Vipassana, Mt Soleil, July 2016 - a poem

Monday, 19 September 2016

(Vipassana is a type of meditation, taught all over the world in the tradition of SN Goenka, in 10-day silent meditation courses). 

Vipassana, Mt Soleil, July 2016

We're welcomed by the wind turbine
that sits on the crest of
Mount Soleil
rotating and waving like
the Dhamma wheel,
and the reason we're here
is to look inside
because didn't one saint or another
say 'know thyself' ?
and the surrounding quiet
is broken by a rickety shelf
of terse conversations
and unnecessary introductions
before being stripped down
by the gong,
and so it begins;
Day one

Eyes gaze down
and faces close
arms are crossed and
slipped inside robes,
as we take the path
to the meditation hall
and life becomes more
or maybe (for some) more
names are called out
and places assigned,
a single square mat
with a single blue pad
but, as the hours of meditation
pile up, and topple into the

Second day;
One pad becomes two
and two become three
and meditators, their equanimity
challenged, construct makeshift armchairs
to prop up their legs
but, through the aches and pains
of bad memories
that manifest themselves
I hear that the hills are
alive with cow bells
which wander away
in one direction or another
as the weather changes,
but they can always be heard
chiming gently
and later,
they mark the beginning of

Day three;
I wake up to find
that the mattress next to mine
- which used to be
(only this morning)
an occupied mattress,
spring-loaded with farts
groaning and murmuring fretfully
at night -
is now an empty mattress
stripped clean of its belongings
and the man next to me
in the dining room
is putting sesame seeds
into his tea
for some reason
known only to him;
and herds of men
stare out blankly
over the mountain
at the same thing - together
not touching, but arranged
in a kind of symmetry
that they find as naturally
and unthinkingly
as cough follows cough
and gaze follows gaze
and at break-time
the new ones pace around
the walking path
like electrons seeking fission
whilst the experienced ones walk slowly
step by step, savouring every
with their hands behind their back
and the ones in the middle
- they just look lost -
somewhere in limbo
as time grinds slowly into

Day four;
The heavens open -
and outside, the walking-path
is like a Japanese forest
and dotted here and there through tall pines
umbrellas twirl
from solitary logs
spinning swirls of water into the trees
like Catherine Wheels
but the only open face
is that of Mount Soleil
which brightens up on

Day five;
when something awakens inside
around the time that sunlight begins
to filter in
through the hall windows
and the morning prayer
resonates out
as though drained from
an ancient rock;
there's a reason we're here
and we'll be changed for it, in the end
as sure as the river is changed
once you've removed your toe
and then dipped it back in,
as sure as day five
flows into

Day six;
the hardest day so far
I haven't slept
and my legs have been stretched
beyond previous limits;
I skip breakfast
to catch sleep
and dream of a man
who's been crucified
'he needed to be restrained'
is the message going around
'for resisting arrest'
say the gathered crowd,
but as I look at his hands
and look at his face
I see that an excess of nails
hold the dead man in place
nails through his fingers
nails through his eyes
nails through his nose
and grins on the faces
of those
who look on;
Law and Order
and human justice is done,
and as the dream fades
the nails hover out
of their unrightful place
and make patterns of
diamonds, stars
and mandalas;
patterns that rotate
swirl and gyrate
in front of the eyes,
and there's nothing we can do
for the crucified man
except examine why we do it
so that it doesn't happen again
and - may I offer a theory -
we want others to suffer
because we suffer, too
and as we stumble into

Day seven
of the course
there's less suffering, perhaps;
less determined
evasion of eye contact
and the others are
transparent objects that
you can look through,
with a rueful smile
as naturally as one would look through
a cloud of bubbles
and, without generating new
some of the old ones are floating away, too
sometimes leaving
tear tracks behind,
as day seven slides
down into

Day eight, I find
that something
is finally happening
in place 26;
mountains become rocks
and rocks become bricks
bricks become gravel
gravel becomes sand
sand becomes a proton
that vibrates on demand
and, a message from an Enlightened Man
rings out in Pali
'Mr Creator
you can't build a cell for me
for I have broken down
all your bricks and mortar'
and as the last grains
of day eight, tumble into
the glass chamber of

Day nine
there's no wind turbine;
the sails still hum
through the morning air
but are shrouded by mist,
and the trees wear
loose white robes
that are cool to the touch
as even the dew drops
 suspended in blades of grass
and snails climb the peppermint stalks
like the sailor climbs a mast,
and good news
from the meditation hall
the vipassana is setting in;
with a few sittings of
strong determination;
what was once a motley collection
of coughs and shuffling
is now a wall of concentration
and silence,
and instead of stampeding off
at the breakfast gong,
those who care to renounce
for a few minutes
and to take a stroll
in the early morning light
might be rewarded with a rising sun
that filters through the pines
casting in copper
everything on which
It shines,
highlighting the clusters
of fungal hyphae
that cling to the side of a tree
yet are held in place
in the way that a sheer cliff holds
a monastery;
and at the evening discourse,
it's said that
if you plant a chili seed
the fruit you reap will
be fiery and hot,
but if you plant a mango seed
the fruit will not
be bitter, but sweet
and when someone attacks you with fire
defend yourself, if you please
but with water, not gasoline
and the difference is, we're
beginning to understand this
as the inner rings
understand the tree,
and yet again, I've
managed to reach

Day 10, and
just before we leave
I allow myself the luxury
of lying down
to see our site
from a new perspective,
and I hear a buzzing sound
and look up to see
a helix of hoverflies,
floating buoyantly
under a patchwork of oval leaves
some radiant and green
others contrasting with shade;
and, as I allow my consciousness
to float away, it's caught again
this time by
a single strand of web;
suspended between two branches
and when the sun appears
from behind the clouds
a spectrum of colour
shimmers along the strand
always moving
always changing
as I listen to the different qualities
of the different winds
that pass through branches
and scatter leaves
and are whumped by
the sailing wind turbine
which is saying goodbye
changing, changing
all with the same quality;

that of arising, and passing away
arising, and passing away
  and passing away.