Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A rodent, a roach, and a spider

"We took a vow not to kill anything", I whispered to Alyssa in a low tone; breaking the vow of noble silence that we all took five days prior. She was holding my dirty well worn flip flop in one hand offering it up for the destruction of one of the largest roaches I have ever seen. Jacked up and an evolutionary phenomenon.
It was Christmas day, or so at least I thought it was. We had been in vipasanna for five days. I had thought hard to remember the long days as they went by without any connection with the outside world or a calendar. December 22nd, December 23rd, December 24th. I would say it to myself several times a day. I had planned to slip my leftover goji berries into Alyssa's tent as a Christmas gift. In reflection, I'm not sure about the day, but I am sure about the visitors.
Each day we heard a loud gong outside of our dorm at 4am. The next set of bells was distinctly different ringing persistently at 4:25am letting us know we had five minutes to get to the meditation hall for two hours of pre breakfast meditation. As I claimed out of my brilliant one man anti insect tent set up on a one inch foam pad on the floor, I noticed some rather large droppings. Having grown up in the South, I know my droppings. This was definitely larger than a roach but not large enough to be a rat. Gross. Mice running all over the place and relaxing long enough outside of my tent to take a dump. These droppings scattered around the room and against vipasanna rules, but not breaking any vows, I touched Alyssa's leg as she climbed out of her tent and shined my flashlight on the evidence so she could be careful not to smash any with her bare feet. She looked at me with both surprise and concern. I shrugged my shoulders. I didn't know what else to do. I collected all of the droppings I could find, some at the foot of the tent some precariously close to where my face was at night. I suppose our friend could have been searching for the goji berries himself. We had been instructed to hand over all of our personal valuables; money, credit cards, passports, jewelry, books, electronics, and food. Some how it had not registered to deliver my goji berries and thus began the mouses nightly hunt.
The day was structured exactly the same as every other day. 4am gong, 2 hour meditation, breakfast, 3 hours of meditation, lunch, 4 hours of meditation, dinner, 1hour of meditation, 1 and 1/2 hour discourse followed by 1/2 hour of meditation. On this day in between I tossed the berries into Alyssa's tent and she eventually found them, but of course not only could we not talk about it, but we could not even make eye contact or gesture the happening.
After evening meditation, we retired to our room as usual. Upon entering the room Alyssa's energy was fired up and she was attending to her backpack with great alertness and concern. She mouthed the word roach and pointed to her 40 lb pack. We had both already dressed for bed which meant we were wearing very small cotton shorts and skimpy shirts. Not appropriate for Indian public but fine for our room of three. Imagine two grown women tossing a backpack back and forth kicking and poking at it to encourage the beast to show himself. There was inappropriate giggling and great sighs as we dance and hopped around the room. I smartly gathered my awesome flashlight and made contact with it. I grabbed the can of off insect repellent and thought I could stun it or poi sen it. I sprayed away with our baby powder scented off and made direct contact with it at least four times. It slowed him down a bit, but it became obvious that this alone was not going to take him down. We were all dancing around the room until eventually he was cornered.
Alyssa was holding my flip flop and the death of this roach was weighing unusually heavy on my mind. "We vowed not to kill anything", I whispered. She looked at me now shrugging her shoulders. This was my duty as I was the one closest to the roach and in the course of the year of rooming together it had become a near nightly ritual back in Santa Monica to capture and release spiders from Alyssa's room. She would often watch me release them outside to be assured of proper removal.
I knew I didn't have much time as my history with roaches shows they are both fast and resilient. I had no idea how long the blasts of off would be in effect. I was intent not to break the vow and I quickly scanned the room and saw a huge plastic Target bag that was holding my shoes. I dumped the shoes and with a deep breath of courage, I put my hand inside of the bag and in one brave swift move lunged forward and grabbed at the beast with my bagged hand. There was no denying I had in my grasp as I could feel his feet struggling against my fingers. I had been training my mind all week to remain equanamous (this was a true test). Shivers running throughout my body feeling him trapped with such a small barrier between us. Alyssa forged the path through our dorm and outside to the nearby forest where I with great force and directness opened my hand and through the beast into the woods. In the past, in all other circumstances I would have smashed this bug. This vow was serious and yet I could see the alternative. This alternative was not only emotionally unpleasant but would have been physically inappropriate as smashing this size of a roach would have left me with a major clean up. What I had chosen seemed to be morally, spiritually, and physically correct.
Huge sighs of relief abound and smiles. We headed back to our room. I felt a great sense of accomplishment and usefulness. I was feeling resourceful and creative. Vipasanna is about equanimity regardless of what is happening. For the fifth day in, I think we were doing OK. I climbed into my tent and Alyssa let out another concerned sigh. I glanced over at her, now what, I thought. Her nemesis, the spider, which she has been dealing with nearly daily since I've known her was not only in our room, but inside of her tent. Yikes. She mustered her own courage and went in after it, tissue in hand. Her own capture and release. I was so proud of her. She was certainly overcoming her fears.
We turned the lights out and each breathed in and out the events of the day. Our Christmas day in India, in vipassana. The morning brought screeches of a mouse, a sound I had never heard and didn't know was possible. The mouse had run from an area close to my head and directly onto and across our third roommate who just happened to be our cook and den mother, a native Indian. She shot up and kept her cool as she scanned her bed for the mouse. Eventually we found it up in the rafters peering down at us. I was sure he was ready to leap onto my face at first chance. It had been our nightly visitor and continued to be so throughout the week.
A big shout out at this point to Steve, the man who suggested we purchase tents to protect us from mosquitoes. Who knew these tents would also keep us safe from so many other creatures of the night.
Vipasanna taught us that all things come to pass. Life has a rhythm. We were not able to talk about the incident for five more days. We laughed and giggled so hard recounting our Christmas day, breaking some vows and keeping others. What will be will be. We did our very best that week and have both come away with some profound lessons. That night and the following morning had me feeling more connected not only to myself but also to nature and all of what she is. Of course, we still get startled from time to time, but we both realize there is a place for all of us to come and go-to exist and to pass. Us, the rodent, the roach, and the spider.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Leaving India and taking her with us

