Vipassana in Autumn
Autumn is no longer a suggestion. Days are suddenly much shorter. Leaves are definitely turning. One can feel the sap begin to descend downwards, into the earth.
Everything senses this change. Meals are warmer, more cooked food, less salad.
Suddenly the summer fruit we have been gorging upon is replaced with apples, pears, guavas and citrus. Walks with the dogs are taken earlier at night and later in the morning. With no television we tend to land up in the bedroom for longer periods. And with this slowed down existence the opportunity seemingly arose for me to choose to do vipassana or not.
There were many years where I had a total averstion to travelling to India. Felt that the suffering would be too great and that I did not want to witness it.
And yet one day I felt the strongest urge to go and a month later I was there.
So it is with vipassana. For many years a particular friend - Bruno - would venture on these inner journeys and return radiant and alive but also with tales of hardship. The hardship part made it an unlikely happening on the map.
Not that there is an aversion to discomfort, can do it easily, but not a seeking out of it voluntarily.
And so this dance of avoidance has thus existed for years.
Although we don't follow school term times in any ardent way, there is a joy when
the other kids are vacationing and one feels that one can be seen wandering around the village with the brood legally.
About a moon phase ago, the household was harmonious and I set off for a bike ride.
Had a big fat grin on the face. Life being particularly sweet. The leaves slowly turning, the puffs of smoke around the village, kids being totally inspiring.
And on the ride away from the home noises I was drawn to a garden where I sometimes sit. No one ever enters this space and I sometimes muse that it only exists in my reality. I am always alone in it apart from a paradise fly catcher that always alights in the space. Spend a few hours in here, leaning against some smooth, fat bamboo. Move deeper and deeper into the silence.
When the light changes I start making my way home. Of course I cycle directly towards Bruno who is cycling directly towards me. He in a bright red shirt and moi in a blue one.
We stop and chat. He tells me he is going on a vipassana in four days time and how he is really looking forward to it. He spoke of the venue which is not far from here. Only an hours drive away. No airports, tickets, visas none of that shit. Just a gentle meander. He also mentioned how the area reminds him so much of Ladakh, how beautiful it was.
I hear my voice asking when the next course was. A bit surprised of course.
And yet not at all surprised when a short while later I put my name for the next one.
And there was space beside it being the easter weekend. And even better I got a lift with someone who knows back roads through valleys I have not even contemplated.
My bed had two windows. Both looking onto mountains. The neighboring farm was a small game farm and at night one could hear the hyenas and lions. I slept with the curtains open and fell asleep under the stars and the waning moon. An owl would perch on the washing line post for a while and would make those occasional verbal calls. And then a diurnal bird would start calling out to the new day and the owl would be silent till the next night. What signaled the change of day so specifically that both these creatures would be aware of and respond to?
Waking up in the dark to a small bell and for a second the mind would say, go back to sleep and yet I would find myself arising, heading for the bathroom, splashing cold water on my face. Wakefulness. Walking in the dark to the hall with a soft glow of invitation. And there I spent 12 hours a day for the next ten days.
One night a snake slithered into the hall and there was some reaction to it.
Sage moved into me and I picked it up and placed it in a bucket.
A violin spider shared my room with me and honoured my space by staying on the other side of the room.
A pregnant ghekko also came to stay for the duration.
There was a plumbing problem in the chalet that at times was pretty gross, and my chalet partner left, leaving me to a room by myself. And then the plumbing problem got fixed. Delight arose.
For the first few days, I became a meditator. A new experience. With the technique meditation happened and mind was silenced, awareness sharp and focused. But oh dear the breaks those first few days showed me how alive my inner bitch still was.
Heap more food on your plate why don't you would be my silent comment to someone over helping herself. Don't you know there are another 20 people needing to eat.
And then I would go back in the hall and silence would take over again. Until the next break when mind would break free like a cobra after being held in a tank for a few days.
On the 6th or 5th night I can't recall but the discourse changed from being profoundly interesting to being buddhist dogma. All about the only way to relieve your samskara would be to follow this practice directly for the rest of your life.
And perhaps if it had not gone on for so long it could have snuck by me without the challenger arising.
Anecdotes about Buddha and his life and followers but to me the most vital of his teachings being ignored -
Events happen, deeds are done, but there is no doer -
all there is is consciousness.
Emptiness is form and form is emptiness.
And at that moment I stopped being a meditator and just sat there quietly.
A pointer arose which had been with me for a few weeks, well did not arise but exploded - 'There is no becoming - you are already what you seek".
And with that it became apparent that what I was seeking was right here and now.
It was This. Ever present, unchanging, stainless.
And who I believed I was played out its role on this pristine screen with much aliveness and colour.
So clearly perceived that what I am is unaffected by anything.
The most tragic event could befall me such as the loss of my family and yet I
would be unaffected. Even witnessing the end of the planet as the sun gets active.
The greatest joy could befall me and I too would not be in effect of it.
Pristine clarity, Emptiness giving rise to fullness and merging back into emptiness.
In the breaks if I was not contemplating from under a fig tree, I found myself under a rhus tree with a universe of bees collecting the pollen. The weather was magnificent - there would either be an intense wind and chill prevailing or it would be beautifully clear and warm. Nothing insipid, just sheer majesty and wonder.
Discovered some almond trees that were tucked behind others, dropping their nuts into deep compost where they lay undiscovered. Found quince bushes and pomegranates that were not too badly stung. One day I took a fallen twig and wrapped it in a piece of bamboo and then tied a piece of grass around it. When I next walked past it someone had added a stone, and then there was a guinea fowl feather, and then a geranium flower - a shrine unfolded. And then there were several of them along the various pathways. Such a deeply human need to create sacred images and forms.
One session was sitting so quietly and for the first time felt the sensations that the rest of the group had been experiencing for days - (always the last in the class)
they started to intensify and my attention was drawn to the base of my spine - and I said no to it - I said no to anything other than the most ordinary experience that I could access any time.
I knew that if I had a lights one experience I would spent the rest of my life trying to recreate it.
Again and again I said no to phenomenal potentials, just slipped back into the ordinariness of sitting quietly and the majesty of it.
The Fiscal Shrike.
The teachers asthma spray and crinkle of throat lozenge papers
The sniffing/coughing,sneezing, yawning - suppressed for as long as possible and then exploding outwards.
The acorns bombing onto the corrugated iron roof.
The liberation ...... from the belief that I need to be liberated.
On the final day, talking had commenced. We were eating breakfast and were called out to behind the kitchen, in the male area. This is where it met the game park.
We were called to see an elephant. And then another appeared. They were very close to the fence. A few of us said hi but that seemed a bit silly. So I asked Bruno to sing and he did. A 'Dead can dance" number. In the cold morning air, his voice carried each note in the universe. The male elephant walked down into a donga and bowed and raised his trunk and remained like this for the duration of the song.
Ganesha himself was in that moment.
And in the week of my return earth is stretching and shaking, belching and groaning, doing some powerful emetics. Tectonic plates moving, air traffic coming to a standstill. The sun shooting off a prominence that is breathtakingly spectacular.
The Earth seems to be ready to reach her own point of singularity. I watch it all in wonder and delight.
And light a candle to echo Buddha's prayer:
May all beings be free
May all beings be peaceful
May all beings be liberated...........
And may we all learn to share a leaf of substance as these blessed creatures do.
It dawns on you
that this is what I am,
this simple everyday presence
just as it is.