Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Ten days in to describe?

Thoughts from Ricardo

The meditation hall
Why does one want to take ten days in noble silence, eliminating all electronic devices and any news from the outside world? This is a big question that I have asked myself both before and after our Vipassana retreat experience.

Now that we have completed this experience I feel a special type of joy that is very hard for me to describe, however I will try my best. First of all I want to say that this is not a recommendation but my personal reflection. I have been what I call a "light meditator" for many years always trying to understand more about the quiet mind that would bring some added joy to what I already call a picture perfect life. I have always enjoyed this process but was very surprised when I put myself into this Vipassana situation sitting for 8 to 10 hours working on this technique that was developed 2500 years ago and taught by Buddha himself. This is not a light form of meditation like I practice at the Kadampa center in Chiapas but something very different.

I won’t get into the details of the 10 day practice but would like to say that I’m very happy and honored to have had the time and inclination to take on this challenge. Basically it’s like putting yourself in a jail setting with 100 plus other people in search of a deeper human experience. I know that when it was over and we had the chance to talk I discovered that I was present with the best of the best people in the middle of a forest and far from civilization and outside my usual comfort zone.

The goal was to deepen one’s abilities to love and foster compassion for all life. This is done by an understanding of detachment and the impermanence of the always changing life.

I don’t know if we would do it again but as we talk more about what happened we are entertaining the idea. Susan will write more details on her summary. Once again, thanks again for traveling with us.

And from Susan...

I loved my little room
Here we are after our 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat that took place in a little mountain village about 2 hours from Mexico City. It would not have mattered where in the world we would have done this as it was internal "travel". Having nice scenery for my circular walks around the property, however, did make for a beautiful visual experience for a short time each day.

I am not sure how to explain this experience but I have certain vivid thoughts that I want to capture for my own memory for I know that as time passes, I will forget the details that seem important to me today. Perhaps if I write again about this in 10 days or 2 months, the experience will have a different meaning so here goes.

Having little preparation from our various friends who had done this was good as we did not have preconceived ideas. We knew that we would turn in all our technology, writing pads, pens, etc. at the beginning and that we would be in separate quarters - men/women. There were approx. 40 men and 40 women along with the dedicated volunteer servers and support people who worked and meditated with us when not giving service. As "new" folks, we were not expected to do any of the chores to maintain this totally volunteer program. This is an important memory for me as the serving staff was always pleasant and seemingly happy to give to us. It was their form of "metta" service for others - a philosophy of this program.

Each day we arose at 4am (!!!) and began our meditation program at 4:30 going until 9:00 at night with breaks for meals at 6:30 am and 11:00 am and a fruit/tea at 5pm. A rest period for a bit of time after each meal for tending to ourselves (showers, rest, walking, thinking). All in all about 9-10 hours of sitting silently in the large meditation hall each day. There were many rules to follow related to time, silence, acknowledging each other when passing, etc. As a usual "rule follower" this was not a problem for me.

This style of Vipassana meditation is handed down from Buddha and follows a particular method for getting in touch with one's sensations to control the craving vs. aversion thoughts connecting to the subconscious of both this life and lives before. For me it was a bit of a stretch to understand it all but I will say that I was able be in the present moment for longer periods of time in meditation than I had ever been before. I personally enjoyed the long silence and in fact when we were able to begin talking on the 10th day I found myself very quickly uncomfortable and had quite a physical reaction feeling dizzy and overwhelmed and wishing to go back to the quiet. It took me a bit of time to ease back into the world of communication. Also (much to my surprise), I never missed my computer, facebook, kindle nor my writing or drawing pad. Makes me realize how much time I spend thinking something important will be in a machine waiting for me and how little of importance is there really is. My world became an inside world in the community of women washing their face or brushing their teeth at the communal sinks of our dorm of 20 rooms. Thankfully I had a private room as there were several with 3 people/room. There were 2 women and 2 men's dorms.

The dining hall. Women enter in front,
men on the right behind the trees.
Lessons along the way....
There was a woman on day 2 or 3 who began coughing in the dorm as well as the meditation hall. My immediate reaction was personal - what if I get sick too, and what if all the others do as well.  Soon I went from that thought to caring about this young woman who was clearly suffering. Since no one could talk to her I was trying to figure out what I might be able to do for her but there was really nothing I could do. After about 4-5 days her coughing seemed to subside. I really saw myself change from caring about myself to compassion for her. On day 10 when we were able to talk, she was the first person I talked to as we walked together outside the meditation hall. We quickly discovered a connection - she was born in Frankfurt, Germany, the place of birth of my father. It is not an easy task to explain in writing this powerful connection and change that I felt in myself but I want to remind myself as I hope to carry this with me always.

I realized how much I missed Ricardo and wanted to speak with him, mostly to know that he was OK. We were in the same meditation hall but on opposite sides of the room and not always able to see if he was there or not as the layout of the room made this difficult. After a few days even that became somewhat easier. We found a 5 second moment almost every night after the discourse on video when we walked out of the room at the same moment and quickly whispered "Are you OK? Yes. Are you OK? Yes!"

I realized how "what is, is" and that acceptance of the ever changing life around me is the only way to live. I think we have done a good job over the years at not being too attached to "things" but there is always more to realize.

