LA Yoga Magazine- Lady Yoga, Superhero

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Catching our Breath by Laurie Searle in Common Ground Magazine, a story of how yoga can aid in the recovery against eating disorders.

Writing (formerly called Blogs)

Start Again - A Head Trip in 10 Acts by Laurie Searle

Would you please shut up, I’m trying to meditate!!! That means you, me!!!!

“Hey. What are you doing here? I’m kind of busy.”

“Ok, is there any way you can keep it down a bit…like your breathing, and the sound of your stomach rumbling? Yeah, if you could just stick a pin in your bodily noise...just for a little while? Thanks….

Um, can you just be a little more mindful as you move around? You sound like you weigh 900 pounds!

Ok, Just breathe.

Oh, now, that’s just lovely.

You can hear a pin drop - that’s it….yeah…it’s deafening how peacefully quiet it is…ahhhhhh, let’s keep it this way people, that’s what I’m talkin’ my head…”


“Seriously!!?? That’s it….”

And, scene.

This is my brain on meditation.

Whether I’m sitting in a hall with a hundred people that bother me with loud breathing or lead feet or I’m alone with a hundred thoughts that unintentionally take me on little tributaries to my past or future – meditation is a discipline. It’s difficult, challenging and rewarding. And, I’m just getting started.


Like, the opening sound effects to the very famous Kiefer Sutherland show, 24? I hear a countdown to the longest ten days of my life.

It’s a ten-hour drive from where I start in Santa Monica to the Dhamma Manda Vipassana Meditation Center in Kelseyville, Northern California and I stay overnight as I fear careening into myriad freeway medians out of exhaustion.

I drive an epic amount of winding roads and have sung every song on my road trip playlist, even the country songs I get used to hearing on the radio until everything fades into a buzz between stations, towns, directions and that fuzz makes me turn off and tune in to the quiet of the drive and the journey I’m about to embark. My car narrows right through a path to open gates wide enough to hug my car, soul, and thoughts in a beautiful caress of uncertainty. My heart starts pounding with.

I get my room assignment and set up shop. Everyone has her own private room except me. I share my ‘space with a roommate. I nickname my side, the coffin. My roommate’s area is just enough for Criss Angel to take off a locked straight jacket and his eye make-up without bumping into walls. My space is enough to hold the jacket and his tube of eyeliner.

I actually bumped into myself as I unpacked and begged my own pardon.

The rest of my roommates arrive in a flutter. Together, we go to the dining hall and enjoy a seriously delicious vegetarian dinner of hearty soup, bread and salad. The roomies and I get to know each other in a small way – exchange, where are you from and how did you hear about this place kind of thing - until a gong rings signaling our time to go to begin the meditation.

About a hundred men and women in total have come here from all over the world and have taken the vow of silence, relinquished all connection and communication with the outside world by leaving phones and other devices in cars or with management and have let go of any religious or spiritual practices to focus solely on the technique of Vipassana meditation. To be honest, it just feels good to shut up.

Popularized by S.N. Goenka, this ‘retreat’ is offered to all walks of life as gift. The only fee you are responsible for is the cost of getting there. The hope is that your experience will be so transformative that, at the end, you will donate money or supplies needed for the facility to function or fund another person’s ability to experience the retreat.

What a beautiful thing!

Centers started opening up in North America in 1982 and the demand was so great that recordings were made of Goenka and played so that more and more people could take advantage of the teachings. Goenka then trained others to help assist with the day-to-day questions new meditators faced while going through such a rigorous schedule and process.

Students who have been on a prior 10-day retreat can come back to volunteer and serve. Even the ‘teachers’ who help us with our day-to-day questions about the process are volunteer.

At first, it seems a bit odd, even cultish, to sit in a room and follow all these rules with full awareness that people all over the world were listening to the same recordings, but each and every recording I heard was invaluable and the fact that people were there to give back – it was service in the purest form in order to keep this technique alive with the only purpose being – to share.

Vipassana is defined as a meditation technique where self-observation is the key to purifying the self and seeing things as they really are.

The schedule is rigorous with a wake up bell at 4AM and seated meditation for up to 10 hours with breaks in between and a discourse/lecture at the end of the night to explain what is going on and what is next.

