There was a wonderful prelude to this particular post that set out to elucidate why I was heading to meditation camp in the first place. Explaining why I wanted to give myself over completely to the teachings of S. N. Goenka for 10 days in Dhamma Dipa and seek enlightenment through Vispassana meditation. Unfortunately, as has happened with three blog posts now since my star wars review, I didn’t save it. It was lost amid the constant flux of my RAM never to reach that higher plane of existence to which all data aspires on my hard drive. Or maybe that’s the cloud… Either way it’s all remarkably akin to how I failed to reach a higher plane myself on this bizarre foray in rural Herefordshire.
To sum up the contents of that lost post then, my reasoning is largely what you’d expect: wanting to live in the moment, seeking treatment as one of the many stimulation junkies in this ADHD generation, blah, blah, blah. You get the general picture. I think I’m guiltier than most when it comes to submitting to the variety of dopamine hits available in this modern life and thought 10 days of silent meditation might be a good antidote to this. I was raised on stimulation, never learning to be bored with even my educational needs met with PC games such as Maths Blaster and Reader Rabbit. I, unashamedly, cannot to this day disentangle the concept of a noun from this glorious song featured below from Jumpstart 2nd Grade.
Hurrying on though to the titular question at hand, if I was so set upon curing the ailments of my postmodern upbringing, why did I run away? Well reader, it was a possibility I anticipated from the get go as completing the course is no easy feat. 4 am rises, a limited vegan diet with no proper meals allowed after noon, no reading, no writing, no exercise, no fun allowed at all. I thought myself prepared to tough it out, but any hopes of finding existential bliss capitulated to my excruciating back ache. No matter what position you opt for, whatever elaborate cushion construction you conjure up, sitting up without any proper support for 12 hours… It hurts. Meanwhile I was being asked to focus entirely on sensations in the space from the top of my nose down to my upper lip all day long. That’s apparently real brain training for you Dr. Kawashima.
Without any particular religious faith to speak of, living in the moment has stood as one of the final philosophical cornerstones remaining upon which I could supposedly build a happy life. Various films that celebrate the idea like Boyhood have captured my heart and mind, and the deluge of of scientific reports purporting the benefits of mindfulness has only bolstered my interest in it. If I had any revelatory thoughts amid the pain in that hall though, it was this: Living in the moment is probably a hell of a lot easier, Mr. Linklater, when you’re alongside a pretty girl, in the middle of Big Bend national park, all the while higher than Rey’s midi-chlorian count.
I tried to stay on the task at hand but I found respite, not in the momentary twitches of my nose, but through reliving countless past experiences and envisaging all those still to come. How I could have triumphantly won that argument in year 8 hands down and that fantastic blog post I’ll write following this whole ordeal. I admit it’s not quite the stellar level of thought exploration reached by Darrell Standing in Star Rover but I’m not a big fat liar. Or fictional. It was interesting to see the fickleness and speed of my mind in the absence of any immediate stimulation. I didn’t know where it would go next. I was able to find some joy outside of meditation time by granting nicknames to various other residents of Dhamma Dipa. This included my roommate Noisy Smurf who would stamp about the creaky floor of our barn conversion seemingly oblivious to the careful steps observed by everyone else.
There was other fun to be had too. Tell over 100 brits they can’t communicate at all, verbal or otherwise, send them all to the same places at the same times and just sit back and watch the sketch comedy unfold at doorways. There’s no politely insisting “no, no please, after you” or any gestures to that effect. Instead there’s grown men stuck in quiet doorframe induced hysteria, looking downwards and shuffling backwards and forwards like timid penguins. Other elements of weirdness were not so enjoyable like my final, sleepless night. I spent it bolt upright, praying another roommate of mine, sleepwalking and making all manner of ungodly noises only inches away, wouldn’t opt to pass beyond the curtains that surrounded the edge of my bed. If I had any doubts as to my departure, this particular event made sure I would not be continuing my stay. Starved of other engagements my mind was overly keen to paint the most sinister visions imaginable beyond the curtain that night…
Whilst at some points I was evidently distracted, I still gave the meditation malarkey a solid crack. I’ve been to various mindfulness one offs at university, a four week course alongside mum and spent a lot of time with the headspace app, all of which I’d got a lot out of. Unfortunately nothing seemed to click in the same way with me on this trip. One of the highlights of each day was sitting down each evening (all of us racing for the back support of the far wall) to watch videos of the late S. N. Goenka instructing us as we progressed through his programme. At one point he light-heartedly criticised those who complained they only enjoyed some of the meditations, the very sentiment espoused by my fellow leavers on day 4, but I didn’t enjoy one. Though he promised that through hard work we would take greater pleasure from it all, he was becoming a hard man to trust given some of his other claims. Goenka insisted for instance, those aches and pains we’re all feeling from immobility are mental knots releasing themselves through meditation which doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.
For a man that prides himself on his scientific, rational and non-sectarian approach to meditation Goenka’s teachings, whilst charismatic, is still draped in buddhist dogma. The idea that one has to endure a lifetime of gargantuan meditation efforts to reach the point of enlightenment seems very much akin to the dangling carrot on a stick offered by capitalism. That I have to put my head down and work damn hard for a top job or that shiny possession to be happy. It’s exactly the kind of mentality I’m seeking to counter by coming to this place. I’m fine with hard work being required, I’m not being lazy, but only if some pleasure can be taken amidst it all and not only at the very end. I might be getting a bit unfair given my sore back here, but after not finding what I hoped for it seemed sensible not to waste more time. The only reasons for staying I could construct would be the opportunity to eventually chat to that pretty girl just across the hall and to finish my HIMYM reference (I entered into ‘Noble Silence’ by saying to my a roommate Chris, this is going to be LEGEN… – wait for it – “). Neither of these felt like adequate justifications to remain.
Despite my failure to complete the full 10 days I’m not disheartened at all. I still intend to carry on meditating in shorter bursts. I think it’s an incredible past time and with so much proper science backing it up anyone remotely intrigued by it should definitely give the free trail of Headspace a go. I’m glad I did it and pleased to discover that I wasn’t driven mad either by the quiet stretches of boredom at camp. They can go on spouting their beliefs about impermanence of being all they like, however I’ll respectfully disagree. Jumpstart taught me otherwise from an early age that, far from being impermanent, I’ll instead be, forever and always, a Noun.