005. FEWER LEAVES, MORE SKY / by Cara Hines

How to begin?

I have never done anything with consistency for 10 days in this entire life! Anyone who knows me, knows that I see 4am only if I stay up for it, which is more often than I care to admit. I have always been a night owl and not a morning dove. Yet for the past 10 days, I have been awakened at 4am by a reverberant gong and was sitting in silent and (mostly) still meditation by 4:30. At 6:30am I was eating breakfast. For the rest of the day, I followed the same routine with some slight variations, moving from silent group meditations to rest periods for showering, washing clothes, naps, etc; brief walks on the small trail available to female meditators where I was able to observe daily the changing caleidescope of these Appennine Mountains; solo meditations in the dormitory; meals eaten in silence in the dining hall alongside the others; and over and over this schedule repeated for the 10 days.

Yesterday was the 10th day. The vow of noble silence came to an end midway through the morning, and we were able to converse for the first time with the more than sixty other meditators (approx half men, half women, though we had remained separated beyond the meditation hall) whom we had walked, sat, slept, and eaten next to for a week and a half. I met amazing women, several of whom I plan to visit later during this trip. I have new friends that I will perhaps keep for many years to come, and I was only able to share a few words with them. But we shared something much deeper which I cannot and may not ever be able to language. I feel I know some of them more than others with whom I've shared countless words. Of course, in keeping with the practice of Vipassana, all this is anicca. Even so, I am eternally grateful.

This morning, we enjoyed more time getting to know one another as we departed one, two, or several at a time. The sun joined us, illuminating the myriad of golds and oranges left hanging in the trees around us and warmed our skin. It was welcome, as the temperatures had been rather cool for much of the course. There was a particular tree on the grounds that, as all the other trees covering the mountainsides, was green when we arrived on 21 Oct. It was very tall with a thick trunk draped in a meditation shawl of soft green moss, and it stood as sentry at the driveway to the meditation center. As we shed our attachments, our sankaras, I watched it daily progress from green, to a lighter green, to a light yellow, to richer and richer yellows and golds, tinged by orange. Half way through the course, it began losing its leaves...slowly at first, then by the 7th and 8th days, more quickly. Today, as I stood with my new friends in the sun that illuminated the few golden jewels left clinging to its branches, I noticed I could see a great deal more sky beyond it. It was a beautiful tree. Every moment it was and is beautiful.

Soon after this interlude and just before lunch, Andrea, director of the center, was kind enough to drive me to a hostel in the nearby village of Tredozio. This is where I will stay for 2 or 3 nights as I ease back into the world! And as I take time to return emails and read/respond to the many, many comments you have so graciously written on the blog and Facebook page. I will also be making arrangements for the remainder of my trip this month. I look forward to meeting many fascinating new people, gathering footage of the breathtaking landscape and simple pleasures of this country, and experiencing parti e pezze di la Via Francigena trail.

I was unable to post a previous entry and photos as I had intended before I began the retreat, so I have some catching up to do. It is written and pictures downloaded, just not posted. It's getting later in the day, and it is beautiful here. I will post in the morning with writings and pictures. For now, please always know, it's an amazing world, inside you and out. Do something today that inspires you. Something simple. Allow the changes in and around you. You might notice you can see more of your sky.

Visit the FEWER LEAVES, MORE SKY photo gallery.