Vipassana Express – Sharing in Silence

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.

DAY ZERO

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.

DAY ONE

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

DAY TWO

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)

DAY THREE

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?

DAY FOUR

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.

DAY FIVE

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.

DAY FIVE

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?)

DAY SIX

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.

DAY SEVEN

Gong, shower, sit and eat. Gong, sit, eat and no shower. I feel like shit.

No teal leaf reading today

DAY EIGHT

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.

DAY NINE

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

DAY TEN

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.

DAY LEAVE

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coincidence, Krishna and Aussie Scrub

Farm sit done we hit the road towards southern Queensland to register the bus – I’ve heard its easier there.

Tall, dry barked eucalypts line the highway, one we have driven many, many times before. It all seems so different this time round though. The trees seem greener, water ways clearer and roadkill evidence of a healthy environment. These perceptions a grateful side effect to overseas travel.

Rambling down the highway I laugh to myself in remembrance of how many times a European person avoided my eyes, chuckling each time I mentioned the Aussie bush. Bush in Europe means your vagina so I use ‘scrub’ a bit more now days although it doesn’t seem to do the density of our forests any justice.

Toilet stops, ocean swim, fuel and green grass adventures – we look for our first camp – Northern Rivers just before you enter into Yamba. No toilet (quick wee Ok) but the area is clean, pretty quiet and beside the river. There were about 4 other campers here.

Campsite location

Light rain and warm temps motivated the mosquitos to join us for breakfast which we collected from our immediate surrounds – mangoes, strawberry guavas and waragal greens to which I added some eggs. My daughter is into wild crafting and all things survival so her skills of seeing the edible amongst a bare patch is tested and appreciated often.

Early start (toilet needed) – we headed further north. Brunswick was only a few minuets drive off the main highway and well worth the stop – swim, boat love, people meet and expensive delicious food treats.

The kids made camp on a blanket I had thrown under the shade of a massive Poinciana, slicing open a watermelon with newly gifted knives from their Pop while I made some green mango salad left over from this mornings harvest. My husband and I talked about a dream to live aboard a boat maybe at a later date as we watched a gorgeous little cat sway from side to side in direct view from our bus.

Right at that moment a man dressed in loose shorts, pin striped business shirt and broad rimmed hat approached the girls and began talking. I gave him a min before wandering outside to join the conversation.

“Thought Id introduce myself as you looked like home schoolers too”…..”I’m Peter”

I checked out my two daughters – one was recording specific notes and diagrams about various animals tracks you might find in the grasslands of outback Australia – the other artfully filling a page with dreamscapes and visions.

“yeh we home school, my names Tamika.”

For the next half an hour my husband and I chatted with Peter and found an instant connection. He had natural schooled his kids for ALL of their schooling and when his son turned 15 they had bought a catamaran to live on as they were looking for a challenge. Yes – its was the exact cat we had been eyeing for the last hour. If it wasn’t for the pressure and time restraint of registering the bus (as well as a rotten painful tooth) we all would have jumped aboard his catamaran and become his crew for the next week or two.

We said goodbye to Peter, feeling our paths would cross again sometime, cleaned up the remains of the watermelon and bounced our way towards the highway only to miss the turn some few hundred meters later. Dammn – oh well – the view was all new from this higher bus aspect and the northern rivers area is just so beautiful with its majestic mountains and energetic forest gullies.

A thought came to us once we neared Murwillumbah that just one year ago a friend had taken us to a Hare Krishna joint somewhere in the hills near here. We stopped in town for a couple of quick supplies and decided without a GPS or inside knowledge it was just too much trouble to find directions out the Krishna Centre.

No more than 5 seconds later 2 freshly shaven robed young men rounded a corner and slammed into my husbands shoulder. They hugged, chatted and smiled their way into our souls in a heartbeat. Yep – they were from the centre and would happily escort us out. I love a good energy line up (mainstream coincidence).

Sunday sees the Hare Krishna centre open its door to everyone for a vegetarian feast by donation and music accompanied with various teachings, dance and chanting if you wish.

Situated in the beautiful Tweed Valley in far northern New South Wales, about ten kilometres from Murwillumbah, the Hare Krishna farming community, New Govardhana, embodies this yearning for a gentler, simpler way of life. They have an amazing timetable suited to families, backpackers and spiritual seekers – yoga, WOOFing, camping, day visits, farming, school, festivals and much more.

Hare Krishna Centre Northern Rivers

Goodbyes said to our two new monk friends and butter balls exchanged we made the slow long walk back to the bus. TIP – don’t take a 12 tonne vehicle to the centre – it wont get across the bridge but the river is excellent for a freshen up.

We slept alongside a river this night – not the best camp at all but our minds were not on finding an oasis. The journey home to the Sunshine Coast went uneventful and rather quick.

This week – modifications, teeth pulled, curtains and home schooling.

I believe nothing is by chance and the life we lead is determined by the life we lead.

Love to all

 

 

Beds of War and Porridge

When I lay my head down to sleep tonight, I am not thinking about the usual travel adventures but of war and the long lingering effects it has amongst its people and upon the land.

Its been about 20 years since the war in Croatia raged. The ruins here tell a similar story to that of the locals. Run for your life or be destroyed. Thousands of homes, businesses and farming land lay ruined or scarred across Croatia but in this village, at least for the duration of the war they lost everything. Tourists, families and what military lived, ran for their lives or took to the sea. Most have never returned.

Stumbling across these abandoned buildings while trying to find a free camp was intriguing for a naïve Australian from the forest. With the personal protection of my husband I walked through many of the rooms and lobbies of these once prestigious hotels imagining a shocking and scary past. Now they are home to few and a novelty for many.

Trashed and littered with rubbish they stand testimony not only to the brutal past but to the disorganised governmental controls of today and a youth with no amusement.

We discovered that when the Bosnians invaded the coastline they took many of the hotels and houses in this area for themselves, using them to house their own. The entire tourist strip was captured by the military and used as a centre point for their warfare.

Today I saw the past and felt the energy of pain and loss. For some they reside here, amongst the burnt remains, with no other options but mostly it just falls apart. Rumble and graffiti joining hands in the current fight against tourism and international property ownership and development.

For me, for my family, it was a reminder how fortunate we are.

I left the ruins this morning, allowing nature and the locals to reclaim their stake but not before meeting Marco who slept in his car right beside our bus. A local guy who felt the pain of this land just as much, if not more than ourselves. We talked, shared porridge, sling shots, pheasant feathers and dried mushrooms. It was camp site to be remembered.

Love to you Marco and all the people of these lands. So much healing to be done. So much learning from these walls and their scars.