At two kilometers above sea level the clouds drifted down to meet the trees, only to be shaped, reshaped and gently pulled apart by the wind. It was a constant unfolding story, not unlike what I was witnessing in the theatre of the retreat center.
The quieter my mind became, from hours of sitting in silence, with white walls, tan cushions, wooden floor, and other sitters lining the perimeter of the square room, the noisier the external world became.
In the dining hall, at mealtime, a few particular voices were almost always the first to break the silence. A deep, resonant, Israeli accent with a lisp and slight stutter, solicited newcomers about where they came from and what their previous meditation practices had been. After a short period of time, his voice was the only one heard in the conversation, telling tales of the various retreat centers, teachers, and practices he had participated in.
Then there was the singer/talker, whose voice moved through a variety of pitches, tones, and volumes, with scattered laughter and hand gestures. Others’ laughter would fill in, creating the chorus.
A table of a group of Indians spoke in their fast paced, rhythmic and percussive tongue. I think my whole body would start to dance if I talked with that cadence. I hadn’t witnessed Indians dancing. Instead, when I watched them talk to each other in this way, I could almost see this vibration that came up from the earth, through their spines and expressed itself only through their heads that bobbled fluidly as if pivoting delicately on the top of a point. This bobbing was a form of communication I could not decipher, but they clearly understood.
At the table, most separated from the rest, sat the silent ones, the ones who ate mindfully and left after their last bite was finished. A few other silent ones were sprinkled among the talkers.
A charming, good looking, Australian man would sit near the most attractive females and talk in a very flirtatious way, as the others at the table bristled. Quiet and connected conversations created a steady, subtle undercurrent of sound.
It was as if the room was a piece of sheet music, a stage, or a template for the manifestation of archetypal energies to be expressed. They were all there: the Fool, the Hermit, the Empress, the Page, loneliness, desperation, narcissism, peace, love, terror, separation and connectedness. All existed externally and internally, simultaneously in layers. The silence allowed me to see it, and watch my aversions and attractions.
During one meal I was sharing travel stories with a New Zealand woman. She had spent time with local Indian families in their homes, holding babies and learning how to cook Indian food. She received lots of Ayurvedic massages and began a romance. She slept peacefully at night. Her India was very different than mine. We didn’t even understand each other’s experiences. Then she said to me that her intention in coming to India was to relax and enjoy herself.
I re-read my intention I had written before I left for India: to be opened by the extremes of the human condition; To connect with love on a level beyond the personal and beyond circumstances; To know love, not romantic love, attached to a person, but love in its’ essence.
I thought about changing my intention. But when I looked up at the sky, I really appreciated the dark, thick clouds, and the mystery within and behind them. I delighted in the light that revealed itself when the wind coaxed apart its’ layers.