there is a crack in everything

At the end of September – a while ago, now, because in blog world time passes faster than Earth world, or something like that – I sat my first Vipassana. You might know Vipassana as a ten day meditation where you cannot speak, make eye contact, read or write. I lovingly deemed it voluntary meditation prison, and so it was.

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While the silence, simplicity, and Dickinson’s ‘corridors of the mind’ are pretty intense already, the physical aspect was most surprising and interesting to me.

I remember my skepticism the first few times I heard a yoga teacher say that emotions are stored in the body. I’ve come a long way since then, in my understanding both of the world and of myself. The seminal book by Bessel van der Kolk , The Body Keeps The Score, comes to mind – a brutal but essential read. My experience at Vipassana cemented the things I’ve learned about the body and trauma, in a way that yoga had not yet in my life. As you sit – and I mean really sit, not a five minutes here and there, or in a candelit yin class – some scary stuff comes up.

After a few days of meditation, my right sitting bone started bothering me. I don’t have an injury that I am aware of, but always had more clicks and cracks in the right hip than the left. I also noticed a ‘contraction’ in my right side body for the month or so before my Vipassana. No matter which leg was crossed in front, or how many pillows I propped under me, the pain was there, and it was persistent.

The sensation grew so strong that, for a second, I thought the bone was going to burst through my skin. That crescendo of pain – pain so loud it washed the world white, then white hot – a blank surface for the subsequent flood of memories. It surfaced that what I was feeling was not just physical, nor the ego’s association with the pain. My right sitting bone was, and is, the place I held, and hold, my trauma.

I was experiencing the way my body keeps the score – in an intertwining of physical and mental and emotional, of trauma and memory and flesh. An ancient raveling up of mine, a knot of some kind. One that has so far stymied intellectualization, one that I will continue to be unraveling and releasing for some time. It came to me clear as day yet difficult to place: it came to me in feeling, as tears streamed down my face in the quiet of the meditation hall.

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taken outside the town of Hsipaw, Myanmar, 2013

To continue on the thread of intellectualization, if I may – you cannot read or write during a Vipassana. I thought this would bother me more than it did. One afternoon, however, I got the burning urge to write, out of fear for forgetting more than anything, and began scheming the ways I could get my hands on pen and paper.

I resisted, and in the end, could remember everything I wanted to – isn’t the mind amazing, and terrifying, in that way? I have always been an observer, a self-narrator, a stories-creator: as Ursula K. Le Guin said, words are my matter. Walking around the beautiful woodsy grounds of the Vipassana centre, I found myself writing and composing and crafting, at length, in my head – and when I tried to stop the stream of narration, I started to count my steps:

1, 2, 3, 4… around the bend

1, 2, 3, 4… by the flowers

1, 2, 3, 4… up the hill

One day I realized that the constant need for commentary and quantification simply put me at odds with the boundless,

the boundless potential

of steps,

the boundless blurred

seams of my breath.

A memory – when my mother visited me in my new home for the first time. We went out to the Heide Museum for a day. Looking at the beautiful big white trees, I explained with glee that people here call them ghost gums. She wasn’t impressed. I didn’t get it until recently, but she said, in other words, that the name was a bit limiting for the expansiveness of a tree. By naming it, people changed it, made it less interesting.

One of my professors once said, in passing, how this city and many of the things I love about it – parks and public transport and bike paths and universities – would appear outright post-apocalyptic to the Indigenous people of this land (that we call Australia).

Sometimes, when I am walking around what I call Melbourne, which I eventually learned is and was called Naarm, I remind myself that Anglicization adorns the destruction of a natural environment, entire societies, cultures, languages, immeasurable harm to individuals and families… that I must watch what I call things, what I trust in a name – because words can be destructive in their banality as well as their boundlessness-defying boundaries.

When I am swept over by waves of memories – of imprinted and raveled up trauma, of physical strains and emotional pains, of things to be righted and things not to say – I repeat the mantra I created for myself during those ten days of meditation. A good reminder for any time, I think, that the mind thinks it knows many things, but the center knows no pain.

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