I’ve run the London marathon with an IT band injury.  I walked 100k in just over 24 hours over the Sussex Downs, during which all my toe nails fell off and blood seeped from the two gashes under my breasts, where my sport’s bra had worn through my skin.  I’ve wept and vomited on the side of the road in training, I’ve plunged my exhausted naked body into ice baths after 18 mile runs to try to alleviate the bruising in my thighs.  I’ve suffered heat stroke in the middle of the Malian desert.  I’ve got through Dengue Fever, and combed three-year old dread-locks out of my head over three days….and yet nothing compares to the discomfort and excruciating pain I felt sitting in that meditation hall.

How statuesque and elegant everyone looks in the photos.  And what a jolly little time I was having with myself…For the first three days, my most profound observation was how utterly hilarious I was.  I chuckled at the way the front of the room was so orderly and simplistic.  One big cushion, one little cushion, petite meditator perched so peacefully upon them.  And how dramatically that degenerated row by row, until you reached the back of the room, where me and my beginner comrades looked as if we were building blue padded fortresses.

I’d devised a sort of cushion-transformer rota.  First 20 minutes I was relatively still in the standard cross-legged posture, then I’d shift into my lady-like side-saddle position for a further 10-15 minutes, before transitioning into my most prideful position….the Phoenix.  I.e. two brick cushions + 1 squishy cushion, stacked lengthways, which I would mount as if astride a great horse.  Two more squishy cushions alleviating the pressure behind my knees, sarong draped across my lap and floating out behind me to cover my feet.  Whilst it wasn’t the most discreet of maneuvers, it certainly was graceful once I got settled in.  When I tired of that, it was just a big cushion spill, legs flailing about, hoping the Dhamma servers hadn’t noticed my feet pointing towards the front of the room.

But this was day three, and through the general fidgety discomfort I still found the time to observe the Vipassana Romeo and Juliet, further my “friendships”, deepen my “conflicts” with the various, unaware, people around me…I even had enough time to take notice of one particular monk towards the back of the room.  How that intricate tattoo of his disappeared behind the fabric of his robe…STOP IT!

We’d progressed from merely observing the breath and were starting to scan our bodies – patch of skin, by patch of skin…paying attention to each sensation…no attachment, no aversion…Easy enough, once you put your mind to it….even if my back was starting to sag, and legs beginning to ache a bit.

It wasn’t until our timetable changed on the morning of the 4th day and “meditation with determination” was introduced that my troubles of time and sleepiness shifted into that of pure pain.  How, how can it possibly hurt so much???  For three separate hours of each day, we were to sit in absolute stillness.  No movement of body, no opening of hands or legs.  We must not open our eyes.  We must just sit in absolute stillness for one hour.

First twenty minutes..not so bad.  But without shifting into side-saddle, my feet began to throb.  Starved of blood-flow, my hips started to creak and stir with irritation.

All the while we must move our attention from patch of skin to patch of skin, in the same repetitive order, irrespective of what other sensations we may feel elsewhere in our bodies.  We are not to place any significance upon any feeling, we are merely to observe, experience, move on.  By the time thirty minutes had gone by the stirring in my hips had become quite volatile.  Quite enraged.  I was stuck somewhere in my left shoulder.  Trying to observe the genteel and subtle warmth versus the din of the screeching in my hips.

As it got louder and louder and increasingly painful, I could feel the muscles in my jaw clench, hear the crunching of teeth…brow furrowed, eyes slowly beginning to water, as my body started to cave in around my hips.  The pain, the burning, screaming pain.  Let me out of here, GET ME OUT OF HERE!!! My nails dug into my palms, I started to breathe, breathe so heavily.  I couldn’t find any other part of my body, just that tearing agony in my hips.  I lost my willpower and devoted all my attentions to my hip.  Body shrinking smaller and smaller as I observed the shock waves of pain, lapping against each other.  No respite, no dissolution…just movement of pain, onto pain, onto pain.

I called upon every painful experience in my past to get me through it….its just one hour. One hour.  Think in the moment, right now, this moment.  Pain.  Pain.  Pain.  FUCKING so much pain!  And then the chanting started and my hell was coming to its end.

The room cleared, and I sat awhile, massaging my legs, shaking them gently, apolgetically… encouraging them back to life.  When I stood up I stumbled to the side.  Felt a bit hollow and tired.  An hour’s break…and then we’re back.  Oh my…