Do your soul-f a favour.
It was January 2019 when I wrote the italicised piece below. It was written in a distinctly different time. A time where the world was oblivious to the fact that it would soon form part of a future generation’s school syllabus. The section where the history teacher discusses how seismic, sudden shifts caused both devastation and profound learnings. About how the tectonic plates of 2020 shifted so abruptly and severely, that they transformed life from the old to the new-norm.
‘I don’t want things, mom.’ My 15-year-old daughter and I were discussing what she’d like for Christmas. ‘Can we please go on a yoga retreat to that Buddhist place you told me about?’ I’d long been planning to go to the Buddhist Retreat Centre, but life kept getting in the way. I’d recently introduced Alex to yoga, and it had immediately resonated with her. When a teenager asks for experiences rather than things, you listen. I paid the deposit the next day for the Vinyasa and Meditation Retreat, themed ‘Stilling the mind.’
That’s how we found ourselves winding our way to Ixopo in KwaZulu-Natal through lush green hills and valleys dotted with cows and neon-orange flowers. Alex put together a playlist, where Pearl Jam and Simon and Garfunkel were just some of our road-tripping companions. I could already feel the stress of the real world floating away like the undulating hills. I think she could feel the worldly pressures lifting too. I didn’t need to ask. It was communicated by her expression of content as she stared peacefully out the car window.
Just over two hours later, we arrived. It’s beautiful from the start; this sanctity of tangibly positive energy that exists almost on our doorstep. It’s no mystery as to why it’s been declared a Natural Heritage Site. The retreat was magical, and the itinerary was fuller than I thought. However, it proved, as one would expect, to be perfectly balanced.
We explored to the dam, we walked to the highest rock and breathed in the views. We lay on the grass and stared at the sky. We replaced the sounds of cell phones for beetle chirrups, bird songs, and the crunch of fallen leaves beneath bare feet. We did yoga twice a day and learned how to meditate. Alex sat rock-still during meditation. Conversely, I developed a never-before compulsive urge to gulp and pins and needles in my left leg. But that gave us something to giggle about afterward. I have a way to go. She is an older soul than I.
We excelled at ‘just being’ but sucked at noble silence, which was to be observed from after evening meditation to after breakfast. We did try, but our need to share what we were seeing and feeling proved overwhelming. Our attempted silent gesturing and exaggerated facial expressions induced bursts of laughter. So instead, we replaced silence with whispers. How else is one to discuss a dramatic star-filled sky unfaded by city lights? Fortunately, we had our own, far-removed little room, so our rebellion could go unheard.
We met teachers and people on the retreat that broadened our thinking. By far, the majority were professionals seeking mindful living for balance. Attorney, urologist and engineer were just some of the impressive titles. Not away-with-the-fairies people, as many may believe. There were people from all over the world. We met a sparkly-eyed 80-year-old gran who does backbends with the same ease as a 10-year-old gymnast. And an Argentinian couple who live a life of travel and minimalism – if envy had been allowed, they would have had mine. There were so many people, so many imperfectly perfect humans, each with their own fascinating and sometimes raw story. Even the guy with a bright green T-shirt emblazoned with “Touch me on my neon” needed this place, this experience. He proved to be an introspective, deep soul. This gave me perspective on pre-judgment.
They fed us well. Very well. Vegetarian. By the end, I couldn’t taste the difference between this and the meat dishes from home. Perhaps another attempt at being vegetarian would be easier this time. They also guided us through journaling. My daughter wrote furiously and purposefully. I think at least two pages. I observed her from a respectful distance. Choosing to admire the privacy of this angel’s 2019 aspirations.
What an experience that I can’t recommend enough. We are grounded and ready for this year of 2019. Whatever it may bring.’
Imagine if we had known what was to come a year later. Would it have ruined the moment as we worried about the future? Or would it have made it all the more precious? I’m not sure. But I do know that the practices I (we) learned have better equipped us for this 2020 Sci-Fi production. Here are just some of learnings I took from this retreat:
Mental and physical health.
The 80-year-old backbend gran taught me the importance of remaining fit throughout life and giving age the middle finger. Alex and I practice several forms of yoga regularly and have never felt healthier in a time where it is needed most. Yoga heals the body, and meditation heals the mind. Meditation is now a nightly ritual – while the world is on its head, it has undoubtedly helped me to calm mine.
The vegetarian smorgasbord nudged me towards an 80/20 plant-based diet, and Alex has been a vegan ever since. She has done this for both health and environmental reasons, and her commitment never flounders. However, this hasn’t come without challenges – our household also consists of meat-eating sons and a pescatarian husband! But somehow, we manage.
Experiences versus things.
The travelling, minimalistic Argentinian couple inspired me to choose experiences over things. To not be tied down by heavy monthly financial burdens is the ultimate freedom. When you have a family, some of these commitments are unavoidable. However, our mindset has shifted, and decisions about our future are far more mindful of this.
The message of being present and living each moment also served me well. In 2019, my husband and I ensured we always had lily pads (which is what I refer to as my experiences, my things to look forward to). We met new people, did new things and celebrated life. I even realised my lifelong dream of travelling to Bali with my girlfriends. The lesson is that living in the now is vital. We don’t know when these kind of experiences will be possible again. I am so grateful to have had them.
It’s as if nature’s most skilled watercolour-based artist created the grounds of The Buddhist Retreat Centre. It’s delicately painted with fluid shades of green, brown and gold. It is also serenely silent. Yet, this silence amplifies the rustles, crunches and plips and plops of nature. You can actually hear the fall of a leaf and the swoop of a bird overhead. It’s an energy that manifests as goose-bumps.
As we walked barefoot through the stony labyrinth and spent time mindfully leaning against an ancient tree, our bond with nature intensified. We understood even then that nature needed some time out. She’s so flawlessly beautiful when she’s allowed to ‘just be’. 2020 is her time, and she’ll reward us ten times over when we give her the respect she so deserves. She’s enlightened the world. I just hope we continue to listen.
Buddhism is an attitude more than a belief, and although I’m not technically Buddhist, its outlook resonates with me. The retreat did not seek to teach us about Buddhism. However, the noble truths were gently and unobtrusively draped across our souls simply via the experiences we had. It’s a kind, gentle way of life. It teaches acceptance, surrender, and trust. It teaches us to be present in this moment.
Today, those teachings could not be more relevant. Knowing tomorrow might be very different from today is no longer theoretical. We (the people of the world) have experienced that first-hand. Let’s keep the lesson.
With travel currently limited, you can help the Buddhist Retreat Centre by booking online teachings. And regardless of where you live in this world, make the BRC a priority destination. Its energy will leave you forever changed.
Let’s just coddiwomple