Unfortunately, silence of voice just means your inner voice can be louder. The little Laurie inside takes this as an opportunity to be center stage at full volume. She has a booming voice and, for lack of a better word, is a raging pain. But, she’s a reminder of the word that kept repeating over and over from the retreat recordings- impermanence.

We learn in our lectures that there are two things that create misery in life – craving and aversion. I want this. I hate that. It makes sense.

I’m reminded of that scene in the classic movie, ‘Say Anything’ when Diane Court and Lloyd Dobler board a plane to their future filled with anxiety as they just wait…any second now…for the seat belt sign to go off to know they are safe and it’s sunny skies ahead.

I feel like a wait lot in my life. I wait for the highs of achieving my goals and repel the lows so that the highs can come back again. I have high expectations of myself but also need validation that I’m on the right path and so when I get rejected, I live in it – be it the situation, ego (mine or others, pride, toxic relationships or miscommunications. I blame myself, overcompensate, try to please and end up on a wheel of disappointment in myself and others that cling to me like a barnacle on a rock.

It didn’t start out that way. Yoga has taught me to manage the ebb and flow, but life’s challenges held me in an ebb and before I knew it, I identified solely with that. I was stuck in the rip tide to serve and please everyone else –an impossible standard.

Since I live with my head looking up waiting for a sign….perhaps this retreat was it.

Anapana is the technique we practice for three days before learning Vipassana. We focus only the breath and any noticeable or subtle sensations along the space around the nose and mouth.

Our job is to witness without reacting with feelings or thoughts because of the nature of each moment and sensation being impermanent – fleeting. The sooner we can detach from the feelings – the more balanced or equanimous (as Goenka repeats) we can remain towards all of the ebbs and flows of our life.

At night we return quietly to our rooms.

I hear the beautiful sounds of crickets outside my coffin.

It’s dark and quiet and lovely until…

tick tock, tick tock…for almost an hour I hear the unacceptable noise of the loudest clock ever. It is, by far, number one on my list of pet peeves in the universe. I am being tested. I turn on the light and roomie bolts up. I mime pointing to her clock and my ears then put my hands over my heart and make a sad emoji with my face. That’s where emoji’s come from right? OUR faces??? She says – out loud – “Um, ok, can we just talk like adults? Let’s just use your clock.” Of course, I say. She apologizes then I feel bad but really for like, an hour until I melt into sleep.

Breaking our noble silence in night one was not my plan. Ebb.

Day 1

I hear the bell. WTF? It’s 4AM already? But, I wake up with zeal and all six of us roomies bump into each other in the dark as we brush our teeth and wash our faces and head to the hall.

Within a half hour of meditation, I know –this is not good – the numbness I feel in my feet is unbearable. I move my position in a quiet way, to something I can manage. Relief. We focus on the tiny space around our nose and upper lip.

The technique is easy enough for about two minutes before I start thinking about how I haven’t pooped in two days. Hmmm.

I peak open my eyes and see we have another hour of meditating. The time moves like molasses sliding down a frozen pole in Antarctica.

I jolt when I hear the noise coming from a loudspeaker. It’s Goenka chanting words in Hindi. His voice is gritty and rumbly and like no other chanting I have ever heard. Every time paused, I thought he was over, and then he would continue with more phrases, until finally after what seemed like a decade, it ended…relief!!

Nope, he’s still going. Then he repeats one phrase three times and some of the students in the hall bow and chant something back.

Crap, did my toner run out when printing the novella of rules and codes and I missed the memo on this?

We move to the dining hall and swarm the buffet, piling food atop our plates like it was our job.

Meditation makes you hungry…who knew?

I grab Folgers Crystals and devour the instant coffee. I remember with fondness the first taste I had of this juice – when I was a little kid, I’d ask my dad if I could try a sip. My tastes broadened to the real bean in my adult years but Instant coffee was my dad’s favorite and it feels like just yesterday.

My next meal isn’t until 11, so I savor each bite and sip. It’s amazing how much you can focus on the flavors and sensations of the food you are eating when not distracted by conversation or situations around you.

Also, I’m convinced highly processed caffeine and stewed prunes will be the salve for my, um, inability to download.

