The Metamorphasis Continues..
My second vipassana retreat was another epic challenge, but this time in a completely unexpected way. After the success of my first retreat, I was actually looking forward to another round of noble silence and the rare opportunity it affords the mind to settle into a more peaceful state. There were no tears as I carried my rucksack across Ram Jhulla bridge; this time I walked with confidence, a simple smile on my face.
Shortly after my arrival, I handed in my passport and valuables, changed into my pajamas and settled into my spot on the floor, prepared for my ten days of solitude. Then I was called to the office. Would I please serve as the Dhamma worker?
As it was only my third course, I was not expecting to do service, which basically means that I look after the needs of the women in the course; waking them up at 4 in the morning, making sure they get to the meditation hall on time, serving food at mealtimes and cleaning up afterwards, making sure they have everything they need and counseling them when they have difficulties or want to run away. And as there were five first-time students - all of them younger than 26 years of age - my duties kept me quite busy.
Of course I still sat my ten hours in meditation every day, but this time I sat in the front of the hall, which had the immediate effect of drastically raising the standard on my sitting habits. No fidgeting, no glancing around, no slouching, no giggling...suddenly I had to be the example. Had I simply been a participant in the course, I undoubtedly would have been the last one to the hall, perhaps even missing a session here and there. But not this time.
The one major drawback was the inevitable lack of noble silence, and the result was that I never achieved anything resembling deep meditation or even deep sleep...the very things I had been looking forward to. But what I got from the experience was, I later realised, much more significant.
Sometime around the fourth day, as I noticed I had become proud of "my girls" (the ego is an insatiable beast, indeed), I began to understand what service is: it's the giving up of one's own personal needs. No longer did I contemplate my own suffering during the long sitting sessions, I never thought about the foods I wasn't eating or the yoga classes I was missing. My thoughts were on the girls and making sure they were doing okay. On the seventh day one of the new students ran away, and when everyone noticed her place in the hall was empty, the collective spirit of the group took a dive. I took it much harder than anticipated and had to work extra hard to keep from losing a second girl that very same afternoon.
I'll admit, I was relieved when the course finished. When I returned to Rishikesh and met with Swamiji, he was pleased to learn that I had served during the course. Service, in his view, is far more important than one's own personal meditation or yoga practice. He decided that after three years of taking, it was time for me to start giving something back. He immediately appointed me the newest yoga teacher at Ved Niketan Ashram and I taught my first class the following afternoon. Lesson number one? How to sit properly for meditation.
And Now For the Punch Line..
One of the more difficult challenges of my official induction into service at the ashram is the requirement to dress in white. Now, those who know me well know that I like the colour brown, as it is the colour of all the stains that continuously find their way onto my clothing. White is the only colour I never, ever use in India.
When a person dresses in white, it signifies that he/she is a brahmacharya. It represents the initial phase of a spiritually disciplined life, a commitment to self-restraint as well as complete abstinence from all sexual activity (and onions and garlic).
I found myself giggling at the irony of it all as I walked through the main market dressed head to toe is blinding white cotton and swerving to avoid every possible source of contamination. Yesterday a dog bumped his nose into my leg and I jumped back with a cry. I can touch absolutely nothing. Purity is the new standard - hah! - and for the first time in my life I am forced to take extra care when eating...is it really possible I can finally learn how not to drip food on myself at 32 years of age?
Indeed, wearing white is forcing me to a higher standard still, inching my awareness ever higher..
That's right, it's that time of the year again... Holi Day is also known as the Festival of Colours, mostly because every male creature under 30 years of age runs wild, blissfully accosting each other with highly toxic coloured powders and liquids in God's blessed name. And if you are female and dare to leave your room, you will most certainly be targeted. It is my fourth Holi here in India, and I do believe three was enough. Unfortunately, it happens to be the only free day I have to walk to the neighboring borrough of Laxman Jhulla, where I will plug myself into Skype for some much-needed communication with loved ones in the western world. Needless to say, I will not be wearing white this day.
Easy Come, Easy Go
Volatile power surges have lately claimed a whole host of victims, including my heater, my water heater and my beloved speakers. At least the weather has warmed up and the heater will not be sorely missed, but the loss of music stings a bit. Happily, my computer continues to live, but it's life expectancy here in India is not looking good...
That's it! I regret my inability to post more often, but as I have less than two months left here to prepare for my future incarnation as a proper yoga teacher, my days are filled to the brim. Up at four-thirty and collapsing into bed at nine...as my dear mother pointed out this morning, idle hands are the devil's workshop..
Sending love always,
hari om namah shivaya!
PS: Before I go, a short note of inspiration, which was posted in the main meditation hall on day six of my vipassana service, which happened also to be Ash Wednesday. I fasted on this day and the following message struck a chord. And since I don't have the Sanskrit alphabet on this computer, here's the transliteration;
Tapa re tapa re manavi, tape hi nirmala hoya I
Subarana bhatthi mein tape, tapa tapa kundana hoya II
"Strive ardently, and burn!
Purity comes from burning away the dross.
Gold must pass through a crucible in order to be refined."