We begin breathing exercises in earnest. We are told to focus on our own respiration, (through the nose only) following the in and out of each breath, and to stay concentrated on that alone. This sounds ridiculously easy. About 10 minutes later I am thinking, “How weak-minded am I“? I realize to my shock and horror that not a few minutes goes by before my mind automatically wanders from my breathing to subjects as diverse as what that spice was in the poha a week earlier to whether or not my car has been sold yet to Beyonce. As instructed, every time my mind wanders (which is VERY often) I direct it back to my breathing. This goes on throughout the day for a total of 10 hours, focused on my breathing, friends in California, my breathing, fabindia, my breathing, how awful the Indian Rail booking site is, and finally, my breathing.
During this first full day my back pain begins in earnest, so I take my problem to the teacher (we are allowed only to ask occastional questions of the teacher, and ONLY about the technique) who recommends waiting it out for 24 hours then deciding if I need to be seated against a wall, or on a stretcher. I agree reluctantly.
That evening we are introduced to a 10 part series on DVD entitled: “Vipassana 10 Day Meditation Course”. Our first 90 minute lecture is cleverly and surprisingly entitled “Vipassana 10 Day Meditation Course: Day 1” In these English language videos (there is a Hindi version for the majority of the students in another hall), S. N. Goenka (The father of the modern vipassana movement in India and around the world) expounds on the day’s activities and tries to prepare us for the horrors challenges that await the next day. I am comfoted that he seems to unerstand how difficult the first day is for some many students and speaks eloquently about our collective back spasms and the necessary “pus” (his word, I swear) that must come up when a deep operation to remove impurities is undertaken. He then ends the discussion with some sort of Pali / Hindi Buddhist chanting, which at first I find rather interesting to listen to, if not especially melodic.
I hobble back to my room in Cell Block ‘E’ and sleep fitfully.