Meditating on destruction

IMG_6344Have you ever been in prolonged silence? I recently experienced 10+ days of silence.

The alleged perpetrator.
Trilliums providing a spring carpet at the meditation retreat.

Well, I wasn’t really in silence. The rich, ancient tones of the wake-up gong reverberated as it lured us back to the waking world, the lively pre-dawn birdsong celebrating spring surrounded us as we headed past the trilliums to the day’s first sitting, the attempts at suppressing disruptive coughs and sneezes in the meditation hall, cutlery clanking twice daily and slurps of hot tea, … no, the surroundings were not silent. For all of us studying Vipassana Meditation, though, we were silenced. No spoken words, no eye contact, no touch or gestures, no cell phones, not even access to the potentially intrusive pencil and paper were allowed for the duration of the course. Full attention was focused on turning inward and learning the technique. Some compassionately defiant students did break the no communication rule and left messages of love along the property’s beautiful woodland trail. Happening upon them each day at break quenched my longing for connection with the others who were sharing this intense experience with me.

Let’s return to the sound of the gong. It marked the important events of the days. The gong signalled our 4:00 am wake-up and at 4:30am it called us to the first of five daily meditation sessions. It announced 6:30 am breakfast, 8:00 am second session, and 11:00 am lunch (plates heaped high at the self-serve table with the delicious vegan fare as this was the final meal of the day). Afternoon sittings were called by the 1:00 pm gong, then the 5:00 pm gong lead to the short dinner reprieve (note: I use “dinner” here rather loosely to describe the tea and piece of fruit we were provided). It sounded the 6:00 pm evening meditation, followed by 7:00 pm discourse lectures on the technique and Buddhist-based principles by which a virtuous life may be lead, and finally, the 8:15 pm final meditation. The gently beckoning gong. There was no need for it to mark 9:00 pm day’s end. We all, like blissful zombies, shuffled out of the meditation hall, hips and knees so very relieved to straighten after nearly 11 hours of unaccustomed cross-leggedness, to fall gratefully into our cots for the night. Nights were filled with vivid dreams and the next morning arrived quickly, signaled by the gong…

It was a profound experience.

Most, at various points in the course, though, longed to quit. Or perhaps I should more accurately say, longed to escape. This was true for me up to about day 7. Recurring fantasies intruded mid-meditation for me that one of my kids would get injured or become ill … nothing too serious, mind you, but just enough for me to be called away. Or maybe there would be a toxic spill in the vicinity … a minor one, please, just serious enough to force us to be evacuated. Never before would there have been such eager evacuees! Our wise Vipassana teacher spoke of this learning process being like a surgery on an infected part of the body. The incision and releasing the pus is not comfortable or pretty, but is necessary to move toward healing. We don’t jump up from the surgeon’s table mid-procedure and say thanks, but I’ve had enough. And so it is with this intensive meditation course, framed by the gong that softened the severity of our daily routine and invited us on.

There is a calming and centering quality to the gong. A quick Google search brings up lots of interesting associations of gongs with recovery and with healing, and if you lean toward new age philosophies, they open doors to the universe. Their transformational quality was appreciated by many ancient cultures. All I know is that the gong’s vibrations drew me forward and helped me keep on to complete the course. I’m so thankful that I did.

It took a few days to transition back to the real world upon return. After the nearly 2 weeks away, the projects at hand preparing Ariose for our fall departure were calling to me. I was eager to get to them. Tim’s been focusing on earning money for the cruising kitty, so for now, I’ve been the designated chief boat worker. I titled this Ariose Note “Meditating on Destruction”. Where does the “destruction” come in you may be wondering. Here …

IMG_6146I climbed the ladder in my post-meditation zen state and boarded Ariose only to be assaulted with what looked like a scene of substantial violence. To make matters worse, the mayhem was of my own doing. I have many projects in progress. This is all new learning for me, and somewhat intimidating, so I’ve found that as I tackle an area, I get to the point of losing courage, and turn my attention to another.