My two hesitations about all the celibacy for ten days was mostly about a. not being able to write and b. the food thing. Meal times are 6:30 AM and 11AM only with tea and a piece of fruit at 5PM. Well, I won’t be moving much so this may not be a problem, but I do have a history of anxiety around this issue. I’ve recovered from what I deem as my ‘last’ relapse in an eating disorder that spanned my youth to mid thirties but I have the tools to manage the feelings of hunger if triggered. I know I’m safe here.

After breakfast there’s some time to walk the grounds or shower before the group seated meditation. I sit in a lounge facing the farm opposite the center and watch the sunrise. My chair is situated right in front of a tall tree that fills my nostrils with the scent of pine and I’m warm and happy.

The sun peeks past the tree and moves to full view and it shines right down on me like a flower ready to bloom. I watch the sun as it moves past another tree. I may not feel us move around it but I can see the movement happen and I can’t believe I’ve never observed that before. We’re moving, all of us, around this beautiful light and I wonder if anyone else notices this movement.

After the wonder, I go back to my bunk to prep for the next marathon and notice a laminated sign posted in all CAPS outside only on our door that read, ‘PLEASE REFRAIN FROM ANY SCENTED PRODUCTS’ My positivity drops right to my stomach. There are six of us but it must be meant for me. It’s like when you are driving on the freeway and there’s a cop behind you and you start to sweat. You know you didn’t do anything but you still feel guilty. I take the sign personally. It’s Tick Tock. Yup – e’ryone has a nickname because there were too many names to remember. So, roommate – ‘Tick Tock’, the only one I’m in a confined space with…. she’s pissed about the clock and has rebelled.

The sign is probably not for me, I’m just paranoid. I’m also chemically sensitive and everything I own is unscented so I know it’s not me.

My mind begins to obsess.

I remember at orientation that there was a box of toiletries that you could take and reimburse financially at the end. I don’t want anyone to be uncomfortable so I grabbed a new deodorant, shampoo and conditioner.

“This house is clean,” I think, like the scene in the famous movie, Poltergeist. Where the little old lady has finished her exorcism and look – no more crazy ghosts.

And I too, will show no remnants of my presence.

That night’s first lecture we stare at a flat screen television. The date 1991 appears followed by the image of a heavy set Indian man. It’s him!! It’s Goenka.

He says, “You got through day one.” The entire room hesitantly erupts in a laugh of relief. He tells us about the work we have ahead of us and to stay diligent about the process. We are just a step, just a drop in the bucket of the well we we’re to draw the strength and discipline from to release our misery and come back to our true selves.

It was a bit vague on ‘how’ we were to do that but then he started to tell stories and I was enveloped with each personality analogizing the process that was ahead of us. This made what was happening and what was to come – more relatable. I’m a huge fan of analogies so whether the story of his neighbor and the farm or the young boy and the bag of rice was true – each story made me understand how this meditation technique would be used in our daily situations.

Also, his voice was sweet like a song and kind – not harsh like the chanting.

He was funny, beautiful and inspiring. The tapes, even though decades old – were completely timely and accessible.

I also loved how he would not allow anyone to revere him as a guru or attach any dogma to the technique.

I could feel the room soften which made me understand that I wasn’t the only one having feelings of fear, doubt, anxiety or skepticism. We were all, ‘all in.’

At night I dream. A LOT. It was all lucid dreaming. Places and people I knew from childhood, I could see the rooms/homes/classrooms I was in. I could see what I was wearing and hear each and every person’s voice. There were situations that were not of any consequence – memories I remembered but different. I don’t know what it meant, but, to quote the great songstress, Miley Cyrus, I thought, “It was pretty cool.”

Day 2

The bell rings at 4AM. I’m up in an instant. I hit the sink, wash my face, brush my teeth and notice…no one else is even stirring.

Hold up…is it daylight savings time? I walk slowly to the hall.

I walk in like a ninja. I open the door slowly because I could count how many people entered and exited the room by the noise of that thing.

I sit and close my eyes. The more I focus on the little space around my lip, the more I think I may need Botox after this.

