Monday, October 19, 2015

Nature-inspired pleasures

A little over 24 hours after arriving back home, I'm almost back to whatever passes for normal in my world. Almost, but not quite. Nothing serious -- just wiped out and sleep deprived. And I've had errands and laundry to do today, including washing the messenger bag I carry daily, my wallet and my sitting cushion all together in a separate load. The first two items had been the victim of a leaky ink pen (got all over my hands in the market today), the latter just in general need.

I'm glad to be home. That may be an understatement, actually. I'm really, really, glad to be home. The 10-day torture test lived up to its billing, but the torture this time was mental, rather than physical. My body held up remarkably well. But boredom set in early, as did frustration with a teacher who was overly strict about her flock walking out in the sunshine when they were supposed to be meditating. Imagine that! Her assistant hit me one day, told me to go either into the meditation hall or my room and meditate. Afterwards, I found that I certainly wasn't the only one. I called her the meditation police, one other woman called her the kommandant. The latter seems more fitting.

So -- since I had to be cooped up in my room much of the day, outside the allowed hours of personal time and required hours in the meditation hall, frustration and boredom reigned supreme. But, the overriding teaching of this course is that we should 'remain equanimous' in all situations, whatever life brings us. So, the last few days gave me an excellent opportunity to practice the art of remaining equanimous regardless of frustration and boredom. That's never a bad thing, really.

Aside from all this, there was much to appreciate about my time there. The views of Mt. Rainier are always awesome, whether it's shining in the sun or playing peekaboo with clouds and mist. One of the best parts of the day was walking in the field after breakfast -- which fell around 6:30 just as the sky was lightening up for the day. From the field, we could watch the sun rise over the Cascades as we walked. Some mornings were clear, with spectacularly brilliant oranges and pinks reflecting on long strands and layers of tiny puffy clouds amidst the blue. Other mornings were misty and ethereal, the colors more muted, the other women in the field turned into fuzzy silhouettes against the pinking sky, the brightness of the sun as it crested the mountains. Most mornings I longed for a camera. Big spider webs dripping with rain or mist. Photographs waiting to happen.

There were also deer in the fields. Two families, from what we saw. Two does, 3 fawns. One day just as we sat down for lunch overlooking the field, the deer were up close to the developed part of the property and the fawns started playing, chasing one another around in circles, across the field and more circles, up the hill and onto the mowed area around the residence hall, all over the place. The smaller of the does was also in this play time. For people who dwelt in silence, with no outside entertainment, this was awesomely fun and sweet to watch. I've spent a lot of time out in nature, but this is the first time I've ever seen deer at play.

Another morning, a doe and two fawns were in the field where we were walking with the sunrise, grazing peacefully in the higher weeds as we walked in the mowed paths through the misty darkness. They saw us, but had no fear. Another morning, around 8am as we were headed to the meditation hall, these same deer were grazing up in our midst, right around the entrance to the hall. One of the women was inside looking out, while the rest of us watched from a discreet distance as a curious fawn walked over boards and concrete up the glass doors and peeked inside. Something -- perhaps his reflection -- startled him and he jumped away, slipping on the wet boards causing a loud clatter with his little hoofs. No harm done -- they eventually moved away and we moved on into the hall for morning meditation.

There was more -- mostly nature-inspired, but these are the things that come to mind at the moment. We had warm sunshine, misty fogs, a day of stormy rain and wind, but not particularly cold and never really unpleasant. Food was good -- although my body is already happy to be back with a familiar diet, and so is my mind. I don't know what it is about the food in these centers, but the last two times I've been, in wildly varying parts of the country, I've been plagued with uncomfortable bloating and gas and elimination systems that almost completely shut down. That's gone, now that my diet changed -- and it changed around 7:30 yesterday morning when I stopped at the first McDonalds down the southern pike of I-5 and had a large coffee and an egg mcmuffin. I inhaled both! Pizza and beer for lunch made the transformation complete. Today, back to healthy diet food.

