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Stories from Silence

Anyone who knows me (Hazell) would probably say that being silent for ten days is an impossible task, and that sitting still for ten and a half hours each day was out of the question. But discounting my daily conversations with the friendly group of ants who lived on site this is what I achieved on the Vipassana course. Ten and a half hours of mediation, two meals to be taken before midday and one lecture every day for ten days in which we were to remain completely silent; inside our own bodies, our own minds. See Carl’s previous blog for technical details. This a rambling account of the stories and even musicals that played out inside my head over the ten days that I was left to live only with myself.

Day two and roommate has been through two rolls of toilet paper; the fuller roll was mine. She is taking laxatives so must be constipated. What is she using it for? Does she know she’s used mine. Is she angry with me because she thinks I’ve used hers. New toilet roll appears in room. Do I use it, she used mine. I think I’ll use it. On second thoughts better write note to woman responsible for these dilemmas asking for some more toilet roll. Get my own toilet roll, smile smuggly to self.

Two days later. My toilet roll has gone! New laxatives appear. Is she eating it? I see her talking to the woman who we are allowed to talk to about problems etc. Is she telling her that I’ve used all the toilet role? She’s getting more laxatives… and toilet roll. Only the ants and I are conscious of these contradictions.

I consult with my new friends the ants who confirm that I should use her toilet roll. They back me up, high five me but I bail at the last minute and write another note requesting my own toilet roll that I shall have to hide under my pillow. I’m fascinated by the ants. They appear to be one of the most functional social groups I’ve ever encountered. Their exchanges are swift and to the point, they work hard and long hours, relieving each other regularly of the most testing tasks. For example if they are carrying a beetle across the path the carriers are constantly rotated to make for efficient working. Maybe they’re communist. I see my friend who makes a point to step over the ants avoiding any killing. As I do she walks slowly and carefully up and down the path, conscious I suspect of every movement and sensation in her body.

She is my friend and yet I don’t know her name. Everyday we sit next to each other and her presence more than anything else calms me for meditation. I say hello to Carl across the hall and settle with my little friend to meditate. Focusing now on my body and breeding awareness within myself. The tape starts and meditation begins. Observe with equanimity the sensations in your body, scan the body from head to toe and realise the nature of the sensations arising and passing, impermanent. Develop equanimity through the realisation of impermanence. At the end of the meditation wished for happiness for myself, my little friend, Carl and all beings. It seems like my little friend and I are the only ones left in the hall. I know she has wished me happiness too and for this I thank her. I get up and leave her alone with her eyes closed and mouth slightly pursed into a caring smile.

I go out to the ants. I tell them that in my meditation I imagined the Darliks from Dr Who saying ‘impermanent, impermanent’ as sensations arose and passed. They snigger confirming my dexterity at meditation jokes. I wonder how they’d come to see Dr Who and which Dr it was, but I let them get on with their daily tasks.

We are put in cells where I stand on my head although we are not supposed to. I need some fresh blood in my legs so I do this for five minutes every time I enter my cell. Although the teachings say we shouldn’t attach to anything I somehow become quite attached to my cell. It is my space whereas my room is not my own and belongs almost entirely to a toilet paper eating Israeli.

Despite my mental chattering my mind was unusually quiet and still. Once I’d given in to this experiment I started to enjoy the meditations and let them be. I let my walking and eating become an extension of the meditations and made an attempt to stay aware and not get sucked into my own stories about myself and others. My toilet roll saga got slightly carried away but I was able to let the idea that Carl’s translucent Scandinavian roommate was going to kill him go. I thought it was a little presumptuous of me and I was probably basing it on the fact that he was bald.

On day 9 talking commenced and egos came back into play. As my own had been dormant for so long I felt it hard to communicate with anyone, even Carl, and felt rather despondent yet more truthful in myself. To my surprise my roommate Hila, didn’t mention the toilet roll at all and we soon became friends laughing about the cockroach we’d had to corner into the sink-hole and cellotape off. Carl’s roommate didn’t kill him and people I hadn’t even noticed came to life all around me.

My first meeting with Malar, my little friend, was rather awkward. We were thrust together outside the hall and both burst into fits of nervous and somewhat geeky laughter. It wasn’t until later after we’d sat together in silence eating lunch that she turned to me and said ‘I feel very connected with you’ and to my surprise ‘thank you for calming me in the meditation hall’. I told her the feeling was reciprocal and we hugged to say goodbye. Malar then said that she was sure we’d meet again. The ants were not as gracious in their farewells. Bloody communists.

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