When I stop fidgeting someone else starts. Everyone must be getting sick because there is sneeze after cough after throat clearing and burping. My eyes open at half-mast hoping no one will see as I peruse the rest of the gang and wonder what is going on. I can focus and drop as quickly as my AT&T reception on the 405.

Mouth Breather to my right and Acid Reflux to my left create a musical beat in my head, I can’t help but rock along and I sail away into the story of ‘Vipassana The Musical’ where every bodily noise is wind or percussion, every yawn – the strings.

Start again, I hear Goenka say. Start again.

This may be my new password for everything – start again.

No matter how frustrated I get with my focus being untethered like a balloon in the wind, I know, I can always start again.

“Start with a calm and peaceful mind.” Whatever sensations we cling to are Sankaras – these are almost like little homes we rent in the good or bad neighborhood of our souls. We are just there to lease, not buy.

At breakfast I see the ‘Scent’ sign is still up. I’m seething.

By lunch my roommate has stripped the room and moved into a tent in the forest.

This confirms the story in my head. I smell. Or she is mean. Or both. When I see her, I just feel angry.

I have 8 more hours of this day. 8 more days of this for the retreat.

In our next group sit, I actually ache to hear the horrid chant as I marinate in the feeling that I’m a failure.

I realized that whatever Tick Tock or the manager had surmised from the situation was still out of my control but still resulted in me feeling super freekin’ bad. I wanted to whine or complain and make a fuss then realized like every good Real Housewife of the Vipassana should – that, I need to avoid drama if I want to be a fan favorite – even if I end up being my own biggest fan.

I take a deep breath…and smell nothing.

We have the option to meditate in our rooms.

I experiment with a couple of yoga poses then sit for a while. I cut my nails, memorize our schedule and decide to take off my watch because time is just dripping by. I cut my nails again. Then look at the new deodorant. Fragrance is added...interesting. I look at the shampoo. Fragrance is added. Even the conditioner that I grabbed from the center’s supply draw has fragrance. I should have stuck with my unscented products. Reading labels isn’t like reading a book and I’m already sick of this story.

I’m thirsty like I’ve been walking through the desert for weeks. Water is not allowed in the meditation room so I chug it on breaks and mealtime. With lack of movement on the inside and out, I’m feeling uncomfortable.

There are really three full hour group sits and the rest is optional room meditations. After lunch I stay in the hall till I get the discipline. I’ve already read every label and flossed so thoroughly, my dentist would be proud. I need to get this discipline down before I’m left to go it alone.

I figure out that the first two rows of people are old students – people who have been through the ten-day retreat before. They come in quietly and rarely move. The people at the back of the pack are the newbies. I crave the solemnity of the front row while - I start again.

The Kardashians all have names that start with a K. I can’t keep up with them. What are there names? Well, there’s Kim, Kanye, no, that’s her husband, but how convenient, am I right?

“She take my moneeey, when I’m in neeed. I sing in my head. Now I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger!”

The earworm has been planted and Kanye becomes the soundtrack of my day.

At the break people stretch like they are warming up for a sprint. They sit and savor the sun, walk a lap then come back.

At tea time I notice the chant is posted that Goenka says at the end of the group sits. Loosely it is – may all beings be happy. The chant the students say back is – “True dat!” I try to find compassion for ‘Tick Tock’ still looking.

Day 3

This is the first thought in my head…

“She take my moneey, when I’m in neeeeed!!” Oh, Kanye.

There are fewer and fewer that go the hall for the early morning sit.

I keep my eyes closed; focus on my nose like the paparazzi on Angelina Jolie. I like my nose.

My mom and sisters have this nose. Ok, come back to the nose, not your family. The time came and went. The pain came and went. , The pain came. The bell came and I gave myself a mental high five.

I drifted slowly from the hall and walked instead of dealing with the breakfast rush. It was lovely. I felt open and balanced. I was finally getting this whole thing!

My phone vibrated in my pocket. Oh no, it’s just a little bird in the tree. I could see my breath in the cold air so I wrap my scarf around my head and my neck like Claire Danes in the amazing HBO series, ‘Homeland’. I have no mirror and I’m aware of the fact that I am a. probably nowhere near cute and my resting meditation face and get up proves that and b. Spiders are crafty. They are both artists and murders. The webs I see link tree to tree filled with all these little creatures. It’s kind of funny since we have Tupper-wear containers in our rooms with laminated sheets for ‘bug relocation’. Our vow is not to kill anything. I’m pretty sure as I walk this path I have killed a few with my soft step.

