The first day of a Vipassana is the falsest of false dawns because you're still allowed to talk and socialize. The women and men—about 80 altogether—sit down, talk, and eat soup in a big common room. Bursts of laughter ring out. A little flirting here and there as we get up for seconds. The next day a loud gong rings at 4:00 AM and we march in pitch darkness into a meditation hall, men and women are cruelly separated. The only way we know that they're is their soft footsteps crossing their side of the courtyard or the sound of a faraway lonely hairdryer in the dead of another bitterly cold Tuscan morning.I'm put in a room with five guys in their 20s who I assume from their clothes and pudgy waists are all Italians. But I don't know for sure, because apart from their snores at night, we can't talk to each other. I also get to know them by their smells because on a Vipassana you tend to wear the same clothes every day, and sleep in those clothes because it's cold at night, and because we are told to conserve water, our daily cleaning is not much more than splashing water on our face. The smell is at times warm, at times musty, and at times like the spongy feet of a water dog after a long day nosing his way through cow manure.
You sit there with your body crumbling beneath you, waiting for the minutes to come to an end so you can stretch your legs and get a quick cup of tea.
On a Vipassana, in case of emergency, you're allowed to go talk to Davide, the teacher running the course. Afterwards I go to him in his little room. He sits on a tall, white, cushioned throne. You sit in front of him on the ground and instantly feel like a small child approaching Santa Claus in a shopping mall after standing in line with a weak bladder for 40 minutes."Davide," I say, "I've just tripped balls. ""Ma che?" says Davide."I hallucinated. In the meditation hall. It was so strong I fell off my cushion. What does that mean?"
It's just like coming up on ecstasy, only there's no music, no dancing, and I'm doing nothing more than closing my eyes and concentrating.
It rains during those two days and maybe it's the weather or the fact that the lower halves of our bodies are rotting away in slow torment, but people start to act weird. An Italian boy in my room starts talking to objects. At night he arrives at his bed and says "ciao letto" and in the morning when he puts on his shoes, he encourages them along with "andiamo." Another guy comes to the meditation hall with his tracksuit pants on backwards and the top of his butt cheeks on show. The drawstrings hang out over his ass like a two-tailed cat. And then later that day a woman on the other side of the hall starts snoring. A teacher wakes her up, but she keeps on falling asleep. Nothing will keep her awake anymore, not even the pain in her legs, the hunger, or the exhaustion that comes from having nothing to do.That night we leave the meditation hall and mill around outside on the hill waiting to file back to our dorm rooms. It's a starry night. They're as bright as they get. One shoots across the sky leaving a long trail behind it. It's the brightest shooting star I've ever seen. No one says "wow."On the eighth day, I get up before the gong rings and go to the empty meditation hall and start meditating. My legs feel like chalk. My ass feels like someone's kicked me really, really hard. My back spasms in pain. I follow my breath. I follow my breath. I look out for the tiny sensations that run through my body. I examine them like a surgeon, as the instructions tell you to and then something really wonderful and unexpected happens. Tiny waves that move like long silk scarves start traveling through my sore limbs. My body feels incredibly light. I can't feel my ass anymore. Maybe it's dissolved into the flat cushion beneath me. My shoulders drop away and a great energy shoots up through my stomach, into my skull and then falls back down on top of me like buckets and buckets of warm, velvety water. I feel like I'm levitating that I've moved beyond my own bones and flesh. This goes on for the next hour and when the gong rings for lunch, I don't get up, I don't stretch out my legs, I just sit there and cry.
My legs feel like chalk. My ass feels like someone's kicked me really, really hard. My back spasms in pain.
In the airport I watch a big screen showing images of the Nepal earthquake and can't stop myself from crying. A woman comes over and asks me if I'm OK. "Did you miss your flight or something?" she asks. I look up at her and she's got buck teeth. They fall over her lip like a pair of floor boards. I can't help but think how hard it must have been for her growing up and that makes me cry even more. Somewhere in the distance I hear a father giving out to his daughter. And just like the waterworks continue. It's as if the constant stream of unrequited erections have manifested themselves into some form of optical ejaculation. Or what those in Vipassana would call more correctly, a reawakening of compassion.Sitting silent for ten days and learning to meditate were, as it turned out after all the resistance, the close call with Lyme disease, and the pain my hips, knees, and ass experienced, a beautiful experience. Back in the real world, it helps you to put things in perspective. Pain is only temporary, pleasure is only temporary and you only bring yourself misery if you go chasing after either is the basic deal. And while those things sound simple as a rule of thumb, that doesn't make them easy to follow. Being confined and restricted for all that time and concentrating on this wisdom has the effect of transforming it into your own. It becomes yours, just like your accent or your walk or that woman's buck teeth. So when shit happens in life, you're reminded of the pain you felt in your legs during the Vipassana and you know that you have the choice to either stress about it or let it slide.In the short term, I think doing something like this has the effect of slowing down time. Possibly because in the immediate days after a Vipassana you're not stressing over things you don't need to, and that frees up a whole world of extra hours. Also, decision making becomes way easier. As dumb as this sounds, your body actually tells you what to do because you've managed to connect with it on this very deep level.As for all those sexual deviations, all I can say is the the first beardy gay man I saw did nothing for me, nor did the second. The same went for Rascal. I gave him a kiss on the head and basta.Follow Conor Creighton on Twitter.
When shit happens in life, you're reminded of the pain you felt during the Vipassana and you know that you have the choice to either stress about it or let it slide.