Guest Post by Ariele M. Huff.
The rhododendrons were in full bloom as I drove up the steep road to Breitenbush Hot Springs Retreat and Conference Center in Oregon.
I’d never been to a Vipassana Retreat, didn’t know what one was, but this looked promising: abundant natural beauty, a historic lodge, and cozy cabins. The dining room was serving up my first vegetarian meal—a sweet butternut squash lasagna and berry crisp.
After settling into my cabin, complete with an assigned roommate, I went with her to the amazing hot springs where we gabbed in the warm rhododendron-scented water. I recall thinking, heaven should be exactly like this.
Soon, we all gathered in the lodge to begin what we’d come to do—Vipassana. This ancient Buddhist form of meditation can be done in several ways, but the main focus is the development of witnessing—thoughts, sensations, feelings. We were told that this was a silent retreat—no more hot springs chats. Also, no alcohol or squashing bugs (Vipassana requires no killing).
Our main workshop activity would be walking meditations, so instruction began immediately. The first order of the day was to shed our shoes, but mine had already been cast aside.
The stance was important: a low center of gravity so our energy and the earth’s could flow easily—slightly bent knees, upper arms against our sides but from the elbow raised almost as a balancing counterweight.
Each movement was to be slow and fully felt—observed. The heel of the front foot touched the polished wood first, then we slowly rolled our weight ahead onto the outside edge of that foot while our back foot and leg propelled our weight forward until we stood fully enough for the back leg to leave the floor and move…ever so slowly into the advancing position.
My initial tries felt as awkward as a baby’s first steps—embarrassing, especially when the teacher wordlessly re-positioned my back, arms, head, legs, and—while prone on the floor—each part of both my feet.
I’d been walking for years, was pretty adept at yoga, and had mastered basic ballet, square-dancing, folk dancing, the jitterbug, and rock and roll but….
Returning to the cabin that night, I cried bitter tears of anger and humiliation. I’ll leave tomorrow, I promised myself.
After a breakfast of buckwheat groats and soy milk, during which I attempted to convey my displeasure by being as openly defiant as a vow of silence allows, we were back at it.
Straining every muscle not to be so thoroughly corrected again, I managed to stumble mostly when the instructor was busy across the room. Whenever he approached, my highly evolved solution was to freeze in motion with a contemplative expression.
The third day dawned without tears or stomping through the breakfast line. In practice, I began to feel…to really feel how my feet, ankles, calves, hips, shoulders, arms, and head operated as a connected unit. As one.
And suddenly, I was there. The flow of energy rose through me, the soles of my feet buzzed and tingled like conduits as the graceful dance—the indescribable experience of watching my own muscles, tendons, and bones alive and orchestrated—as the dance of life played through me while I observed it like a spectator within my body.
Recalling that moment still makes me cry.
Photo Credit: AlicePopkorn on Flickr