Fall In East Coast - Super Soul Saturday
Posted by Birju Pandya on Nov 10, 2012
As is our quarterly habit here on the east coast, we recently came together (for the 6th time) to spend a day in cultivation of inner silence. Below are the highlights from the various sessions as well as a many pictures here :) These gatherings are truly a collective effort, and true to that ethos, this write-up is collectively created (my role being the 'uploader')!
After the first hour of silence, this retreat started off in a slightly unique note. We haven't had a new comer celebrate their birthday by spending the entire day at the retreat. So when Surabela announced that it was her birthday, the morning circle broke into a spontaneous 'happy birthday to you...' song. It was evident that Surabela's joyous self had shown up and in a zen-like way answered a question Amit had posed to the group- 'Which self has shown up today?'. This was based on the thought that Smita read around cultivating the no-self and meditation in action. Some others shared that while the mind tries to analyze and divide different aspects of a self (the self at work, the self at home etc.), the heart unifies and sees the self as whole. Some others shared that this was the first time they attempted to sit for an hour and it was clear that their authentic/vulnerable self showed up. Regardless of the varied responses, the feeling of gratitude was palpable in the room.
We were in for a special treat during the ServiceSpace retreat this time. Instead of the normal dial-in into the Forest Call right before lunch, we turned inward into our community and listened to Krishan Patel, who shared with us his recent arduous mental, physical and spiritual journey through Spain and France.
Inspired by a series of intriguing synchronicities while contemplating his personal journey, Krishan, on a whim, bought a one-way ticket to France, not knowing when he would return. The first part of the plan: to walk the Camino de Santiago, a 900 km spiritual trek involving steep hills, mountains and long, dusty roads; where millions of pilgrims (‘peligrinos’) had traveled over the past thousands of the years to reach Santiago de Compostela, the burial grounds of a famous sage.
Arathi, one of the mindful moderators, asked Krishan if he could relate to Nipun’s speech given at a college graduation on what he learned through his own spiritual journey in India – Nipun described his reflections using the acronym W-A-L-K. Krishan relayed some very interesting learnings for himself, and for all of us, as we listened with great rapture:
Witness – During the journey, Krishan found, fortunately or unfortunately, that there were no distractions between his mind and body – and he had a chance to witness his thoughts and bodily activities through every circumstance imaginable: excruciating heat (which melted his glasses!), indescribable fatigue, expansive, blinding plains in every direction, loneliness, fear-filled situations and even joyful moments with fellow peligrinos. This experience proved to be meditation in action, revealing many important, and sometimes difficult, insights to him. It was also an opportunity for Krishan to witness nature and humanity in truly natural settings, making him a keen and appreciative observer to the wonders of life.
Accept – Leaving the world of preferences during his busy life here in the US, Krishan found the journey to be both liberating and challenging. One key insight was that he had to accept his body through every circumstance, even if it meant overcoming his ego about what he could and could not do, physically. Another was to accept tough conditions as they appeared on the trip - relying on just a few pairs of essential clothing (sometimes wet when he put them on!), not being able to find vegetarian food along the way, flies and bees swarming around his eyes through dry patches; at one point, Krishan found himself taking a wrong turn and ended up walking along a scary, lonely highway; because he didn’t reach a village in time, he ended up sleeping on a bridge in freezing temperatures - a night which he will never forget. All of these situations proved to be tests to his natural set of preferences; slowly making him realize that accepting life as it came was his only option – this would be his path to joy.
Love – During the journey, Krishan found instances of true love, one exhibited by humanity in a spirit of kinship and non-duality, especially in difficult times. During one particularly challenging stretch, his right knee began to throb with pain, and each step became excruciating. After inching along, he finally made it to a village, where he met a Spanish father and son duo who had passed by him on the walk. The father asked Krishan to stop by his room, sit on a chair, lifted his right pant leg above the knee, and began to massage his knee with a cream in the most loving manner, as though Krishan were his own son. As he shared this story of selflessness and true love with us, we found ourselves transforming internally, reflecting hard about non-dualistic love and the spirit of kindness.
