Monday, August 2, 2010

Taking My Own Medicine

The one year anniversary of my first vipassana is quickly approaching and I find myself with a deep desire to sit and be silent.  I actually spend most of my days in silence, working from home with just me and my pets...but the silence and sitting, of course, is not the same. When my husband has time, he comes home for a lunch visit and that is always a welcomed break.

In Arizona the weather is still blistery hot.  The monsoons have appeared to offer our leathered skin some moisture; a different type of reprieve than air conditioning.  I have been spending a few afternoons a week in my cousin's pool, laying on my back, water slowly filling up my ear canal while I look at the blue sky with puffy gray and white clouds rolling in from the east.  The cool water provides a gentle way to regain full range of motion from my rotator cuff surgery.  It is my water therapy.  These afternoons have temporarily replaced my swimming practice, which for all intent and purpose, was my most cherished contemplative practice which has been gone for months.  I suspect that the intentionality of getting in my car, changing into a bathing suit, slowly entering the water, and gently reclining on my back while observing the pain in my shoulder has re-ignited an inner calling for engaging in more intentional, and regular, contemplative  practice and has me thinking about that first vipassana, my work in encouraging social justice workers to practice, the concept of "taking your own medicine", and the ability to hold compassion for self.
Last year on October 23, 2009, I flew to North Carolina to be picked up by a total stranger who over the next few days I would speak to once or twice. Most of our interaction was carried out by glancing down towards the ground watching each others feet shuffle by.  Although once I passed by him and could not help but look at him in his face because he had a smile from ear-to-ear, with the look of an innocent child who had just experienced the mystery of unequivocal joy.

When I made the choice to go to my first vipassana I had no idea what I was getting into.  I had been wanting to go to this type of retreat for some time and was happy to find a dear friend, Jesse Maceo Vega-Frey, co-lead one with his teacher, Michele McDonald.  Jesse is a gentle soul whose rough human edges, that we all have, soften as each year passes.  His commitment to his practice shows through his eyes which are clear and sparkle with light.  Over the years, I have come to know Jesse better and knew I could trust him in co-creating this space for me to be.  I have learned that trusting people to create the space for learning is as important as is trusting one's self in being able to handle whatever learning will come in that space.

Since those first ten days of honorable silence, spider webs hold a completely different significance for me.  The vipassana was held at the Stone House, a place I consider my home away from home.  This refuge for activists has a large pasture surrounded by a tree-lined path.  Each day I would take walks on the path wet with moisture.  I would return to my cabin with wet pants and blades of grass stuck to my ankles.  For the first few days I seemed to run into long silky threads made from spiders trying to get from one place to another.  One time I saw a spider who held the illusion of being suspended in the air because I could not see the thread which he occupied.  I had seen that once before in when I had lived in Mexico.  Like then, I just stood and stared; except this time I laughed really loud at how beautiful it was.  Each time after that when I would aimlessly run into these long sticky and seemingly invisible threads I would shutter and let out a little "eek!".  I could not get the thread off my hair, hands, and shirt fast enough...on some level my wonder of the natural beauty of the spider's work turned to disgust of having this sticky substance on me.  At some point, I held up my hands to the sky and said aloud, "Okay! I surrender to whatever the hell you are trying to teach me with these damn webs!"

The next day, I recline on a dock jetting out into the small pond; hands behind my head, not thinking, knees bent, lower back comfortable, and eyes closed**.  I felt the air blow across my face, lift my hair gently around my forehead and cheek.  My breath came and went gentle and natural.  The sun light felt soft on my whole being.  As the wind picked up and I opened my eyes to see a completely in tact spider web floating across the sky.  I could hardly believe I was seeing something so extraordinary while doing something so seemingly mundane.  In truth, the only reason I even saw the web was because the way the sun was gleaming on its threads.  I laughed to myself thinking about how insight is like first it can be overwhelming, it is often fleeting, only available when there is sacred illumination simultaneously with one's eyes are "fully open".  Even now, I think of how incredibly, incredibly captivating the complexity and simplicity of that spider web was.  I think about how it is easy to allow insight to enchant us instead of inform us...the idea that being enchanted takes less discipline that allowing ourselves to be informed.

This year I cannot go to the vipassana held by Jesse and Michele because of a work commitment.  I am disappointed.  I am looking around for other opportunities that are closer to home.  My hope is to find a community who understand (and practice) that the full value of insight meditation takes place through actions off the cushion.  If I cannot find such a community, I will just have to co-create one with others.

**This is a drawing my friend Cassandra created while she was listening to me tell her my experience.

1 comment:

Dawn Haney said...

I went to a lovely insight meditation retreat at Spirit Rock, just north of the Bay Area in California. On Transforming Distressing States of Body, Heart, Mind, it worked with much of the despair that comes in social justice work when we get overwhelmed with our struggles for change. Joanna Macy was a powerful teacher who knows how to transform this despair and suffering by reconnecting us with the larger world. I also learned about the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, a collective of folks applying their meditation practice to social justice:

I hope you find the right place, time, and teachers to practice with! I appreciate knowing you are out here with me on this path to find ways to have meditation & social activism inform each other.