And then there is santosha, a yogic practice of ‘accepting what actually is’. That we are human beings, full of weird stuff that can often come into the light in ways we would never consciously summon and would benefit from having clarity about. Santosha is essentially the same as radical non-intereference in spirit, ‘see something for what it is’, but also carries with it the space for action from clarity. When my legs become covered in bug bites like they do the first few days in this new environment, it takes time for me to accept that I am a delicious object of desire for bugs. I keep letting it happen. It takes a few days for me to accept that this is actually happening again, even though I’m not using any coconut oil on my skin now like I did last year, have even been using bug spray diligently. I work through the dismay and puzzlement of why my legs still became covered in flea bites, why I am still waking in the middle of the night to the one or two mosquitoes that are leaving large welts on my knuckles and face and even my feet under the covers. Making the choice to stop the assault required action. Moving to a windier location, or maybe even buying one of the readily available mosquito nets from the shop. All the while watching my resistance to choosing these paths to comfort, as if willing my way to a solution through battle with the bugs might actually work. Eventually the words that come to me when practicing Santosha are ‘gentle gentle gentle’. I don’t have to surrender to these bugs, I don’t have to crumble in despair, I don’t have to fight back to the death. I can gently bring myself back to myself and maybe, just maybe, I can share from this place with others. I can co-exist with the bugs and choose my comfort at the same time. I know, it’s only bugs, not human beings. But it is a place to start practicing.
Practicing with humans in retreat brings its own joys and challenges. There are typical group dynamics that come from fear of missing out or not being fully involved in the social activities outside of class. And then the fun of celebrating gratitude together for this experience we have given ourselves. One of my favorite moments was at the end of the first week when, unbeknownst to the rest of us, many members of the group prepared and performed cover songs with new, retreat specific lyrics. Pure fun.
My legs are healing. And as it is the second week of the retreat, I was scheduled to switch tents, and it happens to be in a much windier location that the bugs cannot rest in. The wind seems to come from the very water itself. This particular tent feels like something out of Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities’, as if the very structure of home is truly supported by the sea.
I also now have a variety of deet free bug repellent that I use diligently, still determined not to fall back on chemical warfare. Who knows what combination of these things is making the difference. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is making a choice to act to end my suffering. And honor that an action taken might mean very different things to different people.
The tents here at Concordia are eco-tents. Composting toilets, solar electric and hot water. A small refrigerator and cooktop. Solidly constructed frames that are sheathed in protective canvas and screens with zippered flaps that allow a full flow of light and air. Simple and easy. Not unlike many of the apartments I have experienced with daughter Molly in Cusco. It’s certainly not the amenities of first world comfort I have been brought up with. But I don’t think of it as a third world thing either. This feels completely natural. Something to even aspire to and work towards in my modest home back home. The daily walk along the wooden ramp/path that connects us all to each other also connects us to the richness of the deep blue we get to live with here.
There is a beautiful tree that this path winds around, with the weathered skin of a wise benevolent being who set down roots here a very long time ago.
There is also a path through the woods that leads us down to the sandy beach of Salt Pond, replete with shimmering aqua water and palm trees and the anchored vessels that remind us that there are many ways to live with the sea.
Raging winds and rains shook our tent like a rattle last night. The sensation of gently settling into the violence of it all was met with awe, and a little healthy fear at just how destructive unleashed power can be. Gentle gentle gentle still seems to be a good response.