So -- long story short. I'm still really tired and really sleepy, but those will pass soon enough.


  1. Ha, good to hear you survived your retreat. I did a Goenka retreat a few years ago, and haven't worked up the courage yet to do another one. I was warned about gas and brought a supply of Beano, it helped a lot. I also figured out how to sneak cold black coffee into my room after lunch so I could drink it next morning when we got up at 5 or whenever it was - I was so muddle headed, going into withdrawl without it.

    It makes other retreats feel like going to a spa. But I liked the intensity and simplicity of it, and had some strong insights into how I was creating my own suffering. One incident I remember was that I was cold and became very angry at the retreat organizers, who I blamed for deliberately turning down the heat to make it unpleasant. I huffily wore all my outdoor clothes and sat through the evening video radiating anger and hatred - and felt like crap. I suddenly let it go and felt that wonderful relief and a feeling of freedom.

    I also remember, late one evening when people could listen to other people's questions, a woman, who I knew was pregnant, asked the teacher plaintively, 'Why is it so hard?'. The teacher very kindly said to her, "Because life is hard, my dear." Then many months later, I found out her baby was delivered stillborn. I don't know whether she remembered that moment in the retreat, but it made a big impression on me.

    Someday when I'm not so tied down I'll do some more.

    Take care, Jane

    1. Hi, Jane. You actually had coffee?? I didn't think any of these centers served coffee, ever. Neither of the two I've been to do, and I always miss it. Which is why I'm so familiar with the McDonalds on I-5, about 30 minutes drive from the center. This was my 4th visit up there, and I've never missed stopping for coffee even though I don't love McDonald's coffee.

      These retreats really are a mixed bag -- which I guess is why I continue to go back. The starkness, the silence, the intensity all force us inside our own minds with little or no escape, which I guess is the point. It's not a place we always want to visit to that degree, it's not always pretty, but it can certainly offer up good insights. I've always learned from them (although not so sure about this one). I was filled with anger at my first one -- shockingly so!

      I don't know that I'll do another one -- the boredom factor was too much. I can't get into the Vipassana technique that much. I can do it for an hour or so, maybe once a day, but no more than that. And not even that much away from the retreats. Then you have the whole day left. I try to observe the mind -- but that goes against their teaching, and I try to abide by their instructions to 'not practice anything that isn't taught there while I'm there'. So within those parameters, I'm left with few choices. My roommate, who was attending her 25th retreat there in 25 years, even said that it was boring as hell! Yet she keeps coming. Guess she's a better man than I!

      Sad story about the woman with the stillborn child. Life really is hard. The challenge is to learn from it, and I think we generally tend to resist that kind of change.

      Great to hear from you!

  2. Yes, they did have instant coffee on the tray of herbal teas at breakfast and lunch, perhaps a particularly compassionate organizer?...I also felt challenged on the retreat because I hardly experienced any bodily sensations. I'd go up and down, up and down and it was all a blank. It was odd, because I normally have lots of sensations (pain! itches, tension). The teacher suggested those were my sankharas, that I tend to create numbness and therefore boredom with things. It could well be true, That's one reason I'd like to do another retreat, see if I have the same lack of sensation.

    1. We had decaf instant coffee, but that wasn't what I was after. I needed the real thing. You were lucky, as I'd have happily taken instant. In retrospect (naturally) I wish I'd thought to take some of those Starbuck Via things. They're actually pretty good, and require only hot water.

      I met two women at the retreat I served in South Georgia 3 years ago who had never experienced any sensations, yet both kept coming back. One was the female manager for the retreat, and the other was a student in the advanced class we were serving, so both had been to many retreats. I was impressed that they would keep returning, when they weren't getting anything. That's determination! I was lucky in that I had sensations in my first retreat. I can do the technique just fine -- lots of sensations, up down sideways and through the body. But even then I can't find the interest to do it often or for long at a time. Alas. And it really is funny how many sensations pop up (such as itches or pain) in an area you are not currently surveying and therefore they don't count. Have you tried it at home, to see if you can do it there?