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Symphonic Stars

Flashbacks of Evander and countless other sweet and salty souvenirs intermittently popped into my mind. Over five days of sitting, 50-plus hours, had gone by at the Vipassana Center, and even though I followed the meditation directions to a 'T,' the breathing and observation techniques didn't seem to be setting me up for a notable constructive evolution. Yes, my posture and diet had improved, and I did feel calmer and more disciplined than I had in a long time, but I didn't have a clear projection of the new-sprung mental shape I might take with me on the 10th day. A fleeting adjustment or one that would breed new difficulties would only make things more unbearable. I knew I was long overdue for a fresh inner interface that would better connect me to myself and society and, if lucky, dance with the source of life itself. Which society? Which me? All of them. I was raised by a WWII refugee mother whose only passion was to see me navigate as many contours, cracks, and corners of the Earth as possible and to reach for the summit of my potential by juicing all I could from its cultures and creeds. In any case, I understood well that such an assessment of how things were progressing at that stage would be premature and, in all likelihood, preclude the chance of me finding sky-like serenity and stability, something other than the ideas strangling my will to thrive again. I scuttled and traveled a long distance to be in that mountaintop house. There was no arguing that patience, diligence, and trust had to be employed, no matter what. However, my "critical" meeting with the course's teacher, post lunchtime on the fourth day, didn't provide much encouragement, just the opposite.

15 minutes were given to each student who signed up to speak with her in the sitting room, adjacent to the enclosed area where lunch had just finished. I was the second to go in. Although I settled on a cushion with respect and humility, my analytical mind decided to not wait for me outside the door. Instead, it accompanied me, wanting to present and resolve a disruptive dormitory issue that impeded my and some of my roommates' ability to gain quality sleep, especially that of the young man whose bed was nearest to mine. Elizabeth, the teacher, warmly invited me to describe the problem further. She didn't do or say anything unusual to make me feel as if I was on trial, but that is exactly what I perceived. 

Since the point that needed to be addressed didn't seem complex or warrant a surgical-like discussion, what I conveyed to Elizabeth was straightforward and, compared to what I will put forth now, gave only a sketch of the situation. Typical logic should have offered some relatively uncomplicated options; however, my logic was moot as the overall experience of the course was way outside the realm of "typical."

In review:

Students retired to their assigned sleeping quarters after several hours of meditation and group dinner on the first day. My bed was situated at the far end of the room. The other four males and I hit our single-bed sacks faster than bees can sting. Palpable was everyone's exhaustion. Accordingly, there was no eye contact or exchange of any kind. As prescribed, lights were out at 8:30 p.m. sharp. Someone had left the window across from and to the left of me, between two wooden lockers, slightly ajar. I didn't have the energy to give it much attention. Bed covers were ample, the August air moved comfortably, and I didn't mind the unfamiliar sound of cowbells lulling me from afar while clinking under an ocean of stars. What's more, it was 8:35 p.m. on August 26, 2010. If you can't let things slide on your birthday, when can you?

Laying in bed, listening to crickets, a light breeze, and the wholesome bells that would transform into the resounding appeal of a gong at 4:15 the following morning helped fade my sputtering thoughts about the hows and whys I arrived at Mont Soleil. For about 10 minutes, my search filtered down to the empirical question: "What do I stand to learn from this?" Simultaneously, in our pitched-black room, one of the students, from now on Musician #1, let out the first note of a symphonic night of snoring. As the volume and rhythm of his involuntary performance prolonged, I heard the person in the bed adjacent to me begin to toss, turn, grunt, and whine. Only after the conclusion of the course would I see his smile, hear his laughter, and learn his name — Djamel. Nine more days and nights were waiting for us. Everyone had to adapt to this new way of being and coexist without a murmur or gesture. My tolerance for this unanticipated and unconscious respiratory growl was also thin; however, it wasn't coming apart at the seams as quickly or demonstrably as Djamel's. There were some audible reactions to the intense snoring sequences from other roommates; however, as they were bedded farther from me, it was impossible and ultimately unnecessary to be aware of more than that. Five minutes later, just as my eyelids and hearing managed to dim things, another student, from now on Musician #2, also began to make his exhaustion, emotional disturbances, etc., known to all. 

What came to mind were the times when semi-trucks would boom past me on the desert freeway. During my early painting days, only three years prior, I frequently ping-ponged on seemingly endless stretches of road between LA and Santa Fe to deliver my artwork to clients and galleries. There's nothing like an unsuspecting roar ripping a vast desert's soothing tranquility into submission. My heart went out to Djamel as emotional claws of frustration, anger, and resentment clutched his wits to such an extent that he got up from his bed and grabbed his blanket, hoofing and puffing like a disgruntled, possessed toddler. Thankfully, he only stomped his temper tantrum out of the rumbling room.

A moment after the door shut, the celeste streamed its brilliance through that open window and mummed the snoring, the clinking of cowbells, everything except for one thought: I am here to learn about and how to accept change.

Ping Ponging between Santa Fe and LA

Arriving at Vipassana Center

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