Sunday, October 25, 2015

The escape

Travel to Thailand wasn't the only thing I planned during the retreat. Seemed as if there was a new subject every day. But, for the last 4-5 days (when not planning Thailand) there was the subject of how to escape from the place at the earliest possible opportunity. And I mean escape, because for the first time ever at a retreat I felt as if I were in a prison camp, unable to leave at will.

I'd foolishly given them my cell phone to hold -- could have left it in the car, but didn't know that until I'd already parked the car at a distance. That was the big mistake. I tried to leave on Monday, which would have been day 5, but the teacher talked me out of it and of course, I couldn't escape on my own because of the captive cell phone.

Thus the escape plans. I wanted out, but didn't want to make another fuss. Cell phones wouldn't be available until 6:30am on Sunday morning, attendance at the morning event in the meditation hall was mandatory, and I needed to clean my room and some of the shared portions of the rest of the unit we were in. That was my dilemma -- how to escape at 6:30 and still get the place clean. Fortunately, late on Friday I decided I could do the cleaning on Saturday and talks with my roommate on Saturday morning showed that she was willing, also wanted to leave early. So, that's what we did, although she did her portion after I left, as her version of early was not the same as mine.

Still -- I wanted to leave at 6:30, not spend the necessary time getting my stuff to my car, or bringing my car to the residence to load it up. I wanted out. So I hatched another plan. Wake up was at 4am, the morning session was at 4:45. I would walk my things out the road to my car, in the dark. It didn't seem as if it could be far, although I couldn't see around the curve. I was awake before the wake-up bell Sunday morning, and it didn't take long to dress, roll up my sleeping bag and pack the remaining few items into a bag. It was still around 4:15. Plenty of time.

So -- armed with my big (34"x29"x6") meditation cushion, one duffle bag slung over a shoulder, and the rolled-up sleeping bag, I crept silently away down the road, past the 'course limit' signs into unknown territory. Didn't take long before the woods closed in and became pitch black and the only way I could tell I was still on the road was the hard gravel surface beneath my feet, rather than grassy spots I'd occasionally wander into. I did have a random thought about my flashlight at that point, but realized it was in the duffle that I'd  left behind. The cushion is awkward to carry, the sleeping bag not much less so. But I kept going because by then, I was committed. The road seemed awfully long -- much further than where I knew my car was parked. Finally, after a rather long time, I came to an intersection and a sign, which I recognized as being fairly early on the property, way before the parking area. So I hung a left on the main road and doubled back.

By then, the sleeping bag had managed to slip one of its elastic bands and was slowly becoming unrolled. Well, at least it wasn't raining. Just misty. After another long period (not as long as it seemed, I'm sure), I reached my car and got the goods stowed. By then, I had about 5 minutes to get to the meditation hall on time, so rather than retrace my steps I opted to continue on down the road to the center, which was not a very long walk. But, it meant that I'd have to cross the forbidden men's area. What could they do, throw me out? So I walked along in the dark and then wham, I felt something against my body and heard a noise. I'd walked smack dab into a sawhorse that was blocking the road off from the center itself, and knocked it over. Totally invisible in the darkness. Tried to put it back in place, but one of the legs had been dislodged so I quietly laid it back down on the ground. Couldn't have been very sturdy in the first place, she says. 

Straight ahead lay the men's walking area. With my hood up and trying to be invisible, I walked quickly across but not without being seen by at least two men. One looked at me curiously -- a spectre walking out of the darkness -- but I escaped back into the women's area safely. Just in time to walk down to the residence, grab the rest of my stuff and carry it up to the meditation hall so it would be ready for escape once I was free. I felt a little guilty -- especially about the sawhorse -- but not terribly.

At 6:30, cell phone in hand, I grabbed the other duffle and walked out, a free woman. Still walking in the dark, but by then a few lights had been turned on so at least I could see where I was going. You can see why I say it seems unlikely that I'll return for another try. Third time is supposed to be a charm, and it was more of a hex!

The place does a lot of good for a lot of people, as it did for me my first visit. But this was the first time I'd ever tried to leave early and the whole prison-camp feel didn't sit well with me. Trundling on down the highway I managed to get home by 10:30, rather than the 10am goal, only to find that the football game I wanted to watch wasn't being aired! So -- all for nothing, but at least I got a headstart towards hot coffee and a fast-food breakfast, which was strangely appealing to my normally nutrition-minded body.


  1. Yep, sounds like you're done with Goenka retreats. Can't say I'm rushing to sign up for another, either, I've been lapsing in my meditation practice for the past year or more and need to get my body back into sitting for long periods before I'd try another, and probably try the technique at home for a while. So many good intentions, so little actually done!

    Thailand would shake things up for you, and I've heard it's cheap. It's hard to face winter coming on without planning an escape. But I'm tied down with aging cats - correction, I've tied myself down to my aging cats.


    1. Not just Goenka retreats, Jane, I think I'm done with retreats, period. At least for now. I haven't meditated well (or often) for over 2 years now, although the desire is there. Not strong enough, apparently, but there. So I'm out of practice. Other retreats at least allow some flexibility -- either scheduled periods of walking meditation alternating with sitting, or the freedom to get up and stand or walk when you need to, inside the meditation hall or outside. No meditation police! Seems that we both have good intentions, but are not doing much about it! I do have to say, however, that the things I learned in my first Goenka retreat, over 10 years ago, are still part of my daily approach to life. Not the meditation, but the 'art of living' that's taught. I will always appreciate that.

      Thailand is seeming less and less likely by the day, even with the help of some friends who know it well. As always in my life, it comes down to money. And right now, time. I'm at least 6 weeks away from possible departure at any time until I actually apply for renewal of my passport. And then there might be 6 months, maybe more, time to stay over there until I need to return for housing. It's a lot in some ways, but not enough financially. I had a brief thought of using a crowdfunding thing, but then found that they do it by sending emails to friends and family with the request. NO WAY am I going to hit up friends and family for money. So, that's out.

      Aging pets do tie us down, but we love them. I'm sure a mid-winter escape would be highly appreciated up in your northern climes, far more so than here. Can you get away for a short time -- a week or two? Leave them with friends or a sitter? That was always hard for me when I had a cat, because of the cost. And probably hard on the cat, too, although she was pretty easy going.

      Appreciate your reading all this stuff. Hope this particular post came across with all the humor with which it was written. I could see the humor even while it was happening, laughing at myself as I stumbled through the darkness.