My son once observed that I vacuum like a possum on speed. This is a keen observation because I should point out that I have ADHD. While life might be more manageable with medication, I do without and just skate through life like a runaway train.
What might pose the greatest challenge to someone like me? How about a ten day silent meditation retreat? I know I’m sometimes a complete masochist but even I couldn’t come up with such a torturous idea…. except that I did. I turned a significant age and while my peers were off on mid-life crisis P&O Cruises, I decided to do a boot camp of the mind. What could possibly go wrong?
This is me. I wake up each morning before the sun and leap out of bed freaking out because the clock is ticking and I am running out of time to write my next book, go on that diet, win an Academy Award and change the world. The expression take a chill pill was invented specifically for me. I am the least calm human I know. I am a walking cyclone and it unnerves my fairly relaxed family. I am go-go-go and yet when I turned ‘that age’ I decided that I wanted to learn how to …..just stop. I wanted to learn how to be still. So when I read about a ten day retreat teaching Vipassana meditation, I knew I’d found my sabbatical. The retreat closest to me was in the Blue Mountains (they are scattered all over the globe) and I promptly booked in for the ordeal…I mean enlightenment.
I talk a lot. A. Lot. So most people thought the idea of me being silent for ten days was a complete joke. I would show them. My teenage son said that if I lasted the ten days he would book in and do a retreat as well. He was that sure I would fail. Challenge on!
The place rested on the escarpment in one of the most beautiful Australian bush-settings you can imagine. A hundred of us signed up and after our first hour of meditation we were banished into a state of silence, forbidden eye contact with others, no reading materials, writing materials, any form of technology and no dinner. Listen to me! No dinner except for two pieces of fruit but they were half pieces so technically one piece of fruit. No coffee. No wine. No meat. No touching. No laughter. No words. Nada. Nothing. And the wake up bell calling us to the meditation hall came at 4.15 a.m. each day, early even for me.
So for ten days I got up in the cold dark, trying not to be crushed by a stampede of kangaroos on my way to the hall where I sat like a garden statue and contemplated the true reality of existence by realising that everything is impermanent except the pain you feel in your hips during long bouts of meditation because that hell is endless let me tell you! Eleven hours a day of sitting like a human pretzel, contorted on a cushion on the floor, eyes shut, concentrating on the space beneath your nostrils taught me pretty quickly that anything that I have ever complained about in the comfort of my own home was trivial by comparison.
Stillness? Silence? I was inwardly screaming, chanting four letter words, sneaking glances from between crocodile slits of eyes, at the others, liking one girl’s snazzy pants, hating on the hippiest poser with the perfect posture. I itched and sneezed and coughed while others around me farted and faintly snored.
Back in my basic but comfortable room, I began reading my shampoo bottle label from sheer boredom. I was truly more alone with myself than I have ever been in my life and it was unnerving.
The not speaking was the easiest part and actually quite liberating. I came to see that so much speech is just idle chatter. My bones were taking a beating from all the floor-sitting but the lack of stimulation was hardest. Tears came on day four. By day six however, I was looking better, feeling better, slowing down and feeling that elusive thing that I never feel….I felt relaxed. The vego lunches were delicious. I was sleeping well. I started to get it. Life. The blinkers were off.
And I survived. Did I become a Jedi mind warrior? Now, now, baby steps. I may not be enlightened yet but my knee-jerk reactions to life have become less violent and my ten days as a pretzel taught me that I control time, not the other way around. I also learned that ditching dinner is an awesome way to drop kilos. Now it’s time for the teenager to go get some shut-up!