I know the main thing you’re wondering about my retreat is: what kind of mattress did I sleep on? Well, I will tell you! It was very, very firm and it was on a platform, not a box spring.
My back was a little seized up in the morning, but after my customary a.m. bit of qi gong, it was fine for the rest of the day, which was pretty much a miracle, for which I can think of only two possible explanations.
Before I left, I had seen Jack Eiman once, and I have concluded he is a genius at what he does (“manual integrative bodywork”). When I left his office, I swung my leg over my bike seat with considerably greater ease. In ensuing days, I noticed my neck felt better than it had in years, and the crater in my butt where my gluteus medius had gotten mashed was detectably smaller.
Nonetheless, since you can go on retreat feeling perfectly dandy and be in searing agony three days later, I expected to have a tremendous amount of back pain and was utterly astonished that there was none, beyond morning stiffness.
Besides Jack’s ministrations, it may also have been somewhat attributable to the type of practice, concentration rather than vipassana. The latter encourages close investigation of mind and body states, and can have almost an exacerbating effect.
For instance, my cat sitter one year called the retreat’s emergency number to announce that my kitchen faucet had vanished and I was mad at him off and on for days: How should I know what happened to the faucet from 50 miles away, and what could I possibly do about it?
(That turned out to be as nothing compared to how I felt when I got home and saw that Thelonious’s water bowl was dry as a bone and dirty. Stern words were spoken—I’d been gone for four weeks; how often was it like that?—and now that guy and I pretend we don’t see each other when we meet.)
Besides the emotional storms, it is probably almost unheard-of for anyone to be completely free of physical discomfort on a vipassana retreat.
So, why does one volunteer for this? One great thing that can happen is seeing that you can be perfectly happy regardless of the state of your body—your body is unhappy but your mind is not. It’s not pain that makes us unhappy; it’s aversion to pain that makes us unhappy. And this means we (theoretically) can be happy regardless of circumstances.
In contrast, in concentration practice, you pick an object and attend to it exclusively (as best you can) and you don’t investigate anything else. This has the effect of keeping both desire and aversion at bay, which is extremely pleasant, and I’m guessing it may also dampen the perception of physical sensations.
After eating so many vegetables at Spirit Rock, I switched to nothing but cookies, potato chips, ice cream, orange soda and burritos upon returning home, plus I was brooding about my job after my calm-erasing day on Friday, so by this past Sunday, I could barely get out of bed. I had planned to cook a couple of new dishes, but realized they would probably rot in the fridge, and that it would be safer to make a couple of known favorites.
Eventually, I rode my bike over to Rainbow—Dan at Freewheel recently raised the handlebars, which makes it even more comfy to ride—where I ran into Rita L., who was in a very good mood. She came out to the garage with me and admired my bike, and while she was doing that, the guy who often works as garage attendant on Sundays came over and said he also thinks my bike is beautiful; he said he thinks that every week when he sees it.
I bought The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr for someone recently and found it had a new introduction by the author, in which she says all the stories she has heard since publishing her book have taught her that a dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.
She also mentions a new acquaintance telling her, “You must read The Liars’ Club, by Mary Karr,” after which she got to say, “I am Mary Karr.”
I saw Jack Eiman again yesterday—I’ll probably go every two weeks for a time—and, when I got up today, my back was hardly even stiff. I could probably have skipped my morning stretching, but I didn’t. The basic version only takes about two minutes.
Jack told me to walk for twenty minutes last night when I got home, so I called Tom and asked if he could come down for twenty minutes. When we met in the hallway, I said we were going to walk in one direction for ten minutes and then back home. “OK,” he said.
Not, “Why are we going to do that?” “Why for ten minutes?” “I don’t want to go for a walk.” “I can’t; I’m busy eating two pints of Ben & Jerry’s.”