I did my first all-day silent meditation retreat. From 10 until 4, we sat cross-legged in a Chelsea loft. Every half hour or so, the teacher struck a prayer bowl and we minced around the room in an awkward walking meditation. Clasp your hands. Step, watch your heel connect, then the ball of the foot, then your toe. Feel your back knee bend, pushing off into the next step. We beginners stole furtive looks to make sure we were walking just right.
At lunchtime, we filed out in silence and filled our plates. We took our places again and waited for the gong to begin eating. A cajun chicken sandwich in the sangha is surprisingly loud. We ate with heads down, embarrassed by our cud-chewing. The teacher would sound the gong again when everyone had finished, and I wasn’t brave enough to hold up the group with my precious cookie, saved for last, when it turned out to be extra-crunchy oatmeal.
By two o’clock, I was trapped with a madwoman bully who made endless lists and fretted over that cookie. She berated me for my lack of connection but refused to let me stay anywhere for two seconds at a time. She zoomed from the future to the distant past. She sang Love is the Drug over and over, when I was supposed to be pure and centered. If she were my roommate, I would evict her. I tried a chant instead.
‘May all beings be happy and free…May they be free from suffering and the causes of suffering…‘
She butted in again, this time with Cameo’s Word Up.
Now all you sucker DJs who think you’re fly
There’s got to be a reason and we know the reason why
Why you put on those airs and you act real cool
Got to realise that you’re acting like fools
If there´s music we can use it
You’re free to dance
We don’t have the time for psychological romance
No romance, no romance, no romance for me mamma
Come on baby tell me what’s the word
My knees ached. There were stabbing pains in my back, as if I’d been hung from a coatrack under each shoulderblade. My left foot was asleep. I wanted to moan. Then somebody did.
We shifted on our cushions, trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. Outside the door, in the sangha changing room? Was this some weird Buddhist thing? The moans continued. It was clear now that our upstairs neighbor was having a better time than we were.
The heating pipes clanked in chorus as she got louder. Sunlight streamed through the loft, and we slouched a little. Breathless was much more interesting than breath. We waited. Was she done? Was she alone? We couldn’t hear anyone else.
She kept going for a quarter of an hour, rising and falling like a Vivid Vixen. By the end, I’d forgotten my breathing completely and was busy sending her thoughtwaves of joy. I think it worked.