A deathly quiet fell over us as we entered the netted hall.  It was 7 pm, and the reign of noble silence had just begun.

I dared not look at anyone, for fear of communicating with my eyes and expression.  Adrenaline was thumping, and I was beginning to sweat.

We entered the hall through the drapes of a mosquito net.  The smell…I recognised that smell.  It was the same smell as the fabric of the bridesmaid’s dress I wore to my uncle Gary’s wedding over twenty years ago.

The meditation hall was large with high ceilings, but the flooring and panels were dark, and the slanted shutters resisted any sunlight. The room was, once again, divided in two.  A large block of navy blue cushions on one side, a  smaller rectangle of sky-blue cushions arranged in symmetry on the other.  A single row of low benches aligned the left wall.  The cushions were a deep brown, complimenting the orange robes of the monks already settled there.  I felt a rush of excitement when I saw them.   Their presence added a layer of authenticity that I hadn’t expected – it was a privilege to have the opportunity to witness their discipline.

I scoured the name tags, from row to row.  There were about 45 women on the course, and there I was – no. 38.  Next to Izabel, the lovely German girl I’d spoken to a few minutes before, but was now, under this new reign, a stranger.

I sat cross-legged, perched comfortably on a smaller brick-sized cushion, and rested my hands on the top of my knees, pulled in my stomach, straightened my back, just as I had sat for all that time during the month-long intensive on Koh P.  My right knee was still noticeably higher than the left, and I knew from experience that within a short space of time, I would start to feel a bit of tension in that right hip, and the tingling sensation of pins and needles in my feet.  I wriggled out of my pose, and looked behind me; spied a plastic container of numerous navy blue cushions in varying shapes and sizes.  The room was still quietly active as meditators located their places and so I nipped to the back of the room, and picked up another brick.  I needed to get my hips higher than my knees to keep the blood-flow…well….flowing.

I wasn’t sure what the rationale was behind the order in which we were placed, but judging by the manner in which those two celestial beings glided past me towards the front row…I was pretty confident that I’d landed myself in the familiar Beginners’ Back Row!

A stillness washed over the colony of seated meditators, perched so gracefully upon their blue thrones, as the teacher emerged from the darkness of a hidden room.  All in white, he could have been a spectacular vision, but he was so unassuming, so humble, it was only by chance that I’d noticed him.  He didn’t speak, but pressed play on the sound system, and a great booming voice echoed off the hollow walls.  It was Goenka’s opening mantra.  A Sanskrit song that we closed our eyes to.  Ten days of meditation ahead of us, we surrendered to the first hour…