There were breaks throughout the day. I’m not entirely sure whether these breaks were a kindness to our screaming joints or if there was some sort little-known safety regulation hidden away in the law books regarding cruel and unusual punishment of this sort but either way, the breaks were much appreciated.
Group time or any time around another human being was a strange mixture of soothing relief and constant vigilance. In one regard, simply being around another person, despite the limitation of not being able to talk, touch or even look at them, was surprisingly comforting.
On the other hand, I was often so absorbed in my own tangled thoughts and personal battles that I would sometimes forget common courtesies like holding the door open for the next person behind me. I am generally a very polite person so sneezes presented a particularly clever test of my commitment to the whole silence business. But I also grew to appreciate the silence. Having no obligation to social expectations was liberating and gave me much needed space to become acquainted with the stranger I was living with.
On day 6 I thought I heard whispers. I looked around anxiously, eager to pass judgment and return to my pedestal of superiority in being able to hold out longer than some of the others. As I scanned the field during one of the breaks, meditator were spread out stretching and staring into space.
I didn’t hear any more words exchanged, but there! Two young guys in their early twenties exchanged smiles. “No eye contact. No communication by gestures.” Those were the rules! Smiles certainly counted as a gestures and there usually needs to be a reason for a smile which more than likely indicates that there was a conversation so that means… “no,no, no!…” Again, miniature Goenka reminded me “this is not Vipassana”.
I mentally slapped myself in the face and felt the heat wash over my cheeks and forehead as I observed the sensations of shame. Judging these other guys was not going to save me from my own miserable disposition. Refocus. Breath. Observe.
The remaining four days I barely even notice the 19 year old kid taking his time at the toaster station as he carefully cut razor thin slices of butter to ensure that every square inch of his gently toasted white bread was covered in Sunbeam yellow.
Did I mention that there were 32 men and we all ate in the same dining hall? Did I mention that most of us like toast? I’m not being a jerk. This goes to show how much of a jerk I wasn’t being. I used to be that impatient New Yorker who shouted obscenities whenever someone cut me off on the highway. My blood pressure would spike whenever someone walked too slowly on the train platform.