncomfortable eye contact with the other meditators (if you can call us that, I definitely don’t feel like one yet). We take our seats and the guru/son-of-a-brickie enters the room and invites us to commence. That’s it? No guidance, just go figure it out. Oh god. Now I have to say that this first 40 minute session of the day (there are scheduled to be 8) is a breeze. My internal chatter continues, but it’s tolerable, almost enjoyable, and I feel a few moments of blissful calm that make me hopeful for progress across the weekend. I don’t bother to open an eye to check the time, and I don’t wriggle around in my seat trying to get comfortable. It’s OK, it’s probably no less enjoyable than laying in bed and reading a book. The bell rings to end the session and we make our way to breakfast for steaming porridge and fresh fruit.
Except I’m fasting, remember, so no porridge, or fruit for me. Instead I’m having a warm cup of peppermint tea. Yay. The rest of them sit silently and slowly, mindfully spoon porridge into their mouths. I watch them for a while, interested to note how slowly everyone is eating, it’s quite hypnotic to watch. After a while I can’t bear it, and so take myself outside to drink my tea. I sit on a bench and watch the trees blowing in the breeze. Quite nice this. Could get used to this. Maybe I’ll leave Sydney behind and take up the monastic life.
I’m snapped out of my reverie as the bell rings to indicate it’s time to return to the hall for our next practice. Right, so, at this point we’ve had two single forty minutes practices. This session before lunch is two hours, split into 3 iterations. Sitting meditation, walking meditation, then back to sitting again. Thank god for the variety. I’m quietly (have to be) optimistic that this is going to go well after the dawn edition. I sit down full of hope and expectation. Here’s what went down:
Right, Chris, you can do this, let’s start with the breathing. In, out, in, out. Easy does it, not too fast, not too slow, don’t control it, yeah, that’s the ticket.
Ok, this feels pretty good, the chair feels comfortable again, maybe I just needed to get used to it a bit.
What’s that? Why am I thinking about my sisters? Aww, they’re good eggs. Love em. I wonder what they’re up to right now? I miss them. Why do we have to all live so far away from each other?
Because you moved to Australia over three years ago, obviously, idiot.
Hmm, I know, but I think it was the right move, I mean I was restless at home, and I really like where I live now, more than I liked South London.
This is true, but you did leave behind all of your family and closest, oldest friends.
(All of a sudden I’m struck with homesickness, the type I haven’t felt in ages, and it is a deep, rotten homesickness)
I really love my friends and family back home. If I stay in Australia our lives will continue to move apart in opposite directions. Eventually there will be no going back.
Now, I’m going to be honest here, this was not easy for me. I have occasional pangs of homesickness every couple of months or so, but they’re usually fleeting. This lasted for the entire two hours. By the end of it I felt something like desperation, or mourning even, for the life I left behind when I upped sticks and moved down under. By the time the two hours ended I was completely and utterly emotionally drained, and had no idea what to do about it. I had ruminated over faces, memories, and past experiences, both joyful and painful. Over and over again. I simply could not stop it. When I had first looked at the schedule on Friday night, and noticed that we had lunch after meditation and then a two hour rest, I had chuckled at the notion of rest. Why would rest be needed after two hours of sitting and thinking. Now I knew.
Lunch was unmemorable, given I didn’t eat it. I was now approaching 40 hours without food, and I was desperately unhappy. About the lack of food, about the homesickness, and about the fact I wasn’t any closer to spiritual enlightenment. It felt like I was moving backwards, not forwards. I retreated to my room after a mug of tea, closed my eyes and prayed for sleep. Thankfully it came, and I napped for a short while. I woke refreshed, calmer, and ready to try again. So here we go… back to the hall.
Chris, you twat, come on, we can do better. This time, think about how much you love your life in Australia, take off those rose-tinted spectacles. You left Blighty for a reason. You wanted something different, you got it, enjoy it, stop focusing on the negatives.
God, I’m hungry. Why didn’t I eat some of that vegan coconut curry they all had at lunch? It smelled amazing. It looked amazing. Why are you even fasting you knob? What are you trying to prove?
Ok, I’ll make a deal with you, oh belly, oh chum, if dinner looks as good we’ll cave and tuck in, OK? Deal.
Fuck homesickness, ridiculous waste of thought. Now food, there’s something I can get on board with… Wait, why is it so god damn hot in here? Oh yeah, it’s peak summer and 33 degrees outside this wooden hut. Why have I got a blanket on my legs, take it off, I’m starting to feel sweat run down the small of my back.
[takes off blanket, quietly]
That’s a bit better. I mean seriously, I own a sauna, I’m used to heat, but this is horrible. You know what would make it better? A nice chocolate ice cream. Mmm. No, wait, an ice cold cider straight from the back of the fridge. And a steak, and chips, with chimmichuri, and mayo. Oh and a side of mushrooms, roasted in garlic butter. Get in my belly.
Stop it, you’re torturing yourself.
This is crap. Why am I here? It’s 33 degrees, you live by the beach, you could be chilling on the balcony listening to tunes, sipping a cold one, and be far more relaxed and comfortable than you are right now.
Stop it, you’re torturing yourself.
When’s that darn bell going to ring so I can go slowly plod around the gardens and look at plants and insects and shit? I’m done sat here thinking about food and ocean breezes.
Why are my legs cold?
Where’s that blanket?
The bell rang and out I went, silently, as ever. Feeling glum, and now, very hungry. The hunger has thankfully replaced the homesickness. Also I felt gratitude for my sauna. I don’t have a sauna back in England. Point to Australia.
When the afternoon session finished we had another 2 hour break before dinner. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what I did during that session. I think I laid on my back and stared at the ceiling for a good portion of it, as my room appeared to be the coolest spot in the retreat centre that I could find. I remember watching bees going about their work in the lavender plants for a while too, which was strangely comforting.
The bell rang for dinner, and the zombie army made their way back to the dining hall. I lick my lips hoping for leftover curry from lunch…
My least favourite of all the soups. Seriously? It’s just watery tomato ketchup. SERIOUSLY? I don’t even rate ketchup all that much. I haven’t eaten in 50 hours and this is what I’m presented with. Fuck that, I’ll have a peppermint tea. Rejected, I leave the dining room and make my way outside to go sit on a wall under a small tree, holding my warm beverage to my heart, trying to warm the coldness inside.
Something strange happened as I sat under that small tree. I looked up at one point and noticed it was filled with small worker bees, buzzing around doing their thing. Since I was a child bees have filled me with dread, despite the fact one has never stung me. Normally my reaction to a bee’s presence is to flap my arms at it, and if that doesn’t work I try to get as physically far away from the bee, without it being too obvious that a grown man is running away from a bee. Despite the very obvious fact that that is exactly I am doing. Instead, this time, I feel something that feels like joy. I watch the bees peacefully, and feel like I’m part of this harmonious scene. We’re friends, no one is attacking, or running, or flying from anyone.
Meditation. Cures bee phobias. I am, at least for now, no longer an apiphobic. Maybe this wasn’t a waste of time after all.
Part three to follow.