So I missed the election. Totally missed it. I voted, yes, that's true, but on November the 4th, I turned up at a Vipassana meditation center in Kathmandu and for 10 days, didn't think about the election, that frightful Sarah Palin, the media circus or much else for that matter. Instead, I took a vow of silence, actually of noble silence, and discovered what it's like to be a monk. Every morning, I woke up at 4. I meditated from 4:30-6:30, ate breakfast, rested a while and then went back to the Dhamma hall for another 3 hours of meditation. In total, we spent about 10.5 hours a day meditating. With only a few hours free everyday, little food and zero communication, you might think that one would become quite depressed and lonely, but I have to admit that I felt freer and happier those 10 days than maybe ever.
It was hard work sitting. Painful. My hips and knees were burning. My ankles felt sprained. My mind wandered, day dreamed, planned, contemplated, and sometimes was so focused and concentrated that I got headaches. But somehow, all that pain turned into nearly pleasant sensations as I learned how to observe what my body is feeling on the gross level, and on a more subtle level, with equanimity.
The theory behind this practice is that if you can learn to re-train your mind to experience pain without judging or reacting to it, you can learn to deal with life's ups and downs with a balanced mind. If you can observe your own misery, you can come out of it. I think it works. I think. I'm not sure. But how can I explain how wonderful I felt at the end of each day despite my throbbing joints and growling stomach?