Being Present


Sudas’ Vipassana experience in Pune.

'Meditator' by Sudas
‘Meditator’ by Sudas

At the ripe old age of 36, in Pune, S. decided that the time had come to have an operation that would, on the one hand, enshrine his masculinity, according to the view of some cultures, and on the other hand, prevent him from suffering.

The fact that he had waited so long to be circumcised says a lot about his relationship with sexuality. But it has taken away a long-standing problem. Let’s move on…

So he went to see a surgeon who had been recommended to him, a certain Dr Daddi. The practice was located in the centre of town. In the very busy traffic, the taxi, a Piaggio Ape rickshaw, was struggling to get around. So S. decided to walk a bit, and then slipped into a nice blue café and had a banana lassi. He sat outside, and concentrated on the drink. Suddenly a sharp blow to his back sent the lassi flying and S. prepared himself to insult the imbecile.

It’s better not to insult a cow, in India, because the beast enjoys absolute impunity – and looks at you with too-good eyes. S. knew well that he had to temper his reaction because he was facing one of the living symbols of Hinduism, untouchable by the Constitution (Art. 48), and by the shared feeling of the populace: no one would dream of insulting a cow.

When he entered the office, the surgeon greeted him with a big smile and a slightly exaggerated benevolence. He pulled out a large photo album from a stack of volumes and invited S. to leaf through it. S. had never seen so many pricks in his life: the collection showed the subjects before and after the operation, and the doctor was clearly proud of it.

S. was admitted to a hospital where many wards resembled cosy holiday bungalows. In the middle of a large park, the section that housed him had long wooden porches where patients lay on nice, not very hospital-like beds.

As has already been mentioned, S. relied a lot on signs that life offered to those who were attentive, to guide a quest, support a venture, or simply not to make you feel not alone when, objectively, you are. It felt reassuring.

When he woke up after the operation, he was greeted by the exuberant song of the birds in the park, and sounds that only monkeys could make. On the right, in the next bed, was an old Indian man; particularly handsome, he reminded one of Krishnamurti, and was engrossed in a book that had Osho’s reassuring face on the cover. They never said a word to each other, but it was good company and S. saw it as a good sign which gave him the strength to implement a project he had been thinking about for some time.

It seemed to him that after solving an important bodily problem he could treat himself to an important mental operation: he wanted to get to know Vipassana meditation. He strongly desired a radical experience that would help him keep his mind at bay.

So he enrolled in a group that involved ten days of retreat. S. had heard about this meditation from the Master and friends, who considered it THE meditation. He was very curious.

The building where the retreat was being held was very white, very cool and very British Raj, and was surrounded by lush greenery.

It was explained to the participants that there would be a preparation for the Vipassana meditation. Lying on their stomachs on a mat, they were asked by a friendly group leader to keep their heads [faces] off the mat and hold a golf ball pressed between their foreheads and the floor.

This exercise… how should I put it? …blew S’s mind.

A chaotic film surfaced in which he relived a number of cumbersome and painful psychic experiences. He had heard that LSD could have this kind of effect. He was sweating profusely and had to make a great effort not to run away.

For that whole day, in half-hour periods alternating with five minutes of rest, motionless as a dead man, S. did somersaults in a psyche gone mad. He went fishing in childhood, in difficult relationships, in feelings of guilt, in recesses of the memory that ceaselessly released painful experiences that demanded attention. Although he was resigned to the possibility, he did not die, and the next day he was as fresh as a rose.

And so began the Vipassana meditation proper, one of the oldest Buddhist techniques. Vipassana means ‘to look into the depth’. Sitting on a meditation stool, his eyes closed, he began to watch the breath come in and go out.

After watching for a while, one feels the breath is describing a kind of circle, and S. tried not to lose this feeling. So he guarded himself against aggressive thoughts, aching knees, but above all from sleep. A tap on the head brought him back to the breathing. The group leader was going around the ‘intronauts’ with a bamboo cane….

Every now and then there was a break, in silence, to stretch the limbs. He loved to walk, conscious of his feet and the movement. Sometimes it seemed to him that he was not the one doing the walking.

He took the experience very seriously – you could say he was a fighter indeed; once the group leader invited him to exchange a few words and exclaimed, “S., why are you so serious?” S. returned to his stool quite baffled.

He learned to watch not only his breathing but also his thoughts, and the sounds coming from the vegetation all around him, and gradually his knees stopped aching, and if he fell asleep, so be it. He was no longer obsessed with time. If a thought tormented him, he waited for it to pass.

One day something very strange happened.

He followed the breath, in and out, in and out, and at a certain point it was like watching the breath from afar, very far away; it became subtle, barely perceptible, and S. felt clearly that the breath IS, regardless of the observer. He felt, he knew, he was being breathed.

It was very exciting, and in the following days he looked forward to going back on his knees and experiencing it. Sometimes he succeeded, and it was beautiful, somehow sweetly ‘erotic’.

When the ten days were over, he was sorry. He would have liked it to continue. For the first time in his life he felt that he was actually present. He loved this feeling; it gave him strength.

Translated from Italian by Punya with edits by Madhuri

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