Vipassana Part IV
...was, in short, nothing I imagined it would be. It was my first course outside of the Himalayan region and in fact I was a bit disappointed. As a server in Asia, we sit the entire course along with the students. But here I sat only five hours a day, spending nine or ten hours daily in the industrial-strength kitchen...making tea, chopping veggies, stirring huge pots of vegetables and facilitating basic communication between the eccentric Spanish chef Reynaldo and the largely German kitchen staff.
We were ten servers for 100 students and the experience was like working for a large catering company. Needless to say, there was no Noble Silence whatsoever - my favorite little bit about Vipassana - and with so much eating, chattering and laughing, the quality of my meditation was negligible. The only good thing was that I did not, in fact, have any pain while sitting...no legs falling asleep, no back pain, nothing, which was a bit of a minor miracle given the nearly three-month hiatus from my regular practice.
On the whole, the course here was much more relaxed, comfortable and permissive than my previous courses. On day two, one male student knocked on the kitchen dooor and asked me if I had any cigarette papers. Though I do believe he was gone the next day, most of the students were generally permitted to wander around during meditation hours, drinking tea or just staring off into space, something I never saw in any other course.
One other seeming contradiction was the quality of the food; aside from the nutella, peanut butter and five kinds of marmelade served at every meal, we experimented with all kinds of gourmet creations, from Asian peanut sauces to curry dishes and every day some kind of desert, whether banana cake or apple streusel or chocolate balls. In my understanding of Vipassana meditation philosophy, food is something that should be downplayed, not showcased. Food is, in fact, an enemy of deep meditation.
One interesting coincidence...on the second day, as I was chilling out in the women's dining hall, a student came in and tearfully asked me for some bread and butter. She mentioned she was pregnant and I had to laugh. Turns out she is due in the middle of February - same as me. I told her I now understood why I was working the course, because the only people who can understand the serious urgency of things like food, water and the toilet for pregnant women is...other pregnant women. This student had been trying to leave the course, but my presence convinced her to stay. In the end, it turns out that she was born and raised about 30 minutes from our village. Our children will probably be friends.
And would you believe?..the men servers actually did our laundry for us. No kidding, they washed, dried and even folded our dirty clothes three times in a ten-day period. I was shocked...maybe I've been in Asia too long, but not even in female-dominated Amerika would I have expected such a thing.
Not that I'm complaining, but I conclude that I will not be participating in any more Vipassana courses here in Europe. Even though it was a good experience, it was not nearly as masochistic as it should have been.
It's holiday time here in Europe and everyone seems to have at least a month if not more to explore the environs. Some friends are heading to the Netherlands and Beligum, others to Spain or France. Herr Fritz and I have a flight booked for Gdansk, Poland.
I've always wanted to go to Poland (a.k.a. Polska), and while it is officially part of the EU, they don't use Euros yet so it will still feel like a foreign place. Herr Fritz is excited to visit the concentration camps, but for me it's about visiting friends, hearing a new language and eating unidentified local foods. Danzig is another name for "Gdansk," a city on the north coast of Poland. We will stay for a short time only and then head to Olsztyn, the city where my friends Lidia and Michael live. I'm especially excited to discover the Polish version of borscht, known as "barszcz," as well as how to pronounce it.
Then, when we tire of Polishness, we'll head back across the border to Berlin. So far the agenda there includes a visit to the US Embassy, shopping for nori and sushi rice in an Asian market, and a weekend spent with Maltman, my high school partner in crime.
Then it's back to the grind...my daily existence of hanging out and generally getting bigger by the minute.
Germans are notorious for not liking children, which means the government actually pays people to have them. Which means that I finally have a job! Turns out the government is going to send us monthly payments for the next 25 years. Not only that, but Herr Fritz will have at least one year paid paternity leave from work. Ha ha. Gotta love socialism!
Employment is not the only thing I've gained. Among other things, my breasts have become alarmingly large, heavy and painful. So large and painful, in fact, that I am finding it difficult to balance or walk properly. As I'm only in the fourth month, I don't really understand why milk production is already in the works. And now my uterus is beginning to stick out. It's hard like a cantalope and I'm definitely not sleeping on my stomach anymore. Nobody ever told me how much fun this is!
Otto is approximately 10cm long (~4 in), or "the size of a small gerbil," according to my book. It's an interesting juxtaposition to suffer continuously from innumerable physical miseries - nausea, headaches, low blood pressure, back pain, sleeplessness, swollen body, etc. - just to see Otto chillaxing on the ultrasound without a care in the world. When I have a chance tonight, I'll post the picture of the latest ultrasound where it looks like he's giving the thumbs-up sign.
BTW, in case you're wondering...we don't know if the baby is a boy or girl. I'm calling him Otto because that name is already settled. We're still working on a girl's name.
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I'm surprised every time I post something new on this blague, as I'm always convinced that each posting is the last. Being pregnant and relatively immobile is just not that interesting or inspiring. I imagine things will get much more active when the baby is finally here, in approximately 172 days. Not that I'm counting or anything.