Once again, as I have many times before, on Friday afternoon I packed my yoga mat, meditation cushion, and suitcase and drove myself to the Buddhist retreat centre, Maitripa. I turned off my car when I parked and paused to appreciate, once again, the huge gum trees and prayer flags lightly swaying in the breeze, many birds, the hills, the sky, and I felt a wave of peacefulness in simply arriving. The anxiety that had bunched up within me from previous weeks began to dissipate. Here, all I had to think about was sitting on my bum to meditate, yoga, internal reflection, walking in the garden, and enjoying beautiful vegetarian meals.
I didn’t feel so nervous about the internal reflection as I had before, knowing that each time I was a little better prepared, in fact each time I meditate I get to know myself a little bit better. And also appreciating that each time meditating is different. You can never really know what the experience will be like.
I suppose my “acceptance of what is” was happening comfortably – well, it was about to get a really good test!
Often my first thoughts upon arrival had been along the lines of “What the hell am I doing here?!” and “What was I thinking ?!” and “WHY do I put myself through these things?!”. Not so this time. Although I could detect those feelings in some of the people arriving as they wheeled their suitcases in to find their rooms. Polite smiles and ‘hi!’ and I said hello to as many people as I possibly could. Partly to try to put other people at ease and be friendly, and partly because I knew we soon wouldn’t be speaking at all.
I was surprised it was a huge group – 30 of us, and an equal split of 15 girls and 15 guys. A couple of us recognised each other, and in the meditation hall it was nice to put my blanket and meditation cushion down on a mat beside a lady that I had also sat beside at a previous retreat.
It was a chilly evening, and it tends to be cooler up in the hills, but the heaters were working well in the meditation hall and in the rooms also, so it was cosy.
After the first meditation session I surprised myself with how comfortably I meditated, both from a physical body comfort perspective and the inner focus of my awareness. I practiced the Chakra Cleanse Meditation (as I’ve been taught in School of the Modern Mystic and I practice regularly) and White Light/Prana/Chi was flowing with ease. In fact, really easily. As the session finished and people began to drift silently out the door wrapped in their blankets, I continued to sit – gazing inwardly, and occasionally opening my eyes to look towards the candle in the centre of the hall – and to see that I wasn’t the only one continuing to sit (there was one other woman about my age). But soon I headed to my little yet cosy room, and as I slipped into bed I remembered the value of simplicity of being here – no TV, no wi-fi, no facebook, and no noise…..soooooo peaceful.
I set my alarm for 5.40am – on the lowest volume as the walls are paper thin. I had bizarre dreams all night and continually woke during the night. However I rose easily just before my alarm. After a hot shower and a drink of water, I took my place in the meditation hall for the 6.30am session. Again I felt the one hour of meditation happened easily for me. I sat comfortable in my body. I practiced my chakra cleansing again, drew in the white light and let it pulse through. I also silently repeated the metta meditation for myself. Loving kindness for myself. We slowly filed outside at 7.30am and then re-assembled in the other hall with our Yoga mats for the Yoga session – which of course I loved!
Each meditation session went well, besides from my hips starting to ache a little, although when we practiced walking meditation in the garden it was good for my hips to stretch and soften. Each time entering the beautiful meditation hall was really special – it’s such a beautiful place, and with such a peaceful vibe about it.
In between sessions I spent lots time writing in my journal, as well as walking around the gardens and half way up the side of the hill. I had told myself to not take photos this time, as I’m always tempted to then Instagram or facebook them! However the flowers and gardens and views of the valley were too beautiful and I couldn’t resist.
Each meal was wonderful – eating in silence, but not alone, we were comfortable together in the quiet enjoying the amazing vegetarian food prepared for us. There was even chocolate cake (egg free and gluten free and dairy free to cater for everyones allergies!) and plenty of fresh fruit including watermelon. What a treat it was to A) not have to cook!…. and B) not have to plan the menu!
In the evenings a large pot of chai was on the stovetop for us to help ourselves, mmmmmm!
Well, everything seemed to be running smoothly in terms of my meditation practice that I questioned the smoothness! However I did soon discover a weak spot, a shadowy spot.
On late Saturday afternoon I opened up my journal to write about my restlessness and the feeling of resistance. I noticed the restlessness in my legs first and then I discovered it in my thoughts. I wrote in my journal how “I kinda distracted myself reading old Buddhist magazines in the loungeroom, and checking facebook on my phone.” And also how “I’m fantasing about FUTURE stuff”.
And then I wrote –
“Almost funny – here I sit in peaceful paradise, dreaming of a future peaceful paradise. How hard it is to be really PRESENT! Because one must be present with it ALL! The lot of it. The comfort AND discomfort.”
I wrote much more later in the evening as I sat with some discomfort of feelings within me. I just sat with it. I wrote about ‘deep acceptance’. And ‘being with myself’. Then before I fell asleep I wrote slowly in big giant letters –
BEING WITH MYSELF WITH COMPASSION.
I slept a deep peaceful sleep, so deep that for the first time in I don’t know how long, my alarm went off – but I kept on sleeping…
I heard the 6am gong and I still had time for a shower before heading into the hall for 6.30am meditation. And how I appreciated the hot water on my skin, and combing the tangles from my hair, how good to dress in clean clothes, warm socks, how nice my moisturising cream smelt. I observed myself as I observed all the little things – my five senses were AWAKE, and the more I noticed the ‘awake-ness’ the sharper and brighter everything became.
