The Hermitage, Part Deux

Picking plums with Patrice, Nicholas, and Nadine
This is the field I meditated in for hours

Tuesday night after the Yoga Nidra retreat, I was in the kitchen socializing with everybody before dinner. Nicholas, Nadine, Mari, John, Patrice, and Susan were all there. Patrice had told me that Ulysses, one of the older long-term volunteers who does construction work, was going to Cortes island in a few days, and could give me a ride. The idea of staying at the hermitage few more days sounded good to me, because I was really enjoying the peaceful setting of the hermitage, the amazing food, the friendly people, and the huge maple tree that had several mossy beds that you could lay back on.

When I first met Ulysses, I asked him what kind of construction work he did around the Hermitage, and how long had he been there. He built several huts for people to stay in with Mike over the last year. Ulysses had wild white hair, a heavy brow and a big wrinkly smile. One of the first things we talked about was how biking through BC was great, and how biking through the states over the next year would be going right through the vortex. He insisted that there’s change coming in the next year, saying that the end of the Mayan calendar is the end of violence, and the end of money.

The exercise we have been doing in this workshop is to generate love in the heart. To do this, we were supposed to think of somebody we love and who loves us as well. I kept going back to sitting on the dock with Michelle by the pond when she put her hand on my heart and told me I had a good soul, and when she told me what she wrote about me in her journal. It gave me that warm feeling. I also thought about good friends, about family, and giving people hugs. The idea was to get that feeling started, then focus on the feeling itself rather than the cause of the feeling. This allowed it to grow in presence.

During this silent retreat, a lot of people went through a lot of heavy emotions. A lot of tears were shed, and a lot of issues were worked through. There’s something about a week of silent meditation that forces you to deal with all the clutter and emotional baggage that you’ve shoved into the attic of your mind. When you’ve entered into an internal journey, you begin to confront any inner demons that you’ve resisted facing for so long. As for me, I felt like I went through the whole experience rather unscathed; I never had any breakthroughs or breakdowns. I had some insights and little personal revelations over the last two weeks, but I didn’t experience the gamut of emotional issues that many people went through here. Maybe it was a sign that I wasn’t doing the meditation right and that I need to keep at it. I told this to the soup chef of the retreat, John, and he placed his hand on my shoulder, saying “Don’t worry. You’re only 26.” I’m just thankful that I had good parents, never had any physical or mental abuse, and never had my heart broken so bad that I couldn’t get over it.

As you may or may not know, we have seven main energy centers, or chakras, in the body that run along the spine. The chakra that is located near your heart and is the center of your being. It has been said that the heart is the sun of your body’s solar system — All the other chakras are the planets. So, when dealing with the heart chakra, you can expect a lot of powerful emotions. It is the center for feelings of love, grief, anger, jealousy, fears of betrayal or loneliness, etc. Yet, I didn’t really feel any of these issues coming up. I felt more love at the first (non-silent) retreat than I did at the silent retreat. I think I still have some lingering issues to confront, but I’m in no rush. I will meet those challenges on my own time. I know one thing, though: I’m definitely going to be continuing my meditation practice now that I’ve gotten into a more consistent practice.

You might be asking me, isn’t meditation just some new age mumbo jumbo that doesn’t really apply to our modern life? And I challenge you with this response. Do you ever listen to your inner body? Do you get bored or restless, fidgety or anxious when you are stuck with yourself during down time? I used to get bored, and would surf the web endlessly, or find movies or TV shows to watch, or work on web sites or making music. Boredom, which is a phenomenon of modern societies, seems to arise when there is a lack of distractions and we are forced to be with ourselves, which, most people find unbearable. Meditation forces us to face whatever is slowly driving us crazy, and many people are scared by this. When I tell people I spent a week in silent meditation, they say something like “wow I could never do that,” saying it’s boring or it would make them restless or whatever excuse they have. I think that most people are unsatisfied and there’s a lingering feeling that something isn’t quite right, but they can’t put their finger on it, so they put their finger on the remote control to their TV instead, or maybe to whatever other hobby they might have.

