An endless flow of hours carried me through dry grasslands and flat topography. Finally, I arrived at the edge of Yosemite National Park. The destination, if it can be called that, was No-where-ville, California where the California Vipassana Center was located.
I had arrived. I parked in the dirt lot, turned in my keys, electronics, and valuables, and embarked on the hardest ten days of my entire life so far. If only I had known what I was getting myself into.
This “retreat” was a ten-day Vipassana Meditation clinic in which I was forbidden to talk, use electronics, read, exercise, eat meat, write, or make contact with any of the individuals around me. I roomed with thirteen other women in a one story extended trailer, of sorts.We shared two showers (in which there was no hot water for the first nine days), three sinks, and a plastic front door. Our rooms were separated by cloth sheets that wrapped around the platforms we put our sleeping bags onto making my “room” for the ten days –about fifty square feet—far from roomy.
At the peak of 4 am each morning, the wake-up gong bellowed. Vipassana, this style of meditation, is the purest form taught by Buddha, and involves only focus on the breath and awareness of sensation; no visualization, no beads, no praying, no mantras allowed. With such a simple process, I had thousands of minutes to devote to calculating how close I was to the end. The number of gongs was also calculated. One down, I whispered to myself,one fewer gong.
In response to its chime, I clutched my lantern and rushed outside into the bitter air. A single white rope-light slithered along the dirt path, encouraging me to follow his dim sequinned scales to the meditation hall. The stars hardly shone any brighter. Their small amount of glow portrayed their frustration with me. I seemed to be interrupting their slumber.
My reward for reaching the hall was a single garden mat in a stuffy, dark room,where I sat completely still for two straight hours. Walking home after each sitting, my legs ached and lower back groaned from fatigue. How could sitting still hurt so much?
The next pain came during meals. Our dietary regimen consisted of two small,vegetarian courses a day. No food was allowed to be taken after noon except for one or two pieces of fruit at five pm for new students. As a result, on day five I entered the 4am two-hour sitting with writhing stomach pains. My stomach was sounding the war chant. “Hunger!” It said, “Hunger has arrived!” I found my mind completely fixed for the entire duration, though, and when the finished bell rang, the stomach ache, back pains, and sore knees were no more. In their place, I felt refreshment!