OhmygodIwanttotalk! I’ve done it, a week of (near) total silence: hours of meditation, yoga at dawn every day, vegetarian food and no email, internet, television or interference from the outside world – just my own internal distraction to deal with!
Never has the navel been so well contemplated and to the people who doubted my ability to sustain a week’s silence – for reasons which I cannot fathom – I say ‘I have dived into the utter perplexity that is human existence and loosened the knot that tied me to a delusional sense of life’ (I can hear my friend Ralph making a ‘woo-woo’ noise).
But before I write about the retreat itself I want to set this place alive in your minds because it is truly a very special place to BE. We took an overnight train to Chandrapur and were met by our two facilitators, Nathan and Zohar. We then drove through a substantial wooded area, rare in India these days, called the Tadoba-Andhari Reserve where the Indian government have recently authorised the release of tigers and leopards. The roads got progressively smaller and traffic had by now all but disappeared, just bicycles, scooters, the odd bullock cart and pedestrians. The flat countryside spread out on all sides with rice paddies, fields of lentils and cabbages, and a surprising number of lakes. The tarmac ran out at Somnath, a community of 500 people spread out over 1250 acres. Everybody here is an outcast of some description, many are disabled through Leprosy or other illness or accident. At first one doesn’t notice because everybody is engaged in some task. Then you think it odd that a man would tie a plastic container to his hand to carry it until on looking more closely you realise, no hand. The other side too was just a stump, nothing at all on which to hang, hook or support a handle. Gradually you notice that everyone has some kind of disability but that they all perform tasks within the limits of their incapacity and do them well.
Life here begins in the pre-dawn, which is currently 5:30am, and continues until dusk. Nothing happens very fast, perhaps conditioned by the brutal heat of summer, but there is a relentless and gentle effort on many fronts: out in the fields rice is being cut, dried and stacked in ricks; in the kitchen the women have a large table piled with okra and cauliflower to prepare; concrete is being mixed by hand to repair the monsoon and irrigation channels.
And it is so peaceful, after the maelstrom that is the norm in most of modern India. So peaceful and so free of the deluge of litter that carpets this country that one can hardly believe that all that has been left behind. In many ways it is not typical of India, it feels like India-Lite, a more sanitised and bucolic version of a country that has been described as a ‘functioning anarchy’.
Sitting by a lake, which is lightly rippled by the softest of breezes, hardly a thing is stirring. A Heron swoops into an uncut rice paddy and a pair of green Lorikeets chatter in a Mimosa tree. Then from a branch on a dead tree a flash of iridescent blue streaks out over the water, skims the surface for a split second then is up and back on his branch. The Kingfisher has hunted. And I have found a great place to sit and feel the spaciousness in the now (I can hear a ‘woo-woo’ sound again).
(P.S. WiFi connection very slow out here and it can just ‘disappear’ into the dusty ether)