There is as much to explore inside the inner body as there is out there in space. The deepest states of bliss are available to you with the simple technique of focusing your mind on one thing unwaveringly; the lake of your mind will begin to clear, and you will be able to see down into the depths of your inner body. But meditating in modern life can often be difficult. There are often too many distractions… You might live in an apartment complex with a noisy neighbor, or yappy dog. You might be juggling three jobs just to pay the bills and can’t find any free time. The way I think of it, if you spend 20 minutes each day in meditation, the rest of your day will be much more productive, and you will save more than 20 minutes in the amount of time it takes to accomplish your tasks. Or we can just set our alarm clocks to 20 minutes earlier than usual in the morning. It’s a perfect way to start the day: calm, collected, and centered, ready to handle whatever life can dish at us. Certainly, it helps to go to a silent retreat, because everyone is meditating constantly, so naturally, following along with the rest of the group becomes easier.

On Sunday, I got deeper in meditation than I think I ever have. I felt like I was the watcher of my ego rather than my ego itself… It was like stepping back out of in-body consciousness to something much broader and more widely encompassing. I just felt like a big ball of radiating energy shining brightly… Breathing slowly and deeply was the most satisfying thing at that point. I didn’t even run for dinner when the bell rang because I was so deep in it. When you keep meditating, it just keeps getting better. I’m glad I had all day to meditate, because it does take time to develop. At times it was slightly exhausting, knowing that I didn’t succeed in opening my heart chakra. Yet I kept trying and trying some more. I was finding it difficult to generate love on demand. But I was definitely getting proficient at quickly stopping my thoughts and calming my mind. So I was encouraged by that. During the silence, sometimes, I just wanted to talk to other people. Everyone felt like strangers, sometimes we would acknowledge each other with little smiles, but it was still an isolated journey. We did get time to talk with the teacher, however brief it was. He told me to keep at it, to not give up. To pray to my higher consciousness to let me feel love and to let it radiate.

I told this girl, Jessie, that the smile on her face made me so happy. I could feel her love radiating out, and it resonated my heart and caused me to feel joy. She told me thank you for telling her that. I broke the silence just to say it. I could no longer hold in all the feelings I was having. I’ve had this little thought experiment that I’ve been using to generate love… It involves me walking around to people in the silent meditation and just going up and giving them big hugs. Sometimes, it can get really serious around here with everyone keeping to themselves. The teaching for the day was about manifesting love into action, and I just feel like we all need to express love for each other, and not be so isolated in our own minds.

One thing that has been on my mind lately is the shift that is happening in this world as we approach the infamous end of the mayan calendar. A new paradigm seems to be coming. The old paradigm, in my opinion, is all about miserable comfort. People put up with work to afford their mortgage and their hot tub and their fancy car and plasma TV. Well, are they any happier with all that material comfort? I’d rather have less material comfort and more freedom than a lot of comfort at home and hardly any free time. The global economy is running on fumes, and most people have their heads buried in the sand as they chug along, living lives without meaning as their life-giving natural environment is being destroyed. It’s time to find our true callings, to start asking ourselves in meditation, what is my purpose in this life? How can we be the initiators of the new way?

These are exciting times we are living in, and who’s to say we didn’t choose to be born into these times for a reason? It’s up to us to take a stand, to say enough distractions, enough dysfunctional relationships, enough meaningless work. Time to live up to our fullest potential. We need to learn the old ways and bring our lives out of the insanity of “modern life” and back into harmony with the way of nature, and with each other. Take a risk. If you feel like you may regret not doing something in the future, then do it. If it doesn’t work, then at least you tried. And you can always keep trying. Nobody ever accomplished anything great without taking risks. We not only have to hold the vision of the future we want to see in our mind’s eye — we have to bring it down into the gut and convert that vision into action. Every action begins with a thought.