Know thyself – The trip allowed Krishan to get a deep understanding of what his needs were. All the peligrinos and supporters along the path kept repeating the slogan “this is your pilgrimage, you do what you would like!”, reminding him that his priorities and needs came first. There were times when Krishan needed to be alone on the path, and others when he enjoyed the company of others; or ones where he just felt like laughing or crying, depending on his mood. In all situations, he found that understanding, expressing and fulfilling one’s own needs are key to knowing and loving oneself; which forms one of the highest form of service.
The reflections shared by Krishan inspired us all to think about our day-to-day lives as part of a longer, spiritual, contemplative journey. We were grateful to him to not only take this very important trek for himself, his community and family, but also for sharing his insights and learnings with us in an authentic and open manner, helping all of us reflect on how one can lead life more mindfully, with greater joy, love and acceptance.
After another period of sitting, we eased into a period of writing. The room filled with the rhythm of pens scratching on paper, as we all reflected on a prompt about our "inner traffic". As we went around and shared, it was beautiful to witness the array of insights that poured into the room. Ashish read about witnessing the vehicles of equanimity and joy pass by as he sat in the traffic of his mind--then observed that we are part of the traffic ourselves. Sarika was reminded of an exercise from a previous retreat, when she found herself looking at the types and frequency of thoughts she had and how they affected her attitude. Arathi shared a moment on the phone with her mother, on the anniversary of her aunt's death, where she was reminded of the power of lightness and laughter. We wrote, we shared, we listened. Finding ourselves rounding the retreat's late afternoon, the room was filled with a palpable grace and ease of kinship. One that emerges from a sharing of silence, sincerity, ourselves.
After a delicious meal, we gathered outside to experience a meditation walk. Sarika guided each of us to be aware of our thoughts, our body and our surroundings. We moved slowly through the wooded suburbs onto a path between trees.
We walked together, but we each had different experiences.Some walked slowly, some walked quickly and some of us did a little bit of both. Each of us faced different moments throughout the walk... For a couple steps, we may have focused on our breath and our surroundings; for a couple steps, we may have gotten lost in our thoughts, and, for a couple steps, we may have been caught by the beauty of the life around us.
On the left side of the path, we could see the power of Hurricane Sandy with trees toppled over. On the right hand side, we saw the strength and resilience of nature. Halfway onto the path, we stopped at a lake and stood in awareness. Awareness of everything that was going on around us when we are moving slowly.
In the end, the walk opened our mind and body to the experience of walking with awareness -- not only of the external journey, but the internal as well. We saw that in mindfulness, we were able to see and experience more.
It was the final sit, eyes slowly opening to welcome the closing circle, and a collective exhale that marked the completion of the day's work done by everyone. From the struggles of a hurricane knocking some of us off the grid, to the undertaking of layers that are within us, everyone worked hard to be in the moment and be present. Birju opened up the conversation asking everyone to consider what they were feeling and what they learned. He continued to state the importance of the things which are naturally subtle, almost unnoticeable, yet so profoundly present such as sections of the path which he saw during the walking meditation where certain plants lay without much life. Just as he saw purpose in walking alongside those areas, he also shared a poignant story of the gratitude he felt and how long spoons represented a sharing world. It was amazing to see that same note of gratitude in many other guests during the closing circle. Even if one does not speak the language of feelings as one guest mentioned, it was not very difficult to express thankfulness of the heart. As we came back to Ashish, he walked through a story of what happened during a recent trip with his daughter to tennis class. Mindful of not running late, Ashish left for tennis class with all the essential things he thought he needed - water bottles, rackets, kid in tow and keeping in good time for once. As he arrived to class, he realized as he guided his feet out of the car that the one thing he completely missed was sneakers on himself. Through the balancing act of reaching to class on time, he mistakenly put on his leather shoes rather than sneakers and this was the one thing which the tennis center could not provide him, forcing him to drive back all the way home again. He reflected on the importance of seeing what matters most, and knew in that time he went to retrieve his sneakers that reminding oneself of this very thing was essential. He continued, adding that the presence of all the guests is what mattered the most that day - the one essential thing needed for everything else to fall into place.