I recently finished a 10 day silent Vipassana retreat at Pomona and as some doors close, more open, life flows on as some lives recede from mine. All is changing.
People start to shuffle in loaded with blankets, cushions, expectant smiles and exuberant voices. The tea room spills over with greetings and home-baked biscuits as old students run to the quiets of their rooms. It’s an eclectic mix of ages, faces and stories.
Male and female are allowed to mix at this stage but soon we are to be segregated. I size up the competition and wonder who will be the gong ringer, who will sit front row and which of us will break the rules first. I’ve heard of people making midnight runs into town for some quick supplies or a rendezvous in the bush with a lover but for me I am happy to stay put. Time is precious and every second away from family is time I want to spend working on my self. Time free of ALL responsibility except keeping this body alive is extremely rare.
I take a long slow slurp on my tea, watching the resident dragon flies guard their territory around the centres water feature and decide to read the leaves in the bottom of my cup. I focus, swirl and leave to settle.
A definite human skull (tattoo style) – never clearer.
I wake at 3.45am as I was asked to be the early morning going ringer – no competition and definitely not a task I would be putting my hand up for voluntarily but here I am, stumbling along the path trying to gong with love. Feels impossible. The only being to acknowledge my efforts is a young joey who peers from its mothers pouch and sniffs the cool breeze. I stand frozen in awe of the moment, watching each hairy nostril expand and contract as if teasing my mind about the upcoming day. Breath is an important focus for the first 3 days in Vipassana training.
Meditation begins , breakfast passes and my mind races through a thousand thoughts before the end of the next sitting. The time is only 10am. I have already adjusted my cushions a hundred times as the lady behind me grunts in disapproval, or so I believe.
It’s amazing how much we share in silence and how much is lost in silent transactions. Eyeball rolls and heavy sighs, a sideways glance to scare someone against taking the last passion fruit slice, coughs and snorts, hairs in showers, farts and shuffles and fragrances of sandalwood. The senses become more sensitive the longer we refrain from talking and I realise true silence is something we probably only find within our own dimensions.
Lunch bell rings and 60 something grateful people take respite from the aches of sitting and gorge themselves on the most amazing food. My plate resembles something of the leaning tower of Pisa. I juggle the glorious load towards the back deck finding some familiar backs already warming in the sun. I compare the toes that hang out from the male side of the screen with mine, pondering age, career and lack of visible scars or signs of earthly connection. How we judge.
Today I became full aware of a few things – my guts and my cravings for food. Vipassana food is so tempting and soothing.
Tea leaf reading – flower
Alarm sounds. I quickly dress and grab the gong. Its blowing harder today and the temperature has dropped. No kangaroos in the dark and no people. I hope my fellow meditators hear me through the trees conversations.
Somehow the meditation hall fills and people begin readjusting their cushions to form mini lounges. The souls karma is coming out as aches and pains, as is mine. I long for breakfast, lunch and rest.
Settling the mind after a year of travels is proving difficult and although the people around me look like rocks of Buddha I am determined to make the most of my time. I smell Miss Sandalwood again and listen to the movements of a local roo outside, praying the tape of Goenka’s voice miraculously sparks into play. It has to be an hour, surely?
Food, shower, rest, walk in the woods along the fence……watch some ants gather seeds. I think the rains are coming.
Tea leaf reading – bent person with a pole walking….(it was lemongrass tea and lots of leaves)
Became aware this morning that I haven’t been the loo for a number two since arriving….more prune juice in the porridge needed.
Gong, early shower, chanting and breakfast. The rain is here in full force as a result of cyclone Debbie. Powers out and as well as the umbrellas. People are walking barefoot to save their shoes and our meditation techniques are being delivered by a battery operated old school tape deck.
Morning chants done – breakfast is on. Goenka’s chants provoke an inspire me this morning and I feel the gratitude for having heard the Vipassana in conversations with friends. Grateful I made the decision to just go.
The people are moving slower now but there is still a fight on at the toast table. I saw someone hit the panic button after they had returned to the toaster beside MINE to find their centre made gluten-free bread had been removed and placed on a plate so that the toaster could be used. Drama and tears….emotions running high. HELP – wheres the manager?
I remembered my first course. A great awakening occurred at the toast table. Someone had touched my shoulder and moved my plate (physically moved MY plate) while I was standing there preparing the peanut butter so they could get better access to the toaster. I was in shock. MY PLATE. MY TOAST. It hit me hard that everything I had attachment too was, in my mind – MINE.
My shoulder, my plate, my home, my husband, my car, my kids. My entire life was a creation of my mind including my body. I left the toast and sat on the rear deck crying. I understood that most of my worries were about what I thought was mine and what I should be able to control. All my fears and anxieties came about when I compared and lived either in the past or the future. I didn’t know how to live in the NOW even though I thought I had been.
I realised I don’t own anything except my own spiritual path. I choose that. Everything else is borrowed or a gift. EVERYTHING – yes even your kids.
Toast tables are a great place to discover yourself.
Tea leaf reading – star patterns – a map?
Still no power, still the discomfort of sitting for hours, still is the intention I have set for my mind.
Concentrating so hard on stillness I forgot to read my tea leaves and forgot that when I approach the teacher that I need to take a long slow breath before allowing my words to escape.
Everything is amplified.
