An odd thing..
The mind sets before us one distraction after another in a never-ending story about self that seeks to entertain. It swiftly creates these trains of fantasy from snippets of fact, embroiders it further with fictions recalled from memory, adding senses and feelings to arrive at what we so erroneously call “the present moment.”
It all makes even less sense when we realise that the thoughts and feelings we are aware of are already done and dusted, even though a matter of milliseconds – it simply is not possible to think of yourself in any present.
So, here we are then. Mobara. For the sixth time.
Hmmm! Surprisingly good coffee. Unusual as more often than not, stepping out beyond the perimeters of the big city in Japan also means stepping back in time to supermarket shelves filled with dried fish and squid products, white bread and cafes that sell lukewarm drip coffee that tastes like it has been standing in the same forgotten pot for over a month. Not so in this case. I’m sitting in Café Adriano in Mobara and working on my second double espresso Machiatto. I need to tank up on the coffee as I’m about to head out to yet another 12 day caffeine free, vegetarian retreat.
The proprietor at Adriano recognises me from my previous visits and I am hoping he will also notice the bright shining halo about my angelic visage as my impending enlightenment bursts forth and advertises itself to the world and beyond. But no, he looks me over once and says “Ma, chotto futtota..ne?” Which can be nicely translated to “Dude, you’re getting fat!” I was about to point out that the dried up looking cheesecake on the counter looked suspiciously like the one he had airing there the year before, but I hold back, waft pleasant thoughts at him and contemplate another coffee.
I look at my watch and grudgingly have to put my third cup of coffee on hold as its time to board the bus. At the bus top, my head pleasantly awhirr with caffeine, the course attendees start to appear from the station. The usual range of products: packs, long skirts, scarves, bandanas, suitcases – as well as the usual assorted range of people ranging from the relatively young, to the old and cranky.
We pack ourselves onto the bus with the locals by now very much used to the odd assortment of people and baggage that signal the start of another retreat.
The trip out to the site takes us through the town of Mobara, passed tiny rusty “Snack Bars” with no doubt their own generationally loyal patrons and further out through the rice fields, stands of tall bamboo, increasingly narrow footpath like roads and eventually to what has now become my annual pilgrimage, the Chiba Vipassana centre. Slowly the place is changing. There are some additional dormitories for women, the ablution areas are now more permanent. There is a sense that these folk are here to stay and the regular sixty or so people who attend every month around the year reinforce that.
I have helped out on retreat staff a number of times, now. I know first hand the hard work it takes to prepare the daily meals, keep the place clean and comfortable for the meditators. Yes, it is free to attend – but bills still have to be paid. For a single person to attend a 12 day retreat the costs are around 5,000 yen per day. Bear in mind that you could easily attend, benefit from the experience and simply walk away from it, but it does mean that someone else, somewhere, is paying for your experience. It is called charity.
These days my mind is not engaged in the ceaseless chatter that it once was. I know that there exists a peace beyond the noise. I also know how to get there. Is this due to vipassana practice or is it through inquiry and self-reflection over an extended space of time. When I sit to meditate there is a grounding that takes place. As the mind clears it is not necessary to direct it to sensation or to follow the breath. The taped discourses of Goenka fade into the background and become part of the colour, but not the essence.
A simple surrender to what is, is all that is necessary.
I let go and I sit.
Many thanks for the space.
Many thanks for the opportunity.