Afternoons in the bush, mornings for meditation and study
I recently spend a week on solitary retreat in Mandalavara. It was really great to have some time away to myself.
After quite a few solitaries, I've learned to keep each retreat fresh without assuming what I'll be doing until I get there. I usually bring a selection of books and acknowledge that some of them will never get opened. I try to avoid falling victim to bringing the books that would be 'good for me to read' or those that have been hanging around my 'to read' list for years. Instead, I go with old poetry favorites, books of interest now, and those that somehow feel 'right' for the occassion. Learning to know (and trust) my intuition about what to bring has been a long process. Still in progress.
Funny enough, what I did on this solitary was very similar to what I've done for the last few. I wake up when the sun rises, have a cup of coffee and read a book. This time I read Martin Luther King's "Stride towards Freedom" which is an autobiographical account of the 1955 Montgomery Alabama bus boycotts. Perhaps the start of the US civil rights movement he started, a spiritual classic I would highely recommend. Had me in tears many times due to the spiritual beauty of his motivation and words. I also read "The Thousand-Petalled Lotus" which is Sangharakshita's autobiographical account of his spiritual search in his early twenties, set in India. I also read some of the poetry of Stonehouse again, a 14th century Chinese Buddhist hermit. This was followed by two sessions of meditation each day, which are separated by a short leg stretch.
After which I have breakfast (usually porridge) and then head out into the bush around 12 noon or 1pm.
I usually go for a trail hike or kick it around the river looking for interesting things and wading through the water in my sandals. This week, with some chilly rain, I stuck to the bush trails.
My personal bush trail favorite is to follow the Ridge track (from the Stupa) all the way up to the Kauri walk, connecting to Buddhadasa's Quest, which then connects up with the Mill track and winding myself back to the Dharma Road.
Buddhadasa's Quest is not for beginners. There are some steep sections, lacking easy and reliable hand holds, and on a rainy day you need to be extra careful. I always take some extra food, a compass, a whistle, and extra clothing just in case something happens to me. My friend Erica, who is a very experienced hiker, has created some advice on what to take with you. She's very insistent on preparation which might seem too much. If you are going to try Buddhadasa's Quest, you'll need to be prepared and heed her suggestions.
The other trail I really love is the Ohio track. I'm an American and I come from Ohio, US of (North) A. Seems that when all the miners were in the area, it was someone from Ohio who named the small river here after the large river (and State) there. The Ohio track is much easier. I usually walk it from the the Dharma Road, it follows along the Ohio river and an old mining road, but then climbs up the ridge and joins the Ridge track. You then get an easy walk down the Ridge track to the Stupa, and back onto the Dharma road.
On another afternoon, I visited the sacred Puriri tree that is near our upper retreat centre building project. This Puriri tree has a very special atmosphere and I always make a point of stopping by, bringing a gift (usually nice food that I'd like to eat myself), and then circumambulating three times before I move on with my day. Some of the trees on our land are ancient, and the Puriri is (canopy pictured above) one of the wise old ones of this forest along with a few Kauri, Rata, and perhaps a Rimu. They would have seen the land stripped clean from silver and gold mining at the end of the 19th century, coupled with the body blow of Kauri logging. To be honest, the land was raped in the disrespectful way it can be, and I always like to remind myself that it needs to be healed. Everytime I visit, I like to connect with a heart's wish of care, consideration, generosity and kindness. Call me New Age if you like (and I'm not), but I think it makes a difference. Sometimes when I put my hand to the trunk of these trees, I can feel the energy. These days, I think they can tell we are both on the same side, things have changed. It took a long time to earn their trust. One year, during a family retreat, we all sang Te Aroha and gave back symbolic bits of Kauri gum as offerings. Many people felt really positive after that ritual.
On that particular afternoon, I continued around the short Meditation walk, admiring the Rewarewa, what I believe is Karaka, some Rimu and two big Rata (but I am only beginning to learn my NZ trees, so no quoting me). It is great to just stand in these areas with the filtered green light coming through the bush canopy. I usually don't walk very fast and stop frequently to listen.
When I get back from my walk, I took a hot shower (Mandalavara being on the solitary cabins with gas hot water and a nice walk in shower area and changed into some fresh clothes. Another meditation or two, dinner, perhaps a little reading or Buddhist chanting and then I'm ready for bed. Surprising how early I can go to sleep, with the sun setting and after a rewarding day. To trouble, I went to sleep when I was tired and didn't set the alarm.
I was not ready to leave after a week, would have liked to stay for another week. It typically takes me 5-7 days to unwind, settle in, and decompress any tension I am carrying. As I left, I was starting to enjoy the stillness of meditation more and just 'doing nothing' was getting a lot more interesting. Two Dharma books I'd picked up and put down earlier in the week had begun to engage me in a new way the last few days. Oh well, no clinging.