"For Vipassana meditation, a half lotus is great; a full lotus, even better. Then, you want to find a spot on the floor in front of you – not to focus on, just to aim your gaze at. Now, to begin, we’re going to take 7 deep breaths and then breathe normally, focusing on the breath coming out of our nose – from the nostrils, across your top lip… across your bottom lip, maybe, it depends how you’re breathing. And whenever you find yourself focusing on something else: come back to the breath.
Start with the breath, the air crossing my upper lip. My… moustachioed upper lip. The air’s only coming out of my right nostril. The left one must still be blocked from that strange illness I had last week. The vitamin B complex tablets seem to have fixed me up, though.
Come back to the breath. In… and out, my chest expanding and contracting. The guests in the next room are talking in French. I should study French again. God, I studied it for five years in high school, and it would be so great to be able to speak it properly. Maybe I should ask Fran?oise to teach me.
Come back to the breath. In. Out. I like that name. Francoise. What was the name of that Spanish woman in my second year German class? Ah, Florencia. Beautiful name, Florencia. The way it rolls off the tongue is so pleasing. Florrrrrrencia. If I have a daughter someday, I might call her that. Florencia.
Come back to the breath. The power just cut – the light went out and the ceiling fan stopped. The air in the room’s getting heavier and warmer. It’s okay. The scent of incense wafts into the room from somewhere nearby. Damn, I just remembered, Gavin asked me to bring incense and I completely forgot.
I guess we got some anyway. Next time I won’t forget. Back to the breath. They’re still talking away next door, about a misunderstanding with a taxi or something. Gavin goes and asks them to speak more quietly – he seems flustered… Actually, maybe I am too, because my mouth is becoming damper with saliva – I need to swallow- *COUGH!* *PANIC!* Argh, it went down the wrong way! I can’t breathe! *COUGH* *COUGH*
Back to the-
*COUGH!*Not quite okay yet.
*cough* Nearly there. Clear throat once. Okay. Phew. God, I’m sweating. Tears spilling from my eyes at the choking feeling.
Back to the breath. Focus… Okay now. Feel so much sweat on my forehead, my arms, my neck, but I am still breathing. This is so interesting. I want to go and write about this as soon as we finish. Gavin wants to start writing some stuff down too, it could be a motivation for both of us. I’ll start – yes – start with his introduction, then go through my thoughts while sitting here, the roads my mind sprints down, uninhibited, faster than I can convert them into language – and always keep returning-
-back to the breath. And in… And out... And my eyes are closing halfway… And the patch of light on the floor in front of me is spreading... And I can see exactly how I’m going to write this piece… And the outside of my right ankle is getting really sore…
A few moments of silence.
“So – when you have a break during Vipassana, you might feel a strong desire to keep meditating… and you are of course welcome to do so. You can meditate through the break.”
I didn’t, but I told Gavin that my mind was indeed constantly going elsewhere, and often into the future. Thinking about writing this piece, or about studying French again; thinking about potential events and paths rather than events that have already happened.
“That’s great, great that you’re thinking that. Because of course, the point of it isn’t to focus on the breath, it’s to be aware of how the mind wanders – by always coming back to the breath. It can be quite frustrating, and even get quite intense, to have to keep reminding yourself to do so – that’s quite normal, or at least it is for me. But that’s part of it.”
I then asked him how my posture was. When he said it was absolutely fine, I told him that I still wasn’t very comfortable.
“Well, usually when you start out you want more cushions – that’s why I’m sitting on a rolled-up sleeping bag on top of a pillow. It makes a half lotus or a full lotus easier. Here, try two folded-over pillows, one on top of the other. Sit on that, then tuck your left foot as far under as you can, then your right- ah, that’s brilliant! Yes. Let’s do another 15 minutes.”
7 in, 7 out. Expanding, contracting.
Focus on the breath as it exits my nose. If I visualise my nostrils as I breathe, I find it very easy to focus on them. I’m focusing on an image in my mind, though, and not on the sensation of breathing. So,
Come back to the breath. I just cannot believe how much more comfortable I am with these extra cushions, how I can indeed have my legs tucked under me. I’ve seen people who look like this and wondered how the hell they do it. I want to smile and giggle with joy. It’s always the same for me when I discover I can do, or understand, something that I previously believed I could not, like when I get a yoga pose right. It’s simply joyous. Resisting the urge to laugh with delight is a challenge. Maybe I’m just really easy to please?
Back to the breath. A little deeper, a little shallower. Raising and lowering my gaze. Breathing. In and out, in and out, slower, try to go slower. My heart seems to be beating faster than it should. Slower breathing will slow my heart and keep me from sweating. Wait a moment…
Back to the breath. I can clearly visualise how the finished article’s going to look. It’s going to be perf-
Back to the breath. My brain seems to be onto something else before I even focus. I just did it again!
Come back. Breathe, focus. Bring the gaze closer. If I bring that point on the floor closer to my body, I am closer to forming an imaginary equilateral triangle. It’s always a right-angled triangle, though, wherever my gaze rests. Or is it, now that I’m raised up off the ground like this? Damn, it isn’t!
Back to the… I see what he meant about it getting frustrating, having to keep reminding myself to come back. And back. And back. At least I’m still totally comfortable in this pose. Come on, focus.
Come back… in and out… slower… faster… slower… yes.
My chest has started tingling. Oh my God, that’s extraordinary. I’ve never felt anything like this before. Back…
The tingling feeling is spreading out from the centre of my chest. I want to start laughing again. It’s something completely new and different, and it feels great.
Back… no way, I no longer want to keep coming back to the breath! This is an incredible sensation. I never expected anything like this. It’s wonderful.
Nope, no break, not yet. I’m gonna stay right here, grinning like I did aged 6 when I learned how to ride a bike. I feel the tingling begin to subside. I suppose it’s because I’m focusing on it. I bring my right hand to my chest, expecting to feel a warm, resonant vibration, but there’s nothing – and the tingling quickly dissipates, leaving me ever so slightly disappointed…
…but utterly inspired.
Much later, as I write this, I realise how difficult it is (and how much focus it would take) to recreate that visualisation I had of the perfect article. I am incapable of recreating the feelings I had through words on the page, at least for now.
Overall, however, my first meditation was a completely satisfying experience, better for having no expectations and not trying to live up to any rules or ‘right way’ to do it. I can easily see meditation becoming part of the routine of my life. The highlight was certainly that otherworldly tingling at the end and I hope to experience that again, but as Gavin points out, the more I focus on recreating that, the less likely it is to happen. So, as I continue to practise and learn, there’s only one thing to remember:
just come back to the breath.