The link to all of us during the ten days was powerful. I could feel the strength of the community during the meditation sessions and the need to communicate with each other on the last day. We all seemed to want each other to know that we had witnessed each other during the time in one way or another. As the elder to the group, I heard from several that they noticed my strong commitment and were happy to see me sitting in my spot by the wall every morning at 4:30. (I chose to sit in a chair alternating with sitting on cushions on the floor along a wall with support for my back). We always sat in the same place and I felt a strong connection to the woman who was directly in front of me all of the time. I knew which shoes were hers outside the room and was always happy when I saw them there when I arrived as I felt like she was "my" special person as our proximity was so close. We felt a kinship when we were finally able to talk. She lives not far from San Miguel so maybe we will see each other one day.

I began the time with a strong dislike of the voice of Goenka, the teacher of this program which is provided by loudspeaker at the beginning and end of each of the meditation sessions with instructions and chanting in Pali. The sound of the chanting was very disharmonious. By the end I was much more accepting of the sound but I never understood why it was necessary. Acceptance, however, does not mean that I liked it.

So all in all....I am glad I met this challenge in my life. Will I do it again? Not sure right now but would not say no. Would I recommend it? I think that it is something each person would have to decide for themselves - I would certainly think that some of my "peeps" would like the experience and others not.

I feel tremendously grateful for our lives and the luxury to have the time for our internal and external travel. As I write, we are getting packed and ready for our next two month travel to Ecuador and Colombia. Thank you for sharing your time with us as you read this post. We love you.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Meanderings in Tepotzlán, Toluca and Valle de Bravo

The pyramid is up there somewhere!
How lucky we are with an extra week in our lives to visit places around CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico or Mexico City). A one hour bus ride from the city brings us to this valley surrounded by mountains called Tepotzlán, a pueblo mágico. Somehow we managed to get 3 days of rain so missed the important pyramid above the town called El Tepozteco. We never even saw it from below as the mountains were covered in clouds most of the time.

This didn't stop us from enjoying walking around, having a decaf coffee here and there and favorite pastime was eating delicious vegan food in the stalls of the Mercado. We found several prehispanic vendors with a variety of options so that we had to go back each of our three days. Seems to be our street food week as we also found a vegan taco stand in Mexico City called Por Siempre Vegan Taqueria. Surely a place we will return to. We are making up for the many outdoor markets and stalls we have ignored in our 8+ years of Mexico travel, always passing them for not having items we would like.

This town was hit very hard by the earthquake in Sept, 2017 damaging the large church as well as many buildings in town. We visited the Ex-convento and the exhibit about the earthquake as well as a museum collection of prehispanic artifacts from the area.
Here is Richard reporting....
Toluca, just two hours outside of Mexico City, was described to me as semi-modern and so it is. It is the capital of the state of Mexico and seems to have a thriving population. We met our dear friends there from San Miguel, Tomy and Maria Elena and our main reason to go was to visit Cosmovitral a place of great wonder and beauty. The incredible building was once a marketplace and now is covered with huge panels of stained glass telling the story of creation and the ongoing battle where good wins over evil. Inside the walls are gardens and each one is a jewel. It is a place I recommend as a once in a lifetime visit.

Maria Elena and Luz
Our friends have a cousin Luz living in Toluca who wanted to enhance our time, which she did to our  great appreciation. The first night she prepared a feast for us travelers made with her loving hands and catering to our individual dietary specialities. Together with the rest of her family we had a time to catch up and hear many stories of the cousins and their lives growing up in San Miguel. As no one spoke English, it was a chance to see how our Spanish comprehension has improved over the years. 
A view of Nevado de Toluca
from San Andres

The following day she took us all to see a view of Nevado de Toluca, a volcano covered in snow which we saw from the small village of San Andres. In my youth I would have liked to climb it but now it is a mountain to admire. Then we traveled to a another "Pueblo Magico" called Metepec where we climbed up the  
stairs  to visit the church with a great view of the town below. We shared a delicious meal in town and we headed back to Toluca to say goodbye to our new friend Luz.  
overlooking Metepec
An important memory for all of us was our morning coffee in a little cafe called Huitzi Café which in Nahuatl (indigenous language) means colibri or hummingbird. We were entertained each morning by great music of the 60's. We are grateful to have M E and Tomy as our travel companions and look forward to our next trip.

Valle de Bravo
Our balcony in V de B
And now the very last leg of this trip before we go off technology for the next 10 days. We are in another Pueblo Magico - Valle de Bravo on the shores of a very large man made lake. Having only two nights before our 10 day Vipassana silent retreat, we are enthralled with this very beautiful town with much more to see and do than our two days will provide. Another place to return to (only 2 hours from CDMX). 

Once again we follow our usual search for the best vegan food and found it once again at a small spot run by two lovely ladies - Maria and Elina. They have only been here for one month so if your travels bring you to V de B, please visit them.
Today we went to Bridal Falls for a walk in the woods with the sound of waterfalls surrounding us. We took care of a few errands as we will not have the opportunity to do any extra "stuff" during the next days. FYI, we will be in separate quarters with no eye contact, nor communication with each other nor you....our friends and family. I will write my thoughts and comments on this experience later this month.  
At Bridal Falls