One month now the “House of Insight” is open for daily meditation practice. I feel blessed that Marloes, I could say my sister in the meantime, asked me to participate in her initiative. It is meant to give an opportunity to citizens of Rotterdam and surrounding to practice Mindfulness. Mindfulness is being with attention, in the present moment and without judgement. In my monthly blog I write about “what we in the Western world can learn from developing countries”. Meditation practice in the House of Insight made me aware that being in Uganda and Peru helped (and still helps) me with “being fine with not being fine”.
The House of Insight gives me a bit of joy every time I enter. It was a former school building and has a spacious entrance hall with big stairs. The meditation room is on the second floor and helps to improve your condition by climbing the stairs 🙂 The toilets are on the ground floor. So walking upstairs and asking for the toilets even helps you to improve your condition more 🙂 Doing the dishes with Marloes gives me a sense of camping and a piece of joy at the same time. We put the dirty dishes in a bowl, cook some water in the kettle (as there is no hot water in the building) and put the boiling water in the bowl. Than we walk down two stairs (as the running water is next to the toilets on the ground floor). We add cold water to the boiling water in the bowl and then the fun starts.
It gives me a smile every time we do this (probably until it gets a routine and gets annoying as doing the dishes usually is). Memories come back, this time from Cusco, a city in the Andes of Peru that has an altitude of about 3300 meter. Temperatures are quite low, unless you are in the sun during the day. I lived in a basic accommodation without hot water. In Uganda the water was never really cold because of the climate, but in Cusco the water IS cold! To avoid the cold water in Cusco, I took “bucket showers”, something that I had to learn in Uganda (because running water is not always available there). You take a bucket, fill it with water and take a cup to shower from the bucket. In the beginning it can be quite challenging to wash your entire body with one bucket! After a while I learned however and I enjoyed it actually. It forces you to slow down, different from taking a quick and automatic shower. The advantage of the bucket shower in Peru, was that I was able to wash myself with warm water. It became a ritual to cook water two or three times in my kettle, walk up and down the two stairs from my room to the “bathing room” that was outside and mix the boiling water with cold water to wash myself. Until one day…..
My kettle had disappeared! I left it outside for not even five minutes and it was gone. My friend, who lived around the corner and rented his room from the same landlord, found out that the landlord had taken it. The kettle used too much electricity and the landlord was annoyed for using too much electricity. My time in Cusco was almost over, but I can tell that the showers afterwards were REALLY cold! Funny enough, in the womenshelter where I worked all women took normal (cold) showers. They only prepared buckets for their children, to prevent them from the cold water. They didn’t shower every day however. And I understand why!
Back again to the Netherlands and the House of Insight. As the days get colder, the meditations get colder too. We have a heater, but it doesn’t seem to be strong enough to prevent us from the cold outside. I noticed the cold during the end of the meditation and I tried to sit with it and examine what the cold did with me in terms of feelings and thoughts. Besides the feeling of being cold that I could feel mainly in my arms, I also got distracted by the thought “next time I will use two blankets instead of one” and I was worried about the other person meditating. Franciscus of Assisi said the following wise words “Lord, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.
In the western world we have a lot of means to change the things as we wish them to be. We got spoiled here without even noticing. We are able to influence and improve everything to such an extent that we forgot to live with simplicity and being out of control. To me it seems as if that caused a loss in our ability to accept. Before my visit to Uganda, I would describe myself as very rigid and inflexible, probably because of fear of not being in control. The experiences of living in Uganda and Peru helped me to loosen, to put things in another perspective and to be more accepting.
Back to some memories of Peru once more. Houses in Cusco don’t have heaters in spite of the coldness. People are used to sit inside the houses with their jackets on (this is no joke)! In the beginning I couldn’t get used to this. Every time I entered a house I took off my jacket as a reflex. However, shortly afterwards I would feel the coldness and would wear my jacket again. Also I won’t ever forget my first night in Cusco as the dogs outside were barking. As I lifted the blankets to enter the bed I noticed their enormous weight, it were four thin blankets made out of felt on top of each other.
Despite the coldness I want to invite you all to the House of Insight for the meditation session on Tuesday at 6 pm and Wednesday at 5 pm. We have perfect conditions (including a heater, blankets and tea) to practice with being with what is. If you are cold easily please bring some extra sweater and socks.
Otherwise you could practice yourself by being aware of your automatic reactions to unpleasant conditions. By being aware of them you free yourself from the automaticity and by doing that your experience can be wider. It also gives you a choice to respond in another way.
I’m looking forward to your reactions and hope to see you for practice on Tuesday or Wednesday!