Last week at a Comedy writing workshop at the City Lit in London, we were asked to share an embarrassing moment. I have so many I could write a book, but the memory that came back was an incident that took place at a Buddhist retreat many years ago. A boyfriend had just dumped me and I was feeling bruised, so a seven day haven which included writing workshops struck me as the ideal place to lick my wounds.
I didn’t know what to expect but felt elated when the mini cab dropped me off at an old beamed house surrounded by woodland. I was late and all the students were already in the dining room, deep in porridge, muesli and live yoghurt. They were sitting squashed together on benches trying to maneuver their spoons and forks. The only vacant spot was next to a girl called Kate who was sobbing because her boyfriend had just dumped her! Not my ideal breakfast partner, but, when she held out her arms for a hug I obliged, hoping I wouldn’t cross her path too often.
‘Om shanti, I hope you enjoy your time with us,’ a teacher said, slipping a sheet of paper into my hand.
When I read it I nearly fainted. It was a long list of my household duties. I hadn’t been expecting that as part of my recovery therapy; nor the fact we’d be woken every morning at 5a.m.! The next jolt was the sleeping arrangements. I was sharing a dormitory with nine other women. And guess who had the bed next to mine – KATE!
I didn’t know about ‘crying therapy’ at the time but three days into the retreat I could have happily suffocated Kate with a pillow. She wailed with the owls at night and woke up wailing with the morning birds. I was dog tired from the minute I got out of bed to the minute my head hit the pillow.
The writing workshops consisted mainly of poetry. My mind was so weary the only thing I could come up with was an ode about a lazy, fat cat whose days were spent being shoved off peoples’ laps. I joined a screaming therapy session to appease my urge to ram a boot down Kate’s throat but my deepest source of misery stemmed from the fact my bowels hadn’t ejected the mountain of chickpeas and lentils that were served up at every meal, and I’d started to inelegantly break wind.
The good news was that I was able to share my woes with my new mate Keith. He was a Buddhist retreat virgin like myself and had attended the screaming session to get rid of the stress he’d accumulated since his arrival.
On our last evening, the meditation in the shrine room was to be a special one that included a ceremony of forgiveness, gratitude and thanksgiving. Whilst Keith and I had no idea what it entailed, we were looking forward to it – apart from my reservation that my gut felt ready to give birth to a donkey because I was so constipated.
‘Mind over matter,’ Keith said, dragging me in.’You’ll be fine. Stop worrying.’
Everyone was sitting on cushions facing each other on either side of an aisle. We grabbed the two remaining cushions and joined in with the meditation. The fermented beans in my stomach did a somersault. A crude sound left my behind. I coughed into my hand to cover it up but farted even louder. The woman next to me giggled. My brow breaking out in a sweat, I squeezed my buttocks togetherhard.
At the sound of a gong, the couple nearest the front, bowed to a statue of Buddha. Swaying and dancing they lit incense sticks and circled them over their heads. When they fell to their knees and brought their foreheads to the ground, Keith and I stared at each other. I knew his look of horror was because he was afraid of making a fool of himself. My concern was that kneeling on the floor with my butt in the air spelled DANGER!
I thought about making a run for it but by the time our turn came, I was back in control. All went well until I circled the incense stick –when I could feel a giant fart trying to get out. I crossed my legs to stop it coming and when Keith dropped to his knees, tensely followed, praying the vision in my mind wouldn’t become physical reality. Too late!!!!!With the speed of a rocket, the wind trapped in my stomach, blasted out of the now, open back door and the reverent silence was shattered by disgusting mega-tone farts.
My cheeks the colour of plums, I peeked at Keith. ‘Don’t try to blame me,’ he spluttered.
My acute embarrassment made me laugh with hysteria, which resulted in another flurry of farts. When I stood up, everyone was howling with mirth and rolling about the aisles. Laughing, crying and farting, I scurried into the garden and hugged a tree for solace, wondering where I’d ever find the courage to face the others again.
Later in the kitchen, full of love and goodwill, everyone came together to give me group hug. ‘I’m sure Buddha’s still laughing his head off,’ one of our teachers grinned. ‘Thanks for making his celebration so memorable.’