Twenty-two: I'm coming!
It’s funny how quickly we acclimate.
Day two, I found myself comfortable and content on my foam mattress. It was a two-inch piece of foam atop a concrete slab built into the wall, a platform for the makeshift foam bed was surprisingly comfortable. The less than seven hours on this mattress nightly seemed to pass in what felt like an intense 15 minutes in a soundless chamber. I always slept impossibly well and would find my body rolling off of the mattress and my feet landing quietly onto the cool floor, when the 4AM gong would cut through the darkness of the quiet morning, ahead of the chants from the local temple. I would then tie the mosquito net into a big knot above the mattress and make my bed. A quick affair, as it was just smoothing the two flat sheets I’d borrowed at registration the first day in the refectory, purple and pink striped cheerful ones that were thick enough to use as a summer table cloth.
Taking rest after morning meditations, I allowed myself to neither meditate nor think. I let my eyes follow my mosquito net billowing under the whirring wings of the wobbly ceiling fan. The garish Barbie pink of the net didn’t bother me, even though it would likely be a visual assault to me in any other setting. I actually preferred this pink, to the somber navy-colored net that belonged to my roommate. I might be able to spot rogue mosquitos better against pink, but I wasn’t thinking practically, necessarily. The brightness of my net stood in contrast from the cool medicinal mint color of the paint resting on uneven walls. It was, what my fashion friends would have referred to as a shade of Prada Green, at one time. I was quite certain this is very different to what I would have experienced in northern California, in Malaysia, or in Thailand- all of which had been full when I'd gotten around to the idea of signing up. These other locations looked like simple dormitories of a fancy American university- or so, at least online. The website of the meditation center, unlike its North American counterparts, no images were offered along with the description of facilities. Here, it felt more like a sanatorium. Or- a correctional facility.
My mind quickly wandered to whether I would acclimate this quickly, were I actually in prison. No doors, a cellmate on the other side of the curtain, living in what functioned as a kind of uniform that erases signs of our lives on the outside, being on a strict timetable and herding our bodies according to the gongs, working quietly on the center grounds sweeping or cleaning common areas, hand washing laundry. Happy with two full meals and without a third, unperturbed about the cold water from the shower heads despite a red knob or one marked with an H, squat toilets whose floors needed constant cleaning, total silence and nonverbal language emerging in the void of verbal communication. An unspoken hierarchy- or at least an order of who has water first, who washes their dishes first, momentary ruffling of feathers from cultural differences that at time become pronounced where there is a void of verbal language- and a whole list of suspensions of privileges and prohibitions of things people on the outside are allowed to engage in. I felt little resistance. This is the way things were on the inside. Resistance would just make the experience more arduous. I'd decided to leave the challenges for the mental space and accept the physical realities of this environment. I was surprised at myself in this... positive acquiescence. It wasn’t something I'd expected of myself. Perhaps I was lower maintenance than I - or others- believed. All of this made me feel like I'd been admitted into a low security correctional facility, and that I was on the inside now. I'd made peace with my sentencing. I wondered what offenses would land someone in a lower-security facility, whether it differed by country, jurisdiction, and one's access to social privilege (most certainly)- and daydreaming what circumstances would have gotten me in.
But mid-thought, I realised. That’s where I was. In a correctional facility. The whole meditation process felt like a rewiring, a correction, a rehabilitation of the way I respond to the world. I wondered what would happen if this technique were to be brought into the prison system, as a tool for reform and to give inmates a better quality of life. I didn’t know that my last day at the Center, I’d crack open and cry upon learning that the meditation had been brought into both Tihar Jail in New Delhi and Donaldson Prison in Alabama.
Leaving the Center, I checked into a « halfway » location, a place to acclimate back into the real world, a place where I could let my body catch up with my brain, and vice-versa. I offered myself a place to ease back into "real life"- where the real challenges always seem to await. The halfway house was luxurious in every sense, in stark contrast to the Center I’d just left- the architecture, the sheets, the treatments, the food, the way nature was considered, and in the civility, gentility of the other guests coming to this exotic location from far corners of the world. Oddly though, it wasn't the worldly comforts I relaxed into and responded to here- I rode the wave of stillness from the correctional facility, right into this place. The visuals were starkly different, but it wasn’t how I was living this experience. The superficial differences would come and go, fall away. It was the possibility to experience seamlessness in the quietude and intimacy with myself in these two places that connected one to the other, and what each had in common with the other. I still kept my vows of silence more or less- easily, since I was traveling alone.
Exiting the retreat, I sat in the car listening to my driver recount and confess how his wife- and son- had left him for a new life with a well-salaried government official. He had driven me to tea country from the Center just days before, and told me he had been bewildered at how I carried myself around the questions about my husband- mainly that I had none, only an ex-husband, and that I seemed free and happy in the aftermath of what life had dealt me. In the days I had been in the halfway retreat, he'd felt guilty not only in lying about his marital status, but also in realisation of shame that his wife had left. I sat and listened. An hour later, as we approached Negombo and the planes just overhead, he'd decided that he would go about filling his loneliness by seeking out others that might feel lonely or be without love- orphans- and see how he could be in service to them.
From the window of the car, I saw raucous life and order in chaos unfolding. Just as it had been each day I'd been in silence. And music. For the first time in two weeks. The radio was on. I wanted to turn it off, Bon Jovi was just too much for me, as were the ads. David Bowie felt better. Then, Diana!
I looked outside the window and was so happy to have Diana proclaim and herald to the world that I’m out, I’m coming back. To the outside world.
I’m out. I’m coming home.