We must realize that everything has divine nature, but not everything is self aware. As humans, we have the profound ability and the choice to go beyond the ordinary nature of things, and to realize that we are consciousness experiencing itself. Why aren’t we teaching children from a young age about their true potential? Think about how the world could change in just one generation if we encouraged the growth of the pure spiritual beings that children really are! If I had been working on this stuff since I was little, I would already be enlightened.

The maple leaves are turning color, and fall is setting changes into motion. The day’s theme, provoked by the clouds and rain, was death and decay. What I want to know, is, is there love in death and decay? If love is the force of the universe, is death just a manifestation of that? Today, Lama Rodney talked about the horrors he saw in India of the poverty and sickness that is rampant. He said we have to meditate on the ugly as well as the beautiful. He said it’s not all heaven and peace and love. We have to accept and embrace the totality in order to open our consciousness. New-agers have left out the “10 stages of death & decay” meditation that has long been a tradition of Tibetan buddhism. The new-age spirituality is completely sanitized and all focused on The Light, love, and happiness. It denies that death and ugliness are part of life.

I hope not, but the thought has entered my mind: will meditating on death, loss, disease, and grief make me depressed? My thought was, no, it won’t, because when we totally surrender to the greater forces of the universe, we have a serene acceptance and surrender of all that is, including the ugly and dark. But it’s so much easier to say that when I’m dry and warm and comfortable, isn’t it? One of the stories Rodney told us was of a beautiful Indian woman coming through the crowd, looking straight at him. This was unusual in Indian society at that time. He soon realized why: she had leprosy, and was coming to beg for money to pay for her own cremation. She had lost all her fingers and held out two stumps to pocket the change with. There is so much suffering in the world — and we want to know — why? I would have a hard time accepting everything if I was dying of leprosy. I know that much. Is it possible to dis-identify from the body so that you are detached from suffering that the world always seems to inflict upon us? Or is that impossible; is that the reason why buddhists want to escape the cycle of birth and death that keeps us suffering? So many things to think about on this subject.

On Friday morning, I awoke to a cloudy sky punctuated by gaps in the clouds where the sun would burst through. This was my last morning at the hermitage. I soaked in the peacefulness of the wavy fields of tall grasses in the early morning light, and began walking through the shady dew-soaked forest to the kitchen for my last meal with all of the volunteers. I was eager to check my e-mail to see if Nayte had gotten in touch. I had never met him, though I could tell that this was just another step in the sequence of events that would lead me synchronistically along my journey. Out of the blue, I was contacted by Nayte because of my blog. He had downloaded my album, Six Minute City, on the free electronic music web site Ektoplazm. For the past several years, he had been involved in the organizing of a party outside of Tofino & Uclulet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. He visited my blog and saw that I was on the island, so naturally, when he was scouting for DJ’s to play, he got in touch with me. This was perfect, because I had been wanting to go to Tofino. Almost every local I had asked where to go next, they said Tofino, because it is so beautiful, and there’s a lot of enormous old growth trees there. However, they would add, they didn’t recommend biking there, because the road that weaved through mountainous passes on the way was treacherous for cyclists. So, naturally, when Nayte told me he could give me a ride, I enthusiastically agreed.

When I entered the kitchen around 8am, Patrice was chopping fruit and making a crepe mixture for breakfast. I said hello, and checked my e-mail to see if Nayte had replied with a location to meet at. Sure enough, there was an e-mail from him waiting for me. He said we could meet in Coombs, a touristy little town featuring oddities such as the “goats on the roof” restaurant and market. We were supposed to meet at the military surplus store at 1PM, which was a mere 5 hours away, and I hadn’t even packed up my tent. So, I ran back to my tent, quickly packed everything back onto my bike, and happily ate the first few crepes in the batch. They were so delicious. I was going to miss the food here. We told patrice he should open a crepe shop on Denman island. It was something I had never tried; vanilla crepes filled with chopped apples, bananas, clementines, sprinkled with granola and topped with hot ginger plum sauce. It was pretty deluxe. I said thank you for the breakfast, then said my farewells to everyone. Back onto my bike, back on the road. I was happy to feel the weight of my loaded bike and the wind on my face again.

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