Surrender, compassion, gratitude, peace, equanimity, connection, solace of the mind and heart...these are what come into my awareness as I sit to write our last entry for our time in India. We stayed in Tiruvalamanai longer than we thought we would because we were both wooed by the mountain. There are two "caves" that Ramana spent much of his time in on the mountain and we both enjoyed the energy and vibrations of those places. We circumvented the mountain with our Finish friend Arrtu. I read somewhere that circling Arunachula was energetically similar to going around the globe. Lucky us we saved time and money! We found ourselves time and again on the mountain, reading, playing, dancing, listening to music, meditating, meeting friends, enjoying sunsets, being. We sat day after day in the meditation hall and listened to the vedic chants. The quality of quiet was different than during Vipassana. It seems as if vipassana allowed for an opening and a richness, a depth to occur, that was my experience. The company was again entertaining and diverse. The local restaurants served the food we needed. I seem to have replaced my starbuck's grande triple breve latte addiction with that of masala tea! And so it goes. We have been playing games with awareness and intuition and verbalizing our sense of knowings and watching the magic unfold before our eyes. We have met some brilliant shining Spirits who take us in and show us things that are important to them. We have taken late night motorbike rides and meditated at ancient temples under the moonlight. We have been delighted at what has been reflected to us in our journey in India. Again, when I close my eyes, gratitude for life and for this experience floods through me. We missed our flight out of Chennai and have made the best of our layover here. We plan to leave for Thailand tonight and may spend the day at the cinema watching the movie "Australia" which seems appropriate as it follows our time in Bali. Thank you for your love and support. We have been blessed to be witnesses to the way life is expressing itself here in this vast and complex region of the world. All is well... All is well...
much love, Alyssa and Laurel

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Breaking the Silence

Writing about the experience of vipassana is difficult. I think that is because it is an intense introspective experience, highly individualized and obviously personal. For me, it was one of the best choices I have made in my adult life. The environment was both beautiful and challenging. The morning gong was rung at 4 am and we started each morning with 2 hours of meditation before breakfast. Basically time to eat and pray with an occasional bathroom break. We washed our clothes and hung them out to dry, which to me felt extremely feminine and purposeful. We were in complete silence for 10 days and meditating for 10 and a half hours each day. We now have no issue sitting still with our legs crossed which has been quite nice since our arrival here in Tiruvannamalai and the ashram of one of Alyssa's teachers, Ramana Maharishi. We left the silent retreat and headed to Varkala, a wonderful beach town close by. We played in the ocean, met wonderful people, and finally after ten days chose what we wanted to eat from a menu. We flew across India from west to east and took a four hour bus today to be with this wonderful mountain named Arunachala. Peaceful, expansive, connected.
We haven't taken any pictures for awhile because the batteries here in India are only good for about 4 pics. We will send some along as soon as the friends we have made along the way send them to us. We are both filled with so much gratitude for this experience and we both feel the love and support of all of you! We really do.
Thank you is not enough of an expression for the appreciation we have for those of you sending us love and notes and thoughts.
We went into the silence and explored ourselves and found you. Much love to you all.
Alyssa and Laurel