While at the Vipassana Course from 15th to 26th April, 2015 at Dhamma Ketana, Chengannur, Kerala, it was being close to nature at its best. Every day we had free time from 6.30 – 8.00 am, 11.00 am – 1.00 pm and 5.00 pm – 6.00 pm respectively. Over and above these we had small 5 – 10 minutes break after group meditation sessions and after Acharya Goenkaji’s discourse ends at 8.15 pm. Being an early riser I preferred finishing my everyday ablutions before the 4.30 am session began, and hence was relatively free afterwards. As the instruction page said very clearly that the only facility for laundry is washing by oneself, I had carried with me enough dress changes. This then gave me time for myself, to explore and be with nature.
Since the accommodation had a tiled roof, day time was hot. When the fan was switched on, it circulated hot air making it quite uncomfortable to be indoors. So I went out, strolling beneath the canopy formed by huge trees. Teak, mango, jack fruit, bread fruit, silk cotton, scores of coconut, and some other trees that I could not identify towered over each other in a bid to compete for sunshine. The rose apple and bilimbi (irumban puli in Malayalam) tree right at the entrance of our quarters were comparatively smaller in size but were laden with fruits. After breakfast at 6.30 am, it was so invigorating to take the walk. The orange and yellow rays of the sun created patterns of light when they gleamed and sparkled through the gaps of the lush canopy.
Morning is the best time to watch bird and I spotted woodpeckers, golden orioles, drongos, parakeets, babblers, magpie robins, crow pheasants, red whiskered bulbuls, mynahs, brahminy kites, water hens and pond herons. The twittering, chirping birds were a sight to behold. The melodious Cuckoo on the other hand could be heard loud and clear but was very difficult to spot.
A little white spider would spin a big web each day and wait patiently for its prey. And one day I spotted an unsuspecting bee fall onto the web. The spider rushed close and started spinning silk around the bee and rolled it up soon into a small bean like ball! The truth of life was writ large there – what is food for one is death for another.
The pond nearby was a favourite of some water birds. One day I espied a long shining yellow rat snake swimming across the pond to gracefully slide into some fissures between the stone walls around the pond.
A special corner in the verandah of the meditation hall came to be my all-time favourite. Sitting there, in the green paddy fields beyond I could see flocks of egrets and storks. The creepers in hedges were the haunts of sun birds. The tiny birds – the purple male and the brownish female were a delight to watch. As I sit on the floor and look down on the ground, I also observed ant-lions (kuzhiaana in local language) in action, in its sand pit traps. It was remarkable watching tiny insects walk by the insecure foothold of the pit. And when they slip to the bottom, the prey is snapped up by the lurking ant-lion. Yet another fascinating spectacle was a colony of miniature honey bees that had made its hive in a crevice under the wall of the building. Bee after bee flew into the crevice and flew away too, displaying its trade mark diligence. Then as I sit there and peer into the darkness, I saw scores of fireflies, twinkling in an enchanting sort of way. It suddenly struck me how much of light pollution we have created around us that we hardly see these fascinating little creatures.
There were a couple of stray dogs that came to forage the waste bin far behind the meditation hall. And some fellow meditators (mostly foreigners) would pet them and play with them. It always made me wonder why anyone would want to befriend strays. Any dog for that matter unless vaccinated can be a carrier of rabies. Maybe I learnt this lesson quite early in life being a Vet’s daughter and because we always had pet dogs at home that Dad vaccinated with unfailing regularity.
We plucked the tangy, juicy fruits of the fruits of the Rose Apple tree (Syzygium samarangense) (Chambakka in local parlance) and munched on them while walking down the path.
Butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies were aplenty. These fluttering and flying beauties held me captive during the walking sessions. The ripe rose apple fruits fell down in large numbers and were swept away to the side of the walk path. Some butterflies fed on the fermenting and rotting fruits and later staggered and flew away as if they were on a high!
Spectacular streaks of lightning on the days when we had summer showers added light to the pitch darkness of the night. The rumble of thunder reverberated and sometimes rudely woke us up from our meditations. As the downpours subsided a different kind of ensemble played out – and the whole place came alive with thousands of chirruping crickets!
Observing nature closely and being in its midst has had a telling effect as it seemed to improve the overall feeling of emotional and mental wellbeing. I am sure being out of touch with the outside world as well as being constantly connected with our technological devices hastened the feeling of respite and joy.
Vipassana thus brought in me a lot of inward happiness and optimism towards the future. Every time there has been a stressful situation I have been able to tell myself that even this will pass away. It has been just about two months since I completed my Vipassana course and I have been able to practice it every morning on almost all days. I know I must practice it for an hour in the evening too and am confident that I will be able to do this in the near future. Spending time in silent retreat with nature for company was the best way I lightened my mental world and increased the world of my heart. The emphasis was not only on engaging in noble silence but also in enjoying the peace and quiet. No doubt that Vipassana is a beautiful technique to make holistic changes in our lives and help us become self-aware.
“Bhavatu Sabba Managalam”
“May there be every blessing”