In the meditation hall for 6.30am session, after a few minutes I opened my eyes just for the wonder of gazing around at everyone else, looking so still and serene. I gazed at the soft glow of the candles and crystals in the centre. And then I turned my head to the right to gaze out the window and the sky was amazing! A beautiful bright pink! Within just a minute or so the pink faded to a soft grey, and I closed my eyes again. I felt alive as I sat there, still, with my palms pressed to my solar plexus.
Breathing and alive.
After Yoga and after breakfast, I spent more time writing, then walking through the garden. It was quite windy and so I decided to pack my bags early and I packed most things into my car. Suddenly I was ready for home. In fact I resolved I would leave early, straight after lunch, after we could speak again so I could so goodbye properly to everyone. There is always that time to share the ups and downs of the experience of being silent and the meditation, and it’s really interesting to see how comfortable we all become in each other’s presence of so much meditating together….and then being allowed to talk to one another!
Then the news arrived – the roads out were both blocked (one road leads to Healesville and the other to Kinglake) due to numerous fallen trees, because of the strong winds.
The power had been out since early morning and now my phone battery was low. We gathered in the lounge area and by the kitchen discussing what to do. Many were determined they would be leaving that day somehow, to return to work on Monday morning. Three people actually decided to walk into Healesville, about 6 or 7 kms, so off they went.
For the rest of us, with the road still blocked as darkness fell that evening, we were stuck there.
I sadly retrieved my suitcase from my car, and thankfully found my tiny torch. The manager informed us that water in the tank was low, and without electricity he was unable to pump water up (from somewhere – Another tank perhaps)
In the kitchen, our cook prepared us a simply yet beautiful evening meal – rice, vegetable curry, and salad. She gathered us all beforehand so she could explain to take just one scoop of each so the food would stretch out to feed each of us. We all expressed our gratitude for having a meal and a bed for the night.
Still I found myself oscillating between feeling angry and sorry for myself. Because I just wanted to go home! I couldn’t figure who to be angry at, but settled the fact there was no generator, and myself for not keeping my phone charged. Although a generator wasn’t going to get me out of there, but my anger wasn’t listening.
With the last tiny charge in my mobile phone, I called home to tell my family and send them my love. Then standing half way up the hill, madly waving my phone in the air, I sent off text messages to my Monday morning Yoga students to cancel the class. Then the battery died. No more phone.
No power, hardly any water, no heaters, no way to get out, and now no phone.
It was getting dark.
I felt alone.
Yet here I was with other people in the same situation.
What could I do? What else? I wrapped a blanket around me and headed back into meditation hall with everyone else. Beautiful chants played to lead us into meditation. Then the ipod stereo went dead – and with a few giggles, we returned to silent meditation. The hall was lit softly with the candles in the centre.
Returning to my room with my little torch, there was nothing to do except make my bed (again!) and hop into bed. Of course I was missing my daughter and my son and my husband, but I knew they were safe and sound. And here I was with a comfy bed for the night. I was thankful and I slept well. Yet I was also longing for the light of morning, when I hoped the road would be clear. I knew nothing of what else was going on beyond the retreat centre, and simply thought the trees would be removed. Only later I realised of the devastation was spread much further than one road.
Without an alarm, I woke to the 6am gong, just like everyone else. No hot water for a shower, and in any case rationed water so we couldn’t shower. I considered staying in bed, however joined the 6.30am meditation. I didn’t last for long, as I was overwhelmed by a combination of emotions just ten minutes into sitting so returned to my room.
Soon I heard excited voices outside my room and was informed the road was clear; we could go home! I grabbed my things with lightning speed, and joined everyone in the carpark saying farewells. I was so keen to leave, and everyone was smiling away that we could begin our journey home. But it was a scary drive.
There were branches and logs and trees and debris everywhere so I was driving at walking pace. As I drove, I said prayers of thanks to the people that had cleared the road with their chainsaws. In some spots the clearing was just wide enough to get a car through. I had to stop and soon a convoy of parked cars was behind me, all my fellow meditators, and we all congregated to check out the road and the mess. I didn’t know (and yes I scolded myself for being so dumb as to not know) if it was okay to drive over fallen power lines. Why hadn’t I asked more questions or listened properly to the situation? However the guy in the ute seemed to know what was happening and he went ahead. So each of us slowly followed. But my heart was beating and my stomach was churning, and I kept thinking and saying out aloud to myself “Holy C**p, I’m gonna have to turn back now!”
There were several other spots where we had to stop and survey the situation before driving underneath fallen trees. We continued on slowly.
I was reminded of us all sitting in the meditation hall, and how we are all individuals, having our individual experiences, meditating alone within ourselves, but we were all TOGETHER in that hall, in that circle.
And I remembered the words from a favourite movie of mine “PS I love you”……
”If we are all alone, then we are all together in that too.”
We made it to the end of the road and continued on our ways, perhaps to meet again another time, or perhaps not.
Take hot showers when you can.
Keep your phone battery charged.
Keep your water bottle filled.
Have a torch.
Listen to information carefully.
Know that even when you don’t have all the things you think you need, you will still be okay.
And sometimes you will drive under fallen trees and on roads that are scary. And sometimes the road is windy and bumpy.
And sometimes people will support you who don’t even know you…… and you them.
We actually cannot control mother nature – yet she is still beautiful.
And it’s perfectly okay to be just as you are – even if worried, stressed, angry, or whatever – just observe and know that you are human – and perfectly imperfect.
And keep on meditating. There’s so much to learn on this windy and bumpy road.