Vipassana revisited

This past Sunday (as I wrote about here) my mom and I drove up for a 1 Day meditation course at the Ontario Vipassana Centre.  This was my first time being back there after I had completed the 10 Day course there in June.  I was very excited to go back but also somewhat nervous.  The last 1 Day sit I did in Toronto in September, did not leave me feeling very motivated or positive about my practice.  Granted, I had not been keeping my regular meditation and was pretty rusty at the whole thing, but at the end of that day I swore that there was no way I would ever do another 10 day course again, and felt overall defeated about even trying to maintain my daily practice.  On Sunday, I was quite worried that the day would end with the same feelings.

However, I am happy to report that the day was actually fantastic and I am extremely happy that I went.  The morning was rainy and extremely foggy as we drove up and I was quite worried that  the weather was far more conducive to napping than meditating, but although it remained overcast throughout the afternoon, the rain let up and I was able to keep a pretty high level of concentration and awareness.  The first thing I noticed when I got out of the car was just how freaking awesome the air is up there.  Only someone living in a huge city like Toronto would probably pay so much attention to this, but I swear it was so clean and sweet.  Also, because of the rain it had this amazing woodsy/earthy smell.  Bliss.

After registration we had some time to wander the grounds and I was amazed at how much seeing certain things brought back so many memories of my time there in the summer.  The grounds themselves are quite small so pretty much every room in every building that I had access to, every bench, picnic table, tree, shrub, was vivid with some remembrance.  A bench by the meditation hall brought me back to a very amazing day I had at the centre on which I felt like I made some huge breakthroughs.  Likewise, looking down at the ravine running behind the mediation hall brought me back to a very difficult day during which I had stood on the same spot and contemplated running down the steep hill and never looking back.  Waiting in line for the bathroom in one of the residence buildings I had to smile as I remembered the first time I stood there with other female students right after we went into silence and the awkwardness that floated at that time through the air.  I saw both of the rooms I stayed in while there.  Both brought back all sorts of good, bad, elated, and frustrating memories.

And then, we entered the meditation hall.  This building is really not all that impressive and is actually quite simple and will soon be replaced by a much larger space currently being built.  This is probably where I spent the most time while I was here and I hate to use a cliche but it really felt like home.  The familiar smell, space, objects, all felt like curling up in a little snug blanket.  It is absolutely amazing how safe and familiar that particular space felt.

The day began.  We listened to instructions, meditated, took breaks, meditated some more, heard some more instructions.  Pretty much a 10 day course crammed into 1.  A nice refresher in the technique as well as its purpose.  Since I have not been sitting daily, it was a difficult day in many ways but was much more rewarding than the 1 day course I had previously completed and it left me feeling much more positive and motivated to keep on making an effort to practice and to return in 2013 for another 10 day stint.

I can leave you with one more story from the day.

On the outside of the meditation hall sit two big box fans used for ventilation.  Around the 6 or 7 day mark of the 10 day course in June I started to notice that a lot of the female students would stop and look at the fan mounted closest to the female entrance.  Since we were all in silence, I could not ask what they were looking at and it took me a bit of time to realize that a pair of robins had built a nest on top of the fan and that the nest contained baby birds.  We could often see little demanding beaks sticking out the top of the nest as we walked to and from the hall.  I remember one day during a break period I sat on a picnic table outside the hall and watched as two adult robins shared the responsibility of feeding the chicks.  I was later told that with robins both parents share this task until the little ones leave the nest.

In quite the symbolic way the baby robins started leaving the nest on the 9th day of our course or somewhere around there (all the days seem to kind of blur together in my mind).  I remember seeing one of them dropping out of the nest and thinking how us students were all about to do the same.  We had spent these days at the centre in a little “nest” of sorts.  The whole place is set up to make students successful and to encourage them forward, but the real test for many of us was what would happen when we got back to the real world.  When we left our proverbial nest.  Once we were allowed to start speaking to our fellow students it turned out that many of us had made the same symbolic connection between our own journeys and the baby birds.

Although this was such a strong experience at the time, I had actually completely forgotten about these birds when I was preparing for the 1 day course.  It was not until I happened to glance over at the same box fan and, to my amazement, see the same nest sitting on top on Sunday that it all came flooding back.  It was now empty, and somewhat worn down, but there it sat, just like it had back in June.  And this, above any other moment of the day, had the most profound effect on me on so many levels.  The idea that the foundation I built while a student in June still remains even though I may not be maintaining it.  The idea that the centre is that same nest on a much grander scale that I can come back to whenever I want.  Also, the fact that as much as that nest is safe and familiar we all need to leave it eventually.  To be honest, I really cannot put into words why seeing this little collection of twigs, mud, and feathers made such an impact on me, because it is not a thought, but rather a feeling that sits in my chest.  Even now.  Safe, familiar, comforting, and warm.  And while I did gain some valuable insight from the meditation practice itself that day, this image of that little nest, sitting on fan, on a small building, on a small property in SW Ontario, was, believe it or not, worth the visit all on its own.

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