Vipassana Day 6 – 22nd May – Shunyagaar – the chamber of nothingness 

#panic #nothingness

Next day, during the 4:30 am session we were reminded gently to perform the process we were taught last evening. There was no verbal guidance. We just had to follow the sequence of inner actions as it had been instructively narrated yesterday. Each one could take their own time for one cycle of the process. And then the cycle had to be repeated over and over again, till the session ended. Initially I needed around twenty minutes for one cycle of observation. In later days it was to become shorter and shorter. 

We were no longer watching the breath, unless we wanted a pause in the Vipassana cycles. 

What we were doing now was an intensely active process and the thoughts started taking a seat rather further away from the main screen. But they were there. Especially the dream related inner Monologues and arguments. SquirrelMind had things to say. And the moment it saw me wavering it would up the intensity by intruding with a fiery monologue – my own mental words directed in a monologue to a concerned person from the dream. And then there was the Vipassana process to be done. All this was hard work. Inner peace was to be achieved with intensity and intense focus. 

There was a surprise for us. In the post breakfast session, our group of six people was called by our assistant teacher and we were given a 2-days pass to the Shunyagaar. It was supposed to be a series of small chambers, enough to fit one person, inside the pagoda. We were allotted a specific room/ chamber number. We would be even physically alone there. No silent crowds. 

One lady from our group declared that she would opt out of that option as she was sure she would be frightened. But the rest of us accepted. There were many others from other groups too. 

After lunch, as we went into the Shunyagaar, it felt surreal. There were several individual chambers. Mine was chamber 119 – I think. I had to go into the pagoda through its lower door and had to walk down further into a basement like area. Everything was white. There was a passage with doors all along one side, with numbers written on each door. The outer wall of the passage curved gently. That was the round shape of the pagoda from the outside. Amidst complete silence disturbed only by the sound of consciously quietened footsteps, I walked on until I came to chamber number 119. I have no idea who my neighbours were. Doors were closed. 118 and 120! A little further along the way, beyond maybe 123, was another door leading probably outwards. But it appeared locked. In front of me was my door with my allotted number on it. A small door knob, a wire net in the lower part (to allow light and air) and an additional air vent at the topmost part of the wall above the door. Since it was semi basement, the 2 round shaped openings (7-8 inches maybe) in the outer curved wall placed beyond 6 feet showed a glimpse of the sky and bits of trees. As I walked in I saw that a blue meditation mattress was hung on the wall opposite to the door. It was held up by a simple strap mechanism. I unrolled it and placed it down on the floor. There was enough space for me to turn around, sleep, stand up fully with my arms stretched up and that still left some more space in all directions. But two people could not have fitted in comfortably. It must have been around 4 feet by 8 feet with a height of maybe around 10-11 feet. We had the option of keeping the door either open or closed. I chose ‘closed’. And I sat down. I watched my breath to start with, like a gym warm up before the actual workout. 

The silence was astounding. I could hear it! Absolute nothingness. 

I had the freedom now to choose any posture – shamelessly. I tried lying down, but there was the danger of falling asleep. And my back was inaccessible to attention in the lying down posture. Vajrasan gave me a lot of paresthesias (tingling) on unfolding my legs after one cycle. Padmasan gave me leg-aches, which I could bear for 15-20 minutes of one cycle. A simple squat or basic floor sitting posture (मांडी घालून बसणे) seemed easier. Or sitting with legs in front of me, slightly folded. That too was easy and it also kept the legs parcelled and made it easy to do the Process. After a while with even that simple floor posture, the back or something else would ache. So I adventurously and courageously attempted the posture of lying down on my back and resting my raised lower limbs against the wall at right angles to my back. This was immensely relaxing for 1-2 cycles. And so the process went on – one posture to another, one sensation to another. 

The sensations were changing as we continued to watch them. Sthool aur sookshma – Gross and subtle. That was what it was all about. The Monkey and the Squirrel. Mind over mindlet. Intellect over intuition. 

In the isolation of the shunyagaar, I realised once again that doubt had to be given up and sincerity had to be adopted if the stay at Dhammagiri had to make any sense and impact at all. Otherwise doubt and cynicism would just make it a waste of my time. 

By evening I started wondering whether my son would reach home safely next day (23rd May) from his Himalayan camp. I wondered whether my husband would reach the railway station on time. I wondered whether they would hide facts from me in case he had got hurt during the trekking. These thoughts started taking hold of me till I became more and more anxious. 

After the last session we were allowed to talk about our doubts to the assistant teacher. I took the opportunity to ask about the word ‘Pradnya’ which kept on getting repeated in the discourses given by Shri Goenkaji. She explained that it meant Experiential Knowledge, the highest form of knowing. I also asked her if I could make one phone call home. She asked me the reason. When I explained my anxiety and told her how I was unable to focus due to these nagging thoughts, she asked me to give the mobile number to a Sevika, who would arrange for the call. But I wouldn’t be allowed to talk directly to any of the family members. The Sevika made me write down the concerned names and my husbands mobile number and said she would make the call the next morning and give me the message. I was happy for this help. 

And yet, it turned out to be a sleepless night. I had a proper panic attack, anxious worrying over my son’s arrival – whether I was doing Vipassana the right way – whether all this would be worthwhile – how my husband would reach the railway station on time!!! And so in. In cycles of thought. I could feel my palpitations as I lay down in the darkness. As I looked at the watch once in a while, I noted that the hour hand was moving further. I was reminded how D had told me about his panic attack when he was in the Jaipur center. I considered going out in the open. But everything was dark. I tried doing the process of Vipassana, but that was beyond me at that time. No breath could be focused anywhere. The MonkeyMind was jumping up and down and the SquirrelMind had hidden away in fright. I was unable to still or steady my mind. Sometime around 2 am I must have drifted off to sleep. 



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