Here’s what I have underway:

  1. Let’s start with the head (nautical speak for toilet and bathroom on board). Our flush toilet was fine, but last summer’s glorious sailing excursions were marred by holding tank issues. Of course, no one expects human waste to emit pleasant odours. The noxious stench discharged by the air vent of our tank, though, was foul beyond description. Here’s a typical exchange: > Shirley to Tim: “Quick! Get yourself upwind. I’m about to flush!! ”  > Tim, his hearing muffled by wind and waves: “What’s that?”. > Shirley doesn’t hear him because of the sound of her pumping the water to flush. > Tim, to no one in particular, his voice sounded strangled: “Arrgghhh. Disgusting!”.    This was ample incentive to make the decision to replace the toilet with a composting model, and to re-purpose the tank. So that was my first project. I have opened up the holding tank – I’ll say no more on that now. THAT warrants it’s own post! The replacement toilet is slightly larger, so the process of opening up Ariose’s interior expanded, and heck, a sink would be nice, so why not open the cabinets in the head a little more to create space for that too?

2. On the topic of water/plumbing issues, Ariose had two bladders installed to hold potable water. These bladders had pin-hole leaks that threatened to grow and although our bilge may appreciate a fresh-water bath, we wouldn’t. Who knows how many years accumulation of sludge lurked inside the vinyl. They were also mounted in the most accessible cabin storage area in our tiny boat leaving the bulk of the interior storage in the almost unretrievable areas under the v-berth bed. After plenty of research on options, we decided that I’d rip open the v-berth, and build an integral water tank there. I’ve never worked with fibreglass, but I’m a fairly quick learner, and always up for a challenge, and it can’t be that hard, can it? Albergs, apparently, had integral tanks, so we would bring Ariose full circle to her original state.

3. In the galley, the antique rusty propane stove that was in Ariose when we purchased her was tossed out before we ever set sail. A quick visual inspection showed it wasn’t safe. We invested in a top quality gimballed marine oven/stove, but in a narrow, 30 foot boat, there’s no place to install such a luxury. No problem, if we rip open half of one settee, we can expand the galley. And…

4. Back to water issues. I guess, when dealing with boats, water is bound to dominate one’s thoughts. Early last season in heavy rains, we had minor leaks from deck fittings and the port lights (windows). By the end of the season, even minor showers from the sky or lake would result in concerning interior drips. We will need to remove all the hardware and fittings, and will reseal and remount them properly. Over the last while, when the mess below overwhelmed me, I would exchange my weapon of choice (aka – a reciprocating saw) for a less destructive one (aka – a screwdriver), and start removing stuff above.

Here’s some photos to give you a taste of some of the projects. Don’t worry if you are squeamish, I cleaned up the blood and gore… er… the sawdust and fibreglass shards before photographing.

Deck – pre assault
Deck – post assault
Galley area cleared and ready for surgery
1/3 of the settee removed in preparation for the galley’s stove enclosure.
V-berth before Shirley’s reciprocating saw assault.
Cushions removed – storage areas revealed.
V-berth eviscerated.
Cabin chaos.

Needless to say, my hard-earned zen-like state was broken! In spite of the 10 days training in being non-judgmental, in accepting “as it is” with equanimity, I was overcome with fear and doubt and regret. Have I destroyed our beautiful boat? Was this a replay of the “things often get worse before they get better” lesson of Vipassana? Certainly, it called to me to apply the oft-repeated teachings of not reacting with aversion to what is, or craving that which we do not have.

I climbed down the ladder and as I took a reflective walk in Tim’s woods, savouring the last of the spring ephemerals, I reminded myself of some of the Vipassana wisdom I gathered the week before. Progress comes gradually and comes with patience and persistence. Mistakes are bound to be made — learn from them. When you realize you have made an error, smile and start again! Yes, smile and start again. There was lots of focus on wisdom. Real wisdom, we were told, recognizes and accepts that every experience is impermanent. All things come and go, live and die, grow and fade. This wisdom helps prevent feeling overwhelmed by inevitable ups and downs. Some wisdom is gained by listening to others, then there’s the intellectual or analytical understanding type of wisdom. Ultimate wisdom, though, is what we gain through direct personal experience. What an opportunity for growth Ariose is offering. How wise I will be!

Shirley working on the galley.

Before returning to climb the ladder with a lighter heart and renewed resolve,  (almost) smiling and ready to start again with patience and persistence, I headed back to my desk. I realized there was one more task to add to our extensive Ariose work list. Tim, where do you think we should mount the gong?

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