The Invisible Ostrich: Part 1

My first experience of Vipassana meditation was in Dehradun in April of 2017. Between that time and August of the same year I practiced irregularly and without specific intention with regards to frequency or duration of each session. While on a trip to see family in Canada I began connecting with the importance of this practice, and I realized that it was something I could gift to myself.
Meditation is most beneficial for the self. It also springs outward and can be beneficial for others, but truly it starts inside.
It has been a way to give time to myself, something I had been asking for and have been receiving in many forms.

When I began travelling from Canada to India for the 2nd time I made a deal with myself and set forth on the path of ‘strong determination’. I agreed to follow in the guidelines of Goenka’s school of teaching, to practice twice daily, one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. There was also the recommendation of sitting for one hour weekly with other Vipassana meditators, but I’ve left this aside until the timing is right. As of now, the challenge of meditating twice daily is enough, especially while travelling and having an irregular pattern of sleeping and eating. I’ve been meditating on trains, in train stations, on a moving bus, in busy streets, and sometimes in quiet places.

Actually, I find that sitting still for one hour is sometimes easiest when there are many sounds surrounding me. For one, the activity keeps me stimulated and often reminds me that I am meditating. I am more forgiving of distractions from the mind wandering and am more proud of myself when concentration on the breath or sensations is strong. The increase in perceived challenge is balanced with an increase in perceived reward. How does this compare with the quality of meditation? Well, that is a tough question to answer. Sometimes I like to think that I’m training in a sort of ‘Gravity Machine’ like the characters from Dragon Ball Z. If I can learn to concentrate with an abundance of outside noise, then I will be well-equipped to concentrate in silence. This also applies when exposed to mosquitoes or red ants, but I’ll leave this subject aside for now.

There are two things here: 1) Making a strong-determination to meditate each morning and each evening, and 2) making use of the less-than-peaceful environments while travelling. These two things have created fertile ground for this story to percolate.

Returning to India, and practicing meditation and self-reflection in community spaces, I began to recognize how important this was becoming to me. Once I had cleared my self-given goals in India, I was freed to seek more time in Vipassana retreat. I set my bearings for the center in Nalanda. Before receiving confirmation of a seat I began travelling in that direction.

Travelling to Nalanda
From online directions I was ushered through Bakhtiyarpur and told to travel by bus to Nalanda. As it turns out, a train was available. However, I did not know this at the time, nor did I bother to enquire at the station.
I arrived in Bakhtiyarpur around 6 am and began directing by intuition and the motivation to explore. Stepping out of the station, looking left and right, then choosing one direction and believing inside: this may lead me to the buses. Indeed, I began passing buses driving my way and was encouraged that I was headed to their source. My mood was passive and I was not even motivated enough to ask anyone where the bus stand was. I just kept walking.

Eventually a time struck where I considered that the morning was pressing on, I had yet to eat, and I may wish to first sit in meditation. Now my searching became more local. Glancing at buildings lining the street and areas tucked away behind buildings I had only one concern in mind: where can I meditate for 1 hour?

Seeking Asylum
Some semi-isolated places came into view, but also concerned me about being out of the public’s eye and potentially in danger of someone wanting to cause trouble. Personal safety was a consideration. I knew it would be a challenge to keep confidence and peace-of-mind when considering that I may be in a physically hazardous environment. These opportunities were passed.

Then came in view a man working outside on machinery or some equipment. Behind him was a little stoop that would fit just fine. I stood for some time looking at the space. It struck me that this person might offer a sort of protection against anyone else who might come to seek my attention while meditating. Let me make this clear: as a foreigner there are certain realities that come into practice. For instance, I tend to draw a lot of attention from strangers. In nearly all cases this attention is innocent and even child-like. Only people under the influence of alcohol have caused any real concern. So this protection I’m speaking of is two things: 1) protection against someone who might be drunk from the night before, and 2) creating aversion or resistance-to-action in the stranger that in order to seek my attention they also need to bypass this other person. This other person may or may not step up in a guardian role, I would leave that in their hands and for their own choice. Finally, after consideration of these things, the feeling didn’t sit quite well and I chose to put this option aside for now, seeking a better opportunity.

Now strangers began approaching me as I walked. The streets became busier with the activity of people.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m searching,” I replied.
The conversations never really went beyond those basic two lines communication.

At one point a group of youth completely surrounded me, and wished to enquire about many things, where I am from, what I am doing, and so on. When I recognized that 360 degrees were occupied by other people, I made this apparent to them by simply looking around with eyes wide open and showing how I can’t really go anywhere. The people understood, and made a small laneway for me. I gave my thanks and walked through, continuing in my search.
…for a moment the imagery of Moses parting the Red Sea sprung up in my visual field…

Shortly thereafter a suitable place came into view. Similar to the other place of potential, this was visible from the street and yet a little bit tucked away. There were several steps leading up to a shop, which was closed at the time. Sitting nearby was a man who looked like he may be there for a while. It felt right to me. I approached this man and began showing him through body gesture and with the alarm function on my phone that I intended to sit here in meditation for one hour. Eventually he agreed that he understood, and I took this as a sort of informal partnership. I had acquired my guardian, whether or not he knew it.

Sitting in Meditation
After some time sitting in meditation I began to notice some sounds coming from the outside world. I also felt something inside, a growing anxiety or fear. I perceived the sounds as coming from people who were stopping in their tracks to watch me. One thing was for sure: there was a growing number of voices in the street. Reason told me that it may simply be a growing number of people on the streets, and nothing to do with me. It could also be that people were talking about me as they passed by, and even this would not cause any real concern. What I was concerned about, and what this growing anxiety or fear was pointing to, was the possibility that people had begun gathering around me. Why be afraid? Well, how will they respond over time? Will they do something while I am meditating, or once I finish? If there is a crowd, will it be possible for me to leave or will they try to stop me like a mob?

I continued sitting. My belongings were safe as I had my backpack tethered to my leg, and my shoes were laid in front of me with a plastic bag over them. If anyone tried to take my shoes I would hear the plastic bag.

Someone approached from the left calling out “Baba…Baba…mujhe apse kuch puchna hai” {“Guru…teacher…I want to ask you something”}. I forget now what he had asked but there was some question. Still I maintained my position and continued observing my internal experience.

Some attention went to deciphering whether there was or was not a crowd growing in front of me. The intention remained to be in meditation, and so this work was also continued.

A few more times someone approached, and I could hear what I believed to be others saying to the questioner to let this person be, let this person continue their meditation. → So I had my guardian or guardians as I had allowed for. This made me feel more self-secure, and that if there was a crowd and something began to take place, I would likely have people by my side with my wellbeing in mind.

Beep. Beep. bbvvvrrr….bbvvrrr…
The alarm on my phone began sounding that the 1 hour meditation had come to a finish.

I opened my eyes.

This is what I saw:

 

What to do?

 

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