Meditation Journal 5 November 2013

am 1hr

At 5am, with the mind distracted by the thousand things of yesterday, the job related issues, the yoga class, the media I’d chosen to consume, the conversations. It’s a lot to process, at least relatively, compared to the monk’s life of the preceding ten days.

I understand better what the intense swearing is that I experienced during the course. It’s the critical mind. With so much right action taking place, doing the best I can for the most part, there is nothing or very little for it to latch onto and it is, or was, resorting to rather ridiculous outbursts in the most obscene language, at any opinion I might think, with always that hint, or much more than a hint, of criticism. 

The energy that used to make me shake sparked up again and now it is possible to halt the physical reaction without force, or just a little control or a pause, and let it occur in a new way rather than the body’s habitual seemingly-free reaction. Habitual because it had become a pattern of response and then would take over the sitting, albeit with the accompanying probably healthy releasing. So I stay still and so I do not know what will happen. Rushes of bliss from the base. Light through the head so that nothing is seen on the mind screen and nothing can be thought for those moments. Pleasure so pleasurable it’s as squirming as pain. And yet I don’t squirm, or just a little, and again the energy can move in a new way, forging new pathways in the body and connections in the brain. I am learning a new level in the importance of staying still. At this stage a lot of people would probably get into ‘freedom of expression through movement’ or something, as it seems a natural response. Maybe it has its place but I’m here to sit through. To sit through it all, no matter what.

pm 20mins

…which of course is easier said than done. Didn’t want to know this evening… headache and tired, but I did sit for 20 minutes and briefly scanned down and up. Felt much better very quickly, with delightful tingles across my scalp, still there as I write. The desire not to sit won out, and despite setting the timer for 30 minutes, I quit 10 minutes early. That’s okay – I sat.


121119 Meditation Journal


First day after the ten-day course and time to begin my home practice. I felt the usual resistances beforehand, same when about to do yoga and the shorter sittings I used to do. But the genuine wanting to do this allowed it to happen and so the excuses didn’t win out. So on waking and after a quick wash, wrapped in a blanket, I sat down in the corner of the room by the window and radiator. At first I just sat there, not really knowing what to do and then the subtle feeling of the technique of breath sensation came back to me and I was somewhat agitatedly and distractedly aware of this for a few minutes. As I settled in I was able to proceed with the vipassana sensing of the body from head to foot and from foot to head, but only moving part by part, not really scanning or flowing over the body. But this was good enough: here I was, at home, dedicating myself to an hour’s sitting. Unprecedented.  It felt right. As per the instructions, I have been working with the gross sensations and blind spots rather than the subtle. Most recently this has been in the arches of the foot, and so after half an hour or so of scanning, my feet started to twitch and move. There’s only so much pain the body allows for and so the extreme tightening I felt through the legs neck and jaw doesn’t happen with the feet, where the sharp cramping sensation threatens to be overwhelming, so instead the feet flex and extend somewhat rhythmically. I’m not doing this consciously; the body or the unconscious mind is doing it. The toes, however, can fully tense for minutes at a time without the searing agony of the arches. This takes place in the context of equanimity and awareness, with the notion that everything changes.

At around 45 min, I really wanted to stop. Experience shows that if I don’t stop, something interesting will happen. This time, suddenly my right upper jaw lifted and the right cheek went into tension, the right side of the face ever so slowly moving, spreading tension sensation through the entire right cheek and upper jaw. This didn’t last so long. Looking at my watch, I had 5 minutess remaining and so returned to simple breath awareness and repeated those parts of the lovingkindness meditation I could remember, centring at the heart.


Five minutes anapana after yoga class.

Teach Us To Sit Still – ‘Self’ is an idea we invented

More from the book Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks (A Sceptic’s Search For Health And Healing).

Attention attends, unrequited.

Then, all at once, the temples!

I remember distinctly my first session of vipassana, it was in my temples that it began. First one, then the other: singing, buzzing, dancing. Had I wished to induce the sensation in this part of the body, I would never have imagined such mayhem, as though insect eggs had hatched, or breath on ashes found the nest of live embers. Yet it wasn’t creepy. And it wasn’t hot. It was the lively sparkle of freshly poured soda water.

In my temples.

At this point you realise that focusing the mind – eyes closed – on a part of the body is quite different from focusing on something outside yourself, a ball, say, or a bottle, or a boat. In that case the object remains an object, however long we look at it. But like light through the lens, or through a glass of still water perhaps, the mind sets the body alight, or the body and the mind. It is hard to say which; the skin glows in the mind and the mind fizzes in the skin. Together, neither flesh nor fleshless, or both flesh and fleshless, they burn.

This is the beginning of vipassana.

