Thursday, September 13, 2012


As I sometimes do, I'm going to begin with conclusions before I tell the tale, because the conclusions are so much more important, more meaningful, than the mere tale itself.

First, while the entire saga was physically difficult for me, I am so utterly glad I went, and so grateful for the many changes I see within myself. I'm at peace. I'm content and equanimous even amidst the fatigue. I'm bothered by very little. Most of these changes were wrought during the past week of service, not during the 10 days of meditation. Some days I could feel the changes happening as I watched the process within myself. Yesterday, driving home and reviewing my time there as the miles passed by, I was shocked to actually realize that I felt love for myself, approval for myself. Of course, there is no self in Buddhism, but the warm feelings of love and approval arose, for the first time in my almost  70 years on this earth. That's no small thing, and it begins to heal an open wound that I've been aware of since my first Vipassana course almost 8 years ago. Being aware of the wound and closing the wound are two entirely different things. I can say with confidence that it's begun to close, and once begun, will hopefully continue to heal. That's big, people. Really big. Will all these changes last? It's hard to say. We're taught that everything changes, that nothing stays the same, and yet over these 8 years I've seen internal changes come and go as well as changes come and stay. I have a feeling that at least some of these changes -- perhaps the more major ones -- will stick around.

Secondly, I had the privilege to work with some of the most wonderful young people I've ever had the pleasure to meet, during this past week. Some of the changes in me are definitely a reflection of them, of the effect they had on me. Two of them were there from the beginning to the end -- Sam and Sarah, both of whom drove down from Pennsylvania just to serve for this week when they learned the center was in serious need of servers for the course. Both have been long-term servers here in the past.  Sam is an inspired cook who has a way with spices I can only envy. He's quiet, but as the days passed and we all got to know one another he opened up considerably. Sarah is just the opposite -- brimming full of bubbly joy, chatter and compassionate thoughtfulness and goodness. We had numerous good conversations since we had to spend our meal times secluded in the women's dorm. Both are young (young enough to be my grandchildren!) I now have another adopted granddaughter (Sherene at Aranya Bodhi was the first and she, too, is a Goenka student). I am just plain honored to know all of them. A couple of other young women came to help for a couple of days at a time, and they were lifesavers as well as also being fine and admirable youngsters. It's interesting, but I had the same reaction to these youngsters as I had to the young people I met at the Goenka retreat center in Onalaska,  WA every time I visited there. That conclusion is that if these young people are the future of this country, then we're in good hands. I can only hope the older generations will not destroy everything before these kids are old enough to be the majority, to change the general tenor for the  better.

I left early, because I was exhausted -- drained. Still, I'd been tired for several days and had held out because I couldn't desert these kids, couldn't leave them to do it all themselves, although I believe they could and would have made it happen. Looking back as I drove home, I realized that when I went back into the kitchen at 9 am after the morning sit and looked at the planning board, I saw that the majority of the work was over. Very few things needed to be done. We were finished with prep for future days because the next day is traditionally mostly leftovers, and everyone leaves early the day after that, with no food to be prepared. Reinforcements had also arrived the night before. Sam and Sarah suggested I sit out the morning, or even the rest of the course, so for awhile I sat on a stool and chattered (I do that when I'm tired). Then I went to my cabin to lie down and while I was there, realized I just really wanted to go home and sleep and rest. If I stayed, I'd still have the schedule to follow [three daily sits plus the 9pm meeting] and wouldn't get much sleep. And I needed to leave soon in order to beat Atlanta commute traffic, so I got up and started packing what little I had in the cabin, then walked next door to the office and told the management that I was leaving. They were supportive, concerned, because they understand how tired I've been. I got the car packed, had a last lunch with them and headed out. Had reinforcements not arrived I would somehow  have held out another couple of days, but I knew 'my kids' were going to be OK, going to have energetic help to finish these final two days, and it was OK for me to leave. MamaCat [me], who that day had turned into GrandmamaCat due to fatigue, sadly said goodbye. But I'll never forget them.

As for the rest of the story -- the 10-day retreat was surprisingly easy from a physical standpoint. A few creaks and squeaks from the old body here and there, but nothing major. Also surprisingly, no emotions came up needing to be dealt with. Mostly, I was just bored. I could get into the program here and there, even had some surprising and interesting results on a couple of sits, but all in all, I once again proved that this is not a technique I can get into on a full-time basis. For me, it's a tool, and a good one, but not a sole system of meditation. I had a great roommate and the only issues spun around the need for 30 women to share 4 bathrooms. Even those were minor. I met some super women, at least one of whom I hope to stay in touch with.

The fatigue began when the course officially ended around 7am on the second Sunday. At that point I became a server, rather than a student. I scrubbed down the bathroom I'd volunteered to clean, then ended up doing lots more cleaning in the dorm. I moved to the servers dorm and spent the better part of the day cleaning and doing laundry. Piles and piles of laundry: towels, sheets, cushion covers from the meditation hall, all kinds of things, in great quantities. Monday morning at 6am (having been accustomed to awaken at 4am) I crept out of the dorm and headed to Beaufort. I ended up spending that day driving so while it was exhilarating in some ways, it added to the fatigue. The next couple of days were spent helping prepare the center for the next course scheduled to begin on Wednesday. I never realized just how much work goes into the turnaround between courses! But, I got the laundry done, the men got lots of landscaping done, and by Wednesday (day 0) the place turned into a madhouse as local people showed up to help get the cooking started for the week, and for the evening meal. After that, it was full steam ahead until yesterday morning. I think my fatigue stemmed from a lopsided ratio of sleep to energy expenditure. The youngsters can sleep easily, during the long afternoon rest period. I couldn't. I could lie down and rest, but not sleep. We had a meeting with the teacher in the meditation hall each evening at 9pm after the evening meditation is over, so I couldn't get to bed early enough to recoup from pushing hard every day.

And speaking of sleep -- it's that time. See y'all another day.

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