I waft down the path and feel amazing even though there is STILL no movement in my nether regions at all.

I imagine I may have to go to the hospital. Then I would have to leave. Hmmm, that might not be a bad thing. Released for constipation – physical AND emotional.

By the time we have our afternoon group sit, I’m in the most pain I have ever been in.

No injury, heartbreak or loss of anything has prepared me for this. I shift as slowly as I can but there is no relief. I’m shifting not in half hours like I did before but in minutes because I cannot find relief. In the group sit you can’t leave. Any other time, you can but not now. I curse the zeal I had this morning – so promising and realize again –that joy was impermanent.

I sat there with tears streaming down my face, shoulders around my ears, jaw clenched and face scrunched. When I noticed the tension, I went to each place in my body and soften. I realized –I’m creating this tension and although the pain stayed real and evident through the rest of the meditation – my reaction to tense up the rest of my body was completely on me.

I couldn’t believe it – how in control we are of letting stuff get to us or not.

I need the wall to walk out for our break. My knee buckles underneath me and I limp for a bit. After several moments and steps, I’m walking like I just dropped the mic and all is better again.

This retreat is a serious mind trip.

At 5PM we have a break for tea and a piece of fruit. I try some decaf Bengal Spice tea with Almond milk. It has a vibrant cinnamon and chai flavor. It’s a lively and flavorful combination to spruce up the afternoon, especially when combined with a few slices of banana or apple.

I hate tea and even, sorry, the pretentiousness I associate with the tea bags ‘flare’ as it hangs out of the cup. I especially love the douchey tea brand that has an enlightening message on its tag to inspire you. Fuck off. It says to me…I’m better then you…I can drink tea and not amp myself up like coffee does. Ha ha ha. Coffee drinkers don’t have bags, unless you count the ones under their eyes. Tea drinkers are Mary Kate and Ashley sensitive. They have sunken cheeks and longing eyes and their tea makes a little show with their warm water steaming out of their tiny little hole and their little bag hanging off the side of their mugs that need monitoring – not too long, not too short, just right –how does anyone know?!!?

And oh, where you gonna put that little bag when it’s done? Poor little bag. Can you compost it? Soooooo high maintenance and inconvenient. Whatever, tea. You need all these accouterments…Coffee drinkers just need a cup and a mouth. YUM! Let’s go!!!

Well, I’m sitting on a chair with my highly caffeinated coffee and I don’t need to think about where to put nuthin’. I’m just drinkin’ and feelin.’ I’m awake and alive and– wooo hooo – gonna have to sit still and meditate for another five hours. Bring it! And fruit, you can fly a kite too.

Ok, these are just sensations in the body and my mind reacting to it. And it’s impermanent. My last meal was at 11 AM and I’m equanimous. I don’t want for anything and the sun is high in the sky and its quiet and I love the crackle of squirrels in the trees and the breeze through the branches of pine. Every noise is a thoughtful orchestrated movement composed just for our ears in that moment and it is beautiful.

I have already ordered a case of Bengal Spice on Amazon…in my mind. You can put the bag in a little napkin and daintily deal with it later. It can be composted and you can hang the little tampon like string and message on a piece of raffia from your kitchen window and read the messages as you wash your dishes and contemplate your day as the sunlight shines through in those tiny quiet moments to savor. I figured it out. Oh, the mind. How it goes from one end to the other.

I’m on the ridge of insanity.

That night’s lecture, Goenka basically says everything in my head and apparently everyone around me. I know this because we are arrested by laughter.

This may be the hardest thing I have ever done.

Day 4

I use breakfast time for another walk. I got all MY noise out and even tried out a few of my new jokes on the pine trees.

“Hey guys thanks for comin’ out….although it looks like you haven’t gone anywhere in a while...   So, if a meditator is alone in the woods and farts, does it make a sound?

Hey, I had to leave my phone and computer in the car…you think one of you could help me LOG onto the Internet??? The trees rustle with the breeze I take as applause and I wait for the nice man with the nice straight jacket to take me away.