The encouraging thing is that once one part of the body has answered your polite enquiry, others to seem more willing to respond: here a band of heat, there a patch of coldness, here are dull throb, now a tingling current. The whole house is waking up and as you pass from door to door each occupant acknowledges your presence by turning something on: now blue light, now I read, hear the coffee grinder, there are TV. The tower block starts to  hum.

At the retreats, the first-time meditators are hungry for drama, for an encounter with the demons, submission to a guru. We all want to add another episode to the narrative of ourselves, the yarn we are constantly spinning of our dealings with the world. This is why so many go to India, I suppose, to do no more than sit on a cushion, eyes closed. They hope the exotic location, the gurus robes and foreign voice will add intensity to the tale.

But as words and thoughts are eased out of the mind, so the self weakens. There is no narrative to feed it. When the words are gone, whether you are in Verona or Varanasi hardly matters, whether it is morning or evening, whether you are young or old, man or woman, poor or rich isn’t, in the silence, in the darkness, in the stillness, so important. Like ghosts, angels, gods, ‘self’, it turns out, is an idea we invented, a story we tell ourselves. It needs language to survive. The words create meaning, the meaning and purpose, the purpose narrative. But here, for a little while, there is no story, no rhetoric, no deceit. Here is silence and acceptance; the pleasure of a space that need not be imbued with meaning. Intensely aware, of the flesh, the breath, the blood, consciousness allows the ‘I’ to slip away.

Teach Us To Sit Still – The pain had quite gone

More from the book Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks (A Sceptic’s Search For Health And Healing). Park’s experiences painlessness after years of near constant pelvic pain.

The first few minutes have passed now. However excruciating, I must lie still. I breathed deeply and remembered Eliot. ‘Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still.’

Don’t verbalise.

Then after a while something would happen. The breath breathed itself and I slid down into that dark landscape with its low sky and damp hills. At once the muscles of my face buzzed and sang with tension.

I say ‘something would happen’, as though these sessions were all the same. Certainly there was an element of repetition, particularly at the beginning: the itches, the fuss, the trivial adjustments, the mill of defeatist thoughts. But from this point on, from the moment I entered my bodyscape, as it were, every day was different. And as the first week moved into the second and third, things grew more intense, more – here was a real paradox – exotic.

There were curious pulsations. In my wrists perhaps. Not a regular wrist pulse of the kind you can check and count. Rather it might move along my right wrist, from hand to forearm, then ripple over to the left. Faster than an ordinary pulse. More fluid, mobile. The wave was picked up by a ticking in the stomach. Then leg too. A sea swell of pulses were criss-crossing the muscles. The tension in my cheeks was exactly superimposed over the tension in my calves. The two seemed to be the same. Both were growing and changing, glowing and noisy. Suddenly, it was all so interesting that the mind found it easy to concentrate. More interesting than thoughts. As when you surrender yourself to strange music. It was so busy. Parts of the body were calling back and forth to each other with little ripping pulse oceans, as if the tide was lapping in and out across underwater weeds.

Stop describing it!


Suddenly my belly drew a huge breath, absolutely unexpected, and a warm wave flooded down my body from top to toe.

I nearly drowned. Shocked and tensed, I sat up and opened my eyes.

What in God’s name was that?

The feeling had vanished at once. It was gone. But so too, I realise now, was the pain. The pain had quite gone. Not even the shadow of the pain. Not a ghost. I was lying still, painless.


Teach Us To Sit Still – Constant Motion

More from the book Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks (A Sceptic’s Search For Health And Healing). Parks has begun to experiment with sitting still and sees that he is always moving:

The pain surged to the fore. It was strong. You deal with the pain by keeping in constant motion, I realised now.  That was the truth. Even when I was still, I moved. My knee jerking. Scratching. My fist clenching and clenching. That kept the pain at bay. And when my body was still my mind moved. My mind was in constant motion. All day every day. The thoughts jerked back and forward like the knee that twitched. The difficulty when I was writing was not to come up with thoughts, but to give them direction and economy. Like a climbing plant that must be pruned and tamed, pruned and tamed. Above all pruned.


You are supposed not to be thinking.


Or not supposed to be thinking.


Or supposed to be not thinking.


I moved the ‘not’. Language is always on the move.


Even when I slept I moved. To sleep I needed to be on one side with one knee pushed forward. Then I switched to the other side. And I switched my earplugs from one ear to the other. I can’t bear having an earplug pressing the pillow. I pulled the earplug out, turned over, put the plug-in. Six times a night.

In the silence, eyes closed, I remembered a documentary had seen years before about some kind of desert lizard  that stopped its feet from burning on the hot Sahara sand by constantly and rapidly lifting and dropping the right front foot and back left foot, then the left front and back right. Alternately. They lifted and fell in the blink of an eyelid, almost too quick for the camera to see. A sort of Purgatory, I had thought, when I saw the images.