We left Jaisalmer to attend a ten-day meditation intensive near Pushkar called Vipassana. This is something we’ve wanted to do for years. Vipassana is offered all over the world (and even not so far from our home in Portland) but we haven’t felt ready for it nor been able to set aside ten days for it (a full year’s worth of vacation time in the USA) until now. An ancient meditation technique originating in India over 2600 years ago, Vipassana means “to see things as they are” and the technique in centered around observing physical sensations and noticing them without reacting. The Vipassana teaching is free of cost and claims to be nonsectarian and suitable for a person of any or no religious persuasion. The Vipassana schedule is quite intense and includes over ten hours of seated meditation per day. Participants are required to take a vow of silence for the first nine and a half days.Though the large majority of each day was spent in meditation, we did have several breaks throughout the day to rest. But since we had relinquished our reading and writing materials, computers and techy devices, had sworn to abstain from communicating with other students and all sexual activity and had agreed not to exercise or bring any food to the course site, we each found ourselves feeling a bit listless during the breaks, unsure of what to do other than nap, take a brief walk or just meditate some more. All distractions and diversions had been eliminated and we were left with nothing but ourselves.
Austin found herself absorbed in an ongoing soap opera starring her one companion throughout the ten day course – a small lizard with whom she shared her room. When her reptilian roommate went missing on day 7 Austin grew increasingly concerned that something terrible had befallen her friend, until she found the lizard on the back porch on day 9 and the world was set right again. When not engaged in silent conversation or staring contests with her lizard friend, Austin practiced excessive hygiene, became attuned to the most subtle changes in weather and mentally drafted dozens of letters and blog posts.
David spent his time engrossed in the natural environment, observing ant behavior for exceedingly long periods of time, finding natural treasures (including a large iridescent blue beetle and one strange, enormous egg), and wishing he had access to his video equipment to document the next Tiny Movements. Unlike Austin, David had a human roommate with whom he went to great lengths to avoid making eye contact. David enjoyed the desert surroundings where the course was hosted and when not watching insects took in the landscape with great appreciation.On the tenth day when our vows of silence were lifted, we awkwardly and shyly approached one another and didn’t say anything for awhile. Speaking felt difficult, eye contact seemed too intimate and what was there to say, anyway? We had each had a very personal experience and nothing seemed so pressing that it needed to be voiced aloud. Eventually after a few minutes of conversation Austin found that David was still hilarious and then confessed to him that while she was supposed to be not having thoughts, she had occasionally slipped for longish periods into fantasies of returning* home.
It took us several days to slowly reintegrate back into a normal life (which doesn’t feel so normal, being that we are in India) and for the first two weeks maintained somewhat consistent meditation practices. We’ve since lapsed and are trying to get back into a daily regimen.*Despite yearnings for home, Fodenvensel Studios continues onward without confirmed plans for returning to the USA. Sorry, mom.