Day Zero. My hand shoots up ‘enthusiastically and emphatically’ (the
centre manager’s words) when the request for an old student to sound the
first gong is asked for. In the lead up, I have tried not to let
thoughts roll around in my head of ’do I really want to’, or ‘will
anyone else want to’. I am happy to give way — especially if another
student has never gonged before. This time I am the only female
volunteer. I request an additional alarm clock.
Day One. I collect the key and proceed to the Dhamma Hall. That — and every subsequent — morning I am very careful where I tread, moving any worms, snails or stationary spiders out the way of impending sleepy feet. I unlock the Dhamma Hall, double, triple checking I have absolutely and definitely unlocked the Assistant Teacher’s door. I studiously sweep away any late-night petals from the floor. Equanimously as possible, I observe the satisfactory sensations of this honour to be the unseen start of the meditator’s day. I am never not pleased to do it, even if those few seconds when the first alarm clock goes off tells me otherwise.
I set strong resolve to let go of any
regrets from the day before and muster focused determination to do my
ever-changing best today. I reflect on my gratitude to this small act of
dhamma service, a fundamental part of my meditation practice that I
didn’t know I was missing until I started serving, ever grateful to be
part of this wondrous path and the immense benefits it brings.
I then sit and relish that blanket of nurturing stillness and silence that will be broken shortly to give way to a different kind of quiet. I reverently gaze at the moon and starlit sky, soaking in the splendour of the Milky Way and unknown star constellations that jump out at me on a backdrop of moonbeams.
Most mornings I marvel at animals racing, scampering, hopping and bounding across the grass, through plants and up trees, in and out of shrubs and bushes, taking their last exuberant — and often frantic — dance before the day begins. A rabbit sits less than a couple of metres away, more stationary than I, staring inquisitively at me. I work hard to contain the quivering feelings of bliss as I don’t want to scare it away. More Ānāpana. I hope there are no hungry foxes wanting breakfast in close proximity.
One cloudless morning, I see two shooting stars, separate chunks of space debris ending their unknown galactical travels in tandem. It isn’t always clear skies — the changing atmospheres evoking different qualities, startlingly apparent in such stillness. The gong tones also changing, connected to their environment. One morning everything is muffled by mist, on another the melodic tune of different rain drops rings clear. Whatever the weather I am always humbled by the opportunity to witness nature’s ever-changing song, grateful for the sharpness of mind that this meditation provides.
4:00 am. Time for the first Gong Walk. I usually wait for the Big Gong (keeping a close eye on time), but do delight when my first strike is in tandem. It’s a soothing reminder that, like our meditation, we practice alone, but also together. I resist the temptation to gong out ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ (the triangle was always my favourite instrument at school), and focus on patiently, persistently and consistently connecting wooden hammer head to side of metal gong.
Gently, yet strongly, I strike, ever mindful not to gong ‘too’ closely to upright students (the sound can be quite jarring to half asleep heads). At most, a soft tap if the sound is in danger of stopping, as I like to wrap the campus — and myself — in continuous vibration.
I am sympathetically mindful of the unseen student groaning daily at that first gong, hoping they will come to love the sound (like me) by the end of the course. But they may already, so I check the projections of my wild mind and remind myself that I still have work to do to gain — and stay — in reality with the freedom that universal truth brings. No groaning from day nine.
It takes seven minutes to do that first round, I now have thirteen until the next. I sit out of the way, experiencing that transition from first silence of the day. I also hope my dark, often hooded, stationary figure doesn’t scare anyone.
4:20 am. I start the second circuit. Trundling around, I encounter many more scurrying students attempting to be mindful of as they travel to the bathrooms or to the meditation hall. And they are definitely awake. I have fulfilled my duty.