I remember a 20 day course I sat in Sri Lanka back in the late 90’s. On day 5 as we were going for tea, there was a sign posted by the dining hall which said something like, please be sure to shower and wash your clothes regularly with soap, other people notice.
We’d been concentrating our minds for 5 days and reading that really agitated me. I was feeling angry that the management would put a sign like that up, let alone at such a time. Who were they referring to? I was feeling self-conscious even though I felt I was doing ok in that department. However my mind persisted, could it be my clothes that I’d been washing in wells and rivers over many months? Was I sweating too much? Were there meditators with noses of blood hounds? Maybe someone’s sensitivity was off the charts. I found myself sniffing my clothes just to make sure. My mind was going in all these different directions, starting again over and over to come back to my breath.
At lunch time on day 6, I noticed a line for the showers and the course manager was going around asking each student if they needed soap. I over heard a student tell the course manager that he’d like to buy soap for everyone as dana.
I felt like I was witnessing comedy central and was challenged to contain the mirth bubbling up.
Up till this time, the lunch period had been so quiet and peaceful and I had been experiencing such a deepening of concentration. Now, I as well many of the male meditators looked worried. All these things were a reminder though, that distractions like this do come up in courses and how skillfully could I allow these things to come and go and stay with the breath? How much could I be with this experience and not generate more anger and agitation? Also how much could I relate to these thoughts, feelings, and stories as impersonal changing phenomenon? How easy it is to identify myself with these experiences and feel like it’s mine and create a drama out of it.
At the end of the course, a Sri Lankan nun said that she’d made a complaint about the smell in the cells, that there was a “cloud” wafting over from the male side to the female side. This story has since stuck out in my mind as a source of comic relief though at the time I was really challenged by the situation.