Thanks, I’ll be here all week!

I sign up to talk to the assistant teacher at lunch.

When I sit down and speak I’m relieved and also sad that I‘m talking. The assistant teacher has an air of calm and wisdom but by no means inaccessible or guru like. I feel from her that she is there to share and be of guidance as much as she can.

I talk about my vivid dreams and my stand up routine in the forest. Am I normal? The teacher reassures me that everything I’m thinking is much like the others and normal. “Don’t attach or analyze the dreams. Understand that we are under stimulation most of our days and so, our body is used to it and may manufacture it,” she says. “Just stick to the instruction.”

It’s not completely validating but enough to keep me going. It’s like the character, Penny Lane in one of my favorite movies, Almost Famous. She says, “It’s all happening!” And I’m the character, ‘the enemy’ who questions it all and isn’t sure what ‘IT’ all is.

Today we learn Vipassana, becoming aware of the sensations in other parts of our body and view it with non-attachment.

I ride a rollercoaster of craving and aversion hating the person next to me and shopping for things on amazon in my mind (not just for tea). And then, my brain gives up. She drops the mic and just looks at every bit in the body – the pain in the neck, the pain in the butt, and lets it all go, moving on.

At night, I awake screaming out to my roommates but I only remember one of their names so really I’m just grunting. No one answers and in the darkness I stand there absolutely alone and desperate. Oh, this IS A DREAM….so live it…and I did. I turn back and look at my dad and we talk, like it was yesterday. Even though it was many years, I could see his face and smile and chat with him. I know he is not real but I’m beaming and happy. He is what inspires me to do everything in my life. I wake up with soft tears on my cheek. They are not happy or sad. I am not happy or sad, but equanimous. I review the dream over and over. I know I’m not supposed to but I really do want it and so I do. I want the memory of this dream whatever it means and want to keep it forever regardless of the rules.

Day 5

Whether you are on vacation or the middle of the school year, the halfway point always goes faster than the first bit.

I know there is so much to learn and I’m dedicated to each sit, each sip, each bite and each instruction.

I notice that it doesn’t matter how many cushions you put around your body, you will encounter uncomfortability eventually. My mind literally, is over it. I put a couple of ‘em away.

We learn to sweep the body more than go bit by bit in our scan. We look for subtler sensations.

I can feel the itch on my nose dissipate.

I feel physically and emotionally great, then horrible to the point where I just bore myself with it. I l sit with all of the feelings and watch them like CSpan. Non-plussed.

The group sittings, I wait for mouth breather and acid reflux. I actually look forward to their arrival because I know they are just like the distractions in my mind. I need them so I can let them go. I miss them. They must be in their rooms meditating while counting the tiles on the ceiling.

At lunch they have vegetarian tacos.

I decide that the best domestic terrorist idea is to feed a bunch of people beans and have them sit in a quiet closed off room and kill them with your….

I leave the hall in defeat to save the group from my wrath and go to my room, NOT to meditate but in hopes that my belly will deflate and produce some beans of its own. I can’t go forward without this.

Day 6

I notice a woman in one of the tents is moaning with sadness. I hear her cries for hours and wonder what could have happened to her.

She loses it again in one of the group sits and is gone the next day. I notice a few other faces are no longer around.

I hear a man yell at another for sneezing too loud.

For as much as I give the others in my mind – nicknames and bad raps for their behavior – when I hear all of these things I’m filled with compassion because, like with any great musical – when you are so passionate that words do not work – you create a song.

Well, we cannot talk but I think even making other noises like crying to let go – might be just what these people need to find their equanimity. I can’t imagine that all of us can maintain and sustain an equal mind all the time and/or master it in ten days.

Day 7

I wake up at 3AM to stretch.

I packed a tiny suitcase for this retreat and still end up only wearing a few things. It’s amazing how little we need to get by.

It started out for me as the Berlin wall made of cushions creating barrier between me, the floor and the world around me.   I was in heave, until it wasn’t. Goenka says, Anicca! (The nature of change). Move with it and all it’s impermanence and you will be released from suffering.

Today there is one cushion under my bum and I tuck my knees under me at either side of the cushion.