Early gong, chant, breakfast, sit and Vipassana starts in enerst today. Both men and women both feel the shift in energy. My determination increases as does the winds of Debbie as the tape deck plays. I glimpse a life before this one wondering if it was mine.
I book in to see the teacher for the first time and decide to ask a few questions I have been longing to ask since my first Vipassana. The result – stay within the confines of the body. More questions arise.
A definite pattern is developing in my day and I understand why monks are partial to forming routines. Remove the second guessing and time-wasting of disorganisation so that all of your time can be spent on your path towards enlightenment.
Lunch, sit, ginger lemon tea followed by reading of peppermint tea.
Tea leaf reading – the number 4 – how appropriate.
The calm of the storm is upon us and the kangaroos make the most of the clear skies and new grass shoots. Half a dozen or so young roos entertain us with a high speed race around the grounds of the centre. One flies like a torpedo towards me and I close my eyes hoping he makes the corner. Skimming its tail against my thigh, I become aware of the adrenalin pumping inside my body. They do 5 laps in total and finish as the gong sounds. Tail skimmer wins.
Sit, eat, shit, shower and sit. I remove all cushions except the original bum one and take a long last glance at the male pinnacle of stillness beside me. He must be over 60 and looks pretty cool in his sarong and loose shirt. I am determined. I am still.
Sit, eat, rest.
I watch the women walking in the bush from my window and note the differences in their gate, their pace and their mannerisms. There is one particular elderly lady who just doesn’t stop. I see her after each sit, before each meal, after each gong. Skinny as, she walks and walks and walks. I wonder is she shaking off some karmic past.
Tea leaf reading – scattered objects (toys?)
Similar to my teal leaf reading really – just a whole lot of mess. I’ve been up for what feels like most of the night following a massive echidna who ripped up all the blue termite lining near the dorms, kangaroos and an old slow-moving python. I watched the moon, myself and my feet on the earth. Its cold and subtly eerie. I like it.
My morning begins like the tea leaf reading of last night, a mess. I can’t concentrate, I cant sit still. My heart becomes heavy with a sadness I have not yet experienced in life. It crawls its way into my thoughts and remains for days. I try to be mindful and allow the process of healing to flow but I form a hatred to these feelings. All is unravelling and my past Vipassana training has left me.
I want to leave.
Gong, shower, sit and eat. Gong, sit, eat and no shower. I feel like shit.
No teal leaf reading today
Gong, sit, chant and eat. Shower, sit and I decide to sleep. I decide not to meditate and say sorry to all those that I have ever judged for not attending the hall when they were supposed too. I say sorry to myself for being so driven and stubborn, I say sorry, close my swollen black eyes and sleep.
Gong, eat, sleep some more.
I wake grateful, clearer and ready to drink tea.
Tea leaf reading – heart – corny I know.
Gong, chant, eat and sit. Gong, sit, sit some more, cells and eat.
I observe a few people moving like they are in slow motion and remember the first time I ever time I really felt awake, alive and in awe of each moment. I too saw the sunlight through trees as a masterpiece of life in action. Colours were painted just for me and the whole of existence sang their songs not with voices or actions but with the energy of their hearts.
I am not in slow motion today but I am clear. I can see how important this moment is for me and how I chose to respond (or not) to the sorrow I have carried for days will determine how my day, my life unravels. Just being aware of sensations is my focus for today. Sadness, pain, sandalwood and vibrations in the ear – all just sensations – linked by an energetic pathway – fuelled by a creative force of undeniable love.
Gong, eat, sit, cells, sleep.
I wake and begin to pack. I want to be ready for when the gates are flung open and my family are waiting in Gypsy Green – our big green bus.
Gong, tea, shower and read the notice board.
What the fuck. I thought I was going home tomorrow, but no – another day and then home. I’m confused and deeply overwhelmed with a tingling sensation on the upper part of my lip. Fluid begins to roll down my right cheek and I observe myself cry for a few seconds. It’s a crazy thing to see yourself. Our feeble mind and even feebler emotions.
I drink tea and focus on the warmth of the cup instead of my feeble heart. We actually stay until the morning of day 11.
Tea leaf reading – definite tea leaves in a cup
My last day to meditate. I am strong again. Gong, sit, eat, sit, sit again, eat, sleep, cells, sit, and tea.
I am focused. I am observing. I am moving forwards on the path I choose at this moment.
Silence breaks today so that we get a chance to adjust back into normality although I think Id like a world that was silent 50% of the time and silence was normal. I listen to myself talking and decide to escape to the openness of a grassy clearing near the hall to remove myself from the instant rise in energy. My body already feels like it is vibrating 100 times faster than normal. People want to share their stories, their lives, their new insight into how things flow – I just want to be thankful for the ease in which my sadness passed. I send some love and metta out to those that cannot let go of such sorrow and live with it daily. For some – all of their lives.
Tea leaf reading – circle – as clear as the skull.
It’s the last morning I get to ring the morning gong and for that I am so damn happy. I complete my cleaning chores, sit, eat, tell a few more stories and listen for the sound of Gypsy Greens engine.
I am aware today of my ability to observe emotions, my ability to tell too many stories and my ability to love. I am aware of my inability to control all things and for that I am truly grateful.
I love my family, my life and you.
Last tea leaf reading – dark green tea leaves settling in a white cup. Beautiful.