In Puregg we had a certain routine for meals. The person closest to the large cooking pot would put a portion of food into the bowls with a dipper and pass them around. We would not speak a single word, start eating together, wait for the last one to finish, and bow down before and after each meal.
Dippers. This morning it was my turn to wield the dipper, and of course I wanted to do everything right. After I had started, someone knocked a tea cup over, and her neighbour dried up the spilled liquids. My eyes and attention shifted from my task to that event. Pepi sat beside me, and with her sharp perception she immediately noticed my distraction. She said, “continue, don’t dream!”, and for a split second I felt quite embarrassed. In the next moment I was grateful for her precise teaching. My embarrassment could only come into existence through the concept of a vulnerable ego, based on an illusion about my “self”. And even if someone now thought of me as a day-dreamer, would that matter? Indeed not! The only important thing was to remain mindful and alert, and to do whatever I did in a proper and most beneficial way.
More dippers. During meditation I was in agony. I felt as though my back pain had long exceeded any levels of “valuable experience”, and that it was only distracting me from deeper insights. But noon arrived, and lunch, and the need for someone to wield the dipper: me again. Now I knew I just had to dish up one full scoop after the other. Such I did – and in the end there was almost nothing left for second portions. I had dished up too much! And there it was again, the embarrassment, the feeling of failure, over such a subtle thing, which nobody had even commented upon. Maybe no one had even thought about it, except for me! But that did not occur to me. I felt like such a loser.
Despair. After lunch we had a break, and I sat down under a tree. I felt desperate. Everything seemed to be going wrong: the dipper experiences, the back pain, my thoughts and emotions. My eyes were filled with tears. I wrote a few lines in my diary and then decided to meditate. After a few minutes I felt something tapping on my shoulder, opened my eyes, and saw a withered leaf that had fallen right between the thumbs and fingers of my hands. I thought of the anicca (inconstancy) principle and smiled. A bit later I spoke to Hannes about my recent difficulties, and he gave me valuable advice.
Agony. In the evening Hannes spoke to us about the five hindrances and other common meditation obstacles. Despite his advice and all my efforts of turning the meditation obstacle “back pain” into the meditation object, my pain increased towards unbearable levels. I did not want to give up and clenched my teeth together, until I felt like I would pass out right there and then. To keep my mind busy, I mentally recited a passage of the Maha-Rahulovada Sutta about the “mindfulness of breathing” technique, until I arrived at the words: “He trains himself, “I will breathe out tranquillizing the bodily fabrication.”
Relief. And there it was. Relief. Serenity. Peace. The pain had disappeared. I perceived nerve signals, and I could still locate the tension, but the suffering was gone. It was like a breakthrough. Now I could sit almost without effort. And it dawned to me that before too long I would remember this experience, and remind myself that I would no longer have to fear pain.