I think about Scuba Diving. I remember how easy it was for my friends to do it. But, it was new to me and I freaked out. It must be the same when I teach people yoga - or learning anything new,

So, I put myself back at the beginners mind. I let my body plunge backwards into the sea of my mind and do something I’ve been doing since I came out of my mom - breathe. I equalize, balance, equalize. I scan, get distracted, and start again.

This morning a man has a breakdown. He cries and exclaims and wanders around like he’s hallucinating. He’s taken out of the hall.

I open my eyes a bit. No one in the front row reacts. I close my eyes and return to the breath.

I can’t help it, tears stream down my eyes, but I continue to breathe and just go back to the space around my nose.

All the negative thoughts I had about myself or crap I had in my mind about my co-meditators wafted away as I steeped myself in the technique.

At lunch, I walk. I see a picture of a heart made of pinecones. How thoughtful.

I see a tree stump and I take colored stones and write a message…LOVE and a little smiley face.

At tea break I see the words were changed to hope and the smile has turned to a sun.

Day 8

At breakfast and sunrise we see the man who had the breakdown leave. The gates open up and every one of us stands there quietly like he was voted off the island and his torch extinguished. I felt sad then the beat…bum bum bum, “Another one bites the dust…. And another one goes and another one goes, another one bites the dust!!” I hear the gravel under the tires as the car turns to leave. I’m such an A-hole.

I sign up to talk to the teacher.

I’m sobbing inside their office because of the song in my head. I must be so miserable. She tells me I’m not, I’m purging past negative thoughts and situations. Stick to the instruction; focus on the breath – yada, yada.

I did wonder though….what if this guy comes back? What if this guy really lost it and would lose it on us all in a crazy shoot out? What if that’s happening somewhere else in the world and if it did, would they tell us? I tried not to get caught up in the story and was just happy that this woman is trying to make me feel better. But, what is she really thinking.

Start again.

Day 9

Goenka tells us, much to my surprise that tomorrow is the last day of real work. Didn’t we just start this? I’m not ready! We have one more day of noble silence and one day to help us integrate back into our ‘real’ worlds.

At lunch the word on the tree stump reads chance. I make the c into a g. Change.

I think of the movie, ‘Speed’ when the bus jumps over the big gap in the freeway to safety, which is gravitationally impossible.   Just like me being able to meditate or at the least – be still for hours upon hours…anything is possible.

Day 10

The tree stump reads CHANCE. I make the ‘c’ into a ‘g’ - CHANGE. It’s all about to change and it always does.

We learn the final meditation – Metta. We offer love and happiness, forgiveness and balance to ourselves and others.

We’re set free to speak and I sit there, not ready to move. I begin to sob and not the quiet little ones I had throughout the week but like Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone when she looks around and can’t find a tissue anywhere then uses the post it stuck to the fridge that says buy more tissues. Every day I brought tissues with me. Where the heck are they when I need them the most?!

I allow it to pass, and emerge from the dark hall.

My first words, “I’m exhausted.”

Every face held down by silence is revealed and alive with animation. It’s all too much but wonderful. I get to know their names and abandon the ones I nicknamed them. I was amazed at how their voices sounded and how similar our experiences were.

The moments that followed were about union and camaraderie. Every thought or story I created about them or about me being near them was from something I had made up from past experience or negativity or envy and was obliterated in an instant.

I can just see Goenka telling us, “Can you hear me now?”

Every question we had was like watching Willy Wonka’s advisor whispering into the ear of the unknowing the biggest secret ever - we were about to get the chocolate.

I wasn’t anxious for whatever stress was happening in the world after I packed up and drove out of the gate. I was excited. I felt like I had burned my karma. Well, maybe not all of it…probably just around till around age 22 because that’s how young I felt as I danced and bounced back to LA on the effortless 10 hour trip in one full drive. I only stopped about 4 times to dump a little bit more of my karma. Finally, detached from the result, it was my last letting go…my final detachment. I felt lighter – literally and figuratively.

I will, in fact, never be the same after this experience.

It’s like that movie, YOURS, where you have the choice to be swept up and be the drama, action, tragedy or comedy of it all or just observe and let yourself be entertained.

I’ll choose to be entertained and let the rest go.