I’m gearing up for an adventure in consciousness.
For the second time I am about to surrender all my distractions and commit to ten days of silent meditation on a farm in Hereford. The technique is called Vipassana, which means insight. I feel like I am preparing to climb a difficult mountain – again. Hard enough the first time, but infinitely harder the second, knowing what’s coming.
It’s not the silence. I can go days in my shed without talking to a soul. It’s not being woken at 4am by an old-fashioned hand bell. I like getting up early and the bell sounds like it belongs in a Tibetan monastery. It’s not the food, which is simple and vegetarian. It’s not the living quarters, which are spartan but include the rare treat of a hot shower. It’s not the purpose-built, high-ceilinged, wood and glass meditation hall with its piles of cushions and blankets and several hundred other truth-seekers, from both genders, all ages, all walks of life. It’s not even the fierce physical pain of sitting cross-legged on the floor for eleven hours a day.
It’s the knowledge that when the storms hit, the psychological storms of memory and feeling and love and loss and hope and despair and longing, I will have nowhere to go, nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide. No guitar, no pens and paper, no books, no films or wine or joints or cake.
So why do it?
Because on the other side of the storms is mental silence. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing rarer. A break from the incessant noise and clatter and chatter inside my head. A chance to see the world as it really is, without my desperate ego-specs.
There was a patch of woodland next to the meditation hall. It was extraordinarily beautiful, or at least I thought so at the time. The ground was a thick carpet of fallen leaves in a million colours. Hoar frosts pinned naked trees to frozen skies. Moonlit dawns and lonely stars.
With the help of the trees and the moon and the stars I went through a tunnel of darkness and came out of it. By the eighth day I was high as a kite.
In an effort to record my journey, I collected objects from the woods and laid them out on paper towels in my room. As soon as the vow of silence ended, on the tenth day, I made scribbled notes about what the objects represented. Here’s what I wrote. Unabridged.
Gong, berry tree, birds etc
Men, men, men, passion, crazy mind, crazy mushroom
Running towards death with my fingers in my ears, screaming.
Butterflies in stomach, shiver of fear, stab of envy
PAIN, prickly pain, just pain, nothing but pain
A voice, ‘I can help you, the pain is not pain’
Dead things, some beauty.
Apple trees, FOOD, craving
One pine tree among the multitudes of oak and beech
Acceptance of things AS THEY ARE.
Everyone looks wild and dishevelled
Glance in the mirror by accident and react to thoughts about myself
MOON, HIGH, like I’ve never seen the world before
The hedge, so beautiful
And the silver birch is a mind over matter thing
Not using willpower anymore, smiling HELPS, want to pick up some beautiful frost and…
Won’t last, nothing will last.
Cold November and all the trees in bud
Equanimity, change, ARISING AND PASSING AWAY
Such a cold and frozen morning.
These plants and flowers
Then warmth and sunshine, tea and talking
After Metta, and after crying.
William Hart – The Art of Living
T.S.Eliot – Burnt Norton)